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Bryant v. Warden, Green Rock Correctional Center

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

September 27, 2019


          Jonathan P. Sheldon, Sheldon & Flood, PLC, Fairfax, Virginia, for Petitioner.

          Lauren C. Campbell, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Respondent.


          James P. Jones, United States District Judge.

         In his Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (“Petition”), a Virginia inmate contends that his confinement pursuant to a judgment entered by a state court is unconstitutional. Upon review of the record, I conclude that the respondent’s Motion to Dismiss must be granted.


         In its order denying Bryant’s appeal, the Court of Appeals of Virginia found the following facts:[1]

In the early morning of January 7, 2012, a friend found Seams in an alley near the home Seams shared with his mother. Seams was bloody and in distress. Seams said that “Jamie” had stabbed him, and he pointed in the direction of a garage at the end of the alley. A trail of blood led to the garage. There was money with blood on it on the ground nearby. A blood trail also connected the garage to the residence of [Bryant].
Police officers were called to the scene and immediately went to [Bryant]’s home. [Bryant] had blood on his left ear and the left shoulder area of his shirt. The police detained [him] and removed him from the scene. Emergency medical personnel arrived at the scene and transported Seams to the hospital. However, Seams had sustained a fatal stab wound to the neck and he subsequently died. Seams also had a stab wound to the backside of his right forearm.
When the police asked [Bryant] if he knew Seams, [Bryant] said they had a longstanding feud and he “finally put an end to it.” [Bryant] later said he had acted in self-defense. [Bryant] said he had met Seams in the garage. [Bryant] had hoped to obtain drugs from Seams without paying for them. Seams met [Bryant] in the garage, but Seams left after finding out [Bryant] had no money. [Bryant] already owed Seams $300. Seams returned a few minutes later. [Bryant] told the police that Seams, who was holding a knife, backed him into a corner. [Bryant] said he was scared of Seams. [Bryant] indicated that he pushed away Seams’ hand, and the knife went upward and struck Seams’ neck.
Susie Worrell, who lived with [Bryant], testified that [Bryant] was covered in blood when he returned from the garage on the night of the incident. [Bryant] handed her a knife and told her to “do something” with it. Worrell had found the knife while working near a highway. She last had seen the knife in the garage. [Bryant] gave Worrell the bloody clothing he had been wearing and told her to wash it. He also gave her his work boots and said to “put them up.” Worrell took the clothes and put them in the washing machine in the basement. She hid the boots in a box in the basement.
At the conclusion of the evidence, the trial court instructed the jury on first-degree murder, second-degree murder, second-degree felony homicide in the commission of attempting to obtain drugs, and voluntary manslaughter. The trial court also instructed the jury regarding self-defense. The jury found [Bryant] guilty of second-degree murder.

Br. Supp. Mot. Dismiss Ex. A, 2–3, ECF No. 14-1. In December of 2012, the trial court sentenced Bryant to 30 years in prison as recommended by the jury.

         Bryant appealed the trial court’s refusal of an involuntary manslaughter jury instruction. The court of appeals addressed this claim as follows:

“Involuntary manslaughter is defined as the accidental killing of a person, contrary to the intention of the parties, during the prosecution of an unlawful, but not felonious, act, or during the improper performance of some lawful act.” Gooden v. Commonwealth, 226 Va. 565, 571, 311 S.E.2d 780, 784 (1984). There was no evidence to prove that [Bryant] stabbed Seams during an unlawful, but not felonious, act or in the improper performance of a lawful act. [Bryant] claimed that he had called Seams to the garage to obtain drugs from him. If the jury concluded [Bryant] accidentally killed Seams during the course of the attempted drug transaction, it could have found [Bryant] guilty of second-degree felony homicide, as instructed by the trial court.

Id. at 4. The court of appeals found that because the evidence did not support the requested instruction, the trial court did not err in refusing it.

         Bryant also contended on appeal that the trial court erred in denying his motion for a new trial, in which he had argued that the Commonwealth had failed to disclose purported impeachment information about Sergeant Kenneth Duncan, the lead investigator in Bryant’s case, in violation of the rule in Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Specifically, in seeking a new trial, Bryant

produced evidence that, in an unrelated criminal trial on July 18, 2011, it was alleged that Duncan had violated the trial court’s order not to discuss his trial testimony with other witnesses outside the courtroom. [Bryant’s] attorney argued that he learned of the allegation regarding Duncan after [Bryant’s] trial had concluded. Counsel maintained that Duncan had been evasive and untruthful when confronted by the trial court in the other proceeding regarding a violation of the witness sequestration ruling.

Id. at 2. The court of appeals denied relief upon finding that the information about Duncan did not warrant a new trial, because it was not material exculpatory evidence that the Commonwealth was obligated to reveal to Bryant’s trial counsel. Id.

         The Supreme Court of Virginia refused Bryant’s subsequent petition for an appeal in a summary order dated January 2, 2014.

         On January 5, 2015, Bryant, by counsel, timely filed a state post-conviction petition in the trial court. He alleged that his trial counsel had provided ineffective assistance by:

(a) failing to present evidence favorable to the defense from Alvin Roman, Denneka White, and Sakoyia Smith;
(b) failing to argue to the jury any of the facts in support ...

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