United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division
DARNELL L. WALKER, Petitioner,
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.
JAMES R. SPENCER, Senior District Judge.
Darnell L. Walker, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("§ 2254 Petition, " ECF No. 4) challenging his convictions in the Circuit Court for the County of Dinwiddie, Virginia (hereinafter, "Circuit Court"). On May 22, 2015, the Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation recommending that the Court grant Respondent's Motion to Dismiss. Walker has filed objections. For the reasons that follow, Walker's objections will be OVERRULED and the Motion to Dismiss will be GRANTED.
The Magistrate Judge made the following findings and recommendation:
A. Walker's Claims
Walker argues entitlement to relief on the following grounds:
Claim 1 The Circuit Court erred in denying Walker's demands for habeas relief on his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and in failing to conduct an evidentiary hearing. (§ 2254 Pet. 15).
Claim 2 "Counsel failed to present evidence of co-defendant Morgan's previous attempt to transfer blame to Jerome Curtis, who was arrested with Morgan on Morgan's prior firearm case." (Id. at 17.)
Claim 3 "[C]ounsel failed to present at trial the CD of the audio recording of the 911 call which is more complete and clearer than the tape played by the Commonwealth at trial and would have provided exculpatory evidence for the Petitioner and corroboration of the Petitioner's version of events." (Id. at 20.)
Claim 4 "[C]ounsel failed to move to strike the conspiracy charge and argue that the Commonwealth's evidence did not prove any agreement necessary to support a conviction for conspiracy to commit murder." (Id at 25.)
In order to obtain federal habeas relief, at a minimum, a petitioner must demonstrate that he is "in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). "[C]laims of error occurring in a state post-conviction proceeding cannot serve as a basis for federal habeas corpus relief." Bryant v. Maryland, 848 F.2d 492, 493 (4th Cir. 1988) (citing cases). This is so because a habeas petitioner is detained as a result of the underlying state conviction, not the state collateral proceeding. See Lawrence v. Branker, 517 F.3d 700, 717 (4th Cir. 2008). Accordingly, it is RECOMMENDED that Claim 1, which merely alleges error in the state post-conviction proceedings, be DISMISSED. Furthermore, for the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that the remaining claims be DISMISSED as lacking in merit.
B. Factual and Procedural History
Walker was charged with the first-degree murder of Lowell Glass and Betty Smith, two counts of use of a firearm in commission of murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 3-5.) On June 11, 2008, the Circuit Court conducted a bench trial and convicted Walker of the above charges. The Circuit Court sentenced Walker to two terms of life imprisonment plus eighteen years. Commonwealth v. Walker, No. CR07F-135-139, at 2 (Va. Cir. Ct. Oct. 8, 2008). The Circuit Court suspended ten years of that sentence. Id.
The evidence presented at trial is summarized below. Walker, Glass, and Smith lived in Crews Mobile Home Park. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 24, 104.) Walker sold drugs, and Glass was one of Walker's regular customers. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 229-30.)
1. Derrick Morgan's Testimony
On November 28, 2006, Derrick Morgan, Walker's cousin, visited Walker at Walker's trailer. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 23-25.) Amanda Stith, Walker's girlfriend was in Walker's trailer. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 25.) Morgan brought his.22 caliber handgun to Walker's trailer and gave it to Walker. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 26-27.) Thereafter, Walker and Morgan walked six trailers down to Glass's trailer. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 29.)
Upon entering the trailer, Walker went to the back of the trailer with Glass. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 30.) Morgan remained at the front of the trailer with Smith. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 30.) After a few minutes, Morgan heard gunshots from the back of the trailer. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 31.) Morgan got up to walk out of the trailer and passed Walker who was loading the gun. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 31-32.) Morgan left the trailer and was standing on the porch to the trailer when he heard two more gun shots. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 32.) Walker then emerged from the trailer and handed Morgan a phone. (June 11, 2008, 32-33.) Morgan then heard Smith moaning. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 101.) Morgan told Walker that "she know who he was so to finish doing what he was doing." (June 11, 2008 Tr. 33.) At the time Morgan made those statements, he did not realize that the phone belonged to Smith and that it was connected to the 911 dispatcher. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 34.) Morgan encouraged Walker to hurry up and shoot Smith. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 33-34.)
After disposing of the gun and the phone, Morgan and Walker returned to Walker's trailer. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 34-36.) Morgan and Walker then used bleach to wash their hands. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 37.) Morgan and Walker then went back to Glass's trailer to recover any lost shell casings. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 37-38.)
2. Amanda Stith's Testimony
Amanda Stith, Walker's girlfriend at the time of the murders, corroborated much of Morgan's testimony. According to Stith, on the night of the murders, Walker said he was going to get Morgan. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 105.) Thereafter, Morgan appeared at Walker's trailer and handed Walker a gun. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 106.) Walker loaded the gun, placed it his pocket, and left the trailer with Morgan. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 107.) Earlier that day, Walker had mentioned that he and Morgan were going to go to Glass's trailer. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 109.)
Shortly thereafter, Stith heard two gunshots. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 109). About five or ten minutes later, Morgan, looking scared, came back to the trailer that Stith shared with Walker. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 114.) Walker then arrived and began to strip off his clothes and put them in the washing machine. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 116.) Walker asked Morgan, "[h]ow do you wash gun powder off of your hands?" (June 11, 2008 Tr. 116.)
After showering, Walker began pacing around the trailer and looking out the window. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 118.) Stith asked Walker what was wrong. (June 11, 2008 Tr. 118.) Walker responded, "you be nervous and scared, too, ...