United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
LAMONT A. WOODS, Petitioner,
HAROLD W. CLARKE, Respondent.
Glen E. Conrad, Senior United States District Judge.
Lamont A. Woods, through counsel, filed this petition for a
writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254,
challenging the validity of his confinement under a 2015
Virginia court judgment convicting him of second-degree
murder. The matter is presently before the court on the
respondent's motion to dismiss and Woods' response
thereto. For the reasons set forth below, the court concludes
that the respondent's motion to dismiss must be granted.
Court of Appeals of Virginia found the following facts from
the evidence presented at Woods' jury
Toward the end of April 2012, [Woods]' relationship with
his girlfriend, Takea Turner (Turner), seriously
deteriorated. [Woods] testified that he assumed that Turner
and Lamar Ward (the victim) were romantically involved.
Turner and [Woods] had been living together in Henry County
until a few days before the killing. On April 27, 2012,
Turner and her infant son (Baby Woods) stayed with her
friend, Manesha Ward ([Manesha]), at the home of [Manesha]
and her boyfriend, Dacha Fitzgerald (Fitzgerald). The victim,
who is [Manesha]'s brother, also stayed at
[Manesha]'s house that night. [Woods] testified that on
that same night, the victim and Turner repeatedly called and
threatened [Woods] while he was "hanging out" with
several people, including Kelly Trull (Trull), who
corroborated this account. [Woods] also testified that
Fitzgerald and the victim came to [Woods]'s house to
threaten him the night before the shooting occurred - and
that [Woods] then ran away from them into the woods.
Surrounding the Murder
On the morning of April 28, 2012 (the day of the murder),
Turner texted [Woods] some messages that he characterized as
threatening. [Manesha], Fitzgerald, the victim, Turner, and
Baby Woods then drove to and arrived at [Woods]' trailer
in [Manesha]'s vehicle. [Manesha] drove, Turner sat in
the front passenger seat, the victim sat in the left rear
passenger seat, Fitzgerald sat in the right rear passenger
seat, and Baby Woods was seated on Turner's lap. [Woods]
testified that he was then wearing his gun holstered because
he thought he would be leaving before Turner arrived. Turner
exited the car and began arguing with [Woods]. The victim
then began speaking from the backseat, saying things like
"Fuck him" and "If he got a problem, then he
can do something." [Woods] testified that it was at this
point that he realized the victim was actually in the car -
and that they began arguing.
[Woods] then provided his account of what happened next,
stating, "So as we are arguing, I am walking towards the
car. So when I walked towards the car, yea, I was telling him
to get out the car. ... If he had a problem with me, then I
was willing to fight it out and get it over with."
[Woods] said that his intention was only to engage in a
fistfight. "So as I'm getting closer to the car,
that's when he pulls his gun out." [Woods] said of
the victim, "He basically just flashed [his gun] out of
the window. He was still in the car at the time."
[Woods] testified that after the victim flashed the gun with
his right hand, "So that's when I kind of slid
behind the tree and I kind of asked him to leave"
[Woods] further testified that he heard car doors opening and
shutting, and he heard the victim say something threatening
and tell [Woods] to come out from behind the tree. "So
as I come behind the tree: at this time, I had pulled my gun
out of my holster, so as I come behind the tree, he had his
gun kind of like, it was up by his side. He was standing
outside of the car, but he was still in the doorway,
kind'a." Counsel asked [Woods], "So he was in
between the door and where it was open?" [Woods]
responded, "Right. So as I come behind the tree, ... he
raises his gun, and that's when I just started shooting,
running towards the woods."
When asked whether he shot at the victim ten times, [Woods]
responded, "Maybe. I'm not sure. I feared for my
life, so I just wasn't counting. I wasn't really
aiming. I just directed the gun in his direction and I
won't [sic] really trying to purposefully kill him or
nothing like that. I was just trying to get out of
there." [Woods] admitted that no one else fired a shot,
and did not dispute that every shot he fired hit the victim.
[Woods] testified that he was afraid of the victim
"because of his reputation and the threats that he made
over the phone." He knew that the victim took a gun with
him everywhere he went. [Woods] did not dispute that he shot
through the car's back windshield. Fitzgerald testified
that he saw [Woods] shooting the victim through the rear
window of the car. Fitzgerald also testified that he exited
the car and ran to the woods when [Woods] began shooting the
Soon after the shooting, [Manesha] called 9-1-1, informing
them that her brother had been shot and was not breathing.
The phone call then suddenly terminated on the caller's
end. Alfred Lemons, an eyewitness to the subsequent car
accident, testified that he observed a car (later determined
to be [Manesha]'s vehicle) drive by him, skid off the
road, and hit a tree. [Manesha], Turner, Baby Woods, and the
victim's body were thrown from the vehicle, killing all
of the living passengers.
Uncontroverted Physical Evidence
Assistant Chief Medical Examiner Gayle Suzuki testified that
the victim's cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds.
The victim received ten gunshot wounds - three of which were
lethal. All three lethal gunshot wounds were consistent with
being shot in the back. In fact, [Woods] himself acknowledged
that over half of the shots fired were fired from behind the
victim. Dr. Suzuki testified that the superficial injuries
the victim received in the car crash were sustained
Wendy Gibson - a forensic scientist with the Department of
Forensic Science and an expert in identification of firearms
and tool marks - testified, "During the course of this
analysis, I was able to identify that all ten of these
cartridge cases [found at the scene] had been fired in one
firearm." All ten cartridge cases were the same brand
and caliber. Further, each of the five bullets recovered from
the victim's body was consistent in design with the brand
and caliber of the ten cartridge cases and was fired from one
Woods v. Commonwealth. 782 S.E.2d 613, 615-16 (Va.
Ct. App. 2016).
21, 2012, a grand jury in the Circuit Court of Henry County
returned indictments charging Lamont Anthony Woods with
first-degree murder, grand larceny of a firearm, use of a
firearm in the commission of a felony, maliciously shooting
into an occupied vehicle, and endangering the life of a
child. Woods pleaded not guilty to the first four charges and
proceeded to a jury trial. The court granted Woods'
request for a jury instruction for the lesser included
offense of second-degree murder and for self-defense. The
court found that the evidence did not support an instruction
for the lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter,
jury found Woods guilty of second-degree murder, use of a
firearm in the commission of a felony, and maliciously
shooting into an occupied vehicle, but acquitted him of grand
larceny. The jury set Woods' punishment at twelve years
in prison for the murder conviction, three years and five
years on other convictions, for a total of twenty years. By
order dated January 14, 2015, the circuit court imposed the
sentences fixed by the jury. The circuit court also sentenced
Woods that day for the child endangerment charge, to which
Woods had pleaded no contest.
appealed his second-degree murder conviction,  arguing that the
trial court erred in denying a jury instruction for voluntary
manslaughter. In a published opinion, the Court of Appeals of
Virginia affirmed Woods' conviction. Woods v.
Commonwealth, 782 S.E.2d 613, 615 (Va. Ct. App. 2016). The
Supreme Court of Virginia refused his subsequent petition for
appeal in that court in a summary order.
then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the
Supreme Court of Virginia. The Court construed the petition
as raising these two claims: (1) trial counsel provided
ineffective assistance by failing to investigate and obtain
witnesses and cell phone evidence to bolster Woods' trial
testimony that he shot the victim out of fear for his life
rather than out of malice, and (2) the Commonwealth withheld
exculpatory evidence likely contained on one or more cell
phones likely recovered from the scene of the fatal car crash
that occurred after the shooting. The Supreme Court of
Virginia denied relief on both claims. Mem. Supp. Mot. Dism.
Ex. 16, ECF No. 7-16.
federal habeas corpus petition itself raises these
overlapping claims for relief, as paraphrased by the court:
(A) Woods' guilty plea was not voluntary and intelligent,
because his trial counsel provided incompetent advice and
conducted an inadequate pretrial investigation to support
(B) Trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing
to prepare and "properly establish Woods' state of
mind at the time of the shooting as being in fear of his own
(C) Trial counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing
"to properly impeach the Commonwealth's main
witness, Dacha Fitzgerald; and
(D) The Commonwealth withheld exculpatory evidence by not
disclosing the information about the victim's cell phone
text messages in violation of Brady ...