United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division.
JOHN A. GIBNEY, Jr., District Judge.
Danial Williams, a Virginia probationer, submitted this petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Williams challenges his convictions, following a guilty plea, for capital murder and rape. Respondent has moved to dismiss on the grounds that, inter alia, the statute of limitations applicable to federal habeas petitions bars Williams's petition and that Williams's claims are procedurally defaulted. Williams has responded. Williams asserts, inter alia, that his actual innocence allows the Court to address the merits of his claims. The Supreme Court recently concluded that "actual innocence, if proved, serves as a gateway through which a petitioner may pass whether the impediment is a procedural bar... [or] expiration of the statute of limitations." McQuiggin v. Perkins, 133 S.Ct. 1924, 1928 (2013). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will set the matter for an evidentiary hearing on Williams's assertion of actual innocence.
I.Williams's Grounds for Habeas Relief
Because the nature of a petitioner's claims bears on what evidence the Court may consider as part of the actual innocence inquiry, it is appropriate to recite Williams's grounds for habeas relief prior to addressing his assertion of actual innocence. See Cleveland v. Bradshaw, 693 F.3d 626, 637 n.4 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting Gomez v. Jaimet, 350 F.3d 673, 680 (7th Cir. 2003)). Williams demands relief upon the following grounds:
Claim 1 Williams is actually innocent of the capital murder and rape of Michelle Bosko. (Am. § 2254 Pet. 77-78.)
Claim 2 Williams failed to receive the effective assistance of counsel. Specifically;
(a) Danial Williams's lawyers failed to make reasonable and necessary efforts to investigate the Commonwealth's evidence against him and to investigate and preserve evidence in support of defenses to the Commonwealth's charges.
(i) Danial Williams's lawyers failed to take any steps to preserve the testimony of his sole alibi witness, Nicole Williams, including by taking her deposition, which would have given the Commonwealth an opportunity to cross examine her thereby ensuring her testimony would be admissible at any subsequent trial.
(ii) Danial Williams's attorneys failed to conduct any factual investigation to support a defense that Danial Williams's confession was false and that another individual raped and murdered Michelle Bosko, even though his attorneys were aware of similar assaults committed in the area and even though they sought and received court approval for $1, 000 to hire an investigator-funds they never used. Had Danial Williams's lawyers investigated his case early on in their representation, they would quickly have learned of Omar Ballard and could have requested that Ballard's DNA be compared to the DNA of the rapist and murderer, which would have revealed an exact match to the crime scene and autopsy samples from the Bosko murder.
(b) Danial Williams's attorneys failed to properly prepare for and present evidence in support of his motion to suppress the inculpatory statement he gave to the police.
(i) His attorneys failed to prepare Danial Williams to testify at the hearing on the motion to suppress his statements. They also failed to present substantial evidence, of which they were aware, about the coercive interrogation tactics that the police used during Danial Williams's interrogation that demonstrated that his will had been overborne and that his confession was involuntary.
(ii) Although they knew of [Detective Robert Glenn] Ford's background of obtaining false confessions and specifically his involvement in the notorious Lafayette Grill case, Danial Williams's lawyers never sought to introduce evidence of Ford's history at the motions hearing. They failed to call Ford, who was present and available to testify, as a witness at the hearing even though Ford was the key detective who extracted Danial's confession. His attorneys never requested court ordered funds to hire a defense psychiatric expert witness to determine, in support of an involuntary confession claim, whether Danial Williams's personality profile made him susceptible to succumbing to police pressure, such that he would falsely confess, and to corroborate his claim that his will was overborne by the police.
(iii) Danial Williams's lawyers failed to demonstrate at the suppression hearing that a key indicator that his false confession was involuntary was that it did not match the key details of the crime, but instead conflicted with the physical evidence and the autopsy evidence in every material respect. Danial Williams's lawyers failed to establish at the motions hearing that the only facts that Williams correctly described in his initial statement were things that he observed when he accompanied William Bosko into the apartment after calling 911 at William Bosko's request (specifically that Michelle Bosko was assaulted in her bedroom, that she had on a black t-shirt and no panties, and that she was lying on the bedroom floor with her arms over her head).
(c) Danial Williams's attorneys failed to develop defenses to the charges that were available to him and to properly prepare for trial.
(d) Danial Williams's attorneys did not believe and explore Williams's repeated, consistent, and corroborated claims that he was innocent. Instead, they concluded early on in their representation of him that he was guilty.
(e) Danial Williams's lawyers failed to prepare him to testify at the hearing on his motion to withdraw his guilty plea. They failed to call him as a witness at the hearing to testify that he was actually innocent of the charges, and to testify that he had maintained his innocence throughout their representation of him, even after he pled guilty to avoid execution.
(f) His appellate attorney failed to present reasonable arguments on appeal to demonstrate that it was an abuse of discretion and error for the trial court not to permit Danial Williams to withdraw his guilty plea and to press the numerous constitutional violations in the state proceedings.
( Id. at 79-81.)
Claim 3 Danial Williams's guilty plea was involuntary for a variety of reasons. Williams asserts that:
(a) As detailed above, Danial Williams's attorneys failed to investigate and preserve evidence, develop available defenses to the Commonwealth's charges, and take other reasonable and necessary efforts to prepare for trial despite his consistent and repeated claims that he was innocent of the charges.
(b) Danial Williams's attorneys placed enormous pressure on him to plead guilty. Over the course of the case, Robert Frank, one of his lawyers ridiculed him for his resistance to pleading guilty, saying that he should be named "Denial" because he was in denial about what would happen to him. His lawyers first pressed him to plead guilty in January 1998, before they knew the results of DNA tests that Williams insisted would exonerate him. When he refused to plead, his lawyers simultaneously requested a court-ordered competency evaluation of him, despite the fact that he was clearly competent, and sought his parents' support to pressure him to accept the plea offer. However, Williams rejected the plea offer. His lawyers' second attempt to persuade Williams to plead guilty came after April 30, 1998, when they learned of his exculpatory DNA results; Williams rejected the plea offer again on or about June 9, 1998. His attorneys' third attempt to persuade Williams to plead guilty occurred in January 1999, when his trial was only weeks away. Williams's lawyers described in the worst possible light their belief that Danial would likely be found guilty, sentenced to death, and executed if he went to trial.
(c) Without the possibility of challenging the Commonwealth's evidence against him because of his attorneys' inadequate preparation, Danial Williams believed that he had no choice but to accept a guilty plea to avoid the death penalty, even though he wanted to contest the Commonwealth's charges.
( Id at 81-82.)
Claim 4 The Commonwealth engaged in a pattern of misconduct that violated Williams's right to due process. Specifically:
(a) The Commonwealth suppressed material, exculpatory, and favorable evidence that should have been disclosed to the defense in a timely manner, including:
(i) Tamika Taylor's statement to the authorities that she was suspicious of Omar Ballard and he should be considered a prime suspect because he had a criminal past, he knew Michelle Bosko, he visited her at odd hours (despite being banned from the apartment complex), and he had committed violent assaults against other young women in the area.
(ii) The DNA results it learned of on December 11, 1997 from a DNA analyst for the Virginia [Department of Forensic Science] DFS that Danial Williams was excluded as a contributor to the critical crime scene and autopsy samples, including the semen stain found on a blanket next to Michelle Bosko's body and the DNA found under Michelle Bosko's fingernails. The Commonwealth failed to disclose this highly exculpatory exclusion to Danial's lawyers until April 30, 1998, after charging Joseph Dick, Jr., and Eric Wilson, at which time they simultaneously produced for Danial Williams's attorneys Eric Wilson's confession.
(iii) The exculpatory Econo Lodge and Tides Inn motel records that corroborated John Danser's statement that he was in Norfolk two weeks after the Bosko rape and murder, but that failed to corroborate the Commonwealth's theory that he was in Norfolk in the days before and after the crime.
(iv) Derek Tice's exculpatory November 5, 1998, statement in which he first denied that John Danser was involved in the Bosko rape and murder, and later denied that he (Tice) was involved in any way in the crime.
(v) Omar Ballard's letter to Karen Stover admitting he murdered Michelle Bosko and DNA results conclusively linking Ballard to the DNA from the crime scene and autopsy (until after the Commonwealth reversed course and withdrew its motion to revoke Danial Williams's plea agreement).
(b) The Commonwealth and/or its agents made misrepresentations and, in at least one instance, made false representations about the existence of material and exculpatory evidence.
(i) The Commonwealth told Eric Wilson's defense counsel in response to repeated requests for the crime scene videotape that no crime scene videotape existed and, when it could no longer deny the videotape's existence, claimed it was not required to produce the videotape because it was not exculpatory. When ultimately produced, the videotape was clearly exculpatory because the crime scene condition depicted in the videotape clearly contradicted the Commonwealth's multiple offender theory.
(ii) The Commonwealth falsely misrepresented to John Danser's attorney that no motel records existed relating to Danser's claim that he was in Norfolk two weeks after the Bosko crime, but not in the days before and after the assault, when Ford had actually obtained the records on November 4, 1998.
(c) The Commonwealth acted in bad faith and violated the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility on several occasions. The Commonwealth's misconduct in this prosecution, individually and collectively, caused prejudice to Danial Williams and violated his rights to due process.
(i) The Commonwealth violated Canon 8 of the Virginia Code of Professional Responsibility, Disciplinary Rules § 8-102(A)(3) when it required that the cooperating codefendants, Joseph Dick. Jr., and Derek Tice, and their counsel not discuss with other defendants or their lawyers the terms of their plea agreements and other facts about the crime or the prosecution of which they were aware.
(d) The Commonwealth acted in bad faith when it opposed Danial Williams's motion to withdraw his guilty plea when it had just two months before sought to void that very plea agreement, then quickly reversed course without explanation on the very day it ex parte received evidence inculpating Ballard and exculpating Williams.
( Id. at 82-84.)
Claim 5 Detective Ford violated Williams's rights because Ford "engaged in pervasive police misconduct, manipulated the criminal justice system, and twisted evidence to fit his theory' of the crime by intentionally pursuing the prosecution of Danial Williams even though he believed the evidence did not ...