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Woody v. Stevenson

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

March 31, 2016

Christopher A. Woody, Petitioner,
Warden Robert Stevenson, Respondent.


Margaret. B. Seymour, Senior United States District Judge.

Petitioner Christopher A. Woody is an inmate in custody of the South Carolina Department of Corrections. Petitioner currently is housed at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, South Carolina. Petitioner, proceeding pro se, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on June 26, 2015, alleging that he is being detained unlawfully. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254.


On June 26, 2004, Arvell Bagley returned home to his apartment complex at Paces River in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Transcript of Record, ECF No. 7-1, 169. As Mr. Bagley approached his apartment complex, a champagne Nissan Maxima made a U-turn to follow Mr. Bagley’s vehicle. Id. at 154-57, 162. Mr. Bagley parked, exited his vehicle, called out to his neighbor Kimberly Bowden, and walked towards his apartment. Id. at 158-59. The Maxima stopped behind Mr. Bagley. Two individuals, Debrezio Campbell, armed with a .25 semi-automatic; and Petitioner, carrying a .45 automatic, exited the car and proceeded to shoot Mr. Bagley. Id. at 159; 299-319. According to Dr. James Maynard, a York County Pathologist, Mr. Bagley suffered four gunshot wounds-one fatal wound to the chest from the .25 caliber weapon, one fatal wound to the back of his head from the .45 caliber weapon, and two other wounds from the .45 caliber weapon. Id. at 299-319.

After the shooting, as neighbors came to render aid to Mr. Bagley, Petitioner and Campbell escaped the apartment complex in the Maxima. Id. at 162, 189. Early the next morning, June 27, 2004, members of the Rock Hill Police Department located the Maxima, which was registered to a relative of Petitioner. Id. at 344-54. Inside the car, police found the .45 caliber weapon, which was registered to Petitioner in Virginia. Id. Police also located Campbell and Petitioner at a nearby apartment. Transcript of Record, ECF No. 7-2, 348-49; 359. Campbell and Petitioner were arrested and taken to the Rock Hill Police Department City Jail. Id. at 359-61. Petitioner was not questioned at that time because he was very boisterous, intoxicated, and cursing. Id. at 358.

On the morning of June 29, 2004, Petitioner signed a waiver of his Miranda[1] rights, including his right to an attorney. Petitioner provided the following statement to Charlene Blackwelder, a detective with the Rock Hill Police Department:

I drunk to where I was overly intoxicated. I felt like I was ready to hurl and I was like, let’s ride out so we can get some air. So the three of us left and I was driving at first, but then I was too drunk to drive and I pulled over and either Desmond or Debrezio drove. I don’t know which one. I think I got in the back seat. I don’t remember getting in or out of the car. ‘Brezio stated, there goes the nigger that snucked me. I had my gun in my pants pocket. It was a .45 Auto. Whoever was driving did a U-turn and then we got out of the car and all I saw was the nigger reaching and pulling out. He was like reaching in his back and was like, no, and he was backing up and then my gun came out and I fired three shots. We jumped back in the car and I started drinking more liquor that I had in my car, because I thought that I had killed somebody. We went back to the crib and I went to sleep. When I woke up, the police was there. ‘Brezio called me like a couple of days before and told me about this nigger snucking him and I was like, do I know the nigger? And he told me that I had seen him one time in Stone Haven. I thought that this was, like, going to be a fight, but they told me that the dude was a drug dealer and he had bad boys.

Id. at 369-70.

Petitioner was charged with murder, in violation of S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-10; possession of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime, in violation of S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-490; criminal conspiracy, in violation of S.C. Code Ann. § 16-17-410; and carrying a pistol unlawfully, in violation of S.C. Code Ann. § 16-23-20. Id. at 1154-59. Petitioner proceeded to trial on May 2, 2005, in the Court of General Sessions for York County, South Carolina, before the Honorable Lee S. Alford. Petitioner was represented by John Delgado, Esquire.

The court held a Jackson v. Denno[2] hearing prior to trial to determine the admissibility of Petitioner’s statement. Transcript of Record, ECF No. 7-1, 85. At the hearing, the state called Charlene Blackwelder, a detective with the Rock Hill Police Department. Id. at 87. Blackwelder testified that she spoke with Petitioner on June 29, 2004. Id. at 98. Blackwelder confirmed that she advised Petitioner of his Miranda rights, inquired into Petitioner’s educational background, questioned Petitioner about his understanding of his rights, and did not threaten or make promises to Petitioner. Id. at 98-104. Blackwelder also testified that Petitioner executed a waiver of his rights and proceeded to give a statement. Id. Blackwelder stated that she typed the statement, and gave Petitioner an opportunity to review and make changes to the statement. Id. Blackwelder further testified that, to her knowledge, Petitioner did not ask for an attorney at any time between his arrest and his statement. Id. at 107.

Petitioner testified that he had requested an attorney when he was arrested at the apartment and later at the police station. Petitioner also testified that he asked for an attorney after he read the Miranda warning. Id. at 116-17. However, on cross examination, Petitioner stated that no one threatened him or promised him anything in exchange for his statement. Id. at 117-119. Petitioner admitted that he voluntarily gave his statement in a desire to “go home, to be honest with you.” Id. at 120.

The trial judge, looking at the totality of the circumstances, determined:

that by preponderance of the evidence that the state has established that the statement given by the Defendant was freely and voluntarily given with full advice concerning his constitutional rights and a knowing, intelligent waiver of those rights that he made that statement.

Id. at 123.

At trial, in addition to introducing Petitioner’s statement, the state called Agent Jennifer Stoner of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division State Evidence Department as an expert in trace evidence analysis. Transcript of Record, ECF No. 7-2, 492. Agent Stoner testified that the palm and back of each of the victim’s hands were tested and particles consistent with those of gunshot residue (GSR) were found on the left palm of the victim’s hand. Id. at 505. Agent Stoner did not feel the GSR was “consistent with him having fired a weapon, ” but she could not “rule out that he handled a weapon.” Id. at 507. On cross examination, trial counsel elicited some concessions from Agent Stoner. See id. at 510. Trial counsel did not present his own GSR expert witness. Petitioner did not testify at trial.

At the conclusion of trial, the trial judge charged the jury as to murder and did not include a voluntary manslaughter jury charge. Transcript of Record, ECF No. 7-4, 803-806. Petitioner was found guilty on all counts. The trial judge sentenced Petitioner to life without parole for murder, five years in prison for possession of a weapon during the commission of a violent crime; five years in prison for criminal conspiracy, and one years’ imprisonment for carrying a pistol unlawfully, said sentences to run concurrently. Id. at 853.

Petitioner appealed his conviction and sentence. Petitioner was represented by Joseph L. Savitz, III, Equire of the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense. An Anders[3] brief was filed with the South Carolina Court of Appeals raising the following issue:

The trial judge committed reversible error by denying a mistrial after the Assistant Solicitor argued in essence that the judge expected the jury to find appellant guilty?

Id. at 856-65.

The South Carolina Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal by unpublished opinion on September 11, 2008. Id. at 881-83. Petitioner filed a petition for rehearing, which was denied on December 19, 2008. Id. at 893. Next, Petitioner filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the Supreme Court of South Carolina, arguing the same issue raised with the South Carolina Court of Appeals. Id. at 895-902. On November 4, 2009, the Supreme Court of South Carolina denied the petition. Id. at 918-19. The matter was remitted to the lower court on November 9, 2009. Id. at 920.

Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief (PCR) on August 2, 2010. Petitioner raised the following grounds for relief:

The Applicant’s Right to “Effective Assistance Of Counsel, ” As Guaranteed By The Sixth Amendment To The United States Constitution And South Carolina Law Was Violated By The Following Failures And/Or Omissions Made By Trial Counsel:

Issue 1. Trial Counsel Failed to adequately research Constitutional and legal issues material to the trial he prepared and to prudently preserve those material legal issues for Direct Appeal.
Issue 2. Trial Counsel Failed to conduct sufficient pretrial research and investigation to adequately evaluate and challenge the State’s gunshot residue testimony.
Issue 3. Trial Counsel Failed to interview the Applicant’s codefendant’s pretrial[.] Thus, Counsel was unable to anticipate and prepare to counter, through targeted research and investigation, the difficulties and problems likely to arise through his attempts to introduce “exculpatory” and corroborative evidence from those witnesses.
Issue 4. Trial Counsel Failed to present readily available evidence pertaining to the alleged Victim’s known reputation for violence. The evidence available was based on incidents that the Police were aware of involving the deceased acting in criminal/drug related matters associated with violence.
Issue 5. Trial Counsel Failed to take exception to the overly complex and confusing self-defense Jury charge.

The Applicant’s Right To ‘Effective Assistance Of Counsel, ’ As Guaranteed By The Sixth And Fourteenth Amendment To The United States Constitution And South Carolina Law Was Violated By Appellate Counsel’s Failures To Appeal The Following Issues:

Issue 6. The Directed Verdict Motion made relative to the ‘Conspiracy to Commit Murder’ offense.
Issue 7. The trial Judge’s Abuse of Discretion by excluding codefendant’s exculpatory statements from the defense’s case-in-chief. The trial Judge’s decision was a (reversible) prejudicial error of law, as he declared those statements to be ‘testimonial hearsay’ that was inadmissible under any circumstances.
Issue 8. A new non-retroactive watershed rule of law holding that; (A jury charge explaining that ‘Malice Aforethought’ may be inferred by the use of a deadly weapon is an unconstitutional charge of law when “Self ...

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