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Sloan v. Barnes

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

June 27, 2017



          LOUISE W. FLANAGAN United States District Judge.

         The 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.


         On 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.[1] 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).

         On 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).

         On July 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).

         On 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.


         The 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 Pearsall's car.
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 shooting.
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, just drive.”

Sloan, 180 N.C.App. at 529-530.

         Additionally, 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:

         7. The Court finds that sworn testimony was given by Robert Wooten, Yolanda Sloan and Mary Sloan.

         8. The Court finds that all of the above witnesses, who gave sworn testimony, are blood-relation to defendant.

         9. The Court finds that defendant, although present throughout the entirety of the hearing, did not testify.

         10. The 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.

         11. The 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).

         13. The Court finds that witness Robert Wooten was also blood-relation to defendant's codefendant, Kolanda Wooten.

         14. The Court finds that Kolanda Wooten was represented by attorney Mike Reece at the time of the original joined murder trial.

         15. The Court finds that Robert Wooten spoke to both defendant's attorney Geoff Hulse and codefendant's attorney Mike Reece about his proposed testimony.

         16. The Court finds that at the time of the original trial, Robert Wooten was 14 years of age, and attending a special needs school.

         17. The 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 joined trial.

         18. The 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.

         19. The 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.

         20. The Court finds that defendant's trial attorney did present evidence that tended to inculpate Antonio “TT” Woods, and exculpate, or at a minimum mitigate, defendant's participation.

         21. The 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 “TT” Woods:

Q. This gun where did you get this gun?
A. I got it through Antonio Woods.
Q. What, was Antonio Woods' nickname?
A. TT.
Q. Was he in your vehicle that day on ...

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