United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division
M. Brinkema, United States District Judge.
Lee Hall, a Virginia inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a
petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254, challenging the constitutionality of his
conviction of first-degree murder entered by the Circuit
Court for the City of Portsmouth. Before the Court is
respondent's Motion to Dismiss the petition [Dkt. No.
12], to which petitioner has filed a reply. [Dkt. No. 24].
a jury trial, Hall was convicted on August 5, 2013 and
received a sentence of life imprisonment. Case No.
CR12-591-01; Resp. Ex. A. The Court of Appeals of Virginia
granted Hall's petition for appeal on the assignment of
error that the trial court wrongfully overruled his hearsay
objection to a receipt from a gun shop; it denied the
petition as to seven additional assignments of error.
Hall v. Commonwealth, R. No. 1626-13-1 (Va. Ct. App.
Mar. 5, 2014); Resp. Ex. C. In a memorandum opinion issued on
November 18, 2014, the Court of Appeals affirmed Hall's
conviction on the holding that the contested receipt for
ammunition was of "minimal evidential value" and
that any error in its admission was non-constitutional and
harmless in light of the "massive evidence of
[Hall's] guilt otherwise adduced." Hall v.
Commonwealth, R. No. 1626-13-1 (Va. Ct. App. Nov. 18,
2014), slip op. at 6. The remainder of the petition for
appeal was denied. Id. at 2. The Court of Appeals
summarized the evidence as follows:
[T]he evidence proved that James Britt was last seen on April
11, 2011. Several days later, the police reported to
Britt's residence after his family and friends were
unable to contact him. The police discovered Britt's
house had been damaged and smelled of paint and bleach. Large
pieces of carpeting had been cut out of the carpets in the
bedroom and living room. The remaining carpet had white marks
that appeared to be bleach stains and portions of the walls
appeared to have been recently painted. Stains that appeared
to be blood spatter were also on the walls and ceiling. Later
testing confirmed that blood spatter on some of the walls and
doors were beneath the fresh paint. Furniture inside the
house had been moved. A trash bag in the garage contained
pieces of Britt's teeth, a .9 millimeter FC Luger
cartridge casing, Britt's blood-stained clothing, bottles
of cleaning supplies, Britt's driver's license which
had been cut in pieces, Britt's wallet, and a small slip
of paper linked to a Florida company with which [Hall] was
associated. A paint can bearing [Hall's] fingerprint was
in the garage along with a piece of carpet padding with
Britt's blood on it. Paint from the can was consistent
with the fresh paint in the walls inside Britt's house.
Britt's blood and [Hall's] fingerprints were also
located inside the residence. A bullet matching the casing
from the trash bag was embedded in Britt's bedroom wall
and had been covered with putty. The police also found
[Hall's] locked vehicle in Britt's driveway. Three of
Britt's cars were missing from the property.
Britt operated a car business and had worked with [Hall]. In
the weeks prior to his disappearance, Britt had told his
employees and friends that he no longer planned to work with
[Hall] because [Hall] had done poor work and owed him money.
Britt told the witnesses that he had informed [Hall] that he
no longer wished to work with him. One witness testified he
observed [Hall] and Britt engage in a heated argument soon
before Britt's disappearance Days before Britt's
disappearance, he told two witnesses . . . that [Hall] had
arrived at his residence carrying a crowbar....
The police found a crowbar in a vehicle owned by [Hall]. The
vehicle was located in Florida, where [Hall] lived, and one
of Britt's neighbors had seen it at Britt's residence
shortly before Britt's disappearance. The police also
recovered from [Hall] numerous titles to cars owned by Britt.
[Hall] claimed Britt had sold or given him the car titles.
Names other than Britt's appeared as the seller on some
of the titles. A handwriting expert testified [Hall] could
not be eliminated as the author of the seller signatures on
the titles. Two of Britt's cars were found at
[Hall's] girlfriends' houses. At one of the
residences, the police also found a piece of carpet on
[Hall's] lawnmower. The carpet was damp and smelled of
bleach. The fibers matched the carpet in Britt's
Inside [Hall's] vehicle, which had been locked and parked
on Britt's property, the police found a receipt for .9
millimeter FC Luger cartridges from a gun shop. ... Although
[Hall] denied ever owning a gun, his car contained ammunition
and gun cleaning supplies.
[Hall] exhibited an injury to his forehead at an April 21,
2011 interview with the police. During the interview, [Hall]
admitted having twice entered Britt's residence during
the week of April 11, 2011. At first, he claimed several
times that he had only gone through the garage to the kitchen
to retrieve car keys. Later, however, after one of the
detectives told [Hall] his DNA had been located in the living
room, [Hall] told a different version of events which
included his going into the living room to check for mail.
Pastor K. Irby testified [Hall] was enrolled in ministerial
classes at his church in Florida during April 2011. Irby
explained that on the weekend of April 8, 2011, [Hall]
informed him that he would miss the following week's
classes because 'he had been called up on military
maneuvers.' Later, when he returned to class, [Hall] told
Irby he had been in the Middle East. In fact, [Hall] had not
gone to the Middle East and specifically misrepresented his
whereabouts to his pastor.
Id., slip op. at 2-4, footnote omitted. Hall's
attempt to appeal the foregoing decision to the Supreme Court
of Virginia was refused without opinion on June 23, 2015.
Hall v. Commonwealth, R. No. 141889 (Va. June 23,
2015); Resp. Ex. H.
April 18, 2016, Hall timely filed a petition for a writ of
habeas corpus in the Supreme Court of Virginia, raising the
I. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to: (A) read
Halls' discovery page and present police property
vouchers at trial; (B) present cell phone records; (C)
perform police background checks; (D) present cell phone
records and investigate the victim's location; (E) call a
DMV expert as a witness; (F) present exculpatory evidence,
the cumulative effect of which deprived Hall of effective
assistance of counsel; (G) secure DNA and fingerprint
analyses; and (H) investigate Hall's school schedule.
II. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to convey the
court's instructions regarding Hall's right to
III. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to object to
and refute due process errors: (A) testimony that a crowbar
was found in Hall's vehicle and he "changed his
story, " and inaccurate claims by the Commonwealth that
certain automobiles belonged to the victim; (B) improper
testimony as to DNA analysis of items found in the
victim's home; (C) non-responsive answers by the
victim's brother; and (D) testimony of a handwriting
expert about Hall's samples.
IV. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to: (A) call a
DMV expert and object to or refute the Commonwealth's
inaccurate claim that certain cars belonged to the victim and
not Hall; and (B) request a Bill of Particulars specifying
the date on which Hall killed the victim.
V. Newly-discovered evidence in the form of Hall's
realization that the vehicle found at the crime scene was not
his entitles him to relief.
VI. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to prepare for
sentencing by developing mitigating evidence regarding
Hall's life prior to the murder.
Ex. I, Parts I - III. The Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed
the petition on March 1, 2017. Hall v. Warden, Sussex I
State Prison, R. No. 160599 (Va. Mar. 1, 2017); Resp.
then turned to the federal forum and timely filed this
application for relief pursuant to § 2254 by placing it
into his institution's mailing system on May 8, 2017.
[Dkt. No. 1 at 15]. In the initial petition and a subsequent
amendment [Dkt. No. 7 - 8], he claims:
1. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to develop and
present to the jury exculpatory evidence in the form of
police property vouchers, cell phone records, a
"Certificate of Attendance" to show why he left
Virginia, police interview transcripts, automobile titles,
and a certificate of analysis showing the results of
scientific testing performed on a crowbar.
2. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to develop and
present exculpatory alibi evidence in the form of background
checks on prosecution witnesses, records of the victim's
cell phone and information from his contacts, Hall's
school attendance records, DNA analysis to show there were
multiple contributors to a sample, and police transcripts
showing Hall did not lie.
3. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to solicit,
consult with, and present relevant expert and technical
witnesses, namely a forensic expert, a DNA analyst, a
handwriting expert, a DMV expert, and an expert in the field
of cell tower location technology.
4. (A) He was deprived of the right to represent himself; and
(B) trial counsel were ineffective for failing to follow the
court's instructions to inform him of that right.
5. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to object to
false testimony that a crowbar was found in his vehicle, that
he never provided the police with certain car titles, and
that he changed his story while talking to the police.
6. (A) Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to object
to and challenge the chain of custody of a crowbar allegedly
found in his vehicle; and (B) he was prejudiced by the
cumulative effect of this and other instances of ineffective
7. Trial counsel were ineffective for failing to object to
and challenge the gathering, testing and admission of DNA
comparison sample evidence on the ground that both the source
and the handwriting expert's evidence were unreliable.
8. The Commonwealth violated his right to due process by
convicting him of a crime he did not commit on the basis of