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Southerland v. Nogan

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 27, 2019

SHAWN SOUTHERLAND, Petitioner,
v.
PATRICK N. NOGAN, et al, Respondents.

          OPINION

          LINARES, CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the Court is the petition for a writ of habeas corpus of Shawn Southerland ("Petitioner") brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his state court murder conviction. (ECF No. 1). Respondents filed a response to the petition, (ECF No. 30), to which Petitioner replied. (ECF No. 33). Petitioner has also filed a request for an evidentiary hearing, as well as a second motion for partial summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 34, 36). For the following reasons, the Court will deny the petition, as well as Petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing and second motion for partial summary judgment. Petitioner is also denied a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was indicted on three counts in Hudson County for first-degree murder in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:1 l-3(a)(1) or (2), third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution by way of concealment or destruction in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:1 l-3(a)(1), and third-degree hindering apprehension or prosecution by giving false information to a law enforcement officer in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-3(b)(4). (ECF No. 1 at 40). At his trial, petitioner waived his right to an attorney and decided to represent himself. (ECF No. 1 at 40). The trial court appointed Petitioner's public defender as standby counsel and thereafter denied Petitioner's motions to appoint new standby counsel. (ECF No. 1 at 40).

         Over the course of pre-trial proceedings, Petitioner filed several motions to suppress evidence, which the trial court denied. (ECF No. 1 at 40). The trial court also denied Petitioner's motions to dismiss the indictment. (ECF No. 1 at 40). However, on November 10, 2011, Petitioner filed a motion to dismiss the third count of the indictment, which the trial court granted. (ECF No. 1 at 40). Then, the trial court granted Petitioner's motion to waive his right to a jury trial. (ECF No. 1 at 40).

         Judge Francis B. Schultz oversaw the nine-day bench trial. (ECF No. 1 at 40). On February 1, 2012, the judge issued a "comprehensive oral decision finding" Petitioner guilty on counts one and two. (ECF No. 1 at 41). Judge Schultz then denied Petitioner's motion for acquittal and a new trial and sentenced Petitioner to thirty years in prison on count one on March 16, 2012. (ECF No. 1 at 41). Petitioner's sentence included a thirty-year period of parole ineligibility on count one and a concurrent five-year sentence on count two. (ECF No. 1 at 41). Judge Shultz also ordered that Petitioner serve a five-year term of parole supervision upon his release. (ECF No. 1 at 41).

         At trial, the State established the following. The victim lived in Bayonne with her fourteen-year old son. (ECF No. 1 at 44). Petitioner and the victim met while they were in law school together in 2002. (ECF No. 1 at 44). Petitioner then moved into the victim's apartment in December 2005. (ECF No. 1 at 44). The victim's son described a tumultuous relationship between Petitioner and the victim, in which they fought "every day." (ECF No. 1 at 44). Petitioner moved to Texas in January 2007, but subsequently returned to the apartment in March 2007. (ECF No. 1 at 44).

         The victim usually woke her son up for school, but on the morning of April 4, 2007, she did not. (ECF No. 1 at 44). Instead, her son got himself dressed and went to the bedroom to say goodbye to his mother. (ECF No. 1 at 44). The victim's son testified that the door was closed and Petitioner stepped in front of the door to keep him from going inside the bedroom. (ECF No. 1 at 44). The victim's son then left the apartment. (ECF No. 1 at 44-45). He stated that he did not hear any sounds come from the bedroom that morning or hear anything unusual the night before. (ECF No. 1 at 45). The victim's son usually stayed up in his room playing videogames and watching TV. (ECF No. 1 at 45).

         The victim's son returned home from school around 4:00 p.m. (ECF No. 1 at 45). Petitioner was in the apartment, but the victim was not. (ECF No. 1 at 45). When the victim's son asked Petitioner about his mother, Petitioner told the son that he had not seen her. (ECF No. 1 at 45). The son saw that a white blanket and some of his mother's "personal accessories" were missing from her bedroom. (ECF No. 1 at 45).

         The victim's son testified that Petitioner gave him money to buy food at a take-out restaurant and then followed him there on a bicycle. (ECF No. 1 at 45). They returned to the victim's apartment, at which point Petitioner told the victim's son that he had to go see his sick aunt in the hospital. (ECF No. 1 at 45). When he left, Petitioner took all his belongings with him. (ECF No. 1 at 45). The victim's son testified that Petitioner would borrow a silver Kia from someone he called "his aunt," but that after Petitioner left that night he never saw Petitioner or the car again. (ECF No. 1 at 45).

         As for the Kia, Petitioner's friend testified that Petitioner borrowed her 2001 Kia on April 3, 2007 and returned it early in the evening on April 5, 2007 with two flat tires. (ECF No. 1 at 45). Petitioner then stayed at his friend's home until April 9, 2007, when she drove him to a train station. (ECF No. 1 at 46).

         The victim's son informed his school that his mother had disappeared, and two or three days later he went to his grandmother's house in New York City, where he informed her that his mother was missing. (ECF No. 1 at 46).

         On the morning of April 7, 2007, a New York City Department of Transportation employee found a black duffel bag along the Henry Hudson Parkway in New York, roughly twenty-five miles from Bayonne. (ECF No. 1 at 46). Inside the bag was the body of a woman. (ECF No. 1 at 46). The employee who found the bag testified that he had not seen the bag when he cleaned that area the day before. (ECF No. 1 at 46). New York City police officers picked the body up and began their investigation. (ECF No. 1 at 46).

         The New York City medical examiner performed an autopsy on the body on April 8, 2007. (ECF No. 1 at 46). The medical examiner testified that the police found the body in a large, expandable, black bag with the brand name "G&S" on it. (ECF No. 1 at 46). The body was fully clothed and wrapped in a "white bed sheet" and black plastic. (ECF No. 1 at 46). There were also two rings and a bracelet on the body. (ECF No. 1 at 46).

         The autopsy revealed "multiple blunt-impact injuries on the body, including abrasions and contusions of the neck, torso, and extremities." (ECF No. 1 at 46). The medical examiner believed that the cause of death was homicide by "compression of the neck," and placed the date of death on or before April 4, 2007. (ECF No. 1 at 46-17).

         A friend of the victim testified that she recognized the victim's jewelry when she saw it on a television report on April 9 about a "woman found on the Henry Hudson." (ECF No. 1 at 47). The friend then contacted the victim's family. (ECF No. 1 at 47). After 5:00 p.m. on April 9, Bayonne Police Officer Ponik went to the victim's apartment as part of his investigation arising out of a missing persons report. (ECF No. 1 at 47). Officer Ponik met with the victim's son, as well as her parents, brother, and various other family and friends. (ECF No. 1 at 47). The officer was at the apartment for about six hours, collecting information from the group there. (ECF No. 1 at 47). Officer Ponik also contacted other agencies for information, including the Division of Youth and Family Services regarding custody of the victim's son. (ECF No. 1 at 47).

         While Officer Ponik was at the apartment, the victim's brother tried calling the victim's cell phone several times. (ECF No. 1 at 47). Around 11:00 p.m., roughly five minutes after the brother's last call attempt, Petitioner called the brother back. (ECF No. 1 at 47). Officer Ponik asked the victim's brother to place the call on speakerphone, and the brother obliged. (ECF No. 47-48). Petitioner initially denied knowing where the victim was. (ECF No. 1 at 48). He later admitted seeing her on April 2, 2007. (ECF No. 1 at 48). "Then, 'out of nowhere, '" petitioner told the victim's brother that the victim "went on vacation," for which he bought her a "black folding type suitcase." (ECF No. 1 at 48). Petitioner told the victim's brother he was in Rockland County, New York visiting a sick aunt. (ECF No. 1 at 48). He did not give the victim's brother any contact information and then hung up. (ECF No. 1 at 48).

         Petitioner called the victim's brother back five or ten minutes later. (ECF No. 1 at 48). He mentioned he would return to Bayonne the next day and admitted he had the victim's cell phone. (ECF No. 1 at 48). The victim's brother asked Petitioner to help the family locate the victim, but Petitioner was uncooperative and hung up. (ECF No. 1 at ...


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