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Deangelo v. Johnson

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 15, 2014

G.R. JOHNSON, Warden, and JOSEPH R. BIDEN, III, Attorney General of the State of Delaware, Respondents.

Christopher J. DeAngelo. Pro se Petitioner.

Gregory E. Smith, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware. Attorney for Respondents.


LEONARD P. STARK, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is an Application For A Writ Of Habeas Corpus Pursuant To 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("Petition") filed by Petitioner Christopher J. DeAngelo ("Petitioner"). (D.I. 2) For the reasons discussed, the Court will dismiss the Petition and deny the relief requested.


In October 1990, Petitioner was renovating his home when his friend, William Perez, stopped by to collect a debt. See DeAngelo v. State, 795 A.2d 667 (Table), 2002 WL 714294, at *1 (Del. Apr. 22, 2002). Petitioner's wife, Peggy Mitchell, and another friend, Bobby Williams, were present when Perez arrived. Petitioner invited Perez to follow him up a ladder to the loft. Moments later, Mitchell and Williams heard gunshots and Perez fell to the bottom of the ladder. Perez had a gunshot in his head and was bleeding profusely. After Petitioner removed money from Perez's pockets, Petitioner and Williams moved the body to the bathtub. Id.

John McGettigan, another friend, arrived shortly after the shooting. Petitioner asked to borrow McGettigan's pickup truck to get some decking materials. Petitioner and Williams placed a bundle wrapped in a blue tarp into the back of the pickup truck and drove to a farm in West Chester, Pennsylvania. During the ride, Petitioner told Williams that his dispute with Perez was over approximately $800 that Petitioner owed Perez for drugs. Williams did not see Petitioner dispose of the body, but Mitchell testified that Petitioner told her that he chopped up the body and burned the remains. Id.

Not long after this incident, two witnesses saw Petitioner give five $100 bills to a friend at a bar. One of the bills had the number 1000 written on it, and one of the witnesses testified that, because of the handwritten number, she recognized the bill as being the same one she had given to Perez a week earlier. Id.

Perez's wife reported him missing several days after he disappeared, and the police began an investigation. The police questioned Petitioner, but did not file any charges against him. In 1993, a private investigator hired by Perez's wife brought a confidential informant in to speak to Detective William Browne. The confidential informant told Detective Browne that she and several others had seen Perez recently. Detective Browne took down the names of the potential witnesses and tried to contact them. All the witnesses located by Detective Browne denied having seen Perez. Id.

On April, 26, 1999, a grand jury indicted Petitioner on the charges of first degree murder and possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony. (D.I. 16 at 2) On August 18, 1999, Delaware extradited Petitioner from Pennsylvania. Id. On October 8, 1999, the Delaware Superior Court held a proof positive hearing resulting in Petitioner being held without bail. Id. at 3.

In April 2000, after a fifteen day trial, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Petitioner of the lesser included offense of second degree murder as well as the weapons possession charge. Id. The Superior Court sentenced him to twenty years at Level V imprisonment, suspended after fifteen years for decreasing levels of supervision on the murder conviction, and to fifteen years at Level V incarceration on the weapons possession conviction. Id. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's conviction for murder, but vacated the weapons conviction because the statute of limitations had expired, and remanded the matter for re-sentencing. DeAngelo, 2002 WL 714294, at *5. Thereafter, on June 7, 2002, the Superior Court re-sentenced Petitioner to twenty years at Level V imprisonment, suspended after fifteen years for decreasing levels of supervision. State v. DeAngelo, 2002 WL 1308359 (Del. Super. Ct. June 7, 2002). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's 2002 sentence on May 27, 2003. DeAngelo v. State, 825 A.2d 838 (Table), 2003 WL 21321719 (Del. May 27, 2003). On June 11, 2003, Petitioner filed in the Delaware Supreme Court a motion for reargument of its May 27, 2003 decision, which the Delaware Supreme Court denied on June 19, 2003. (D.I. 18, Appellant's App. in DeAngelo v. State, No. 255, 2004)

On February 23, 2004, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Delaware Superior Court. (D.I. 16 at 3) The Superior Court denied the petition on March 4, 2004. ( Id. ) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision, but remanded the matter and directed the Superior Court to enter a new sentencing order expressly vacating the weapons conviction. DeAngelo v. State, 870 A.2d 1191 (Table), 2004 WL 3248441 (Del. Mar. 22, 2004). On March 24, 2005, the Superior Court re-imposed the sentence order of June 16, 2000, but added a note expressly vacating the weapons conviction. (D.I. 16 at 4)

Petitioner filed two more state habeas corpus petitions, which the Superior Court denied. (D.I. 16 at 4) On June 13, 2006, Petitioner filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Court Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion"). The Delaware Superior Court denied the Rule 61 motion in August 2007. State v. DeAngelo, 2007 WL 2472262 (Del. Super Ct. Aug. 28, 2007). However, the Superior Court later vacated that August 2007 order because Petitioner had not yet filed his reply brief when the decision was rendered. On November 14, 2007, the Superior Court denied Petitioner's Rule 61 motion. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on October 7, 2008, and denied reargument on December 22, 2008. DeAngelo v. State, 962 A.2d 916 (Table), 2008 WL 4489252 (Del. Oct. 7, 2008).

In April 2004, while Petitioner was collaterally challenging his state criminal conviction, he filed a lawsuit in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, relating to his state criminal case. (D.I. 16 at 4) The Court dismissed Petitioner's§ 1983 Complaint as frivolous on November 15, 2005. DeAngelo v. Brady, 2005 WL 3069651 (D. Del. Nov. 15, 2005) The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that decision on June 19, 2006. DeAngelo v. Brady, 185 F.App'x 173 (3d Cir. 2006).

Petitioner filed the instant habeas Petition in 2009. The State filed an Answer asserting that the Court should deny it as time-barred or, alternatively, as procedurally barred. (D.I.16) Based on the record provided, the Honorable Joseph J. Farnan, Jr. denied the Petition as time-barred, in part due to the determination that Petitioner's untimely filed post-conviction appeal was not properly filed which, in turn, meant that Petitioner's post-conviction appeal statutorily tolled the limitations period only for thirty days. (D.I. 21; D.I. 22) Petitioner filed a motion for reargument, arguing that Court should deem his Petition timely filed due to the fact that the Delaware Supreme Court had granted him permission to file an out-of-time appeal, thereby demonstrating that the statutory tolling afforded his Petition should include the entire time his post-conviction appeal was pending. (D.I. 24) Petitioner attached the necessary documentation to support this contention. In its response, the State did not refute the documentation, but still contended that the Petition was untimely. (D.I. 30) Alternatively, however, the State asserted that the Court should deny the Petition as procedurally barred. ( Id. )

The case was reassigned to this Court's docket. After reviewing the newly supplemented record, the Court granted Petitioner's motion for re-argument, determined that the Petition was timely filed, and re-opened the case. (D.I. 36; D.I. 37)


A. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

Congress enacted the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") "to reduce delays in the execution of state and federal criminal sentences... and to further the principles of comity, finality, and federalism." Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, 206 (2003) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Pursuant to AEDPA, a federal court may consider a habeas petition filed by a state prisoner only "on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). AEDPA imposes procedural requirements and standards for analyzing the merits of a habeas petition in order to "prevent federal habeas retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002); see also Woodford, 538 U.S. at 206.

B. Exhaustion and Procedural Default

Absent exceptional circumstances, a federal court cannot grant habeas relief unless the petitioner has exhausted all means of available relief under state law. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b); O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842-44 (1999). AEDPA states, in pertinent part:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted unless it appears that -
(A) the applicant has exhausted the remedies available in the courts of the State; or
(B) (i) there is an absence of available State corrective process; or
(ii) circumstances exist that render such process ineffective to protect the rights of the applicant.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1).

The exhaustion requirement is based on principles of comity, requiring a petitioner to give "state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process." O'Sullivan, 526 U.S. at 844-45; see also Werts v. Vaughn, 228 F.3d 178, 192 (3d Cir. 2000). A petitioner satisfies the exhaustion requirement by demonstrating that the habeas claims were "fairly presented" to the state's highest court, either on direct appeal or in a post-conviction proceeding. See Lambert v. Blackwell, 134 F.3d 506, 513 (3d Cir. 1997); Coverdale v. Snyder, 2000 WL 1897290, at *2 (D. Del. Dec. 22, 2000). "Fair presentation of a claim means that the petitioner must present a federal claim's factual and legal substance to the state courts in a manner that puts them on notice that a federal claim is being asserted." Holloway v. Horn, 355 F.3d 707, 714 (3d Cir. 2004).

A petitioner's failure to exhaust state remedies will be excused if state procedural rules preclude him from seeking further relief in state courts. See Lines v. Larkins, 208 F.3d 153, 160 (3d Cir. 2000); Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 297-98 (1989). Although technically exhausted, such claims are nonetheless procedurally defaulted. See Lines, 208 F.3d at 160; Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750-51 (1991). Similarly, if a petitioner presents a habeas claim to the state's highest court, but that court "clearly and expressly" refuses to review the merits of the claim due to an independent and adequate state procedural rule, the claim is exhausted but procedurally defaulted. See Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750; Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 260-64 (1989).

Federal courts may not consider the merits of procedurally defaulted claims unless the petitioner demonstrates either cause for the procedural default and actual prejudice resulting therefrom, or that a fundamental miscarriage of justice will result if the court does not review the claims. See McCandless v. Vaughn, 172 F.3d 255, 260 (3d Cir. 1999); Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750-51. To demonstrate cause for a procedural default, a petitioner must show that "some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule." Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986). To demonstrate actual prejudice, a petitioner must show "that [the errors at trial] worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire trial with error of constitutional dimensions." Id. at 494.

Alternatively, a federal court may excuse a procedural default if the petitioner demonstrates that failure to review the claim will result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. See Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451 (2000); Wenger v. Frank, 266 F.3d 218, 224 (3d Cir. 2001). A petitioner demonstrates a miscarriage of justice by showing a "constitutional violation has probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent." Murray, 477 U.S. at 496. Actual innocence means factual innocence, not legal insufficiency, Bousley v. United States, 523 U.S. 614, 623 (1998), and is established if no reasonable juror would have voted to find the petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, see Sweger v. Chesney, 294 F.3d 506, 522-24 (3d Cir. 2002). A petitioner establishes actual innocence by asserting "new reliable evidence - whether it be exculpatory scientific evidence, trustworthy eyewitness accounts, or critical physical evidence - that was not presented at trial, " showing that no reasonable juror would have found the petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Hubbard v. Pinchak, 378 F.3d 333, 339-40 (3d Cir. 2004).

C. Standard of Review

When a state's highest court has adjudicated a federal habeas claim on the merits, the federal court must review the claim under the deferential standard contained in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). A claim has been "adjudicated on the merits" for the purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) if the state court decision finally resolves the claim on the basis of its substance, rather than ...

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