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Cornelius v. Smith

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 29, 2014

TERRELL DAVEZ CORNELIUS, Petitioner,
v.
LIEUTENANT LEWIS SMITH, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, District Judge.

Terrell Davez Cornelius, a prisoner of the State of North Carolina serving a life sentence following convictions for burglary and felony murder, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) Both Cornelius and Respondent have moved for summary judgment. (Docs. 5, 7.) For the reasons set forth below, the court finds that Cornelius fails to meet the standard for federal habeas relief. Consequently, his motion will be denied, Respondent's motion will be granted, and the petition will be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

The basic facts and procedural background underlying the petition are set out by the North Carolina Court of Appeals in Cornelius' direct appeal as follows:

The State's evidence tended to show the following facts. Rodney Fraley, Danny Cordray, and defendant went to Leon Conrad's house to rob him late on the evening of 8 November 2007 or early in the morning of 9 November 2007. All three men were armed with semi-automatic weapons. Fraley had suggested the robbery after spending the day with Conrad and seeing $50, 000.00 in cash, which he expected to be in Conrad's truck. When the men found the truck locked, defendant kicked in the main front door. As Cordray and defendant entered the residence, both of them shot at Conrad, and Conrad shot back.
Conrad ultimately died of gunshot wounds to his chest. Defendant, who was shot in the hands and abdomen, was admitted to Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center on 9 November 2007 between 1:40 and 1:50 a.m. Defendant underwent exploratory surgery to make sure there were no injuries inside his abdomen. In addition, an orthopedic surgeon addressed the injuries to his hands. Defendant was then moved to a non-ICU, standard bed in the hospital.
At 11:05 a.m. that morning, Detective Michael Poe of the Winston-Salem Police Department visited defendant in the hospital. Defendant's mother and sister were in the room with him. In a recorded statement, defendant told Detective Poe that he had been the victim of a robbery. However, after Detective Poe later learned the name of another individual involved in the shooting, Detective Poe went back to speak with defendant again that afternoon around 3:40 p.m. During this conversation, which was also recorded, defendant admitted that his previous statement had not been truthful and that he was shot while attempting to rob Conrad. Defendant also admitted to kicking in the door at Conrad's home and to firing a gun.
Detective Poe visited defendant in the hospital a third time three days later on 12 November 2007. The purpose of this interview, also recorded, was to clarify some issues. This time, defendant admitted that he, Fraley, and Cordray had wanted to steal $50, 000.00 from Conrad.
Defendant was indicted for first degree murder on 7 July 2008. Defendant was later indicted for first degree burglary with two aggravating factors on 10 November 2008. Defendant subsequently filed a motion to suppress the statements made in the hospital as involuntary. The trial court denied the motion in an order filed 26 February 2009. Consequently, the jury was allowed to hear at trial the recordings of defendant's three statements.
A jury found defendant guilty of first degree burglary on 11 March 2009. It was, however, unable to reach a unanimous verdict with respect to the felony murder indictment, and the trial court, therefore, declared a mistrial on the murder charge. The judge also granted a prayer for judgment continued as to the first degree burglary sentence pending a second trial on the first degree murder charge.

State v. Cornelius , 723 S.E.2d 783, 784-85 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2012).

During the second trial, the judge instructed the jury as follows:

[B]ecause it has previously been determined beyond a reasonable doubt in a prior criminal proceeding that Mr. Cornelius committed first degree burglary on November 9th, 2007, ... you should consider that this element [of felony murder (that defendant committed the felony of first degree burglary)] has been proven to you beyond a reasonable doubt.

Id. at 787. Cornelius was found guilty of felony murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. Id. at 785. The North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, and the Supreme Court of North Carolina dismissed the appeal. State v. Cornelius , 731 S.E.2d 173 ( N.C. 2012).

Cornelius made no further attempt at relief in the State courts, but instead proceeded with the present petition in this court. Both Respondent and Cornelius have now filed motions for summary judgment, which are ripe for resolution.

II. ANALYSIS

This court must apply a highly deferential standard of review in connection with habeas claims "adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). More specifically, the court may not grant relief unless a State court decision on the merits "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or... was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." Id . "Clearly established Federal law" includes only "holdings, as opposed to ...


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