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Teleguz v. Zook

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

August 31, 2016

IVAN TELEGUZ, Petitioner,

          William P.J. Kimmitt, Michael F. Williams, and K. Winn Allen, Kirkland & Ellis LLP, Washington, D.C., for Petitioner; Alice T. Armstrong, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Respondent.


          James P. Jones United States District Judge.

         In this capital habeas case, the petitioner has filed a Motion for Relief from Judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) based on the Supreme Court's decision in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012), issued while his federal habeas proceedings were pending. He contends that the change in law effected by Martinez, combined with his death sentence and the fact that four of his procedurally defaulted ineffective assistance of trial counsel claims have never been reviewed on the merits, constitute extraordinary circumstances sufficient to justify reopening his habeas proceedings to consider those four defaulted claims. I find that the petitioner's Rule 60(b)(6) motion is untimely and that he has failed to demonstrate extraordinary circumstances warranting relief from judgment. Therefore, I will deny the motion.


         The court of appeals recently gave the following summary of the facts and proceedings of this case:

In 2001, Stephanie Sipe was found murdered in the Harrisonburg, Virginia apartment she shared with her infant son. While Teleguz, Sipe's ex-boyfriend and her son's father, had been a suspect, the investigation had stalled until Aleksey Safanov, []imprisoned in Massachusetts on federal charges, provided a tip to United States Marshal Michael Nelson that “he knew of a Russian male that had his wife killed. He said that a Russian male hired a black male from Pennsylvania, Lancaster, Pennsylvania to kill his wife.” J.A. 2828. Safanov's tips led to Edwin Gilkes, and U.S. Marshal Nelson passed the information on to the Harrisonburg Police Department. Ultimately, the investigation resulted in, among other things, a capital murder for hire case against Teleguz.
In February 2006, a jury convicted Teleguz of murder for hire. Teleguz v. Pearson, 689 F.3d 322, 325 (4th Cir. 2012). Michael Hetrick, who had actually committed the killing, testified at trial that Teleguz had paid him two thousand dollars to slit Sipe's throat.
Hetrick's murder-for-hire allegations were corroborated by both Gilkes and Safanov. Gilkes testified that he had been present at a birthday party where Teleguz hired Hetrick to commit the murder. Gilkes also testified that he accompanied Hetrick to Sipe's apartment and waited outside for Hetrick during the murder. Gilkes further claimed that he was afraid of Teleguz because he had heard rumors that Teleguz was a member of the Russian mafia.
Safanov testified at Teleguz's trial that Teleguz attempted to hire him to murder Sipe to avoid paying child support. Safanov also testified that Teleguz had spoken to him about the murder after it had occurred, complaining that the man he had hired to kill Sipe had left blood at the scene and offering Safanov money to “eliminate” the killer. Teleguz, 689 F.3d at 326.
In February 2006, a Virginia jury recommended that Teleguz be sentenced to death upon finding two statutory aggravating factors: vileness and future dangerousness. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed Teleguz's conviction and sentence. Teleguz v. Commonwealth, 273 Va. 458, 643 S.E.2d 708 (2007). Teleguz proceeded to file a petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court, which the Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed. Teleguz v. Warden of Sussex I State Prison, 279 Va. 1, 688 S.E.2d 865 (2010).
Teleguz then turned to the federal courts, filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia in November 2010. Some of Teleguz's claims had been adjudicated on the merits in state court while others had been procedurally defaulted. Teleguz, 689 F.3d at 326. Teleguz argued that his defaulted claims should nevertheless be considered, primarily because he had new, reliable evidence that he was actually innocent (“Gateway Innocence Claim”).
In support of his Gateway Innocence Claim, Teleguz offered what we previously described as three categories of evidence. First, Teleguz presented affidavits of witnesses who indicated that they had not seen him at the birthday party during which he was alleged to have hired Hetrick to kill Sipe. Second, he presented evidence to establish that a murder in Ephrata, Pennsylvania alluded to during his trial never occurred. Third, and most importantly, Teleguz presented affidavits in which Gilkes and Safanov recanted testimony they offered at Teleguz's trial.
Gilkes claimed that he had been coerced into testifying against Teleguz by the prosecutor, who “made clear that if [he] did not, [he] would have been the one on death row today, not Teleguz.” J.A. 3546. Gilkes executed affidavits in both 2008 and 2010 disavowing aspects of his trial testimony.
Similarly, Safanov, who had left the United States for Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, ostensibly submitted an affidavit. According to that affidavit, as well as affidavits submitted by Teleguz's defense team, which had been in contact with someone claiming to be Safanov, Safanov asserted that he had never discussed Sipe's murder with Teleguz and agreed to testify falsely during Teleguz's trial because both the prosecutor pursuing Teleguz and a United States marshal told him that if he cooperated, he would be eligible for perks including an S visa allowing him to remain in the United States despite pending gun charges.
In August 2011, the district court denied Teleguz habeas relief without holding a hearing. Teleguz v. Kelly, 824 F.Supp.2d 672 (W.D. Va. 2011). Teleguz appealed, arguing that he was “entitled to an evidentiary hearing to demonstrate a miscarriage of justice.” Petitioner's Br. at ii. This Court vacated and remanded for a rigorous Gateway Innocence Claim analysis, strongly suggesting that an evidentiary hearing may be warranted to assess the credibility of the recanting witnesses. Teleguz, 689 F.3d 322.
On remand in district court, Teleguz changed his tune, “arguing that an evidentiary hearing [was] unnecessary” and that the district court should decide his Gateway Innocence Claim “on the cold record.” Teleguz v. Pearson, No. 7:10CV00254, 2012 WL 6151984, at *2 (W.D.Va. Dec. 11, 2012). “In light of th[is Court's] instructions, ” however, the district court found that an evidentiary hearing was “necessary.” Id. at *3. Accordingly, it held a several-day evidentiary hearing in November 2013.
At the hearing, Gilkes appeared but refused to testify. And Safanov did not appear, even by deposition or phone. In other words, neither of the recanters testified in support of their recantations. Meanwhile, Hetrick appeared and testified in detail and consistent with his trial testimony, i.e., that Teleguz had hired him to kill Sipe. Prosecutor Marsha Garst, whom Gilkes and Safanov accused of threatening them into testifying against Teleguz, appeared and testified that those accusations were false. And U.S. Marshal Nelson testified that Safanov's accusation that Nelson had told Safanov he could benefit from an S visa for assisting the government was also false.
Ultimately, in July 2014, the district court again denied Teleguz's petition. The district court held that it “c[ould] not conclude that more likely than not, given the overall, newly supplemented record, no reasonable juror would have found Teleguz guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As such, the petitioner has not made a threshold showing of actual innocence to permit review of his procedurally-defaulted claims.” Teleguz v. Davis, No. 7:10CV00254, 2014 WL 3548982, at *20 (W.D.Va. July 17, 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted). The district court also rejected Teleguz's claim that he had made a sufficient showing that his [state] habeas attorneys had been deficient in failing to pursue the Ephrata, Pennsylvania murder issue (“Martinez Claim”).

Teleguz v. Zook, 806 F.3d 803, 805-07 (4th Cir. 2015). On November 30, 2015, the court of appeals affirmed my second denial of Teleguz's petition. Id. at 818.

         The Supreme Court issued the Martinez decision on March 20, 2012, after my initial denial of Teleguz's petition but before the court of appeals remanded the case for a more rigorous analysis of the Gateway Innocence Claim. In Martinez, the Court held that “[i]nadequate assistance of counsel at initial-review collateral proceedings may establish cause for a prisoner's procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance at trial.” 132 S.Ct. at 1315. In other words, a federal habeas petitioner may be able to overcome a procedural default of a claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel if his state habeas counsel was ineffective in failing to raise trial counsel's ineffectiveness as an issue in the initial state habeas proceeding.

         The Martinez exception to the general rule of procedural default is, however, a narrow one. In this case, in order to establish cause for his default under Martinez, Teleguz must show that (1) his state habeas counsel was ineffective under the standards of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), for failing to raise the defaulted issues in the initial habeas proceeding, and (2) the underlying trial ineffectiveness claim is substantial, meaning that it has merit. 132 S.Ct. at 1318. To establish ineffectiveness under Strickland, Teleguz must show that (1) “counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, ” considering circumstances and facts known to counsel at the time of the representation, and (2) but for counsel's errors, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the case would have been different. 466 U.S. at 687-88, 694-95.

         In my initial denial of Teleguz's federal habeas petition, I held that the following five ineffective assistance of trial ...

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