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Wood v. Pierce

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 22, 2015

BRUCE WOOD, Petitioner,

Bruce Wood. Pro se petitioner.

Elizabeth R. McFarlan, Deputy Attorney General, Delaware Department of Justice, Wilmington, Delaware, Counsel for respondents.


GREGORY M. SLEET, 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 Bruce Wood ("Wood"). (D.I. 1) The State has filed an answer in opposition. (D.1. 14) For the following reasons, the court will deny the petition as time-barred by the one-year limitations period prescribed in 28 U.S.C. § 2244 and, alternatively, as procedurally barred and meritless.


As summarized below by the Delaware Supreme Court, the facts leading to Wood's arrest and conviction arose from two series of sexual abuse incidents involving two different children.

The first child, CG, lived with her family on the third floor of the Linden Green apartments in Pike Creek, Delaware, from January 1994 until July 2001. Wood lived in the same apartment building on the second floor with his girlfriend and child. In 1996, when CG was about six years old, Wood began sexually abusing her. CG and her siblings would spend time at Wood's apartment and play games with his son. The children would also play hide and seek with Wood. Wood would have the children hide and then he would take CG into his bedroom and lock the door. On one occasion, Wood blindfolded CG and fed her ice cream until he put something other than ice cream in her mouth. CG testified that she could see Wood's genitals through the bottom of the blindfold, but did not understand until later that his penis was in her mouth. CG also testified that Wood showed her pornographic materials, but would not always blindfold her when she performed oral sex on him. She testified that the abuse continued over a course of three years when she was between the ages of six and nine, and that it occurred more than fifty times.
After Wood's girlfriend moved out in 1997, CG's stepfather discovered Wood and CG in Wood's bedroom with the door locked, but both Wood and CG denied that anything had happened. CG's parents never allowed the children to be alone with Wood after that. Later, Wood also moved out of that apartment complex. It was not until [the] fall [of] 2005, however, that CG told her mother that Wood had "messed with [her]" sexually, and they contacted the police.
The second complaining witness, SP, was [Wood's] stepdaughter. In 1997, Wood met SP's mother and moved in with them four months later. SP testified that, in 2000, when she was ten years old, Wood began to sexually abuse her on a daily basis. While wrestling, SP slipped and accidentally kicked Wood in the groin. Wood complained of pain for several days and then came home with an envelope that he said was from a doctor. SP testified that Wood told her that because she hurt him, she was going to have to fix him. Inside the envelope was piece of paper that described a sexual "procedure, " including oral, vaginal, and eventually, anal sex, that she was to keep secret from her mother. SP testified that Wood sometimes videotaped and blindfolded her, and progressively integrated a crack smoking ritual into the abuse. He also showed her pornographic videos, including ones depicting her. SP testified that she and Wood engaged in sexual activities over a five-year period from 2000 to 2005, which occurred anywhere from 500 to over 2000 times.
In [the] fall [of] 2004, SP told a boyfriend that her stepfather was sexually abusing her. In October 2005, she told a counselor that Wood had been raping her for five years. When her mother found out and confronted Wood about the allegation, Wood said that SP was lying and that "if anybody raped anybody, she raped me." Wood, when contacted by police, denied the allegations and fled to Florida.

Wood v. State, 956 A.2d 1228 (Del. 2008).

In February 2006, Wood was arrested and subsequently charged by indictment with eighteen counts of first degree rape (eight counts with a victim under twelve years of age and ten counts by a person in a position of trust), and two counts of continuous sexual abuse of a child; the indictment listed two separate victims. Id. at 1229. Prior to trial, the trial court denied Wood's motion to sever the charges as to the two different victims. Id. at 1230. In February 2007, a Delaware Superior Court jury convicted Wood on all counts of the indictment except two counts of first degree rape (person in position of trust), on which the jurors were hung. Id. On September 7, 2007, the Superior Court sentenced Wood to a total of 290 years at Level V incarceration. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and sentence on September 8, 2008. Id. at 1233.

Wood filed his first motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Delaware Superior Court Criminal Rule 61 ("Rule 61 motion") on April 9, 2009. See State v. Wood, 2009 WL 3308806 (Del. Super. Ct. Aug. 24, 2009). The Superior Court denied the Rule 61 motion on August 1, 2009, and Wood appealed. See Wood v. State, 9 A.3d 477 (Table), 2010 WL 4735003 (Del. Nov. 22, 2010). The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's judgment on November 22, 2010. Id. at *2.

On March 16, 2011, Wood filed a second Rule 61 motion, which the Superior Court denied as time-barred on April 11, 2011. (D.I. 14 at 2) The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed that decision on September 21, 2011, and denied Wood's motion for rehearing en bane on October 11, 2011. See Wood v. State, 29 A.3d 247 (Table), 2011 WL 4396996, at *2 (Del. Oct. 11, 2011).

On May 12, 2011, Wood filed a federal habeas petition. (D.I. 1 Wood v. Phelps, Civ. A. No. 11-413-BMS) However, the Honorable Berle M. Schiller dismissed the petition without prejudice for failure to exhaust state remedies on July 6, 2011, because the petition explicitly stated that his appeal from his second Rule 61 motion was still pending. (D.I. 3 in Wood v. Phelps, Civ. A. No. 11-413-BMS)

Wood filed the instant habeas petition in November 2011, alleging the following four grounds for relief:[2] (1) the trial court erred by allowing the improper joinder of the two sets of charges naming different victims and by failing to grant Wood's motion to sever those charges; (2) defense counsel provided ineffective assistance by (a) failing to investigate Wood's pre-trial use of medication and failing to argue that Wood was incompetent to stand trial, (b) waiting until the day of trial to view the video statement of a witness that was improperly admitted pursuant to Del. Code Ann. tit. 11, § 3507, and (c) failing to request a hearing pursuant to Del. Code Ann. § 3508 to determine the relevancy of the sexual conduct of the complaining witnesses;[3] (3) defense counsel provided ineffective assistance by (a) failing to conduct an adequate pre-trial investigation of the ten potential witness names provided by Wood, and failing to call those witnesses at trial, (b) failing to adequately develop mitigating evidence for sentencing, and (c) failing to timely file a supplemental brief as directed by the trial court; and (4) Wood's due process rights were violated due to prosecutorial misconduct during the opening and closing statements at trial. (D.I. 1) The State filed an answer in opposition, alleging that the petition should be denied as time-barred or, alternatively, that the court should deny claim one for not asserting a claim cognizable on federal habeas review; claim three (a) as meritless; and claim two (a)-(c), claim three (b), (c), and claim four as procedurally barred. (D.I. 14)


The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") was signed into law by the President on April 23, 1996, and habeas petitions filed in federal courts after this date must comply with the AEDPA's requirements. See generally Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336 (1997). AEDPA prescribes a one-year period of limitations for the filing of habeas petitions by state prisoners, which begins to run from the latest of:

(A) the date on which the judgment became final by the conclusion of direct review or the expiration of the time for seeking such review;
(B) the date on which the impediment to filing an application created by State action in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States is removed, if the applicant was prevented from filing by such State action;
(C) the date on which the constitutional right asserted was initially recognized by the Supreme Court, if the right has been newly recognized by the Supreme Court and made retroactively applicable to cases on collateral review; or
(D) the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence.

28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1).

Wood's petition, filed in 2011, is subject to the one-year limitations period contained in§ 2244(d)(1). See Lindh, 521 U.S. at 336. Wood does not allege, and the court does not discern, any facts triggering the application of § 2244(d)(1)(B), (C), or (D). Thus, the one-year period of limitations in this case began to run when Wood's conviction became final under § 2244(d)(1)(A).

Pursuant to § 2244(d)(1)(A), if a state prisoner appeals a state court judgment but does not seek certiorari review, the judgment of conviction becomes final upon expiration of the ninety-day time period allowed for seeking certiorari review. See Kapral v. United States, 166 F.3d 565, 575, 578 (3d Cir. 1999); Jones v. Morton, 195 F.3d 153, 158 (3d Cir. 1999). In this case, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Wood's conviction and sentence on September 10, 2008. Following that decision, Wood did not file a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. Consequently, Wood's conviction became final for the purposes of § 2244(d)(1) on December 9, 2008. Accordingly, to comply with the one-year limitations period, White had to file his§ 2254 petition by December 9, 2009. See Wilson v. Beard, 426 F.3d 653 (3d Cir. 2005)(holding that former Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 6(a), (e) applies to federal habeas petitions).

Wood did not file the instant habeas petition until November 2, 2011, [4] approximately one year and eleven months after the expiration of AEDPA's statute of limitations. Thus, the petition is time-barred, unless the limitations period can be statutorily or equitably tolled. See Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 645 (2010)(equitable tolling); 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(2)(statutory tolling). The court will discuss each doctrine in turn.

A. Statutory Tolling

Pursuant to § 2244(d)(2), a properly filed application for state collateral review tolls AEDPA's limitations period during the time the application is pending in the state courts, including any post-conviction appeals, provided that the application is filed during AEDPA's one-year limitations period. Swartz v. Meyers, 204 F.3d 417, 424-25 (3d Cir. 2000). A prisoner's state post-conviction relief application that is rejected by a state court for ...

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