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Housen v. Gelb

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

February 24, 2014

CORINTHIAN C. HOUSEN, JR., Petitioner, Appellant,
v.
BRUCE GELB, SUPERINTENDENT, Respondent, Appellee

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS. Hon. F. Dennis Saylor, IV, U.S. District Judge.

Stewart T. Graham, Jr., with whom Graham & Graham was on brief, for appellant.

Todd M. Blume, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Bureau, with whom Martha Coakley, Attorney General, was on brief, for appellee.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Souter,[*] Associate Justice, and Selya, Circuit Judge.

OPINION

Page 222

SELYA, Circuit Judge.

This habeas appeal, brought by a state prisoner against a Massachusetts correctional official for relief from a conviction and life sentence for first-degree murder, is governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In pertinent part, the AEDPA instructs that a writ of habeas corpus may issue upon a showing that the state court's decision " was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Id. § 2254(d)(1). This provision lies at the epicenter of the petitioner's appeal.

The petitioner's first claim of error involves what is unarguably a clearly established constitutional rule: when evaluating a claim of evidentiary insufficiency, " the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to

Page 223

the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979). The petitioner asserts that, in his case, the state court recognized this rule but applied it unreasonably.

The second claim of error involves an allegation of prosecutorial inconsistency. At the petitioner's state-court trial, the Commonwealth argued that he had shot and killed the victim. At an earlier state-court trial, however, the Commonwealth argued that the defendant in that case (the petitioner's accomplice) had shot and killed the victim. The petitioner asserts that, under clearly established law, these inconsistent approaches rendered his trial fundamentally unfair and deprived him of his constitutional right to due process.

After careful consideration of this asseverational array against the backdrop of an amplitudinous record, we affirm the district court's denial of habeas relief.

I. BACKGROUND

We touch lightly upon the factual findings of the state court, supplementing those findings when necessary with consistent record evidence. See Tash v. Roden, 626 F.3d 15, 16 (1st Cir. 2010). The reader who hungers for more exegetic detail should consult the underlying opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC). See Commonwealth v. Housen (Housen I), 458 Mass. 702, 940 N.E.2d 437, 440-42 (Mass. 2011). " Because this appeal involves a challenge to evidentiary sufficiency, we rehearse the facts in the light most compatible with the jury's verdict...." Leftwich v. Maloney, 532 F.3d 20, 21 (1st Cir. 2008).

Near midnight on April 18, 2001, a Toyota Camry stopped in front of an apartment house in Brockton, Massachusetts. Three men got out of the car. Two of them entered the building while the third pressed the front buzzer. The third man then entered the lobby, but the record is unclear as to whether he proceeded further.

Fitzroy Hecker and his girlfriend, Kerry Murphy, shared an apartment on the third floor of the building. Hecker sold marijuana from the apartment. Murphy was in the bedroom when she heard a voice (later identified as belonging to Damon Cannon) saying " I don't know, an ounce." She then heard someone with a deeper voice say either " [r]un him" or " [r]un it." According to evidence adduced at trial, these phrases indicated that the men were robbing Hecker.

Murphy soon heard three gunshots in rapid succession and, after a brief pause, a fourth shot. She went to the living room and saw a man sprinting into the common hallway while Cannon, with a look of shock on his face, stood still. After noticing Murphy, Cannon fled. He did not appear to be armed.

Hecker, who had been shot twice in the neck and once in the wrist, was bleeding profusely. His gun lay on the floor near his left hand.

A third-floor neighbor heard the gunshots and then heard two people running down the stairs, saying " [l]et's go, let's go." He next heard " a car screeching off." A second-floor tenant likewise heard two people running down the ...


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