United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge.
matter comes before the court on respondent's motion for
summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
56(a) (DE 8). The issues raised have been fully briefed and
are ripe for adjudication. For the following reasons, the
court grants respondent's motion.
April 19, 2005, petitioner and his co-defendant Kolanda Kay
Wooten (“Wooten”) were convicted in the Wayne
County Superior Court of first-degree murder and sentenced to
a term of life imprisonment. See State v. Sloan, 180
N.C.App. 527, 529 (2006). Petitioner and Wooten subsequently
filed a joint notice of appeal to the North Carolina Court of
Appeals. Id. On December 19, 2006, the court of
appeals issued an opinion in which the majority found no
error. Id. p. 536. Judge Richard A. Elmore concurred
with the majority opinion that there was no error in
petitioner's conviction, but dissented from that portion
of the majority opinion holding that the State produced
sufficient evidence to survive Wooten's motion to
dismiss. Id. pp. 535-536. On March 8,
2007, the North Carolina Supreme Court dismissed
petitioner's notice of appeal and petition for
discretionary review. State v. Sloan, 361 N.C. 367,
644 S.E.2d 560 (2007).
March 4, 2008, petitioner, acting through counsel Nora Henry
Hargrove (“attorney Hargrove”), filed a motion
for appropriate relief (“MAR”) in the Wayne
County Superior Court. (Pet. Ex. G). Then next day,
petitioner filed an amended MAR, and then again supplemented
his MAR on April 4, 2008. (Id. Ex. H ¶ 3). The
superior court dismissed the MAR without prejudice on
September 4, 2008. (Id. Ex. H ¶ 5). Attorney
Hargrove attests that she did not receive notice of the Wayne
County Superior Court's September 4, 2008, order
dismissing petitioner's MAR. (Id. ¶ 4).
24, 2014, petitioner filed a second MAR, through counsel
Patrick Michael Megaro (“attorney Megaro”), in
the Wayne County Superior Court. (Pet. Ex. J). In his second
MAR, petitioner alleged that his trial counsel failed to
investigate a defense or to interview and present defense
witnesses who would have exonerated petitioner.
(Id.) Petitioner also alleged that his trial counsel
coached petitioner to testify to facts unsupported by the
evidence to establish an imperfect self-defense claim.
(Id.) On September 10, 2015, the superior court
conducted an evidentiary hearing and heard testimony from the
following three witnesses for petitioner: Robert Wooten;
Yolanda Sloan; and Mary Sloan. (Id. Ex. M). On
February 9, 2016, the superior court denied petitioner's
MAR. (Id.). On June 7, 2016, petitioner filed a
petition for a writ of certiorari in the court of appeals,
which was denied on June 22, 2016. (Id. Ex. O).
September 15, 2016, petitioner, acting through attorney
Megaro, filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner contends
that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel
because his counsel failed to investigate a potential
defense, to interview exculpatory witnesses, and to present
witnesses at trial who were ready, willing, and able to offer
exculpatory evidence. Respondent subsequently filed a motion
for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(a) arguing that
petitioner's habeas petition should be dismissed because
it was filed outside of the statute of limitations, and
therefore is time-barred. Alternatively, respondent argues
that the petition should be dismissed on the merits. The
petition was fully briefed.
facts as stated by the North Carolina Court of Appeals are
summarized as follows:
Defendant Wooten and a witness, Sherquanda Fields (Fields),
both had a relationship with the victim, Jamal Pearsall
(Pearsall). On 23 August 2003, Pearsall saw the two together
while they were looking for defendant Wooten's brother in
a car driven by defendant Wooten's aunt. Pearsall became
upset and ordered Fields to get out of the car. An argument
ensued and defendant Wooten broke the window out of
Pearsall's car with her hand. She then rode off, with
Fields still in the car.
Later that night, defendant Wooten, Pearsall, and others met
to discuss payment for the car window. Defendant Wooten's
boyfriend, “Don Don, ” arrived, and attacked
Pearsall. Following the confrontation, Pearsall departed with
Fields, and the two spent the night at Fields's house.
Pearsall set out the next morning for his mother's house.
Witness Nora Robinson (Robinson) testified that on 24 August
2003 she saw a man with a gun behind a tree. She went inside,
and then heard gunshots. She looked outside, where she saw
defendant Sloan walking away from Pearsall's car, trying
to cock a jammed gun and muttering. Specifically, defendant
Sloan said, “I'm going to kill this mother
f-----.” Robinson watched as defendant Sloan got into a
white car. She then heard Leanne Sutton (Sutton) yell from
the car, “You should have shot the mother f----- in the
head.” Defendant Sloan denied that he had hidden behind
the tree or fired the gun. He claimed that a housemate of
his, Antonio Woods (Woods), shot the gun. He also testified
that he never said, “I'm going to kill this mother
f-----, ” and that no one ever said he should have shot
Pearsall in the head. After defendant Sloan got into the
white car, defendant Wooten, who was driving, followed
Pearsall's car as it drove away.
The evidence showed that there was a high-speed chase, during
which the car Wooten was driving ran a stop sign, and
Pearsall's car hit a parked car. Further testimony
indicated that the white car driven by Wooten pulled even
with Pearsall's car, and an unidentified black arm stuck
out of the white car's window and shot into
Following the incident, defendant Sloan came forward
voluntarily, accompanied by his mother and father, to discuss
the matter with the authorities. SBI Agent Barbara Lewis
(Agent Lewis) interviewed him, and testified from her notes.
She stated that defendant Sloan said he had argued with
Pearsall over some speakers that he believed Pearsall to have
stolen. He told Agent Lewis that he had shot at Pearsall as
he drove past Pearsall in a car driven by defendant Wooten.
Agent Lewis further testified that defendant Sloan informed
her that he did not intend to kill Pearsall, and that no one
else in the car was aware that he had a gun prior to the
Defendant Wooten also talked to Agent Lewis. Agent Lewis
stated that defendant Wooten told her that when defendant
Sloan pulled out the gun and fired twice, she screamed at
him, “Why did you do that, why did you do that?”
Defendant Wooten told Agent Lewis that defendant Sloan
responded, “[J]ust drive, don't worry about it,
Sloan, 180 N.C.App. at 529-530.
the facts as stated by the Wayne County Superior Court
following the September 10, 2015, evidentiary hearing on
petitioner's second MAR are as follows:
Court finds that sworn testimony was given by Robert Wooten,
Yolanda Sloan and Mary Sloan.
Court finds that all of the above witnesses, who gave sworn
testimony, are blood-relation to defendant.
Court finds that defendant, although present throughout the
entirety of the hearing, did not testify.
Court finds that Robert Wooten testified that he would have
testified in the original murder trial that defendant never
fired a gun at the victim.
Court finds that Robert Wooten's written statement to
police (State's 1), dated 24 August 2003, states,
“I saw Dwight pull out a gun but I don't know where
he got it from. He shot at Jamaal once from out the
window.” 12. The Court finds that witness Robert
Wooten's testimony conflicts with his written statement
given to police on 24 August 2003, (State's 1).
Court finds that witness Robert Wooten was also
blood-relation to defendant's codefendant, Kolanda
Court finds that Kolanda Wooten was represented by attorney
Mike Reece at the time of the original joined murder trial.
Court finds that Robert Wooten spoke to both defendant's
attorney Geoff Hulse and codefendant's attorney Mike
Reece about his proposed testimony.
Court finds that at the time of the original trial, Robert
Wooten was 14 years of age, and attending a special needs
Court finds, through a review of the admitted trial
transcript, (State's 2), that attorney Mike Reece also
chose not to call Robert Wooten as a witness in the original
Court finds that the testimony of Yolanda Sloan and Mary
Sloan primarily dealt with providing an alternative suspect,
Antonio “TT” Woods, to defendant's trial
attorney; and the fact that defendant's trial attorney
did not proffer this alternative suspect/alternative theory
to the jury.
Court finds that no competent evidence was adduced that
defendant's trial attorney failed to investigate
information purportedly provided by Yolanda Sloan and Mary
Sloan, or interview potential witnesses.
Court finds that defendant's trial attorney did present
evidence that tended to inculpate Antonio “TT”
Woods, and exculpate, or at a minimum mitigate,
Court further finds that defendant's trial attorney did
proffer evidence to the jury that the gun used in the
incident was originally obtained from Antonio
Q. This gun where did you get this gun?
A. I got it through Antonio Woods.
Q. What, was Antonio Woods' nickname?
Q. Was he in your vehicle that day on ...