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Farnville v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 2, 2019

JEROME FARNVILLE, Petitioner,
v.
STEVEN JOHNSON, THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, Respondents.

          Jerome Farnville, Petitioner pro se

          Kim L. Barfield Cumberland County Prosecutor's Office Counsel for Respondents

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         Petitioner Jerome Farnville (“Petitioner”), a prisoner presently incarcerated at New Jersey State Prison in Trenton, New Jersey, has filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the “Petition”). ECF No. 1. Respondents Steven Johnson and the Attorney General for the State of New Jersey (“Respondents”) filed an Answer to the Petition (the “Answer”). ECF No. 4. For the following reasons, the Court will deny the Petition and a certificate of appealability shall not issue.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In its opinion on direct appeal, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, provided the following summary of the factual background of Petitioner's case:

On September 12, 2005, Hamilton Blackshear (Blackshear) was shot and killed outside of the home of his son, Albert Blackshear (Albert). Prior to the shooting, Albert had been involved in several disputes with Kenneth Bartee (Bartee) about a purported sexual relationship between Albert and Bartee's girlfriend, which culminated in a physical altercation between the two at a party on September 10, 2005. In retaliation, Albert set fire to Bartee's grandmother's house, where Bartee had been living.
On September 12, 2005, Bartee broke into Albert's house and stole his clothing, electronics, and other valuables. Later that evening, Blackshear accompanied Albert to the house to retrieve Albert's remaining property, and change the locks. After Blackshear exited the house, Albert heard “a loud noise like a bang.” Blackshear ran back into the house, told Albert he had been shot, and fell to the floor in the living room. Albert called 9-1-1. Blackshear later died from his gunshot wounds.
Detective Rick Pierce of the Bridgeton Police Department responded to the scene of the shooting. Albert told the detective that he had recently been involved in a fight with Bartee at a party, and gave him the names of possible suspects. Detective Pierce narrowed the suspects to defendant, Bartee, Andrew Swinton (Swinton), William Rothmaller (Rothmaller, a/k/a Pop Tart), Archie Perry (Perry), Charles Clark (Clark), and Brian Baldwin (Baldwin).
In a taped statement Clark gave the police on September 27, 2005, he said that he, Bartee, Perry, Baldwin, and Hector Ruiz drove to Albert's house in Perry's van because Bartee wanted to fight Albert. They met defendant, Swinton, and Rothmaller on the way. The men arrived at Albert's house and exited their respective vehicles. As they were walking toward the house, Clark saw that both defendant and Swinton had sawed-off shotguns. When Clark reached the bushes by the side of the house, he saw a man exit the back door, and then heard a gunshot. He did not see who had fired that shot, but said “it was between [Swinton] and [defendant].” Clark saw defendant fire a second shot. After the second shot, Clark and Bartee ran back to Perry's van and left the area. Clark did not know that someone had been killed until he read about it in the newspaper the next day. Swinton threatened to shoot anyone and their family who talked about the shooting, and stated that he was going to shoot Perry and Perry's father because they had already gone to the police.
In a taped statement Perry gave to the police on September 30, 2005, he said that on September 12, 2005, he was at Baldwin's house when Bartee asked Perry to give him a ride to Albert's house so that Bartee could steal Albert's dog. Clark, Baldwin, and Ruiz joined them. As the five men were leaving Baldwin's house in Perry's van, Bartee received a call from Swinton. The men eventually met up with Swinton, who had defendant and Rothmaller in his car. The two vehicles then proceeded to Albert's house.
Bartee had told Perry that there would be no one at Albert's house; however, if Albert was there, Bartee was going to “fight him.” When the group arrived at the house, the lights were on, the doors were open, and there was someone in the house. Bartee called Swinton, and the two decided to “go ahead” with their plan. Perry told Bartee that he did not want to be involved, dropped Bartee and Clark off at Swinton's vehicle, and drove down the street and parked. Perry saw Swinton and two other men get out of Swinton's car, and noticed the man in the back seat reach over and grab a long black object that looked like a sawed-off shotgun. The three men then ran toward Albert's house. Within ten or fifteen minutes, Perry heard two gun shots that sounded exactly the same, indicating they came from the same gun. Bartee and Clark then ran back to Perry's van and got inside. Perry said that they were “[n]ervous, ... they tell me they think Pop Tart shot a victim. They didn't even know who got shot.” The three men then drove from the scene. During the drive, Bartee said “this wasn't supposed to happen. I can't believe this happened[, ]” and Clark said he was “scared and nervous.” The next day, Bartee told Perry that Albert's father had been killed, and “the shooter gave out a message that if anyone tells he was gonna get them before he goes in.” Clark told Perry to “just keep your mouth shut. You had nothing to do with this.”
Based on Clark's and Perry's statements, Detective Pierce concluded there was probable cause to arrest defendant, Swinton, and Rothmaller, the individuals that Clark and Perry had identified. The three men were arrested on October 5, 2005, brought to police headquarters for questioning, and placed in separate rooms.
Defendant received and waived his Miranda rights prior to any questioning by Detective Pierce and Detective George Chopek. He denied involvement in, or knowledge of, the shooting, and said that he had learned about it from a newspaper article. Detective Pierce told defendant that he had been implicated in the shooting, and Swinton and Rothmaller were giving statements to that effect. Defendant did not believe the detective and said he would “roll the dice” and not give a statement. Defendant then invoked his right to remain silent and requested an attorney. At that point, all questioning about the case stopped. Thereafter, the detectives “probably made small talk, ” told defendant they believed he was being untruthful, and “very possibly” said to him “that [they] were interested in hearing his side of the story.” Detective Pierce asked defendant to call him if he changed his mind about giving a statement.
Detective Calabrese then took defendant to the processing area, where Swinton was being processed. Detective Calabrese reported to Detective Pierce that defendant overheard Swinton tell another detective that he was going to take the detective to retrieve the guns, and that defendant had a startled look on his face when he heard this. The detectives had not planned for defendant to overhear Swinton's statement.
On October 6, 2005, defendant called the Criminal Investigation Division of the Bridgeton Police Department and asked to speak to Detectives Pierce and Chopek. Defendant did not speak to the detectives that day. He spoke to them on October 7, 2005, at the Prosecutor's Office, where, after receiving and waiving his Miranda rights, he gave a taped statement explaining what had occurred the night of the shooting. According to defendant, Bartee called him and said that he wanted defendant, Swinton, and Rothmaller to go with him to Albert's house to “beat up or rob” Albert. Prior to arriving at Albert's house, the three men, who were in Swinton's car, met up with Bartee, who was in Perry's van. Bartee exited Perry's van, went to Swinton's car, and obtained a loaded shotgun from defendant, who was sitting in the rear seat. Bartee gave defendant a .357 caliber handgun, which defendant put in his waistband. Swinton may have had a sawed-off shot gun as well. Swinton's car then followed Perry's van to Albert's house. When they arrived there, they squatted down in the nearby brush. Defendant saw a man exit the back door, heard a shot from a shot gun, and then ran back to Swinton's car. Defendant took the gun out of his waistband when he was running back to the car. Defendant was not sure if it was Bartee's or Swinton's shotgun that was fired, but he thought it was Bartee's “[c]ause it ... was his beef[, ]” and Bartee was the one who was upset with Albert for trying to burn down his grandmother's house. The next day defendant read in the newspaper that someone had been killed.
Before trial, defendant and co-defendants Bartee, Swinton, Rothmaller, and Baldwin, filed a motion to suppress their statements to the police. Following a Miranda hearing, the trial judge denied defendant's motion, holding that defendant knowingly, voluntarily and intentionally waived his rights. The judge found that the detectives had stopped questioning defendant after he requested an attorney; defendant subsequently re-initiated contact with the detectives and asked to speak to them; defendant received his Miranda rights a second time before giving the statement; and he acknowledged that he understood his rights by initialing the Miranda card.
Defendant was tried separately from his co-defendants. Police Officer Dominick Patitucci testified that he responded to the scene following the shooting. He also executed a search warrant on defendant's residence and seized a .357 caliber handgun containing ammunition, and one shotgun shell.

         Detective Michael Donato testified that, with Swinton's sister's consent, he searched her apartment. During the search, Swinton's sister directed him to a duffle bag containing two shotguns matching the description of the weapons used in the shooting. The officer also discovered shotgun shells.

State Trooper Randolph Toth of the New Jersey State Police Ballistics Unit testified that because of the types of barrels on the guns retrieved during the searches, the bullets that killed Blackshear could not be identified as having come from a particular gun.
Clark and Perry testified about their taped statements, as well as their and defendant's involvement in what had occurred the night of the shooting.

State v. Farnville, No. A-0169-09T1, 2012 WL 469456, at *1-5 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. Feb. 15, 2012).

Following a jury trial, defendant was convicted on count one of first-degree felony murder, on count three of first-degree armed robbery, on count four of second-degree robbery, on count seven of third-degree unlawful acquisition of a firearm, and on counts ten and eleven of second-degree conspiracy to commit robbery and burglary. In convicting defendant on count three the jury did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that he was armed with a shotgun. The jury also found defendant not guilty on count six of possession of a shotgun for an unlawful purpose, and on count twelve of possession of a sawed-off shotgun. At sentencing, the trial judge merged the convictions on counts four and ten with count one and sentenced defendant to an aggregate sixty-year term of imprisonment with an eighty-five percent period of parole ineligibility pursuant to the No Early Release Act (NERA), N.J.S.A. 2C:43-7.2.

Id. at *1.

         Petitioner subsequently appealed his conviction and sentence to the Appellate Division, where he raised the following claims:

POINT I
THE TRIAL COURT ERRED, TO DEFENDANT'S GREAT PREJUDICE, IN REFUSING TO ADMIT AN EXCITED UTTERANCE THAT A CO-DEFENDANT WAS THE SHOOTER. U.S. CONST., AMEND. XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. 1, PAR. 10.
POINT II
THE STATE ENGAGED IN MISCONDUCT BY INTENTIONALLY PRESENTING HIGHLY PREJUDICIAL VICTIM-IMPACT TESTIMONY, AND THE TRIAL COURT FAILED TO ATTEMPT TO REMEDIATE IT, TO DEFENDANT'S GREAT PREJUDICE. U.S. CONST., AMEND[ ]. XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. 1, PAR. 10.
POINT III
THE OFFICERS VIOLATED THE DEFENDANT'S RIGHT TO SILENCE AND TO COUNSEL BY CONTINUING TO QUESTION HIM AFTER HE HAD REQUESTED COUNSEL, NECESSITATING SUPPRESSION. U.S. CONST., AMENDS. V, VI, XIV; N.J. CONST. (1947), ART. 1, PAR. 10.
POINT IV
THE TRIAL COURT IMPOSED AN EXCESSIVE SENTENCE, NECESSITATING ...

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