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Beauchamp v. Stouffer

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

November 18, 2016

J. MICHAEL STOUFFER, et al., Respondents.


          Paul W. Grimm United States District Judge

         In this Court's Memorandum and Order dated February 20, 2015, Respondents J. Michael Stouffer and the Attorney General of the State of Maryland were directed to supplement the record with the full record of state proceedings pertaining to Petitioner Kenneth Beauchamp's September 5, 2008 murder conviction in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. ECF Nos. 16 and 17. Respondents filed the record, along with a Supplemental Answer, ECF Nos. 21, 21-1, and Petitioner has filed a Reply, ECF No. 22, as well as a Response to the Memorandum and Order, ECF No. 23. The Court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing to resolve the issues pending before it. 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. § 2254(e)(2)). Because Beauchamp's claims, to the extent they are exhausted, are without merit and do not state a basis for federal habeas relief, his Petition will be denied.


         State Court Proceedings

         On September 5, 2008, Petitioner was tried and convicted of first-degree murder in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. State Ct. Docket, Resp. Ex. 1, ECF No. 3-1. Petitioner was sentenced to serve a life sentence, with all but fifty-five years suspended. Beauchamp v. Maryland, No. 2390, at 1 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Aug. 10, 2010) (unreported), Resp. Ex. 5, ECF No. 3-5. The following evidence was produced at trial:

On the afternoon of August 30, 2007, police found the body of Patrick Pearce lying under a pile of trash on Todd's Lane, which [Beauchamp] describes as a “dirt road” in Baltimore County. An autopsy determined that Pearce's cause of death was a small-caliber bullet wound to his chest. [Beauchamp] was later charged with Pearce's murder.
At trial, the State and the defense presented several witnesses . . . . [Beauchamp] was convicted of first-degree murder after the following evidence was presented at trial.
On the morning of August 26, 2007, [Beauchamp] drove his sports utility vehicle to pick up Pearce purportedly “to price a job[] and go to Wal-Mart.” Before going to either destination, [Beauchamp] stopped at a convenience store so that Pearce could buy cigarettes and a drink. According to a statement appellant eventually gave to police, once Pearce returned to the vehicle, [Beauchamp] turned left out of the store's parking lot to continue on the way to the potential job site. Instead, video footage from the store's surveillance camera showed [Beauchamp] turning right out of the parking lot, which put him in the direction of the scene of the murder.
As the two drove away from the convenience store, Pearce received a telephone call from his fiancée, Tammy Fisher. During that call, when asked where they were, both Pearce and [Beauchamp] simply told Fisher that they were driving on a “country road.” Later that afternoon, [Beauchamp] told Fisher that he left Pearce at Wal-Mart so that appellant could run some personal errands. However, a subsequent review of the Wal-Mart's security cameras did not corroborate [Beauchamp's] story because there was no video evidence of [Beauchamp's] vehicle in the Wal-Mart parking lot or of Pearce entering the store. At around four o'clock that afternoon, Fisher reported Pearce missing when he failed on several occasions to answer his cell phone.
Four days later, Pearce's body was found under a pile of trash on Todd's Lane, which, as noted, [Beauchamp] describes in his brief as a “dirt road.” A subsequent police investigation determined that Pearce had likely been dead for three to four days before his body was found. He was also found in the same clothes that he was wearing on the day he was reported missing. A cigarette butt with [Beauchamp's] DNA was found approximately twenty-five feet from Pearce's body, and cell phone records disclosed that [Beauchamp] and Pearce were likely near Todd's Lane when Pearce received the phone call from Fisher. In addition, police recovered other evidence from the scene of the murder that was substantially similar to items found near [Beauchamp's] temporary residence, including some corrugated plastic sheeting and fairly distinctive cardboard shipping boxes (only 208 such boxes were ever manufactured).

Id. at 1-3 (footnote omitted).

         Fisher also testified that she had an on and off sexual relationship with Beauchamp that had ended when she became engaged to Pearce. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 15-16, Supp. Answer Ex. 12. Fisher testified that Beauchamp was “very distraught” and “very upset” when she told him she was going to marry Pearce. Id. at 20-21. It was also established through Fisher's direct testimony that she suffers from multiple personality disorder wherein she takes on the persona of different “people” or alter-egos who live within her mind and that she is a drug addict and recovering alcoholic. Id. at 17-19. Given her severe mental illness, her competence to testify was challenged by defense counsel prior to the State putting Fisher on the stand, but the motion was denied by the trial judge who observed that there was no legal reason her mental illness prevented her from testifying and that her demeanor went to her credibility, which was an issue for the jury to determine. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 11-13.

         Fisher explained that Beauchamp had told her he left Pearce at the Wal-Mart store in the afternoon of August 26, which concerned her because Pearce was legally blind and had no way to get home. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 24. Fisher further stated Pearce was not answering his phone when she attempted to call him several times that day, which was not his habit. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 26, 44. She stated that Beauchamp also called her numerous times (“about fifteen times in an hour almost”) asking if Pearce had been to Fisher's house. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 25, 60. She filed a report with the police at approximately 4:30 that afternoon regarding Pearce's absence and provided a description of Pearce and what he was wearing to police. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 26, 42. That same day, Fisher asked Beauchamp to drive her to several locations in and near Baltimore City in an attempt to locate Pearce. Id. at 27. Fisher stated during cross examination that, on August 29, she and Beauchamp went to Hampden, a neighborhood in Baltimore City, to look for Pearce; they “went to a bar called Zizmo's on 36th Street and [Fisher] went inside the bar and showed pictures and nobody seen him, ” but a man outside the bar said that he had seen him. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 62-64. She confirmed through review of her police interview that the man she had spoken to was Billy Warren and testified that she had provided that information to the police detective assigned to the case. Id. at 64.

         In further cross-examination of Fisher, counsel established that on the day of Pearce's disappearance she rode to a Narcotics Anonymous (“N.A.”) meeting with Mary Steinhice. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 45-46. Fisher did not remember making a statement to Steinhice that “you could hide a body off of Route 40” and denied that any of three of her other personalities would have said something to that effect. Id. at 51-53.

         On August 30, 2007, Pearce's body was found on Todds Lane lying beneath a pile of trash that had been dumped there; he was wearing clothes matching those described by Tammy Fisher when she reported him missing. Pearce's body was found in the evening and, due to the loss of daylight, the police had to secure the scene overnight and continue the search for evidence the following day. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 147-48, 155, 196-97; Sept. 4, 2008 Tr. 100-09, Supp. Answer Ex. 13.

         “[S]everal trash bags” were present at the scene where Pearce's body was found. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 150. They were removed from the scene, taken back to the police station, and placed in a “drying locker” for purposes of searching through the trash for possible evidence. Id. at 150- 51. Officer Terrence Kreitz of the forensic services section for the Baltimore County Police Department Crime Lab testified that the trash contained in the bags collected was “eventually” sorted through, but the only thing found and kept were “some shotgun shells and some money.” Id. at 151-52. Kreitz admitted that some of the trash had been moved before the scene was photographed, but explained it was necessary “to get to the body.” Id. at 166-67, 173.

         At the direction of detectives assigned to investigate the murder, Kreitz collected two black corrugated plastic sheets from the location where Pearce was found, which were introduced as evidence in the case. Id. at 155-57. A second evidence technician testified to collection of black plastic sheeting near the pop-up trailer where Beauchamp lived, as well as a cigarette pack and cardboard boxes similar to those found near Pearce's body. Id. at 178-84. This technician also testified to collecting cardboard boxes[2] at the crime scene. Id. at 185-89. A third forensic technician testified to collection of “a pair of glasses with a broken lens” and a cigarette butt found at the scene, both of which were collected on August 31, the day after Pearce was found. Id. at 197-98.

         Laura Pawlowski, a forensic biologist with the Baltimore County Police Department, testified regarding the testing of the cigarette butt found at Todds Lane and stated it was positive for the presence of saliva. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 215-16. Linda Watson, a forensic supervisor with the Baltimore County Police Department, testified as to the DNA testing performed on the cigarette butt. Sept. 4, 2008 Tr. 70-82. Watson did not perform the actual DNA test; another lab technician who no longer worked there performed the test. Id. at 78-79. DNA profiles from Pearce and Beauchamp were compared with the DNA in the saliva found on the cigarette butt. Id. at 80. Pearce was excluded as the source, and Beauchamp was found to be a match. Id. Watson testified that the frequency of the genetic profile found to match Beauchamp “in the Caucasian population is one in thirty-five quadrillion.” Id. at 82.

         Officer Kreitz testified during cross-examination that various items containing the name David Shuler were found among the trash collected as well as shotgun shells, a knife, a box of gun cleaning patches, a pack of Gold Brand cigarettes and a pack of Newport cigarettes. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 160-63. He explained that he and Detective Massey went through the trash collected and “if we found anything we thought was of evidentiary value, we saved it.” Id. at 164, see also Id. at 165-74. Much of the trash collected at the scene was discarded as irrelevant as it had no connection to Beauchamp, who had been identified as a suspect, or Pearce. Detective Massey discarded a vehicle emissions notice with a name and address on it as well as correspondence from a law firm to another individual, because they were not relevant to the investigation. See Sept. 5, 2008 Tr. 40-42, Supp. Answer Ex. 14.

         Detective Massey was the lead investigator in the case and testified as to the processing of the crime scene and his interviews of both Tammy Fisher and Beauchamp. Sept. 4, 2008 Tr. 97-178. After Pearce was identified through reference to the missing person's report filed by Tammy Fisher, Massey went to Fisher's apartment to interview her. Id. at 112. Beauchamp was at Fisher's apartment when he arrived and both Fisher and Beauchamp went to the police station voluntarily for interviews. Id. at 111-13.

         During his interview, Beauchamp maintained that he had dropped Pearce off at Wal-Mart because he wanted to buy a universal remote for a television set. Id. at 120, 122. Massey asked Beauchamp to describe in detail the route he took while Beauchamp was in the truck and provided a map for Beauchamp to indicate where the two went. Id. at 131-32. During the course of describing where the two went, Beauchamp said they went to a Royal Farms store before going to Wal-Mart and that he had turned left leaving the parking lot to get to the area where Wal-Mart was located. Id. at 132.

         Massey testified that he viewed surveillance camera video from the Royal Farms store, a storage facility where Beauchamp had a unit, and the Wal-Mart parking lot to verify Beauchamp's statements. Sept. 4, 2008 Tr. 143-44, 150-52. Upon viewing the video from Royal Farms, Massey found footage of Beauchamp's truck pulling into the parking lot and of Pearce inside the store making a purchase. Id. at 144-45. Another camera angle of the parking lot showed Beauchamp's car leaving the parking lot and taking a right turn, not the left turn that Beauchamp previously had stated. Id. at 148-50.

         The video of the storage facility depicts Beauchamp arriving on the afternoon after the morning Massey interviewed him, wearing the same clothing he had on during the interview. Sept. 4, 2008 Tr. 151. Beauchamp is seen leaving the facility carrying three to four bags. Id. at 152. No evidence was introduced regarding the content of those bags. Beauchamp left Maryland after Massey interviewed him and later was arrested in Columbus, Ohio.

         Massey limited his view of the video footage of the Wal-Mart parking lot to a time frame of 10:45 a.m. to 12:51 p.m., based on the times noted on the video of the Royal Farms store where both Pearce and Beauchamp's vehicle were seen. Sept. 4, 2008 Tr. 154-57. Massey stated he looked at video from camera angles that captured the front parking lot where Beauchamp claimed he had left Pearce. Id. at 157. Massey stated that while there were several sports utility vehicles that looked like Beauchamp's sports utility vehicles, no one matching Pearce's description got out of those vehicles. Id. at 158.

         Beauchamp's trial counsel brought out during cross examination of Massey that this was his second or third murder investigation; that trash bags found on top of the body were not processed for fingerprints or other latent evidence; that people whose names were on documents found around the crime scene and inside the trash bags were not interviewed;[3] that his search for Billy Warren was not vigilant; and a teletype to Ohio seeking assistance in arresting Beauchamp indicated the murder weapon was a shotgun.[4] Sept. 5, 2008 Tr. 16-37. Massey also could not say definitively whether the Wal-Mart where Pearce was allegedly dropped off had another entrance through the garden center. Id. at 24-25. Massey was questioned as to whether the maggots found on the victim's body had been preserved and admitted knowing that certain tests on maggots could establish a precise time of death. Id. at 28-30.

         An exact time of death for Pearce was never established at trial. Rather, the medical examiner, Dr. Russell Alexander, [5] estimated that Pearce died from a single gunshot wound to his chest and that he had been dead for three to four days before he was found. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 116-20, 124. The estimate was made on the degree of decomposition to the body and large presence of maggots in the body. Id. at 118-20.

         Cross-examination of Dr. Alexander focused on the State's failure to order tests on the maggots found in Pearce's body to establish a more precise time of death. Sept. 3, 2008 Tr. 132- 35. There was conflicting testimony presented as to whether any of the maggots had been collected and sent to the medical examiner's office for that purpose. Id. at 134.

         In the defense's case-in-chief, counsel called to the stand Mary Steinhice, Billy Warren, and Jeffrey Kaplan, a law clerk who had worked for the public defender's office the summer before Beauchamp stood trial. Steinhice testified she gave Tammy Fisher a ride to N.A. and that Fisher had said that the area off of Pulaski Highway would be “a good place to hide a body.” Sept. 5, 2008 Tr.70-76. Steinhice also testified that she had offered to take Fisher to the Wal-Mart to look for Pearce, but Fisher declined the offer. Id.

         Billy Warren, whom Massey claimed he could not locate because he only had the name and nothing else, testified that he recalled seeing Pearce alive at Zismo's, a bar in Hampden, the day after he allegedly was killed. Sept. 5, 2008 Tr. 77-85. Warren was certain it was Pearce he saw because he knew Pearce and spoke with him briefly. Id. at 80-81.

         Jeffrey Kaplan testified that he viewed approximately ten hours of video surveillance from the Wal-Mart store which included five camera angles and kept a detailed log of each time a vehicle appeared in the parking lot that could have been Beauchamp's red Ford Explorer. Sept. 5, 2008 Tr. 86-93. He testified that there were over fifty instances where a vehicle matching that general description could be seen; the camera angles were such that some details on the vehicles coming into the parking lot could not be seen; and there was no way to verify or dispute that Pearce had entered that store, as there were just too many people coming in or leaving. Id.

         Upon the close of evidence, the trial court instructed the jury. Sept. 5, 2008 Tr. 117-26. Defense counsel raised an objection to the pattern jury instruction given regarding flight, arguing that the evidence did not support such an instruction because Beauchamp did not leave the jurisdiction right after the crime was committed, and he had not been charged with the crime when he left for Ohio. Id. at 126-27. The state countered that Beauchamp's flight after being question by the police and the fact he left his car in police custody without reclaiming it before he left for Ohio supported a flight instruction. Id. at 127. The trial court overruled the objection, finding that the term “accused of a crime” as found in the pattern instruction was not intended to mean only when the defendant ...

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