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McDonald v. Clarke

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

July 27, 2017

JASON W. MCDONALD, Petitioner,
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.


          Hon. Jackson L. Kiser Senior United States District Judge

         Jason W. McDonald, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, timely filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the validity of his confinement on a judgment in the Louisa County Circuit Court for aggravated malicious wounding, malicious wounding by mob, and conspiracy to commit malicious wounding. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss, and McDonald responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. McDonald also filed a motion to authorize discovery. After review of the record, I grant the motion to dismiss, dismiss the petition, and deny the pending motion.


         A. Factual Background

         McDonald was tried along with codefendants Chad and Sedrick Goins. The Virginia Court of Appeals summarized the facts as follows:

At about 11:00 p.m. on June 19, 2011, Deputy Jay Hensley of the Louisa County Sheriffs Office went to 288 Kinneytown Road in response to a 911 call. He found Steve Minor in a ditch in front of a residence at that address. Minor had sustained a severe traumatic brain injury that required emergency surgery. Effects of the injury were permanent.
On the afternoon of June 19, 2011, Robert Watson drank beer and played horseshoes at the residence of Dwayne Shelton. Shelton took Watson to his home on Newline Road at about 8:00 p.m. Shelton said that while Watson had been drinking that day, Watson was not drunk when Shelton took him home.
Kelly Goins (Kelly) was the girlfriend of Minor, the sister of Chad Goins (Chad), and the mother of Sedrick Goins (Sedrick). At about 9:00 p.m. on June 19, 2011, Kelly went to the hospital by ambulance to receive emergency medical treatment. She was transported to the hospital room from the home of Lewis Dunivan at 111 Kinneytown Road. [McDonald] had made the 911 call regarding Kelly and, using a false name, reported that Kelly had been assaulted by her boyfriend. [McDonald] and Sedrick both were present at 111 Kinneytown Road, but Minor was not.
Sedrick later approached Shelton, who was a professional fighter, about fighting Minor. Shelton testified that Sedrick was upset with Minor because of an incident that occurred with Kelly earlier that evening. Shelton refused to fight Minor. Dunivan heard [McDonald] arguing with someone on the telephone and threatening to "beat that nigger's ass."
After he arrived home, Watson received a telephone call from [McDonald]. After the phone call, Chad and Minor appeared in a vehicle at Watson's residence. Watson agreed to go to the store with Chad and Minor to purchase beer. While they were traveling, Chad turned the vehicle in the opposite direction from the store's location. When Watson asked what he was doing, Chad said he was avoiding the police because he had no driver's license. Chad was speeding as he drove to 288 Kinneytown Road, then turned into the driveway. After they stopped, Watson saw one person standing outside the trailer, and two people inside a vehicle that was parked there. Minor and Watson got out of the car.
Watson testified that people came toward them to confront Minor. [McDonald] grabbed Watson by the arm. When Watson protested, [McDonald] cursed at him. Minor started running away from the group that had confronted him. [McDonald] released Watson and joined the group purs[u]ing Minor. The members of the group threw Minor down, kicked him, and stomped him. Watson identified [McDonald], Chad, and Sedrick as some of the men engaged in the beating. After hearing a loud sound he thought was a gunshot, Watson ran toward the home of Josephine Brooks because he feared the group would come after him. Watson called 911 and reported that five men were beating Minor.

McDonald v. Commonwealth, No. 0773-12-2, 1-2 (Va. Ct. App. Apr. 24, 2013). Moreover, Watson testified that he could clearly see the beating because the area was well-illuminated by a streetlight.

         The Commonwealth relied heavily upon Watson's eyewitness account; however, Watson admitted having prior felony convictions and that he had initially told the police that Chris Johnson took part in the beating, but later rescinded that statement. Also, at trial, someone in the courtroom had detected the odor of alcohol on Watson's breath and alerted the judge. The judge was asked whether a breathalyzer test would be appropriate, but the judge determined that a test was unnecessary because it would not have produced admissible evidence and Watson had not acted unlawfully or appear under the influence.

         Beyond Watson's testimony, the Commonwealth also introduced phone records that demonstrated that Chad had contacted Shelton on the night of June 19, 2011, and that McDonald had made the 911 phone call regarding Kelly. Further, a Verizon Wireless custodian of records testified regarding calls and text messages among McDonald, Chad, and Sedrick. At 10:45 p.m., the phone that Sedrick used[1] sent a message stating: "Yo, oh, I'm bout to kill Steve." Id. at 3. The following day, that same phone texted: "Oh I may be in deep shit.... Tomorrow I have to talk to my lawyer. Things are really bad. I mean, really bad." Id.

         B. Procedural History

         In 2012, a Louisa County Circuit Court jury convicted McDonald of aggravated malicious wounding, malicious wounding by mob, and conspiracy to commit malicious wounding, and the court sentenced him to twenty-six years in prison. He appealed, but the Virginia Court of Appeals and the Virginia Supreme Court denied his petitions. He filed a motion to have the circuit court modify his sentence, but the court refused his request.

         In 2015, McDonald filed a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Louisa Circuit Court, raising substantially the same claims as his current petition.[2] The circuit court denied relief. He brought the same claims to the Virginia Supreme Court, but the court refused his habeas appeal.

         II. Claims

         McDonald raises the following claims:

1. The Commonwealth violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) by withholding exculpatory information that contradicts the testimony of the only testifying eyewitness, Robert "Squirrel" Watson;
2. The Commonwealth violated Brady by withholding information that Watson was drunk;
3. The Commonwealth violated Brady by failing to disclose that DNA testing had been done on the vehicle allegedly used by the defendants to flee the scene of the assault;
4. The Commonwealth violated Brady by providing the defense with false Brady material. The Commonwealth had informed defense counsel that Watson and Craig Johnson were cousins, but they were not actually related;
5. The Commonwealth violated Brady by withholding exculpatory evidence that goes directly to the credibility of the Commonwealth's witness, Dwayne Shelton;
6. The Commonwealth violated Brady by presenting the jury what is now known to be a "false victim impact statement";
7. Counsel was ineffective for failing to fully and effectively conduct an investigation of the victim's injuries and cause of injuries; and
8. The evidence in its totality was insufficient to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, which violated McDonald's rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.

         McDonald has raised all of his claims in the Virginia Supreme Court; therefore, his claims are properly exhausted under Baker v. Corcoran. 220 F.3d 276, 288 (4th Cir. 2000).

         III. Standard of Review

         To obtain federal habeas relief, 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). Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), however, the federal habeas court may not grant a writ of habeas corpus based on any claim that a state court decided on the merits unless that adjudication:

(1) Resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) Resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also Williams v. Taylor. 529 U.S. 362, 403-13 (2000). "Where, as here, the state court's application of governing federal law is challenged, it must be shown to be not only erroneous, but objectively unreasonable." Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 5 (2003). Under this standard, "[a] state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fair-minded jurists could agree on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter. 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (omitting internal quotations). The AEDPA standard is "highly deferential" to both factual findings and legal conclusions, and the petitioner bears the burden of proof. Id. at 105; Cullen v. Pinholster. 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

         A petitioner claiming ineffective assistance of counsel must satisfy the two-pronged test set forth in Strickland v. Washington. 466 U.S. 668 (1984). "The petitioner must show both deficient performance and prejudice; the two are separate and distinct elements." Spencer ...

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