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Chatman v. Clarke

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

September 19, 2017

HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.


          Norman K. Moon Senior United States District Judge

         Kenneth Tyrone Chatman, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the validity of his confinement on a judgment by the Circuit Court of the City of Lynchburg. Respondent filed a motion to dismiss Chatman's § 2254 petition, and Chatman responded, making the matter ripe for disposition. After review of the record, I will grant the motion to dismiss, and deny a certificate of appealability.

         I. Factual & Procedural Background [1]

         On the night of October 6, 2008, Leta Campbell was driving around Lynchburg with Quinton Austin, Khiry Withers, and William Mitchell. Around 10 P.M., Quinton Austin, cousin to both Petitioner Chatman and Chatman's brother Chris Austin, asked Campbell to stop by his grandmother's house on 209 Charlotte Street. Campbell parked about two houses down the block. Mitchell and Campbell stayed in the car while Quinton Austin and Withers got out and entered the residence.

         Later, Chatman and Chris Austin arrived and entered 209 Charlotte Street. Chris Austin had an ongoing disagreement with Quinton Austin and Withers. A verbal dispute broke out, which continued out into the yard. As Quinton Austin and Withers headed toward Campbell's car, gun shots rang out.

         Chatman and his brother, Chris Austin, were standing in the yard, with at least one of them firing down the street at Quinton Austin and Withers. As Quinton Austin and Withers fled, both were shot in the buttocks area. Multiple bullets struck Campbell's vehicle; one of the bullets shattered the rear window, passed through the vehicle, and exited the front windshield. Campbell was in the driver's seat and Mitchell was in the back seat when a bullet passed within a foot of Campbell's head. During the shooting, Chatman fired a fatal shot into the back of Chris Austin's head.

         A police investigation indicated that all of the shots fired that night came from inside the fenced-in area on 209 Charlotte Street. Police found nine shell casings on the front step area of the residence. Investigator Colin Byrne determined that five casings had been fired from a nine millimeter semi-automatic firearm and four casings had been fired from a .380 semi-automatic firearm.

         Police Major Wayne Duff was nearby and stopped Campbell's vehicle, which had the windows shot out. Officers searched the car and its occupants: Campbell, Mitchell, Quinton Austin, and Withers, but no weapons were found. Once the police had time to interview everyone in the vehicle and examine the physical evidence, police determined that Christopher Austin and/or Chatman had been shooting down the street at Withers and Quinton Austin, and that Chatman had accidentally shot Chris Austin in the back of the head, killing him.

         On October 7, Chatman voluntarily went to the police station to speak to investigators J.T. Loyd and R.W. Moore.[2] That interview was taped and transcribed. At first, Chatman claimed that Chris Austin had done all of the shooting. Chatman stated that Chris Austin began firing a .380 semi-automatic handgun, and that when the .380 jammed, Chatman tried to help his brother by clearing the weapon while Chris Austin resumed shooting with a nine millimeter handgun. However, as the interview continued, Chatman acknowledged that he and his brother both had guns and that they were both shooting when Chris Austin was hit in the cross fire.

         Dr. Amy Tharp of the Medical Examiner's Office conducted the autopsy on Chris Austin. In that report, Dr. Tharp indicated that Chris Austin died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head. She further indicated that the bullet traveled from a left to right direction and at a slightly downward angle. Tharp's findings are consistent with Chatman killing Chris Austin while both of the brothers fired weapons.

         Chatman pled guilty to felony-homicide, malicious wounding, maliciously shooting into an occupied vehicle, two counts of use of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. He was sentenced to forty-seven years of imprisonment, with seventeen suspended.

         Notably, Chatman did not appeal his convictions, but in 2010, he filed a habeas petition in state circuit court. The court dismissed his petition, and Chatman did not appeal the dismissal to the Virginia Supreme Court. Chatman also filed a § 2254 petition in 2012, which Judge Wilson dismissed without prejudice for failing to exhaust state remedies.

         II. Current Claims

         On November 15, 2016, Chatman filed the present petition, alleging three claims. First, he alleges he is actually innocent of the crimes to which he pled guilty. He relies upon what he calls “new evidence” in the form of a sworn affidavit from an actual victim, Withers, stating that Chatman did not shoot him, nor did he shoot a firearm. Chatman claims that this “new evidence” was not available at trial, and that such evidence supports his factual innocence to the extent that no reasonable juror would have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Next, he claims that Counsel was ineffective for coercing him into pleading guilty to crimes of which he was actually innocent, and where there was no evidence available to the Commonwealth to establish his guilt. Finally, he alleges that Counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge a fatal defect ...

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