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Donnell Lamont Covington v. Shearin

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 9, 2015

BOBBY P. SHEARIN, [1] et al., Respondent.


JAMES K. BREDAR, District Judge.

A response to the petition for writ of habeas corpus with exhibits was filed in the above-captioned case. The matter is now ready for dispositive review. The court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing. See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts and Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2014); see also Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000) (petitioner not entitled to a hearing under 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(e)(2)). For the reasons to follow, the petition will be denied.

Factual and Procedural History

Donnell Lamont Covington was convicted of the first degree murder of Robert Johnson, and openly carrying a deadly weapon with the intent to injure in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City after a jury trial presided over by the Honorable Emanuel Brown. ECF No. 6, Ex. 4. The facts demonstrated during the trial, as summarized by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, are as follows:

On the afternoon of May 7, 2008, Robert Johnson was fatally stabbed in the 1200 block of James Street in Baltimore City. Criminal agency was the focus at trial. The State presented evidence from four eyewitnesses: James Harmon, Brian Kramer, Daniel Smith, and Nickey Lowery. Each identified [Covington] as the perpetrator. The defense argued that someone other than [Covington] stabbed the victim....
The four eyewitnesses, the victim and [Covington] were familiar with each other and the Sargeant and James Streets area of Baltimore City where the stabbing occurred. The victim, Harmon, and Smith were drug users; Lowery and [Covington] were drug dealers. Additionally, each of the eyewitnesses, except Kramer, had prior convictions. Harmon had prior convictions for felony drug possession with intent to distribute, loitering, and fourth-degree burglary. Smith had a prior conviction for misdemeanor theft and several prior drug convictions. Lowery had prior convictions for possession and distribution of drugs.
Harmon testified that prior to the stabbing an altercation occurred between himself, the victim, and [Covington]. Harmon explained that he and the victim were sitting on the stoop of a house on Sargeant Street, one block south of James Street. Harmon was waiting to purchase drugs to share with the victim when a woman they knew as "Shannon" sat down and joined them. Around this time, [Covington] came down the street cursing and yelling. He grabbed Shannon's arm and accused her of using his drugs the previous night with her boyfriend. Harmon and the victim intervened, explaining that she could not have used [Covington's] drugs because she had been with them the night before. [Covington] eventually walked away, but he was angry, telling Harmon and the victim that he would be back.
Shortly thereafter Harmon also left the area. When he returned a short while later he saw a group of people gathered around the victim. He recognized Lowery, Paul Tenney, and some others in the group; [Covington] stood off to the side. According to Harmon, the victim and Lowery were arguing when "out of nowhere" [Covington] stabbed the victim in the neck.
Brian Kramer testified similarly. He testified that while walking home from work, he saw a group of people, including [Covington], Lowery, and Tenney, talking loudly about hurting someone. He then saw Tenney hand Lowery a two-by-four piece of wood. As Kramer walked around the corner to get away from the group, Kramer saw the victim and approached him. Minutes later, the group came around the corner and approached them. Kramer testified that Lowery, while holding the two-by-four in her hands, told the victim "to mind his business and stuff like that and to stop sticking his nose in matters that don't concern him." The victim retorted that she should "get out of my face." According to Kramer, "out of nowhere" [Covington] "pulled" a knife and stabbed the victim in the neck.
Daniel Smith, who lived in the 1200 block of James Street, also testified similarly to Harmon and Kramer. Smith testified that he was looking out his front door when he saw Lowery pin the victim up against the wall with a two-by-four. According to Smith, while the victim and Lowery yelled at each other, [Covington] came up behind the victim and stabbed him.
After the stabbing, [Covington], Lowery, and Tenney fled the area. The police were called and the victim was pronounced dead at the crime scene. Lead investigator Baltimore City Police Detective Napoleon McLain, a thirty-year police veteran, testified that when he arrived at the crime scene he directed the taking of evidence, in particular a two-by-four wooden board. A subsequent autopsy report revealed that the victim had a cutting wound and a stab wound both on the right side of his neck. The stab wound severed the jugular vein and carotid arteries causing rapid death.
Harmon and Kramer contacted and spoke with the police the day of the stabbing. Both were shown photographic arrays by Detective McLain. Each picked out pictures of [Covington], Lowery, and Tenney. Two days later, Smith spoke to Detective McClain and picked out pictures of [Covington] and Lowery from the police photographic arrays. From the arrays, Harmon, Kramer, and Smith each identified [Covington] as the person who had stabbed the victim.
Tiffany Lowery testified at [Covington's] trial pursuant to a plea agreement. Under the terms of the agreement, she plead[ed] guilty to assault and handgun violations on an unrelated charge and received a five-year sentence, and in exchange she agreed to testify truthfully at [Covington's] trial. She testified that Tenney handed her a two-by-four, and they walked up to the victim and started arguing with him. She testified that [Covington] approached, stood next to the victim, and then stabbed him in the neck.

ECF No. 6, Ex. 10, pp. at 1-4.

Petitioner was sentenced on June 3, 2010, to life imprisonment plus an additional three years. Id., Ex. 7.

He noted a timely appeal raising the following claims in the Court of Special Appeals:

1. The trial court erred in granting the State's motion to exclude evidence that the primary investigating detective had been found to have lied to a judge in an unrelated case
2. The trial court erred in the admission of evidence of a dispute between Appellant and Robert Johnson
3. The trial court erred in its supplemental instructions to the jury in ...

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