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Walker v. Reynolds

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

September 29, 2016

Isaiah F. Walker, Petitioner,
v.
Warden Cecelia Reynolds, Respondent.

          ORDER

          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge

         Petitioner, Isaiah F. Walker, a state prisoner represented by counsel, initiated this action by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See [ECF No. 1]. Pending before the Court is Respondent's motion for summary judgment [ECF No. 14] pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This matter is before the Court with the Report and Recommendation (R & R) of United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker.[1] See [ECF No. 28]. The Magistrate Judge recommended granting the Respondent's motion for summary judgment and denying Petitioner's petition. For the reasons stated below, the Court adopts the Magistrate Judge's R & R, grants Respondent's motion for summary judgment, and dismisses Petitioner's § 2254 petition with prejudice.

         Facts and Procedural History

         This matter arises from the criminal conviction and sentence of Petitioner, Isaiah F. Walker, for murder. In February of 2007, Petitioner was indicted by a Spartanburg County grand jury for murder. Petitioner, who was represented by Rodney Richey, Esq. and Caroline Holsbeck, Esq., was convicted on May 31, 2007, following a jury trial. Petitioner was then sentenced to life imprisonment.

         Petitioner filed a timely notice of appeal. His appellate counsel, Rodney Richey, Esq., filed a brief pursuant to Anders v. California, 386 U.S. 738 (1967), in which he raised the question of whether the trial court erred in not granting the Appellant's motion for directed verdict at the close of the State's case. On February 11, 2010, the South Carolina Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal and remitted the matter to the lower court on March 4, 2010.

         On October 6, 2010, Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief (“PCR”) alleging ineffective assistance of his trial and appellate counsel. Petitioner claimed his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to recognize errors and make appropriate objections. Petitioner claimed his appellate counsel was ineffective for filing an Anders brief.

         Petitioner filed an amended PCR application on September 6, 2012, alleging multiple instances of ineffective assistance of counsel based on: 1) trial counsel's failure to object to alleged hearsay testimony from the State's latent finger print expert, Captain Jackie Kellett; 2) trial counsel's failure to present testimony from Amanda Murphy, Cynthia Thacker, and Kenneth Foster; 3) trial counsel's alleged failure to properly advise Petitioner as to whether he should testify in his own defense at trial; 4) trial counsel's alleged failure to convey and discuss two plea offers made by the State; 5) trial counsel's alleged misrepresentations concerning the strength of the State's case; 6) trial counsel's alleged misrepresentation that the DNA evidence was inconclusive; and 7) trial counsel's alleged failure to fully cross examine Petitioner's co-defendant, Brent Gentry.

         An evidentiary hearing was held on September 6, 2012, and on July 15, 2013, the trial court denied Petitioner's application for post-conviction relief and dismissed the petition.

         Petitioner, through his attorney, Tara Dawn Shurling, then filed a petition for writ of certiorari arguing the trial court erred in: 1) finding that trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to object to alleged hearsay testimony from the State's latent finger print expert, Captain Jackie Kellett; 2) finding that trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to present testimony from Amanda Murphy, Cynthia Thacker, and Kenneth Foster; 3) finding that trial counsel was not ineffective for allegedly failing to properly advise Petitioner as to whether he should testify in his own defense; 5) finding that trial counsel was not ineffective for allegedly failing to convey and discuss two plea offers; and 6) finding that trial counsel was not ineffective for allegedly failing to fully cross examine co-defendant Brent Gentry.

         The South Carolina Supreme Court denied Petitioner's petition for a writ of certiorari on October 23, 2014. The matter was remitted to the lower court on November 10, 2004.

         On May 28, 2015, Petitioner, through counsel, filed the current petition arguing the state court erred in rejecting the claims of ineffective assistance of counsel raised in the PCR court.

         Respondent filed a return and motion for summary judgment on September 23, 2015. On June 21, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued an R&R recommending that Respondent's motion for summary judgment be granted and Petitioner's petition dismissed with prejudice. Petitioner, through counsel, filed objections to the R&R on August 25, 2016.

         Legal Standards of Review

         I. Review of the Magistrate Judge's Report & Recommendation

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court is charged with making a de novo determination of those portions of the report and recommendation to which specific objection is made, and the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge, or recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The right to de novo review may be waived by the failure to file timely objections. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). The district court is obligated to conduct a de novo review of every portion of the Magistrate Judge's report to which objections have been filed. Id. However, the Court need not conduct a de novo review when a party makes only “general and conclusory objections that do not direct the [C]ourt to a specific error in the [M]agistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Id.

         II. Summary Judgment Review

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a) (2010). “A party asserting that a fact cannot be or is genuinely disputed must support the assertion by: (A) citing to particular parts of materials in the record . . .; or (B) showing that the materials cited do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). When no genuine issue of any material fact exists, summary judgment is appropriate. See Shealy v. Winston, 929 F.2d 1009, 1011 (4th Cir. 1991). The facts and inferences to be drawn from the evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. However, "the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue of material fact." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986).

         III. Federal Habeas Review under 28 U.S.C. § 2254

         Petitioner filed his petition after the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Therefore, in considering Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the Court's review is limited by the deferential standard of review set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997); Breard v. Pruett, 134 F.3d 615, 618 (4th Cir. 1998). Under the AEDPA, federal courts may not grant habeas corpus relief unless the underlying state adjudication:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see also Evans v. Smith, 220 F.3d 306, 312 (4th Cir. 2000) (explaining federal habeas relief will not be granted on a claim adjudicated on the merits by the state court unless it “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, ” or “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding”).

         Discussion

         Petitioner was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of Jeffrey Hubbard. Hubbard was shot and killed in Spartanburg County on February 17, 2006. His body was found in a white Ford parked on a dirt road with the engine still running. The evidence at trial included a latent palm print found on the white Ford, which Captain Jackie Kellett testified was a match to the Petitioner. Crime scene investigators found a pair of Timberland boots, a black sweatshirt, and red sweat pants belonging to the Petitioner near the white Ford and bullet casings and the victim's blood outside of Petitioner's residence. Petitioner's co-defendant, Brent Gentry, testified that Petitioner shot and killed Hubbard and discarded the boots, black sweatshirt, and red sweat pants he was wearing near the pond in the ...


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