Submitted: June 12, 2018
Zebroski's Motion for Postconviction Relief: DENIED
Stamatios Stamoulis, Esquire, of STAMOULIS & WEINBLATT,
LLC, Wilmington, Delaware, and Tiffani D. Hurst, Esquire, of
the FEDERAL DEFENDER DISTRICT OF DELAWARE, Wilmington,
Delaware, Attorneys for Craig Zebroski.
Elizabeth R. McFarlan, Esquire, of the STATE OF DELAWARE
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for the
filed his fifth motion for postconviction relief after the
Superior Court vacated his capital sentence under the
Delaware Supreme Court's decisions in Rauf v.
State and Powell v.
State. Before the Superior Court ruled on his
motion, Defendant appealed his new sentence to the Supreme
Court. In affirming Defendant's life sentence, the
Supreme Court expressly rejected most of the arguments raised
in Defendant's postconviction motion. The remaining
issues require this Court to consider whether a defendant may
establish a strong inference of actual innocence with
evidence purportedly negating his intent to commit a crime.
Because innocence of intent does not constitute actual
innocence, Defendant's motion does not satisfy the actual
innocence exception to Rule 61's procedural bars.
Accordingly, the motion is denied.
AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
events underlying this motion occurred on April 25, 1996,
when Craig Zebroski and his friend, Michael Sarro, robbed a
gas station in New Castle. During the robbery, Zebroski
threatened the attendant and demanded the attendant open the
cash register. When the attendant failed to respond, Zebroski
shot him in the forehead, killing him. In the guilt phase of
the trial, the jury found Zebroski guilty of intentional
killing and felony murder. During the penalty phase, the jury
voted nine to three to recommend a death sentence, and the
Superior Court ultimately sentenced Zebroski to death. The
Supreme Court affirmed Zebroski's conviction and sentence
on direct appeal.
Rauf v. State,  the Delaware Supreme Court held
Delaware's capital punishment scheme violated the Sixth
Amendment to the United States Constitution. In Powell v.
State,  Court held Rauf applied
retroactively to previous convictions. In view of
Rauf and Powell, this Court vacated
Zebroski's death sentence on March 16, 2017. The next
day, Zebroski filed a motion for postconviction relief (the
raised three arguments in support of his Motion. First,
Zebroski argued he was entitled to a new sentencing
proceeding because the Supreme Court's decision in
Rauf invalidated 11 Del. C. § 4209 in
its entirety, including both the death penalty provision and
the alternative mandatory life sentence. Section 4209(a)
provides "[a]ny person who is convicted of first-degree
murder . . . shall be punished by death or by imprisonment
for the remainder of the person's natural life without
benefit of probation or parole or any other
reduction." The rest of Section 4209 details the
capital sentencing procedures. Zebroski argued the Supreme
Court's decision in Rauf invalidated Section
4209(a) along with the capital sentencing procedures because
the Court held the section provisions were not severable.
Zebroski therefore argued his life imprisonment sentence is
unconstitutional under Rauf.
Zebroski argued imposing a mandatory life sentence without
considering a defendant's age violated the Eighth
Amendment of the United States Constitution because he only
was eighteen years old when he committed the acts underlying
his conviction. Zebroski contended new neurological studies
have proven eighteen-year-old brains have not fully developed
and therefore he was unable to control his impulses at the
time of the robbery. Failing to take his age into account,
Zebroski argued, constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Zebroski contended he was entitled to a new trial because his
sentence violated his right to due process under the
Fourteenth Amendment as well as his right to effective
assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment. Zebroski
maintained his due process rights were violated because his
trial counsel would have employed a different trial strategy
had he known Delaware's capital punishment scheme would
be held unconstitutional. Zebroski claimed his trial counsel
was ineffective because counsel failed to raise a state of
mind defense to his first-degree murder charge. Zebroski also
argued his state of mind defense proves he actually is
innocent of first-degree murder.
the Court ruled on the Motion, Zebroski moved for
resentencing so he could be reclassified. The Court sentenced
Zebroski to life imprisonment without benefit of probation or
parole. Zebroski then appealed the new sentence and the
Superior Court stayed the Motion.
appeal, Zebroski largely repeated the arguments raised in his
Motion, but asked the Supreme Court not to consider the
substance of his actual innocence and ineffective assistance
of counsel arguments. The Court rejected Zebroski's new
trial request, upholding the validity of Section
4209(a)'s alternative life sentence.The Court noted
that, under Rauf, Section 4209(a)'s alternative
punishment of life without parole remained valid as it was
severable from the capital punishment scheme. The Court
clarified that the Rauf decision only held Section
4209's constitutionally-sound capital punishment
provisions were not severable from the
constitutionally-infirm capital punishment
Court also rejected Zebroski's Eighth Amendment argument,
holding it would not depart from the United States Supreme
Court's decision in Roper v. Simmons,
which upheld eighteen as the constitutional
age-of-majority. The Court noted the rationale in
Roper was based on "society's collective
judgment about when the rights and responsibilities of
adulthood should accrue."Zebroski's
neuroscience-based arguments therefore were irrelevant.
Finally, the Court held Zebroski's due process argument
had no legal basis. The Court noted that Delaware never has