United States District Court, D. New Jersey
SUSAN D.WIGENTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court is the petition for a writ of habeas corpus
of Angel Medina (“Petitioner”) brought pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging Petitioner's state
court murder conviction (ECF No. 1). Following an order to
answer, Respondents filed a motion to dismiss the petition as
time barred (ECF No. 6), which this Court denied. (ECF No 9).
Respondents thereafter filed a response to the petition (ECF
No. 11), to which Petitioner has replied. (ECF Nos. 14-16).
For the following reasons, this Court will deny the petition
and will deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability.
opinion affirming Petitioner's conviction and sentence on
direct appeal, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate
Division, summarized the factual background of this matter as
September 3, 2004, the Essex County Grand Jury returned [an
indictment], charging [Petitioner] with knowing or purposeful
murder, in violation of [N.J. Stat. Ann. §] 2C:3-11a(1)
and (2) (Count 1), unlawful possession of a weapon, in
violation of [N.J. Stat. Ann. §] 2C:39-5(b) (Count 2),
and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, in
violation of [N.J. Stat. Ann. §] 2C:49-4(a) (Count 3).
The jury trial began on September 28, 2005[, ] and continued
for five more trial days. Testimony was completed on October
18th. The trial judge charged the jury on
October 19th. During the next three days, the jury
deliberated and requested read-backs of both testimony and
portions of the charge.
The jury returned on October 25th and continued
its deliberations. At the end of the day, the jury sent the
following note to the trial judge: “After four days of
deliberations this jury cannot arrive at a unanimous
decision, and all 12 jurors believe that further
deliberations will not yield a different result.” In
response to the note, he excused the jurors for the day and
directed them to return the next day at 9 a.m.
The following day, the trial judge gave the jury a
supplemental charge about continuing their deliberations.
After further deliberations and read backs, including the
entire charge on the murder and possession for an unlawful
purpose counts, the jury returned guilty verdicts on all
The trial judge sentenced [Petitioner] to an extended term of
40-years, with a 35-year parole ineligibility, on the murder
charge. He imposed a concurrent 5-year term on the unlawful
possession count. The remaining count, possession of a weapon
for an unlawful purpose, was merged with the murder.
The testimony at trial revealed the following facts relevant
to [Petitioner's petition]. On December 31, 2003, Makisia
Haskins and her boyfriend Yusef Battle went to the Club
Elaganza in Newark. They arrived at the Club, which they
described as being dark, crowded and with loud music playing,
after midnight. After approximately ten minutes in the Club,
Haskins saw people fighting and recognized [Petitioner] to be
one of the people involved. Haskins became separated from
Battle because of the fight, but ended up being escorted out
of the building by the Club's security personnel, along
with [Petitioner] and Battle.
Haskins and Battle left the Club in Battle's burgundy
Honda Civic and drove to Battle's mother's house.
After sitting outside the 1 As the Appellate Division
explained, there “was a hiatus in the trial because of
a long weekend following October 6th and the trial
judge's unavailability the following week.”
(Document 23 attached to ECF No. 7 at 3 n. 1). house for a
few minutes talking with Battle, Haskins went into the house
and talked to Battle's sister. After Battle called her on
the cell phone, she left the house and returned to the car,
where she found [Petitioner] in the car with Battle.
Haskins described Battle as being a little upset and
[Petitioner] as calm. They drove around with little
conversation for less than an hour, going nowhere in
particular. They eventually ended up at a store called
King's Fried Chicken, which is referred to as the
“Chicken Shack.” Battle parked the car down the
street from the store. [Petitioner] got out of the car and
went into the store. Haskins saw him talking to people in the
store. She could not see clearly into the store because the
windows were “foggy.” She described the lighting
outside of the store as dark, but said that there was light
inside the store.
Battle then moved his car to a spot on the street right in
front of the Chicken Shack. After a few minutes, Battle got
out of the car and went inside to get a soda for Haskins. A
few minutes later, six or seven people, including
[Petitioner] and Battle, came outside. Haskins then saw
[Petitioner] and two other males arguing in front of the
store. One was light-skinned and the other, the victim, was
dark-skinned and wearing a “colorful hat.”
Haskins saw the light-skinned male trying to push
[Petitioner] away, apparently to prevent a fight. The arguing
continued for about five minutes.
According to Haskins, shortly before she heard a shot,
[Petitioner] was face-to-face with the victim and only a few
feet away from him. The other male grabbed [Petitioner], but
then let him go. [Petitioner] started to walk closer to the
victim. Haskins testified that she did not see the shooting
After she heard the shot, Haskins turned towards [Petitioner]
and saw the victim fall. [Petitioner] walked back to the car
and got in. At almost the same time, Battle got in the
driver's seat and they drove away quickly. Haskins
testified that they drove away going about 70 mph and that
[Petitioner] said he wanted to drive on the highway.
According to Haskins, [Petitioner] told Battle he wanted to
stop at housing projects referred to as “Seth
Boyden.” Haskins' initial testimony was that she
did not see anything in [Petitioner]'s hands while they
were driving around. She was subsequently shown her statement
to the police and then testified that she saw a gun fall out
of [Petitioner]'s pocket, which [Petitioner] picked up
from the floor. After they arrived at the projects,
[Petitioner] got out, went into a building and came right
back out again.
They then drove to the Ritz Hotel on the border of Newark and
Elizabeth. When they arrived at the hotel, [Petitioner] asked
Haskins to go into the office and get a room. After some
reluctance, the clerk rented her a room. Haskins used a
fictitious name. [Petitioner] also asked Haskins to request
the clerk to make the check-in time an hour earlier than it
really had been, but the clerk refused. Haskins returned to
the car and handed the room key to [Petitioner], who left the
car. Battle and Haskins then drove to Battle's
Fermin Wilson was a friend of the victim who was
present at the Chicken Shack at the time of the shooting.
Wilson described the victim as being in a good mood and
acting normally. He knew [Petitioner] because they had grown
up in the same neighborhood. Wilson is a member of a gang
known as the “Bloods, ” but testified that the
victim was not a member. Wilson believed that [Petitioner]
knew that [Wilson] was a member of the Bloods.
Wilson saw [Petitioner] and Battle come into the Chicken
Shack. Wilson thought that [Petitioner] looked angry.
[Petitioner] said that he had been “jumped, ”
presumably meaning at the Club. According to Wilson,
[Petitioner] had been jumped by members of the Bloods. The
victim and [Petitioner] then started arguing. A third
individual stepped between [Petitioner] and the victim to
move the two men apart.
After the victim left the Chicken Shack with the third
individual, [Petitioner] followed them outside. Wilson, who
had initially turned away from the front of the store, turned
back towards the front windows in time to see [Petitioner]
walk behind the victim and shoot him in the head.
[Petitioner] walked away and got into a red Honda Civic,
which pulled away very quickly. Wilson left the store and
tried to help the victim, staying with him until the police
Battle's testimony concerning the preliminary events of
the evening was similar to that of his girlfriend, Haskins.
Battle had known [Petitioner] for a few years. Battle saw
[Petitioner] and the victim arguing in the Chicken Shack.
After the victim and [Petitioner] left the store, he was
talking to Wilson when he heard a 2 Wilson, who was
apparently imprisoned for a parole violation at the time of
his testimony, testified while wearing prison garb and
shackles. (See Document 34 attached to ECF No. 7 at
3).gun shot. Upon hearing the gun shot, Battle ran to the car
because he was concerned about Haskins. After [Petitioner]
got into the car, Battle dove away quickly. They drove around
for a little while, ending up at the Ritz Hotel.
Irena Suvhocka, an employee at the Ritz Hotel, testified that
someone came to the hotel in the early morning hours on
January 1, 2004, and asked to rent a room. Suvhocka was asked
to stamp the check-in time one hour earlier than the actual
time, but refused to do so.
Dr. Thomas A. Blumfeld, the medical examiner, testified that
the victim had been shot in the back of the head. Based on
the toxicology tests done, the victim had a blood alcohol
level of 0.085 and an alcohol level in his stomach of 0.104
at the time of his death.
[Petitioner] called two witnesses, but exercised his right
not to testify himself. Terrance Harris was inside the
Chicken Shack on the night of the shooting. He testified that
the windows of the Chicken Shack are “really
blurry” and that one cannot really see through them.
One of the investigating officers, who had testified for the
State and was then called as a defense witness, testified on
cross-examination that when the police entered an apartment
to arrest [Petitioner], he started running and tried to jump
out of a window.
(Document 23 attached to ECF No. 7 at 2-9).
his conviction and sentencing, Petitioner filed an appeal,
with the Appellate Division affirming his conviction and
sentence by way of a written opinion dated June 23, 2008.
(Id.). Petitioner then filed a petition for a writ
of certification, which the New Jersey Supreme Court denied
on September 24, 2009. (Document 24 attached to ECF No. 7).
December 18, 2008, Petitioner filed a petition for
post-conviction relief. (Document 25 attached to ECF No. 7).
That petition, however, was dismissed without prejudice on
May 11, 2009. (See Document 34 attached to ECF No. 7
at 3 n. 3). Petitioner thereafter filed another petition for
post-conviction relief on March 8, 2010. (Id. at 3).
an evidentiary hearing at which both trial counsel and
Petitioner testified, that petition was denied on the merits
on June 28, 2013. (Document 30 attached to ECF No. 7). In
denying the petition, the PCR judge made the following
factual and credibility findings regarding trial
counsel's alleged failings:
In this case, Petitioner asserts that his trial attorney (1)
failed to keep him appraised of his case status[, ] (2) did
not provide him with discovery or other case materials[, ]
(3) did not discuss the State's witnesses and his trial
strategy for those witnesses[, ] (4) did not discuss with him
“testimony that might have been elicited during the
trial [if he had] chosen to take the witness stand on his
[own] behalf[, ]” (5) lacked overall trial
preparation[, ] and (6) failed to object to the State's
witness, Wilson, testifying in prison garb.
At the Evidentiary Hearing, [trial counsel Richard] Banas
testified regarding each of these accusations. Points (4) and
(6) are discussed separately in this opinion. With regard to
keeping Petitioner appraised of his case status, Banas
testified that he met with Petitioner daily during trial and
more than two times outside of the courtroom. He also met
with Petitioner's family members prior to and during the
trial. Banas testified that as defense counsel in a homicide
case, he represented Petitioner by presenting witnesses and
discussing their respective testimonies with Petitioner.
Petitioner was also actively involved in cross-examination
strategies of the Prosecutor's witnesses. Moreover,
Petitioner aided Banas with the jury's voir dire and
offered personal letters written by . . . a married woman
with whom Petitioner was having a relationship. Petitioner
hoped [her] testimony would account for his whereabouts
during the early morning hours of January 1, 2004. From those
letters, Banas formulated a line of questioning that revealed
inconsistencies with [her] testimony on October 6, 2005. The
following day, [she] sought out the prosecutors to tell them
that she picked Petitioner up from the Ritz Hotel the morning
of the homicide. With input from Petitioner, Banas challenged
the credibility of each of the State's witnesses. For
instance, Wilson's friendship with Petitioner was
questioned, the vantage point from where he observed
Coleman's murder as well as conflicting statements
regarding the color of Petitioner's alleged gun were also
reviewed. Additionally, Banas cross-examined Reed and tried
to argue that Reed's initial statement to detectives was
unduly influenced. Banas also highlighted the fact that
neither Haskins nor Battle accrued accomplice liability
charges. Moreover, Banas claimed that he gave Petitioner
discovery materials while he was in custody. Although he
could not specifically recall the exact date, he also
testified he gave Petitioner the Grand Jury transcripts. The
Court finds Banas' testimony on these points to be
credible and negates these claims of Petitioner.
29 attached to ECF No. 7 at 13-14). The PCR judge also found
credible trial counsel's testimony at the hearing that he
had discussed with Petitioner his right to testify on his own
behalf, including the effect Petitioner's prior
convictions would have on his credibility if he testified,
and found credible trial counsel's testimony that he told
Petitioner that the decision whether to testify was
Petitioner's alone to make and that Petitioner made that
decision initially before trial and once again when asked by
the trial court whether he wished to testify. (Id.
at 18-19). Petitioner appealed, and the Appellate Division
affirmed on May 11, 2015, “substantially for the
reasons expressed in [the PCR judge's] thorough and
cogent written opinion, ” including the credibility and
factual findings quoted above. (Document 34 attached to ECF
No. 7 at 12-15). Petitioner filed a petition for
certification, which was denied on January 29, 2016.
(Document 35 attached to ECF No. 7). This habeas petition
followed. (ECF No. 1).
28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), the district court “shall
entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus [o]n
behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a
State court only on the ground that he is in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States.” A habeas petitioner has the burden of
establishing his entitlement to relief for each claim
presented in his petition based upon the record that was
before the state court. See Eley v. Erickson, 712
F.3d 837, 846 (3d Cir. 2013); see also Parker v.
Matthews, ___U.S. ___, ___, 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2151 (2012).
Under the statute, as amended by the Anti-Terrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2244
(“AEDPA”), district courts are required to give
great deference to the determinations of the state trial and
appellate courts. See Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766,
claim has been adjudicated on the merits by the state courts,
the district court shall not grant an application for a writ
of habeas corpus unless the state court adjudication
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the ...