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Wilson v. Miller

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 24, 2019

DAMION A. WILSON, Petitioner.


          Paula Xinis United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Damion Wilson's Petition for Habeas Corpus brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Wilson challenges the validity of his conviction for second degree murder entered pursuant to his Alford[1] plea. In compliance with this Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order directing a Supplemental Response to Petitioner Damion Wilson's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, Respondents have renewed their Response and filed exhibits not initially submitted. ECF No. 17. Wilson has also replied. ECF No. 19. The Court finds a hearing unnecessary. See Loc. R. 105.6; see also Rule 8(a), Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts; 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 following reasons, the petition is dismissed.

         I. Background

         A. Alford plea proceedings

         On September 21, 2000, Petitioner Damion Wilson entered an Alford plea to one count of second-degree murder in the Circuit Court for Charles County, Maryland. ECF No. 17-1 at 12- 17 (transcript of Alford plea). Wilson had been charged with first degree murder, first degree assault and handgun offenses in connection with the shooting death of Gale Cooke and threats to kill his then-girlfriend, Gale's daughter, Katrina Cooke. If Wilson went to trial and was found guilty of first degree murder, the State's Attorney intended to pursue a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Wilson thus entered an Alford plea to the lesser charge of second degree murder in exchange for the State dropping all other charges. Id. at 2.

         At the plea hearing, the State proffered the following evidence that would have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial:

THE STATE: Your Honor on the 25th of January of the year 2000, Gale Ann Cooke lived in La Plata in Charles County, Maryland. That evening, about 11:20, Jaqueline Stancliff, her next door neighbor would testify that she heard a single shot and called the police. They live in a townhouse development and their townhouses are next to each other.
Miss Stancliff would also testify that shortly after she heard the gun, the single gunshot, she then saw a figure running across the backyard. She would characterize that figure as slight or of teenage in build.
She would also testify that night it had-there had been a lot of snow during the day, and that there was a heavy snowfall on the ground.
Although it was not snowing, the snow had stopped by 11:20 that night.
A corporal Bacon of the Charles County Sheriff's office would testify that he's a K-9 officer. He took his K-9 and tracked from the area indicated by Miss Stancliff, a trail, that led from that area towards the Old Colony Apartment Complex which is about a three-minute walk away, and is also the complex in which the defendant's mother lives.
Emergency personnel arrived to the scene. And when the emergency personnel employees arrived on the scene of Gale Cook[e]'s residence, they found Mrs. Cook[e] on the floor by the foyer with wounds that were later determined by the medical examiner to be caused by a single shot that went through her right arm, into her chest, through her heart, and exiting on the left side. And the medical examiner would say that that was the cause of death.
One of the residents of Mrs. Cook[e]'s home was her daughter Katrina Cook[e] who was home that night when the police arrived and Jaqueline Stancliff would testify that Katrina Cook[e] came over to her house and asked to use the telephone. And, in fact, Katrina Cook[e] did call the police, placing a 911 call, reporting the shooting.
Katrina Cook[e] would testify that she had to go to Miss Stancliff's home to make the call because there was no phone in their residence.
Katrina Cook[e] would testify that the defendant came by the townhome, the residence, about or shortly after 11:00 that night. She went outside and spoke with him. She knows him. He is the father of her youngest child. They spoke outside.
And that while he was out speaking with her, she was drinking orange juice and alcohol out of an orange juice bottle. Later, when the snow melted, the police would report they recovered an orange juice bottle from the area, the front yard of the townhouse.
Miss Katrina Cook[e] would testify that during the course of their conversation outside, there came a point in time where the lights on the front porch flashed. She took that to be a sign from her mother that it was time for her to come inside.
She came inside. And she came inside. The defendant also went inside with her. She would verify that there was a conversation, a three-way conversation between her mother, the defendant, and Katrina Cook[e]. And that in that conversation Miss Cook[e] advised the defendant that he wasn't supposed to be there, and that he should leave.
Words were exchanged among the three. There came a point in time whether [sic] the defendant left the house, door shut. He apparently thought the better of it, opened the door and came back in. Everyone was still there at the front of the house. He had a handgun. Took the handgun and pointed the handgun at both Mrs. Cook[e] and her daughter, Katrina, threatening both of them.
There came a point in time where during the course of threatening them, he pointed the gun and fired it. It was - all three were standing in the foyer area. It is a very - it is a small townhouse. The [foyer] area is quite small. Miss Cook[e] was - she would testify that when the shot rang out her mother fell to the floor.
Miss Cook[e], Katrina Cook[e], would testify that the defendant then pointed the gun at her telling her that since she had just witnessed her mother being killed that she was witnessing he would have to kill her as well. They had a discussion in which she begged him not to kill her.
She would testify that eventually he relented after she assured him that she would not report him to the police.
She would testify that he then fled the apartment with a handgun running out the front and going in a direction past Miss Stancliff's. She then went over and made the 911 call at Miss Stancliff's.
Bernard Patrick Cole, Junior, would testify that he knows the defendant and that he was walking through the townhouse development that evening about a quarter after 11. And that at that time he saw Katrina Cook[e] in front, and that he knows Katrina Cook[e]. He saw Katrina Cook[e] in front of her mom's townhouse and that Katrina Cook[e] was talking to someone who he recognized as fitting the physical appearance of the defendant. He did not have any conversation with them. He continued on his way.
Jessica Powell would testify that she saw the defendant earlier in the day. And that when she saw the defendant he was drinking alcohol and OJ, orange juice, and that he appeared to be intoxicated to her, and that he brandished a semiautomatic handgun and said words to the effect that, I am going to kill that bitch, not specifying any particular individual, but that she saw the handgun and that she heard him say those words.
Another individual also saw him that evening with a handgun.
The coroner would testify that Gale Cook[e] died as a result of the single shot that went through her right arm into her chest cavity piercing her heart, and then exiting the other side.
This all happened in Charles County. That would be some of the evidence that the State could present.

ECF No. 17-1 at 12-17.

         Wilson withdrew his plea of not guilty and his plea of not criminally responsible (NCR), and acknowledged that the state possessed sufficient evidence to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt Wilson's guilt to second degree murder. Id. at 6. At the time of the hearing, Wilson was 17-years old and had a ninth-grade education. Id. In response to questions from the presiding judge regarding his mental status, Wilson indicated that he suffered from stress and depression, for which he was under a doctor's care, and that he had not taken the medication prescribed for his condition on the day of sentencing. Id. at 8-9.

         Wilson's attorneys and the prosecutor confirmed that Wilson had been deemed competent after evaluation. Id. at 4. The Court also fully reviewed with Wilson his constitutional trial rights and secured that Wilson understood that he was waiving the same. Id. at 9-12. Defense counsel also confirmed receipt of discovery supporting the proffer. Id. at 17. The trial court found that Wilson's plea was knowing and voluntary, and that he understood the nature of the charges and the rights that he was giving up by entering an Alford plea. Id. at 18. The Court imposed the agreed upon sentence of 30 years imprisonment. Id. at 31.

         B. Post-Conviction Proceedings

         Wilson, in a post-conviction petition, moved to set aside his conviction, arguing that his trial counsel provided constitutionally ineffective assistance and that the State withheld exculpatory evidence. The Circuit Court for Charles County held a two-day evidentiary hearing on the petition. See ECF Nos. 17-2, 17-3.

         At the hearing, Wilson testified that prior to the plea, he was unaware that Katrina Cooke's three-year-old daughter, Alura Brown, had pointed to a torn, black-and-white photograph of her father, Sean Brown, when asked by a police officer on the night of the shooting to identify who she had seen in the house when her grandmother “fell.” ECF No. 17-2 at 24-26. Wilson claimed he only became aware of this evidence after receiving a response to his request under the Maryland's Public Information Act. Id. at 24. Wilson also testified that trial counsel, Betty Stilt and Elizabeth Cawood, began talking to him about taking a plea one-month after his arrest and never advised him they had received a tape-recorded message from Katrina Cooke establishing his innocence. Id. at 17, 20. He described the discovery documents he had been provided by trial counsel as about fifty pages that did not include Medical Examiner's autopsy report. Id. at 21-22. Wilson testified this report would have influenced his decision to enter an Alford plea because, contrary to the State's representations, the autopsy report concluded that the shooting was not at “close range.” Id. at 23.

         Wilson explained that he took the plea because his trial counsel “advised me of false evidence concerning my case and I believed what they was telling me because I didn't see the, any reports concerning the evidence, really, but I was just going off what they was telling me.” Id. at 27. He also claimed that counsel told him he would only have to serve 12 years on the sentence ...

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