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Sanford v. Clarke

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

February 6, 2019

Arthur Lee Sanford, Petitioner,
v.
Harold W. Clarke, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          LEONIE M. BRINKEMA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Arthur Lee Sanford, 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 for second degree murder in the Circuit Court for the City of Newport News. Before the Court is respondent's Motion to Dismiss the petition [Dkt. No. 7], to which petitioner has filed a response. [Dkt. No. 12] For the following reasons, the Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

         I. Background

         Following a jury trial, Sanford was convicted on January 11, 2013, and received a sentence of forty (40) years incarceration. Case No. CR11000078-00. In the Final Order he issued in Sanford's state habeas corpus petition, the trial judge described the facts underlying the conviction as follow:[1]

On December 3, 2003, Petitioner was living in an apartment with his girlfriend, Towanna Brinkley. [FN] Dawn Uzzle, who lived in an adjacent apartment, saw and heard Petitioner and Brinkley return home during the afternoon or early evening hours. At approximately 5:30 p.m., Uzzle heard a series of loud thumps and the muffled screaming of a woman. At the same time, another neighbor, Cynthia Jones, heard a woman screaming, "Help me, help me, help me." Uzzle also noticed that her living room closet door, which backed up to a similar closet in Petitioner's apartment, began "slamming on the hinges" as a result of the force applied on the wall from Petitioner's side of the wall.
FN: The crime underlying this habeas matter was committed in 2003, but was deemed a "cold case" by the Newport News Police Department. (10/31/2012 Tr. at 383). Petitioner was tried in 2012.
Uzzle called 911 and watched to see if anyone would exit petitioner's apartment, but no one did. The police soon arrived and knocked on Petitioner's apartment door, but no one responded, and they left.
Cartell Brinkley, the victim's adult son, arrived shortly after the police had left and knocked on Petitioner's door, but no one answered. Brinkley remained in the area for" a couple of hours," and kept "going back and forth checking in," but no one responded from inside Petitioner's apartment.
Petitioner called Corey Ridley sometime after midnight and asked to repay a $40 debt. As Ridley drove toward Petitioner's apartment, Petitioner called him again. When Ridley arrived, he knocked on Petitioner's apartment door, and Petitioner opened it. The two men walked partially into the dark living room before entering the kitchen, which was only illuminated by "a little dim light." Ridley saw two twenty dollar bills on the kitchen counter, which appeared to have blood on them. When Ridley asked about the "red spots" on the cash, Petitioner claimed he had cut his finger. Ridley knew that Petitioner shared the apartment with Towanna Brinkley, but he did not see her before leaving. When Ridley asked where Brinkley was, Petitioner claimed she was out driving Petitioner's car, but Ridley "kn[e]w for a fact that she didn't drive." Ridley estimated he was in the apartment for approximately 15 minutes before he left.
At approximately 2:20 a.m., Uzzle and Jones were awakened by the alarm of a smoke detector. Uzzle called 911 again when she heard the "blood curdling screams of a man." When Uzzle turned the lights on, she noticed smoke "everywhere" in her apartment, and relayed to the emergency dispatcher that there was also a fire in the building.
The fire department arrived at the apartment building and determined the fire was originating from Petitioner's apartment. Inside, firefighters found Petitioner sitting near the living room closet, burned and bleeding from cuts to his arms. Firefighter Bruce Hagerman discovered, and subsequent analysis confirmed, that the source of the fire originated in the master bedroom of the apartment. A mattress was standing upright on top of a box spring, and "all the fabric had been burned off the mattress." Hagerman noticed blood on a pile of sheets and clothing in the bedroom. In the bathroom, Hagerman saw "blood in the bathtub, on the ... floor, toilet, and ... sink." Hagerman then returned to the living room, where Petitioner had been discovered, and saw Towanna Brinkley with her upper body in the closet and her lower body extending into the living room. Brinkley was dead, and there was blood around and near her upper body.
As firefighters removed Petitioner from the apartment, he repeatedly said, "Let me die." Firefighter Jason Edwards assisted in transporting Petitioner to the hospital by ambulance. At the hospital, Edwards heard Petitioner twice say that someone had broken into his apartment, tried to kill him and his girlfriend, then set the apartment on fire with an accelerant. The police found no signs of forced entry, and fire investigators recovered an empty bottle of rubbing alcohol on the floor beside the bed where the fire originated.
Leah Bush, M.D., the Chief Medical Examiner for the Commonwealth, testified that she was a Deputy Medical Examiner in 2003 when she conducted an autopsy on Brinkley. Dr. Bush testified that Brinkley had been stabbed 11 times in her torso, seven of which were fatal. Brinkley also suffered cuts to her face and defensive wounds to her hands. Dr. Bush opined that Brinkley would have died "within minutes" of being stabbed. Brinkley also suffered no thermal injuries and had no soot in her airways, which led Dr. Bush to conclude that Brinkley died before the fire was set.
Sandy Cleary, a forensic examiner with the Newport News Police, testified that she collected and photographed evidence at Petitioner's apartment. Cleary analyzed two sets of clothes with blood on them. DNA testing demonstrated that one set of clothing, a t-shirt and jeans recovered from the master bedroom, had Brinkley's blood spattered on them. The t-shirt bore Petitioner's initials, "ALS," and the jeans contained Petitioner's identification and other personal items. DNA testing revealed the second set of clothing, a t-shirt recovered from a spare bedroom and the jeans Petitioner was wearing when he was transported to the hospital, contained Petitioner's blood, as well as Brinkley's blood.
A pair of brown sandals recovered from the master bedroom also had Brinkley's blood on the bottom and sides. The "inside" of the sandals contained a DNA mixture from both Petitioner and Brinkley. Shoe prints tracking Brinkley's blood away from her body matched the impression of the sandals.
Angela Moore, a forensic examiner with the Newport News Police, qualified as an expert in blood spatter analysis. Moore testified that the blood found in the bathroom demonstrated a "passive" drip patter, which she described as lacking "directionality." The blood found on the wall near Brinkley's body and the clothes recovered from the crime scene, however, had directionality, which would have required "some force to deposit."
Two blood-stained knives were found in Petitioner's apartment. The first knife, a "small folding buck knife," was discovered in the closet beside Brinkley's body. The second knife, "a very large knife with a large blade," was discovered inside a desk in the master bedroom. The folding knife had Brinkley's blood on it, and the "large knife" had both Brinkley's and Petitioner's blood on it. A sponge was also found in the master bedroom, which contained Brinkley's blood.
In total, more then 30 different swabs were obtained from evidence recovered at the scene. Only one swab, from a shirt, contained DNA other than that of Petitioner and/or Brinkley. The sample, however, was "so small" that it could have been "environmental contamination."
Petitioner presented his own experts in blood spatter analysis and fingerprint analysis, who testified that (i) the Commonwealth's expert's blood spatter analysis was incomplete because she did not physically examine the scene at the time of the crime; and (ii) no fingerprints were recovered from the scene of the crime. Isaiah Davis also testified on behalf of Petitioner, and claimed that Corey Ridley had told him "he had gotten himself in some trouble... and he was going ... to talk to someone in law enforcement to try and make a deal to get himself out of trouble." On cross-examination, Davis claimed that the conversation took place within two years of trial.

Final Order, Resp. Ex. C at 4 - 8.

         Sanford's first trial commenced on February 7, 2012. Corey Ridley, a witness for the Commonwealth, testified that he visited the apartment shared by Sanford and the victim; it was dimly lit, and he could not see all of it. Tr. 2/7/2012 at 75. When the prosecutor asked Ridley if he thought "anything of it" when Brinkley "wasn't with [Sanford]," Ridley responded that he knew Sanford "from a past killing." Id. at 75-76. The prosecutor interrupted Ridley and requested a recess, and advised the court outside the jury's presence that she had "warned all witnesses they could not bring up prior incidents." Id. at 76-77. She then stated, "[I]t sounded to me like [Ridley] was bringing up the worst of prior incidents, and I don't know if the jury caught onto it. I don't think I caught it in time." Id. Defense counsel stated, "[W]e were going along great in this case. Of course, the Commonwealth was doing a fantastic job. I know good and well they stayed away from it, but I honestly think it could - and I don't know - that it could easily taint the jury." Id. at 77. Counsel then moved for a mistrial and the Commonwealth did not oppose the motion, stating, "I don't think this can be recovered from, Your Honor." Id. at 77. The trial court granted the motion and declared a mistrial. Id. at 78.

         Defense counsel subsequently moved to dismiss the indictment on speedy trial, double jeopardy, and prosecutorial misconduct grounds. Tr. 5/11/2012 at 8-20; Tr. 8/10/2012 at 3-5. The trial court denied all the motions. Id. In finding that there had been no prosecutorial misconduct, the court noted that the prosecutor had appeared "pretty shocked in terms of like her whole case just went away when that guy said something." Tr. 5/11/2012 at 12.

         After Sanford was convicted following a second trial in October, 2012, he appealed the conviction to the Court of Appeals of Virginia, where he raised the following claims:

1. The trial court erred in denying his motion to dismiss for violation of his statutory and constitutional rights to a speedy trial where he was tried after the time limit prescribed in Va. Code § 19.2-243.
2. The trial court erred in denying his motion to strike two prospective jurors for cause.
3. The trial court erred in denying his motion to strike the Commonwealth's evidence where it failed to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

         Sanford's convictions were affirmed in an unpublished opinion where the court concluded that: (1) Sanford's speedy trial right guaranteed by Va. Code § 19.2-243 was not violated, and because he did not include argument to support his contention that his constitutional speedy trial right was violated, the claim was waived pursuant to Virginia Supreme Court Rule 5 A: 12(c)(5) ("Statements unsupported by argument, authority, or citations to the record do not merit appellate consideration."); (2) the trial court did not err in denying Sanford's motion to strike two jurors; and (3) because Sanford failed to renew his motion to strike at the conclusion of the evidence or to move to set aside the verdict, his challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence was barred pursuant to Rule 5A:18 ("No ruling of the trial court... will be considered as a basis for reversal unless an objection was stated with reasonable certainty at the time of the ruling."). Sanford v. Commonwealth, R. No. 0139-13-1 (Va. Ct. App. Sept. 13, 2013); Resp. Ex. A. The Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed and refused Sanford's petition for appeal of that result. Sanford v. Commonwealth, R. No. 131824 (Va. Apr. 8, 2014).

         On March 15, 2015, Sanford filed a petition for a state writ of habeas corpus in the trial court, raising the following claims:[2]

1. His double jeopardy rights were violated as a result of the Commonwealth's misconduct, which gave rise to his motion for mistrial.
2. Counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to supply Dr. Laura Pettier, a defense expert in bloodstain analysis and crime scene investigation, with "case files, reports, and photographs necessary to do an analysis" which would have shown a change in the flooring at the crime scene and revealed inaccuracies by the prosecution's expert.
3. Counsel billed him using "knowing and reckless factual misrepresentations."
4. Counsel was ineffective for failing to interview and call Detective Javier Espinoza to testify regarding "potentially exculpatory information." The testimony was necessary because Espinoza "was not an expert in murder cases and some police procedures were not performed."
5. Counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and call Dr. Christopher Haus, who would have testified that Sanford "received several cuts," including one to his neck. This would have contradicted the Commonwealth's opening and closing statements and impeached the testimony of a medic concerning Sanford's state of consciousness when he arrived at the emergency room.
6. Counsel was ineffective for failing to introduce emergency room medical records to support Sanford's claim that he had been attacked.
7. Counsel was ineffective when he stated during opening and closing arguments that Sanford had drugs in his system, and when he did not state that "this crime was ... a domestic battle between two combatants with knives." 8. Counsel was ineffective for failing to present the testimony of an expert witness who would have rebutted the Commonwealth's DNA analysis.
9. Counsel was ineffective for failing to move to exclude "damaging evidence" of "contamination of two foreign DNA types." 10. Counsel was ineffective for failing to enter into evidence a note Sanford wrote regarding his "concern about imminent harm."
11. Counsel was ineffective for failing to introduce photographs taken at the crime scene of keys and Sanford's broken glasses, which would have shown that "something out of the ordinary had occurred."
12. Counsel was ineffective for failing to preserve a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence at trial.
13. Counsel was ineffective for failing to cross-examine a firefighter about his prior testimony in a preliminary hearing and participated in "a deliberate act to deceive the Court" when he failed to correct the name of the firefighter which is misspelled in the transcript.
14. Counsel was ineffective for failing to have co-counsel present during trial.
15. Counsel was ineffective for failing to protect Sanford's right to a speedy trial.
16. The prosecutor "gave false testimony" at a hearing on February 6, 2012 when she said witness Leroy Nelson had "just come forth," because she had questioned Nelson at a hearing on December 20, 2010.
17. The Commonwealth knowingly relied on false testimony by Corey Ridley.
18. The Commonwealth committed a Brady violation by withholding numerous items of evidence.
19. Appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that Sanford was denied his constitutional right to a speedy trial.
20. Appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the Court of Appeals should review the sufficiency of the evidence under the "ends of justice" exception set out in Rule 5A:18.
21. Appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise a double jeopardy claim.
The state court dismissed Sanford's habeas petition on December 12, 2016. Resp. Ex. C. Specifically, the court held that claim 1 (alleging a double jeopardy violation) was not cognizable in a habeas corpus proceeding because the issue had been raised at trial or on direct appeal; claims 16-18 were barred from habeas review by the rule of Slayton v. Parrigan., 215 Va. 27, 205 S.E.2d 680 (1974), because they were non-jurisdictional issues that could have been raised at trial and on direct appeal; and the remaining claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were without merit. The Supreme Court of Virginia refused the petition for appeal without opinion. Sanford v. Clarke, R. No. 170318 (Va. Feb. 26, 2018); Resp. Ex. E.
Sanford then turned to the federal forum and timely filed the instant petition for § 2254 relief on March 13, 2018. Respondent filed a Rule 5 Answer and a Motion to Dismiss with a supporting brief and exhibits on April 27, 2018, and supplied Sanford with the notice required by Roseboro v. Garrison,528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975) and Local Rule ...

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