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Cooper v. Foxwell

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 20, 2019

BRIAN CHRISTOPHER COOPER, #314-546 Petitioner
v.
RICKY FOXWELL, Warden, THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MARYLAND, Respondents

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Brian Christopher Cooper[1] is challenging his conviction for first-degree murder in this Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. Respondents assert the petition should be denied and dismissed. ECF Nos. 7, 41. Cooper filed a reply. ECF No. 43.

         This case is ready for disposition. Upon 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; Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016); see also Fisher v. Lee, 215 F.3d 438, 455 (4th Cir. 2000) (petitioner not entitled to hearing under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)). For the reasons set forth below, the court will deny and dismiss the petition with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Cooper was convicted of the April 16, 2002, murder of Elliott Scott, who died of multiple stab wounds. ECF No. 7-4. On November 13, 2006, a jury sitting in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City found Cooper guilty of first degree murder. The jury acquitted Cooper on the charges of carrying a concealed dangerous weapon and openly carrying a dangerous weapon with intent to injure. The court sentenced Cooper to serve life in prison. ECF No. 1, ECF No. 7-4 pp. 2-7.[2]

         I. Direct Appeal

         Cooper, through counsel, appealed his judgment of conviction to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, raising the following questions:

1) Did the trial court err in instructing the jury that it could return inconsistent verdicts;
2) Should the judgment in this case be reversed where the verdicts were inconsistent, defense counsel objected to an instruction condoning the inconsistent verdicts, and the Court of Appeals decision in Price v. State, [405 Md. 10 (2008)] was issued after the trial, but while this appeal was pending;
3) Did the trial court err in admitting as substantive evidence prior statements of a critical state's witness which did not, in substance, contradict the witness's trial testimony;
4) Was it error to refuse to admit the prior statements in their entirety under the doctrine of verbal completeness; and
5) Is a suspect's failure to turn himself in to the police admissible as evidence of consciousness of guilt.

ECF No. 1 p. 3.

         On March 19, 2009, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed Cooper's conviction. ECF No. 7-4. The court held that Cooper's direct challenge to the consistency of the verdicts was not preserved for appellate review because no objection to the verdict was made at trial. ECF No. 7-4 pp. 7-8. Second, the court found that the trial court did not err in instructing the jury. Id. at 8-12. Third, the court found that the trial court erred partially with regard to admitting prior statements of a witness, but found this error harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 12-18. Fourth, the court found that the trial court's decision not to admit the prior statements in their entirety was not an abuse of discretion. Id. at 18-21. Lastly, the court held that although the trial court abused its discretion by admitting evidence that Cooper knew he was a suspect in the case, the error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 21-23.

         Cooper filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari, which the Court of Appeals of Maryland denied on June 19, 2009. ECF No. 7-5. In his Petition for Certiorari, Cooper raised essentially the same questions he presented to the Court of Special Appeals:

1) Whether the court erred in instructing the jury that it could return inconsistent verdicts;
2) Whether the judgment in this case should be reversed where the verdicts were inconsistent, defense counsel objected to an instruction condoning the inconsistent verdicts, and the Court of Appeals' Decision in Price v. State was issued after the trial while his appeal was pending;
3) Whether the court erred in admitting as substantive evidence prior statements of a critical state's witness which did not, in substance, contradict the witness's trial testimony;
4) Whether the court erred in refusing to admit the prior statements in their entirety under the “Doctrine of Verbal Completeness”; and
5) Whether the court erred in abuse of discretion in admitting evidence Cooper knew he was a suspect?

ECF No. 7-5 pp. 4-5.

         II. § 2254 Petition

         Cooper filed this petition on January 28, 2010, presenting the following claims:

1) the jury verdicts were inconsistent;
2) the Court of Special Appeals should have reversed his convictions because trial counsel timely objected to inconsistent verdicts when “he objected to the jury instructions as being wrong, ” and “his trial counsel failed to object to the inconsistent verdict”;
3) under the doctrine of verbal completeness the prior statement of a witness should have been admitted for the jury's review in its entirety; and
4) information about Cooper's failure to turn himself in was not admissible as consciousness of guilty, violated his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments and should not have been presented to the jury.

ECF No. 1 p. 7; see also ECF No. 9 pp. 2-3.

         On April 20, 2010, Respondents filed an Answer seeking dismissal of the petition for lack of exhaustion. ECF No. 7. Respondents also argued that Cooper's second and fourth claims were broader than the claims Cooper presented on direct appeal. Specifically, Respondents asserted that Cooper's second ground raised a new ineffective assistance of counsel claim which was unexhausted because the Sixth Amendment ground was not raised on direct appeal and his fourth ground raised new Sixth and Fourteenth ...


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