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Legere v. Reilly

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 10, 2015

Christopher Legere
Edward Reilly, Warden, Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility. Opinion No. 2015 DNH 046


PAUL J. BARBADORO, District Judge.

Before the court is respondent's motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 37), and supplemental brief related to that motion (doc. no. 41), seeking judgment as a matter of law on all claims asserted in Christopher Legere's amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus (doc. no. 27), filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Legere objects. See Obj. (doc. no. 43). For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 37) is granted, Legere's amended § 2254 petition (doc. no. 27) is denied, and the court declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

I. Background[1]

A. Facts Underlying Legere's Conviction

1. The Shooting

In the late evening of June 24, 2006, and the early morning hours of June 25, 2006, Christopher Legere was at Three Cousins, a restaurant and bar in Manchester, New Hampshire. Legere's girlfriend, Amy Caswell, was working that night as a bartender at Three Cousins, and Legere generally spent the evening there when she was working. On June 24, 2006, Legere was at the bar socializing and singing karaoke when something drew his attention to the street outside of the bar.

At some point, John Denoncourt rode up on his motorcycle and was talking to Tracy Beardsdell and William Hill outside Three Cousins. Beardsdell and Hill were arguing because Hill wanted to ride Denoncourt's motorcycle, and Beardsdell felt that Hill was too intoxicated. Although Denoncourt was not a member of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, he was wearing a "Hells Angels support shirt" that evening. Beardsdell and Hill told Denoncourt that he could not go into Three Cousins wearing a Hells Angels shirt because Three Cousins had a policy against its patrons wearing any apparel showing membership in or support for any motorcycle club. Denoncourt indicated that he didn't care. Legere, who was a member of the Outlaws Motorcycle Club, was wearing a black Outlaws shirt, but had covered the word "Outlaws" with tape.

Legere went outside when he, and other Three Cousins patrons, became aware of the commotion. A fight or struggle ensued, involving a number of people, including Legere. During that altercation, a number of people saw Legere being held back, or struggling with, several people. In the end, Legere shot Denoncourt in the chest. Denoncourt tried to leave, but, approximately 340 feet from the altercation, fell and died from the gunshot wound. Legere left the scene in a white sports utility vehicle, and returned shortly thereafter on his motorcycle, wearing a different shirt. Legere helped Caswell at Three Cousins for a while, and then left. He was later charged with Denoncourt's murder.

A number of people present inside and outside Three Cousins on the night of the shooting testified at Legere's trial. Daniel Nadeau, a Three Cousins patron, testified that he saw Legere holding a small black gun, and shooting it as he jumped over people. Nadeau stated that he saw Legere point and shoot the gun at an individual running away from the scene. Nadeau also testified that during the shooting, several people were trying to hold Legere back and that one person screamed, "Stop, Buster, Stop." Other witnesses at trial testified that: Legere's nickname is "Buster"; Legere is a member of the Outlaws; the shooter was wearing a black shirt; Legere was wearing a black shirt at the time of the shooting; prior to the shooting, Legere had a hard metal object in his waistband, under his shirt; and after the shooting, someone yelled something to the effect that "Buster shot a Hells Angel" and that everyone should leave because the Hells Angels and/or the police were going to be arriving.

2. Expert Testimony

The state called Maryland State Police Lt. Terry Katz as an expert witness to testify about the history of the violent rivalry between the Hells Angels and Outlaws motorcycle clubs, particularly over territorial issues. Lt. Katz testified that the Outlaws and Hells Angels have an antagonistic relationship extending back decades, that has resulted in violence, including gang fights, serious assaults, and homicides. He further testified that intrusion on the territory of one of those clubs by the other would result in a confrontation that could ultimately turn violent. Lt. Katz explained that both the Hells Angels and the Outlaws consider themselves to be "One Percenters, " which Katz explained means that "they exist only by their own rules, not society's." Katz also told the jury that two of the Outlaws' mottos are "God forgives, Outlaws don't" and "Snitches are a dying breed."

B. Procedural History

1. State Court

In 2007, a jury convicted Legere of second degree murder, and Legere was sentenced to serve 45-90 years in prison. See State v. Legere, No. 06-S-1741, 1742 (N.H. Super. Ct., Hillsborough County N. ("HCSC") May 10, 2007). The New Hampshire Supreme Court ("NHSC") affirmed Legere's conviction. See State v. Legere, 958 A.2d 969, 972 (N.H. 2008).

In 2010, Legere, through court-appointed post-conviction counsel, filed a motion for a new trial ("MNT") in the HCSC, asserting that Legere's trial attorney had failed to provide him with effective assistance of counsel. The HCSC held an evidentiary hearing on Legere's motion, and Legere moved to amend the MNT. The HCSC denied both the MNT and the motion to amend. See State v. Legere, No. 06-S-1741, 1742 (HCSC Aug. 26, 2011) ("MNT Order")). The NHSC accepted Legere's discretionary appeal of HCSC's order. See State v. Legere, No. 2011-0687 (N.H. Feb. 3, 2012).

While the MNT appeal was pending, Legere filed a state habeas petition in the Merrimack County Superior Court ("MCSC"), which that court denied. See Legere v. Gerry, No. 217-2011-CV-537 (N.H. Super. Ct., Merrimack County Nov. 9, 2011). The NHSC accepted Legere's appeal of the MCSC order, consolidated it with the MNT appeal, appointed appellate counsel for Legere, and denied Legere leave to file a supplemental pro se brief. See Legere v. Warden, No. 2012-0074 (N.H. Apr. 2, 2012). On August 21, 2013, the NHSC affirmed both HCSC's ruling on the MNT and the MCSC order denying the state habeas petition. See State v. Legere, No. 2011-0687 (N.H. Aug. 21, 2013) ("August 21 NHSC Opinion").

2. Federal Habeas Petition

Legere filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in this court before the above-described state proceedings had ended. This court stayed the petition to allow Legere to exhaust his state remedies as to the claims in his petition. See Order (doc. no. 6). The court lifted the stay in November 2013 and directed service of Legere's Amended Petition (doc. no. 27), which is the operative pleading in this matter. See Order (doc. no. 32). Respondent has filed a motion for summary judgment (doc. no. 37) and a supplemental brief in support of that motion (doc. no. 41). Legere objects (doc. no. 43).

Legere raises the following claims for relief:

1. At Legere's trial, the prosecutor engaged in misconduct during his closing argument, which so infected the fundamental fairness of the proceedings as to violate Legere's Fourteenth Amendment due process rights, as follows:
a. In his closing argument, the prosecutor improperly relied on facts that were not supported by the evidence at trial.
b. In his closing argument, the prosecutor improperly asserted his personal opinion as to: (i) the credibility of certain witnesses, (ii) Legere's guilt, and (iii) ...

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