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Brooks v. Clarke

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 16, 2015

DONALD LEE BROOKS, Petitioner,
v.
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES R. SPENCER, Senior District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court on a Writ of Habeas Corpus for Prisoner in State Custody ("Petition") (ECF No. 1) filed by Petitioner Donald Lee Brooks ("Brooks" or "Petitioner") and a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 5) filed by Respondent Harold W. Clarke ("Clarke" or "Respondent"), Director of the Virginia Department of Corrections. In the Petition, Brooks challenges his convictions for second degree murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of that murder. After being convicted, Brooks was sentenced to 25 years on the murder conviction and 3 consecutive years on the firearm offense. For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES the Petition and GRANTS the Motion to Dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

a. Factual History

On April 12, 2010, Brooks, Gerald Hall ("Hall) and Tony Robinson ("Robinson") were at a bar named "B&N Grill, " drinking beer and playing pool. Hall and Brooks were regular customers who came in about two or three times a week. Robinson did not previously know either of the two other men. After some time, the men got loud fussing at each other, and the bar owner, Betty Newton ("Newton"), asked the men to go outside. At trial, Newton claimed that Brooks shoved Hall to the ground as the men walked outside. Testifying for the prosecution, Robinson stated that he went outside a few moments after Hall and Brooks left the bar, and saw the two men just standing there. According to Robinson, Brooks then walked to his truck, pulled out a gun, and walked toward Hall while firing his gun. The prosecution alleged that Hall was shot in the back.

However, Brooks testified to the contrary that upon exiting the bar, Hall and Robinson took him to the ground, and his hat and glasses were knocked off. When knocked down, Brooks allegedly landed on his back and suffered a large gash in his head, which required stitches. Brooks further testified that Hall was straddling him, basically sitting on Brooks' stomach and holding down one arm, while Robinson held down Brooks' other arm. Brooks then alleged that Hall started beating him in the face. When Brooks asked Hall why he was doing this, Hall responded, "I'm going to kill your old MF ass." Brooks testified that at that moment, he "snapped, " managed to get his arm free, pulled his gun "from the back of [his] britches, " and started shooting.

After the shooting, Brooks went to his truck, called 911 and advised the dispatcher that he thought he shot two people. According to Deputy White's testimony, when he arrived on scene he first noticed that Brooks had a lot of blood on his face. The first thing Brooks told the Deputy was that "they beat me up, " and "I'm an old man, and that's why I shot them."

According to the state's medical examiner, Dr. Gormley, Hall died about three weeks after the shooting from infection, essentially caused by two gunshot wounds.

b. Procedural History

i. Conviction and Direct Appeal

Brooks was charged with murder and the use of a firearm in the commission of that murder. He pled not guilty to each charge. A jury trial was held before the Honorable Thomas V. Warren on September 1-2, 2010. Keith N. Hurley ("Hurley") represented Brooks at trial. The jury was instructed on first degree murder, second degree murder, manslaughter based on the heat of passion, and self-defense. The jury found Brooks guilty of second degree murder and use of a firearm in the commission of murder and recommended 25 years for second degree murder and 3 years for use of a firearm. The Court accepted the jury's recommended sentences. The trial court entered final judgment on September 9, 2010, and Brooks subsequently appealed his convictions to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. A single judge refused the petition on March 22, 2011, and a three-judge panel likewise refused the petition on May 17, 2011. The Virginia Supreme Court thereafter refused Brooks' petition for appeal by order dated October 24, 2011.

ii. State and Federal Habeas Petitions

After the Virginia Supreme Court's refusal to hear Brooks' petition, he filed a habeas corpus petition in the Amelia County Circuit Court. In that petition, Brooks raised all of the allegations that he raises in the present Petition, which are outlined below. The circuit court issued a letter opinion on September 21, 2013, in which it rejected Brooks' various ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The circuit court dismissed the petition on February 21, 2014. The Supreme Court of Virginia then denied the petition for appeal from the habeas dismissal order on October 10, 2014.

On January 7, 2015, Brooks filed the instant Petition in this Court raising the same four primary claims:

• Claim A: Petitioner was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel when (1) counsel failed to present and argue any evidence of the trajectory of the bullets that allegedly supported the defense theory of the case and in particular Petitioner's testimony; (2) counsel failed to properly cross-examine the state's chief medical examiner regarding the entry and exit wounds, trajectory of the bullets, and inaccuracies of his diagrams, and failed to object to the admission of the autopsy report; and (3) counsel failed to present evidence and argue during closing argument that the bullet wounds and trajectory of the bullets support Petitioner's theory of self-defense, or at worst, manslaughter. ( See Pet. at 13-14.)
• Claim B: Petitioner was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel when counsel failed to present evidence of certain bruising on Petitioner as well as the bent rings on Petitioner's left hand allegedly caused by Robinson putting his knee on Petitioner's hand. ( See id . at 27.)
• Claim C: Petitioner was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel when counsel failed to fully cross-examine Robinson. ( See id . at 30.)
• Claim D: Petitioner was denied his right to effective assistance of counsel as a result of counsel's errors in Claims A through C. ( See id . at 35.) On February 18, 2015, Clarke filed a response to the Petition and the Motion to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 5, 6). Brooks subsequently filed a reply to the Motion ...

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