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Rice v. Warden, Leath Correctional Institution

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

September 26, 2017

Carmen Latrice Rice, Petitioner,
Warden, Leath Correctional Institution, Respondent.


          R. Bryan Harwell United States District Judge

         Petitioner Carmen Latrice Rice, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See ECF No. 1. The matter is before the Court for consideration of Petitioner's objections to the Report and Recommendation (“R & R”) of United States Magistrate Judge Mary Gordon Baker.[1] See R & R [ECF No. 22]. The Magistrate Judge recommends granting Respondent's motion for summary judgment, dismissing Petitioner's § 2254 petition with prejudice, and denying a certificate of appealability. R & R at p. 33.


         The State of South Carolina indicted and tried Petitioner for murder and armed robbery, and the jury convicted her of both charges. See ECF No. 15-24 at pp. 150-51, 160-63. The trial court sentenced her to concurrent terms of life imprisonment for murder and thirty years for armed robbery. See ECF No. 15-24 at pp. 158, 164-65. The South Carolina Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions in a published opinion summarizing the facts leading to Petitioner's conviction:[3]

On the evening of October 25, 2001, Carmen Rice and Iris Bryant (Bryant) joined Bernard Brennan (Brennan) at the Varsity in Columbia, where Brennan was playing pool with his friend, Alton Page. Brennan told Page one of the women was his cousin from New York and the other was her friend from Beaufort. Eventually, Brennan, Rice, and Bryant went to Calloway's to eat.
After their meal, Brennan and the two women left Calloway's together. They drove in his Mercedes to an isolated section of Richland County, near the intersection of Fairfield Road and Interstate 20.
Later that night, Deputy Tom Lyons found Brennan's Mercedes in a ditch on Crawford Road. Brennan was still buckled in his seatbelt, the engine was running, and the vehicle was in gear. Brennan had been shot five times in the back and died as a result of the shooting. His wallet was missing.
The police learned Bryant was involved in the murder and robbery after receiving information from one of Bryant's friends. Bryant subsequently implicated Rice in the murder and robbery.
In her testimony at Rice's trial, Bryant confirmed she and Rice had planned to rob Brennan but denied any complicity in a plan to murder him. Bryant claimed Rice unexpectedly shot Brennan from the backseat with the weapon Rice was issued by her employer. After the shooting, Rice removed Brennan's wallet and wiped down the car. Then the two women fled.
Prior to trial, Bryant had given investigators multiple statements implicating other individuals in the robbery and murder. At Rice's trial, she confessed she lied in those previous interviews because she was afraid she would be charged with murder if she admitted being at the crime scene. Rice attempted to impeach Bryant's testimony with a prior inconsistent statement Bryant made to Alana Quattlebaum, a fellow prisoner. The import of Bryant's statement to Quattlebaum was that a woman named Nikki, rather than Rice, actually killed Brennan.
Brennan's friend, Alton Page, testified he could not identify either of the individuals he saw with Brennan on the night of the murder, but he recalled that one of them wore a “bright orange top.” Heidi Feagin was a waitress at Calloway's in October of 2001. Feagin served Brennan and the two women on October 25, and recognized Brennan as a “regular customer.” She described one of the women as having a stocky or medium build and wearing a bright orange top. The other woman was thinner and younger. Before trial, Feagin was shown a photographic lineup of six women. The array included only Bryant's photograph. Feagin did not identify Bryant, but instead selected two other women as Brennan's companions.
The investigation ultimately led to Rice's indictment and trial for the armed robbery and murder of Bernard Brennan. The jury returned a verdict of guilty and Rice was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder and thirty years, concurrent, for armed robbery. At the time of Rice's trial, Bryant had been charged with murder and armed robbery.

State v. Rice, 375 S.C. 302, 312-13, 652 S.E.2d 409, 413-14 (Ct. App. 2007), overruled on other grounds by State v. Byers, 392 S.C. 438, 710 S.E.2d 55 (2011).[4] The South Carolina Supreme Court denied certiorari to review the Court of Appeals' decision. See ECF No. 15-8.

         Petitioner filed an application for post-conviction relief (“PCR”), which the state PCR court denied and dismissed with prejudice after an evidentiary hearing. See ECF No. 15-25 at pp. 1-8, 81-93. Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the South Carolina Supreme Court; the case was transferred to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, which granted the petition and ordered further briefing. See ECF Nos. 15-10, 15-12. The Court of Appeals then affirmed the PCR court's decision in an unpublished opinion. See ECF No. 15-15; Rice v. State, No. 2015-UP-191, 2015 WL 1546200 (S.C. Ct. App. Apr. 8, 2015). The Court of Appeals denied rehearing, and the South Carolina Supreme Court denied certiorari. See ECF Nos. 15-16 & 15-20.

         Petitioner then filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. See ECF No. 1. Respondent answered by filing a return and a motion for summary judgment. See ECF Nos. 15 & 16. The Magistrate Judge issued an R & R recommending that the Court grant Respondent's motion for summary judgment and dismiss Petitioner's § 2254 petition with prejudice. R & R at p. 33. Petitioner has filed timely objections to the R & R, and Respondent has filed a reply to Petitioner's objections. See ECF Nos. 24 & 25.

         Legal Standards

         I. Review of the Magistrate Judge's R & R

         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to the Court. The Magistrate Judge's recommendation has no presumptive weight, and the responsibility to make a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R & R to which specific objections are made, and it may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the recommendation of the Magistrate Judge or recommit the matter with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         The Court must engage in 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 [Judge]'s proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of specific objections to the R & R, the Court reviews only for clear error, Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005), and the Court need not give any explanation for adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation. Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983).

         II. Summary Judgment

         “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); see generally Rule 12 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases (“The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure . . ., to the extent that they are not inconsistent with any statutory provisions or these rules, may be applied to a proceeding under these rules.”); Brandt v. Gooding, 636 F.3d 124, 132 (4th Cir. 2011) (“Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 ‘applies to habeas proceedings.'” (quoting Maynard v. Dixon, 943 F.2d 407, 412 (4th Cir. 1991))). “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). “The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, with all reasonable inferences drawn in that party's favor. The court therefore cannot weigh the evidence or make credibility determinations.” Reyazuddin v. Montgomery Cty., 789 F.3d 407, 413 (4th Cir. 2015) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

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

         Because Petitioner filed her petition after the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254 governs review of her claims. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997); Breard v. Pruett, 134 F.3d 615, 618 (4th Cir. 1998). Under the AEDPA, ...

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