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State v. Handy

Superior Court of Delaware

August 20, 2019

VALORIE S. HANDY, Petitioner/Defendant.

          Motion for Postconviction Relief Submitted: May 7, 2018

          Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Petitioner Submitted: April 22, 2019

         Upon Petitioner's Motion for Postconviction Relief (R-l) DISMISSED

         Upon Postconviction Counsel's Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Petitioner DISMISSED AS MOOT

          Valorie S. Handy, Petitioner/Defendant.

          Patrick J. Collins, Esquire, Collins & Associates, Attorney for Petitioner/Defendant Valorie Handy.

          Melanie Withers, Esquire, Deputy Attorney General, Department of Justice, Attorney for State of Delaware.


          KARSNITZ, J.



         Petitioner and defendant Valorie S. Handy ("Petitioner," "Defendant" or "Handy") was represented at her 2016 trial by Gary F. Traynor, Esquire as lead counsel[1] and Daniel A. Strumpf, Esquire (collectively, "Trial Counsel"). On May 7, 2018, Petitioner filed a timely pro se Motion for Postconviction Relief (the "Rule 61 Motion") under Superior Court Rule of Criminal Procedure 61 ("Rule 61") on the basis that she was denied effective assistance of counsel at her trial.[2] The Court then appointed Patrick J. Collins, Esquire ("Postconviction Counsel") to represent Handy[3], and on April 22, 2019, Postconviction Counsel filed a Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Petitioner Valerie Handy (the "Motion to Withdraw').[4] On May 20, 2019, Petitioner filed her Response to the Motion to Withdraw.[5] On July 26, 2019, Trial Counsel filed an Affidavit regarding statements made by Petitioner in her Response to the Motion to Withdraw.[6]

         Petitioner states seven grounds for relief in her Rule 61 Motion. In his Motion to Withdraw, Postconviction Counsel sets forth these seven claims verbatim from Petitioner's Rule 61 Motion[7]; I summarize them as follows:

(1) Trial Counsel failed to create reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors by failing to focus on the culpability of the victim's mother and by sympathizing with adverse witnesses;
(2) Trial Counsel failed to object to the lead prosecutor's unsuccessful prosecution of Petitioner in an earlier matter and thus her bias against Petitioner;
(3) Trial Counsel failed to move to suppress certain evidence illegally and untimely seized from Petitioner's home pursuant to an illegal search warrant;
(4) Trial Counsel failed to challenge State's expert witnesses and to hire rebuttal expert witnesses for Petitioner;
(5) Trial Counsel failed to properly advise Petitioner of her right to testify on her own behalf;
(6) Trial Counsel failed to object to reference in State's closing argument that victim's mother provided applesauce, which prejudiced jurors against Petitioner; and,
(7) Trial Counsel failed to obtain a full transcript of the Lolly/Deberry[8] jury instruction discussions regarding missing evidence for the Supreme Court to review on appeal.

         After a full review of the record and the pleadings, I find that Petitioner has failed to satisfy either the performance part or the prejudice part of the two-part test set forth in Strickland v. Washington[9] ("Strickland'), as adopted in Delaware and as discussed more fully below, as to her allegation of ineffective assistance of Trial Counsel.

         I further find from the Rule 61 Motion itself, and from the record of the pretrial, trial and appellate proceedings in this case, Petitioner is not entitled to relief and the Rule 61 Motion must be summarily dismissed.[10] Thus, the record need not be expanded, no response need be made by the Attorney General, [11] and no evidentiary hearing need be held.[12]

         The Rule 61 Motion is summarily DISMISSED.


         A. Procedural History

         On July 27, 2015, a grand jury indicted Petitioner on one count of Murder by Abuse or Neglect in the First Degree.[13] On July 29, 2015, Petitioner was arrested on a Rule 9 warrant.[14] For the next year plus, there was extensive pretrial litigation with respect to expert opinion testimony, expert testimony, testing of evidence, suppression of evidence seized pursuant to a search warrant, and failure by the State to preserve evidence. The matter proceeded to a jury trial beginning on November 16, 2016 that lasted nine trial days. The jury received an instruction on three lesser included offenses: Manslaughter, Murder by Abuse or Neglect in the Second Degree, and Criminally Negligent Homicide, as well as a Lolly/Deberry instruction.[15] On December 2, 2016, the jury found Petitioner guilty of Criminally Negligent Homicide.[16]

         On January 27, 2017, this Court sentenced Petitioner to eight years at Level 5, suspended after serving two years and six months, for six months of home confinement, followed by five years of Level 3 probation.[17] A Notice of Supreme Court Appeal was filed on June 30, 2017.[18] The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the conviction on March 22, 2018.[19]


         Petitioner operated a daycare facility in Millsboro, Delaware attached to her residence. On January 28, 2015, Petitioner called 911 to report that a ten-month old child was not breathing.[20] Paramedics took the child to Beebe Hospital where he was pronounced dead.[21] The police obtained audio and video statements from Petitioner, including a statement that she had fed the child applesauce, [22] and seized evidence pursuant to a search warrant.[23] There was also a subsequent seizure of additional evidence pursuant to a search warrant.[24] Much of the expert testimony revolved around the presence of diphenhydramine ("DPH"), the active ingredient in Benadryl, in the child's body and hair.[25] The State argued that Petitioner had placed Benadryl in the applesauce fed to the child and that the cause of death was acute DPH intoxication. As stated above, during both pretrial and trial, Trial Counsel made numerous motions, some of which were granted, to exclude or suppress expert opinions, expert testimony, test results, and items of evidence seized pursuant to two search warrants, [26] and objected to the State's failure to preserve certain evidence.[27]



         Before addressing the merits of a defendant's motion for postconviction relief, I must first apply the procedural bars of Superior Court Criminal Rule 61(i).[28] If a procedural bar exists, as a general rule I will not address the merits of the postconviction claim.[29] Under Delaware Superior Court Rules of Criminal Procedure, a motion for post-conviction relief can be barred for time limitations, successive motions, procedural default, or former adjudication.[30]

         A motion for postconviction relief exceeds time limitations if it is filed more than one year after the conviction becomes final, or, if it asserts a retroactively applicable right that is newly recognized after the judgment of conviction is final, more than one year after the right was first recognized by the Supreme Court of Delaware or the United States Supreme Court.[31] In this case, Petitioner's conviction became final for purposes of Rule 61 at the conclusion of direct review when the Delaware Supreme Court issued its mandate on April 12, 2018.[32] Petitioner filed her pro se ...

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