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Jones v. Prison

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 19, 2018

JAMES EARL JONES, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN OF NEW JERSEY STATE PRISON, et al., Respondents.

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the Amended Petition for a writ of habeas corpus of Petitioner James Earl Jones, (“Petitioner”) brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 6. For the reasons set forth below, Petitioner's habeas petition is DENIED, and Petitioner is DENIED a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following factual summary is taken from the opinion of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, on Petitioner's direct appeal:

In the early hours of June 29, 1990, Hope Stauffer drove her two brothers, Robert and Timothy, and a friend, David Ray (“Ray”), to the Rosedale Tavern in Pennsauken to purchase wine coolers. Hope's four-year-old son, M.S., was also in the car with them. Hope and her son remained in the car which was parked in the Rosedale Tavern parking lot, while the Stauffer brothers and Ray went inside the tavern. The three men were gone approximately five to fifteen minutes. Before entering the tavern, Timothy Stauffer noticed three males sitting in the back of a black pick-up truck.
According to defendant's second taped statement that was played at trial, defendant and co-defendant Bell hitched a ride in a black pick-up truck to the Rosedale Tavern. Defendant claimed that after spotting Hope in the parking lot, Bell ran over to her and put a “snub nose thirty-eight” gun to her head. Bell demanded Hope to “move over Bitch” as he got into the driver's side of the car. He then moved M.S. from the front seat to the back seat. Defendant got into the passenger side of the car. While Bell drove off from the parking lot, he threatened Hope that “he would shoot her if she [did] something stupid.” Hope was crying and begging the two defendants not to hurt her son.
After driving to a field, Bell forced Hope out of the car, grabbing her by the wrist while keeping the gun pointed towards her. Defendant followed Bell and the victim into a wooded area. Defendant forced Hope to the ground, onto a tan cushion, by choking her. While defendant continued to choke Hope, Bell “stood to the side with the pistol out” threatening, “Bitch, I'll shoot you act stupid, bitch, I'd shoot you, you act stupid.” As Hope struggled, she begged defendant to, “please get off me, please get off me.”
Bell put the pistol in his pants and also began choking Hope again with more force. Defendant continued holding Hope by the neck while Bell pulled her clothes off. Defendant claimed that Bell persisted choking Hope while he had sex with her. After about five minutes, defendant ejaculated and “just left, cause I knew she was dead then.” Defendant stated that in his mind, as he “was getting ready ...[to] stick [his] penis in her, she was not alive at all.” Defendant later stated that when he had “gotten on top of [Hope]” her body was shaking and it did not stop shaking until Bell “put his hands around her neck for a short period of time.” Once defendant finished the sexual assault, he noticed that the victim was “out of it”; he checked for a pulse but did not feel one. When asked whether the victim was dead while he had intercourse with her, defendant responded:
There was no doubt at all, once I had finish coming to the end of having intercourse with her, that she was dead.
. . .
The autopsy established that Hope died from strangulation. She suffered hemorrhaging and muscle bruising in the neck, including the thyroid gland and larynx. The hemorrhaging and bruising ranged from one-half to one inch deep from the skin. The autopsy also revealed a one-inch laceration of the tissue between her vagina and rectum, indicative of sexual assault. In addition, she suffered a series of injuries including significant purple discoloration of the neck, chest and face; scrapes on the right shoulder, left forearm, left thigh, nose and chin; and bruising to the left shoulder.
According to Dr. Segal, the county medical examiner,
The strangulation occurred when she was alive, the laceration of the perineum when she was alive, and majority of the scrape marks and bruises when she was alive.... The clearly postmortem injuries were the scratch marks on the lower legs, both sides ... [and the] insect bites.
With regard to the sexual assault, although nonmotile sperm were detected through microscopic examinations of the vaginal material, Dr. Segal stated that “there's no way to say whether the sperm got there when the person was alive or dead.”
ECF No. 12-10 at 4-9.
The jury . . . found defendant guilty of the murder of Hope Stauffer, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(1) (count one); felony murder, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:11-3a(3) (count three); first degree kidnapping of Hope Stauffer, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1b(1)(2) (count four); second degree kidnapping of Hope Stauffer's son, M.S., contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1b(1)(2) (count five); conspiracy to commit robbery, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:5-2 (count six); first degree robbery, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:15-1 (count seven); possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-4a (count eight); unlawful possession of a weapon, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:39-5b (count nine); and first degree aggravated sexual assault, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(3) (count eleven). Count ten, charging defendant with third degree hindering apprehension or prosecution, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:29- 3b(1), and count twelve, charging defendant with fourth degree hindering apprehension, contrary to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3b(4), were dismissed by the trial judge during trial.

Id. at 1-2.

         Petitioner was sentenced to an aggregate prison term of life, plus 60 years, with a 60-year period of parole ineligibility. Id. at 3.

         Petitioner appealed his judgment and conviction to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, and the Appellate Division affirmed on February 11, 1998. Id. at 1. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on June 3, 1998. See State v. Jones, 718 A.2d 805 (1998). According to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, in affirming the denial of PCR, which laid out the relevant procedural history, Petitioner filed an initial post-conviction relief (“PCR”) petition on February 19, 1999 (“Initial PCR Petition”), which was dismissed without explanation on May 7, 1999.[1] ECF No. 12-32 at 3. Petitioner submitted a subsequent petition for PCR (“Subsequent PCR Petition”), ECF No. 12-18, which was denied by the trial court on August 31, 2010.[2] ECF No. 12-27. The Appellate Division affirmed the denial of PCR on December 18, 2013. ECF No. 12-32. The New Jersey Supreme Court denied certification on June 23, 2014. See State v. Jones, 94 A.3d 911 (2014). Petitioner then filed a habeas petition with this Court, executed on October 1, 2014. ECF No. 1. The petition was administratively terminated and Petitioner submitted an Amended Petition, executed on January 21, 2016, raising three grounds for habeas relief:

1. Conviction obtained by the unconstitutional failure of the trial court to provide[] correct instructions on accomplice liability.
2. Conviction obtained by trial judge erroneously prevented defense counsel from arguing in summation that the lack of fracture to the victim's hyoid bone and larynx was evidence that defendant's conduct had been reckless, rather th[a]n purposeful or knowing[, ] violated petitioner's constitutional right to a wide latitude in making his summation.
3. Defendant's conviction on the eleventh count of the indictment must be and the count dismissed as N.J.S.A. 2C:14-2a(3) unconstitutionally sets up an irrebuttable presumption that an act of sexual penetration occurring during a murder is unconsented to; alternately, the court erred in failing to charge that the statute created a permissive inference only and that the State had to prove lack of consent beyond a reasonable doubt.

ECF No. 6 at 8-13.

         Respondents filed an Answer, in which they argue that Petitioner's claims are time-barred, fail to raise federal issues, and are meritless. ECF No. 12 at 19-65. The Court will decline to address in detail whether the instant Amended Petition is untimely, and instead finds the claims fail on the merits.[3]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under 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, 567 U.S. 37, 40-41 (2012). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2244, 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, 772-73 (2010).

         Where a claim has been adjudicated on the merits by the state courts, the district court shall not grant an application for a writ of ...


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