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Lee v. Lassiter

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

March 20, 2014



LOUISE W. FLANAGAN, District Judge.

Petitioner, a state inmate, petitions this court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254. This matter came before the court on respondent's motion for summary judgment (DE 8) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, which was fully briefed. The issues raised are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the court grants respondent's motion for summary judgment.


On November 3, 2010, petitioner, in the Halifax County Superior Court, was convicted following a jury trial of attempted first-degree murder, assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury, and attempted robbery with a deadly weapon. See State v. Lee , 720 S.E.2d 884 ( N.C. App. 2012). Petitioner was sentenced to the following consecutive terms of imprisonment: (1) two hundred twenty (220) to two hundred seventy-three (273) months for the attempted first-degree murder conviction; (2) one hundred sixteen (116) to one hundred forty-nine (149) months for the assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury conviction; and (3) one hundred three (103) to one hundred thirty-three (133) months for the attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon conviction. Id.

Petitioner filed a direct appeal, and, on January 17, 2012, the court of appeals filed a published opinion finding no prejudicial error. Id . On April 12, 2012, the North Carolina Supreme Court allowed discretionary review, and on December 14, 2012, denied discretionary review as improvidently granted. See State v. Lee , 724 S.E.2d 518 (2012) (allowing discretionary review); State v. Lee, 734 S.E.2d 571 (2012) (finding review improvidently allowed).

On January 18, 2013, petitioner filed this pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254 alleging the following claims: (1) speedy trial violation; (2) denial of petitioner's request to remove the shackles in the presence of the jury; (3) variance between the indictment and the evidence introduced at trial; and (4) coerced/compromised jury instruction. Respondent subsequently filed a motion for summary judgment, which was fully briefed.


The facts as summarized by the North Carolina Court of Appeals are as follows:

On the night of 7 January 2009, Crystal Boswell ("Boswell") was working as a cashier at a convenience store called Nana's Quick Mart located in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Boswell was sitting on a stool behind the counter near the cash register when defendant entered the store. Boswell had seen defendant around the area and knew him by name. Cecil Ransom ("Ransom") was also present at Nana's Quick Mart on the night of 7 January 2009 and was standing behind the counter waiting to speak with the store owner, Raed Sirhan ("Sirhan"), when defendant walked in the door. Ransom had known defendant for several years.
When defendant entered the store, he was carrying an AK-47 rifle. Defendant said "give it up" and began shooting. Boswell got on the ground, crawled under the counter, and heard defendant fire more than five shots. Ransom heard defendant say "give it up" and turned to see defendant begin firing the gun. Ransom dove into the store office behind Sirhan, who was sitting in his office chair. Ransom kicked the office door shut and noticed that Sirhan had been shot. Sirhan gave Ransom a gun that Sirhan kept in his desk and told Ransom not to "let them kill me." Ransom then returned fire through the closed office door. When the shooting stopped, Boswell saw Sirhan sitting in his office chair with his leg bleeding.
Edward Hawkins ("Hawkins") was also working at Nana's Quick Mart on the night of 7 January 2009. He had seen defendant on a few prior occasions in the area. Hawkins saw defendant enter the store carrying the AK-47 rifle, heard the words "give it up, " and saw defendant begin to fire the gun. Hawkins then ran to the back of the store and into the store's beer cooler. Hawkins also saw a second armed man standing behind defendant. Once things were quiet, Hawkins came out of the cooler. Hawkins saw blood and holes in Sirhan's shirt and pants legs and called emergency services.
Deputy Christopher Scott ("Deputy Scott") with the Halifax County Sheriff's Office responded to the call and was the first officer to arrive at the scene. Deputy Scott found Sirhan sitting in his office chair with two gunshot wounds in his thighs. Deputy Scott called for an ambulance, and Sirhan was taken to the hospital, where he underwent multiple surgeries in an attempt to repair the damage from gunshot wounds to both his right and left thighs as well as his left pelvis. At the scene, Deputy Scott spoke with Boswell about the incident, and Ransom informed Deputy Scott that defendant was responsible for the shooting.
Deputy Jay Burch ("Deputy Burch") also responded to the call at Nana's Quick Mart and observed the crime scene. Deputy Burch observed multiple shell casings from both a high-powered rifle and a handgun around the front counter of the store. Lieutenant Bobby Martin ("Lieutenant Martin") photographed the scene inside the store and logged each piece of evidence. Inside Sirhan's office, Lieutenant Martin photographed blood spots and items that appeared to be pieces of flesh, as well as over $3, 000 in cash lying on top of Sirhan's desk. Lieutenant Martin also collected the items of evidence from inside the store, including the money from Sirhan's desk, empty shell casings, blood and flesh material, and a.45 caliber handgun. After collecting the evidence and clearing the crime scene, the officers secured arrest warrants for defendant based on the statements given by the witnesses at the scene.
On 8 January 2009, defendant was arrested by Roanoke Rapids police officers and placed in the custody of Patrol Lieutenant Stevie Salmon ("Lieutenant Salmon") with the Halifax County Sheriff's Office. Defendant asked Lieutenant Salmon why he was being arrested, to which Lieutenant Salmon responded that defendant had outstanding warrants for attempted murder and armed robbery. While sitting handcuffed in the front seat of Lieutenant Salmon's patrol vehicle, defendant stated to Lieutenant Salmon that he had "tried to kill the mother f____ because he sold me some bad s____."
Within five minutes, Lieutenant Martin and Detective Sergeant Doug Pilgreen ("Detective Pilgreen") arrived and took defendant into their custody. Once the officers placed defendant in their patrol vehicle, Lieutenant Martin read defendant his Miranda rights and had defendant sign a statement that defendant had been so advised. During the car ride to the Sheriff's Office, defendant admitted to Lieutenant Martin that he had gone into the convenience store and shot at Sirhan. Defendant stated he only intended to kill Sirhan because Sirhan had shorted him on a drug deal. Lieutenant Martin reduced defendant's statement to writing and defendant signed the statement. Upon arriving at the sheriff's office, defendant gave a more detailed statement as to what had happened on the previous night. Defendant again stated that he had purchased "$5, 000 worth of cocaine" from Sirhan, "but it was bad." Defendant stated he called Sirhan and asked for his money back, to which Sirhan responded that defendant would "have to take an L on it." Defendant stated he "couldn't take an L" and that he "was going to get [his money] back any way [he] could, " so he went to Sirhan's store with an AK-47 gun, saw Sirhan sitting in his office, and "started shooting."
On 10 January 2009, after being Mirandized and waiving his rights, defendant gave another statement to Detective Pilgreen. Defendant gave Detective Pilgreen the name of the individual who had supplied defendant with a car and the gun, as well as a detailed account of the events leading up to the shooting. Defendant again stated that Sirhan had sold him "some bad dope, " that defendant told Sirhan he wanted his "money back or some more dope, " and that "[he] went to the store to shoot [Sirhan]." Defendant also stated the individual supplying the gun sent his "men" to the store with defendant to rob Sirhan for drugs, "since defendant was going in there anyway."
On 15 January 2009, defendant gave a similar statement to Lieutenant Martin, providing names of the other individuals that accompanied defendant to Nana's Quick Mart on "the night of the robbery, " including an individual who went into the store with defendant carrying another assault rifle, and stating that he "only wanted to settle with [Sirhan] over some bad dope." Defendant again gave a similar statement to Special Agent Harold McCluney, Jr. ("Special Agent McCluney") of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, stating that he had discussed robbing Sirhan's store with the individual supplying the gun and that he "wanted to shoot [Sirhan] because [Sirhan] had disrespected him regarding the drugs and [Sirhan] wouldn't give him his money back."
Beginning on 1 November 2010, defendant was tried by a jury on charges of attempted first-degree murder of Sirhan, Boswell, and Ransom; attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon of Sirhan, Boswell, and Ransom; and AWDWITKISI of Sirhan. Defendant represented himself at trial, with standby counsel. At the close of the evidence, the trial court dismissed the charges of attempted murder and attempted robbery of Boswell, dismissed the charge of attempted robbery of Ransom, and submitted the remaining charges to the jury. The jury returned verdicts of guilty on the charges of attempted first-degree murder, attempted robbery with a dangerous weapon, and AWDWITKISI on Sirhan. The jury returned a verdict of not guilty on the charge of attempted first-degree murder of Ransom.

Lee , 720 S.E.2d ...

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