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Edwards v. Bishop

United States District Court, D. Maryland

January 18, 2017

JOSEPH W. EDWARDS, #346-493, Petitioner
v.
WARDEN FRANK BISHOP and The ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE STATE OF MARYLAND, Respondents

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD D. BENNETT, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Joseph W. Edwards filed this timely, self-represented Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, attacking his June 30, 2007 conviction from the Circuit Court for Charles County, Maryland for first-degree felony murder and related offenses. (ECF 1). Respondents, the Warden of North Branch Correctional Institution where Edwards is confined and the Attorney General of the State of Maryland, filed an Answer. (ECF 16). Edwards, through counsel, submitted an Amended Petition (ECF 25), prompting an additional Response (ECF 29) and Reply. (ECF 32).

         Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the Court finds no need for an evidentiary hearing.[1] See Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts and Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016); 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)). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court shall DENY and DISMISS the Petition with prejudice and SHALL NOT ISSUE a Certificate of Appealability.

         BACKGROUND

         On February 2, 2007, Edwards was charged in the Circuit Court for Charles County with first-degree felony murder, first-degree premeditated murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree assault, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, first-degree assault, and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence in connection with the death of Steven McGregor. Edwards also was charged with attempted first-degree premeditated murder, attempted second-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit robbery with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit first-degree assault, first-degree assault, and use of a handgun in the commission of a crime of violence in connection with the shooting of Steven Windley. (ECF 16, Ex. 1 at pp. 3-10). The facts adduced at Edwards' jury trial, summarized by the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, follow:

On December 28, 2006 around 11:30 p.m., Steven McGregor, Steven Windley, and three other men were in and around a car in the 3200 block of Westdale Court in Waldorf. They were approached by [appellant], and four other men. As a result of the ensuing events, Mr. McGregor was shot and killed, and Mr. Windley was shot and paralyzed. The surviving victims, as well as three of [appellant's] accomplices, testified at trial.
Marco Coates, who was in the car with Mr. McGregor and Mr. Windley, offered the following account of the events leading up to the shooting. On December 28, he, Robert Barbour, and Mr. Windley drove to a basketball tournament in Calvert County in Mr. Barbour's blue Dodge Magnum. After the tournament, Mr. McGregor joined them, and they drove back to Waldorf. In Waldorf, they saw Timothy Grimes in the Westdale Court area and picked him up. Eventually, Mr. Barbour, who was driving, parked in the 3200 block of Westdale Court, and Mr. Coates and Mr. Grimes got out of the car to smoke.
Mr. Coates explained that either Mr. Barbour or Mr. McGregor got a phone call. About thirty seconds later, five men came from behind the town homes around the court. Mr. Coates saw a “big, big” chrome gun and heard shots. He and Mr. Grimes then “took off.” Initially, Mr. Coates hid behind a bush. He soon crept back towards the car, however, and got underneath an Expedition. From his position underneath the SUV, Mr. Coates saw the men kicking Mr. Barbour in the face and saw the men trying to take Mr. Windley's jacket.
In addition to shots from the chrome gun, Mr. Coates testified that he heard shots from another gun. Some shots were fired at the tires, and some shots were fired directly into the car. As the five men were leaving, one man came back and fired a final shot into the car from behind the passenger seat. The five men then returned from the direction they came.
After the men left, Mr. Coates returned to the car. Mr. McGregor had a bullet in his head. Mr. Windley was face down on the ground and could not get up.
Mr. Coates stated that he had known [appellant] for three years. Despite the fact that the man with the chrome gun wore a mask that covered his face from the nose down, Mr. Coates claimed that [appellant] was that man. Mr. Coates also identified [appellant] as the person who fired the final shot into the car. According to Mr. Coates, [appellant] was wearing a black, gray and red North Face jacket. He had light skin and wore his hair in long “twisties.” Robert Barbour, who was the driver of the car, also testified. His account follows. After Mr. Barbour and the car's other occupants picked up Timothy Grimes, they went to Janelle Love's court. She was outside, and they asked her for cigarettes. While they were there, Mr. Barbour received a call from Angel Park. Ms. Park asked him if he had any “weed.” When he said no, she asked who was with him, and he told her. She then asked where they were, and he told her that too. Ms. Park said she would call him back. At some point, Mr. Barbour and his companions left Ms. Love's court and went to Mr. Windley's court.
About two minutes after the first call, Ms. Park called Mr. Barbour again. She asked where they were, and Mr. Barbour told her they were at Mr. Windley's court. Ms. Park told him that she would come through in about five minutes.
About one to two minutes after the second call Mr. Barbour heard a “loud boom” Mr. Barbour ducked his head and tried to start the car. As he did so, he and Mr. Windley were pulled out of the car. Mr. Barbour said that the men asked, “Where the money at?” One man went through his pockets, while another man stood over him. Afterwards, Mr. Barbour discovered that $15 dollars and his Sprint Razor phone were taken. Mr. Barbour testified that someone tried to take Mr. Windley's jacket, but stopped when he realized Mr. Windley had been shot. After a man wearing a red and black North Face jacket pointed a chrome gun inside the car and shot, the men ran off.
Timothy Grimes offered his account of the shooting as well. Mr. Grimes testified that he and Mr. Coates were smoking “weed” outside Mr. Barbour's car when five men walked up. Mr. Grimes saw a “big old chrome gun.” When the person holding that gun fired, he and Mr. Coates ran. While he was running, Mr. Grimes slipped and fell. As he lay on the ground, he heard multiple gun shots, none of which were as loud as the first one. Once Mr. Grimes caught his breath, he got up and ran to the end of a section of town houses. As he started to get up again, he heard one final shot, which sounded liked [sic] the first shot he heard.
Mr. Grimes did not identify [appellant] as one of the men who approached the car. He did testify, however, that he had seen [appellant] around one or two o'clock on December 28. Mr. Grimes explained that he was driving when he saw [appellant] in a car with Angel Park. Mr. Grimes testified that when he pulled next to [appellant's] car, [appellant] pulled out a “big old chrome gun” and pointed it at him. Once [appellant] realized who Mr. Grimes was, he put the gun down. According to Mr. Grimes, the gun that he saw that afternoon looked like the gun he saw later that night.
Mr. Windley, who was paralyzed as a result of the shooting, also testified. After Mr. Barbour parked in front of Mr. Windley's house, Mr. Windley passed out. He woke up to gun shots and to Mr. McGregor yelling at Mr. Barbour to pull off. Mr. Windley explained that the passenger side window was shot out, and a silver gun came in the window. Mr. McGregor got shot, and Mr. Windley tried to open the door. When the gun pointed in Mr. Windley's direction, he put up his right arm and was shot in that arm. Mr. Windley was able to unlock the door. As he leaned out, he was shot in the back and fell out of the car.
Mr. Windley testified that he was able to pull himself under the truck parked next to them. Once he was under the truck, someone pulled him out and tried to take his jacket and chain. Mr. Windley held on with his good arm. Mr. Windley testified that he could see a group of guys kicking and beating Mr. Barbour. He told the men to leave Mr. Barbour alone and to come take his jacket. The men came over and again tried to take his jacket. Mr. Windley testified that the men then started running. As they did, one man came back, jumped over him, and shot one more time. Mr. Windley testified that he had two cell phones when he was shot. After the shooting, one phone was missing.
In addition to the victims, three of [appellant's] accomplices, including Angel Park, testified. On December 28, Ms. Park picked up [appellant], who was “just about like” her boyfriend, from his parents' house in Waldorf. [Appellant] had “dreads” and was wearing a red and black North Face jacket. While they were driving, they saw Timothy Grimes, who pulled up beside them. [Appellant] pulled out a gun before he realized who it was. When he saw that it was Mr. Grimes, he put the gun away.
After the encounter with Mr. Grimes, Ms. Park and [appellant] drove to Washington, D.C. to pick up Gator, whose real name is Dewayne Thomas. They then drove to Kennebec Street to pick up Eugene Green and Darryl Smith.
Next, they drove to Alexis Jordan's house, where [appellant] and Mr. Smith got into Mr. Jordan's car. At that point, both cars drove to Clay Terrace, where Mr. Smith got some PCP. Mr. Smith gave one “dipper” to her and Mr. Green, and he kept one “dipper” for the other car. The group then proceeded to a restaurant. While there, Mr. Thomas got into her car.
Both cars then drove to Waldorf, where [appellant] directed her to drive through three or four neighborhoods. At some point, Ms. Park got a call from Tiera Gray who was looking for her boyfriend, Mr. McGregor. Ms. Gray asked for J-Rock's number. After that call, Ms. Park drove to the Thai Seafood bar, where she received a call from [appellant]. Ms. Park, in turn, called Mr. Barbour, whose nickname was Pearl, and asked for J-Rock's number. She also asked about some “weed” and found out where Mr. Barbour was and who he was with. Ms. Park then called [appellant] and told him what she had learned. Next, Ms. Park called Mr. Barbour back and told him that she was on her way.
At that point, the cars drove to a neighborhood she knew as Coventry so that [appellant], Mr. Green, Mr. Thomas, Mr. Smith and Mr. Jordan could rob Mr. Barbour. After she parked, everyone except herself and the female who was driving Mr. Jordan's car got out. The men went towards the playground and were gone for less than ten minutes. Ms. Park heard several gunshots. Not long after that, everyone ran back to her car. They left the area and went back to Kennebec Street.
While they were at Kennebec Street, Ms. Park received a call from Janell Love asking who she was with and what she was doing. Ms. Park told Ms. Love that she was at her aunt's house. [Appellant] then told Ms. Park that she needed to go to where she told Ms. Love she was.
Janae West, who drove Alexis Jordan's car, also testified. According to Ms. West, Mr. Jordan came to her house on December 28 and asked her to drive his car. She complied and drove Mr. Jordan, [appellant] and another “boy” to Waldorf. When they arrived at a town house community, she and the woman who drove the other car parked. Ms. West testified that all of the males got out of the cars and went around the corner behind some houses. They were gone for approximately ten minutes, during which time she heard gun shots. About two minutes after hearing the shots, the men came back. [Appellant], Mr. Jordan and the other man got into Mr. Jordan's car, and they left.
Eugene Green testified as well. According to Mr. Green, [appellant] called him on December 28 and asked him to come “chill” at the apartment on Kennebec Street. When he arrived, Ms. Park and Mr. Thomas were also there. [Appellant] asked if he wanted to, go to Waldorf, and he [said] “yes.” According to Mr. Green, [appellant] said that they were going to Waldorf to “chill, ” but he also said that if he saw Pudge and “someone else” he was going to rob them. Mr. Green and Mr. Thomas drove to Waldorf in Angel Park's car, and [appellant], Darryl Smith and Mr. Jordan went in a car with another female.
When they got to Waldorf, the two cars parked at the Thai Seafood “go-go.” While they were there, Ms. Park got a phone call. [Appellant] asked Ms. Park who she was talking to and told her to take him “to whoever she was talking to.” The cars then drove to a location he knew as “AV.” The women stayed in the car, and the men walked towards a playground. They followed a path and ended up in a parking lot. Mr. Green saw Mr. Coates using the bathroom. [Appellant], who was wearing a red and black North Face jacket, a mask and a hoodie, fired a silver gun in the air. According to Mr. Green, [appellant] pointed the gun at Mr. Coates. At that point, Mr. Green left and went back to the car. About five minutes later, the other men came back. Everyone got in the cars, and they left. As they were leaving the area, they saw a police car.
Darryl Smith, who was the last accomplice to testify, testified as follows. Mr. Green and [appellant] came to his home on Kennebec Street on December 28. [Appellant's] girlfriend picked them up, and they drove to D.C., where Mr. Thomas joined them. [Appellant] talked to Mr. Thomas about going to Waldorf to beat up someone named Dejuan. They all then drove to Alexia Jordan's house. After making other stops, the two cars drove to Waldorf.
At first, they went to a gas station. Then, they drove through some town homes looking for Dejuan and Pudge. Next, they went to a store, where Mr. Smith and Mr. Jordan bought ski masks, one of which they gave to [appellant]. After getting the masks, they drove through some more town homes. [Appellant] said he saw who he was looking for, so they drove to the back of the town homes, parked and got out.
The men then walked through some woods and past a playground. When they heard some guys laughing in the parking lot, [appellant] pulled down his mask, and they all ran towards the Dodge Magnum. According to Mr. Smith, [appellant]] and Mr. Jordan were the only people who had guns. [Appellant] fired once into the air with a silver revolver. He then ran to the right rear passenger door, opened it, and said, “Whoa.” Mr. Jordan fired multiple shots in the back of the car. [Appellant] then pistol whipped someone in the car. Everyone ran back the way they came.
Mr. Smith testified that when he, Mr. Thomas and [appellant] got into Angel's car [appellant] had two cell phones and some money in his hand. Eventually, both cars went back to Kennebec Street. There, [appellant] told [Ms. Jordan] to get rid of the guns. Mr. Smith stated that at some point [appellant] had told him the gun was a .357.
When Mr. Windley testified, he stated that he saw Mr. McGregor with a cell phone prior to the shooting. Similarly, Mr. Barbour testified that he saw Mr. McGregor talking on his cell phone before the shooting. When the police searched Mr. McGregor's pockets after the shooting, however, they did not recover a cell phone.
Mr. Smith testified that when the men returned to Kennebec Street after the shooting, he took the cell phones from [appellant], broke them and threw them in some bushes. Detective Chris Shankster responded to 904 Kennebec after the shooting. There, he recovered a cellular telephone battery from the ground. The battery was compatible with only an LG CU500 cell phone. Detective Shankster also met with Mr. McGregor's girlfriend, Ms. Gray, after the shooting. She gave him a box for an LG CU500 Cingular telephone and told the detective that it was the box Mr. McGregor's cell phone had come in.

(ECF 16, Ex. 9). Based on this evidence, the jury convicted Edwards of first-degree felony murder, first-degree assault, and illegal use of a handgun with respect to victim Steven McGregor, and first-degree assault and illegal use of a handgun with respect to victim Steven Windley. (Id.; see also Ex. 1). Edwards was sentenced to life imprisonment for the first-degree felony murder of McGregor, a consecutive 20-year sentence for the first-degree assault of Windley, and two 20-year sentences for the handgun convictions, one of which was to run concurrent to the life sentence and the other to run concurrent to the first-degree assault sentence.[2] (Id., Ex. 1 at pp. 3-10, Ex. 9 at p. 1).

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On direct appeal, Edwards raised the following questions:

(1) Was the jury's verdict of guilty of felony murder inconsistent with its verdict of not guilty of robbery with a danger weapon, and must the felony murder conviction be reversed as a result?
(2) Did the trial court commit plain error in instructing the jury on felony murder?
(3) Did the trial court err when it sent a note to the jury without first informing Edwards and his counsel and when it thereafter did not disclose the jury's response to Edwards and his counsel?
(4) Did the trial court err in failing to disclose to defense counsel the fact that a juror may have seen Edwards being transported? and
(5) Did the trial court abuse its discretion in denying Edwards' motion for a continuance?

(ECF 16, Exs. 7-9). In its March 11, 2009 unreported opinion, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed Edwards' judgment of conviction. The appellate court found Edwards' inconsistent verdict argument unpreserved. (Id., Ex 9 at p. 23). Although finding the jury instruction argument also unpreserved, the appellate court noted it “intertwined . . . with his first contention” regarding the inconsistent verdicts, and addressed it, declining to recognize plain error. (Id.). Edwards' request for certiorari review by the Maryland Court of Appeals was denied on June 12, 2009.[3] (Id., Ex. 10).

         On May 27, 2010, Edwards filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court for Charles County. (ECF 16, Ex. 1 at p. 20). The petition, as amended, claimed trial counsel was ineffective for failing to (1) preserve the record for appeal, (2) object properly to inconsistent verdicts, (3) object to the absence of instructions related to attempted robbery and attempted armed robbery, (4) cross-examine Marco Coates effectively, and (5) obtain a jury instruction on second-degree felony murder. (Id., Ex. 11, 12). Following an October 13, 2011 hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief as to all grounds raised in an opinion and order filed on July 3, 2014. (Id., Ex. 1, 13).

         Edwards filed an application for leave to appeal the post-conviction court's decision with the Court of Special Appeals, reiterating his claims that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to (1) object properly to inconsistent verdicts on felony murder and armed robbery, (2) object to the absence of instructions related to attempted robbery and attempted armed robbery, and (3) obtain a jury instruction on second-degree felony murder. Edwards also argued relief should be granted based on the cumulative effect of those errors. (ECF 16, Ex. 14). On June 8, 2015, the Court of Special Appeals summarily denied Edwards' application for leave to appeal.[4] (Id., Ex. 1 at p. 24).

         CLAIMS PRESENTED HERE

         Edwards now asserts that trial counsel was ineffective for (1) failing to object properly and timely to an inconsistent verdict, (2) failing to object to the absence of instructions related to attempted robbery and attempted armed robbery, (3) failing to object to the absence of a jury instruction on second-degree felony murder, and (4) the cumulative effect of these errors. (ECF 25). ...


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