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Hasan v. Alves

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 27, 2016

WENDELL HASAN, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN JOHN ALVES, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER RE: RESPONDENT'S MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. 11)

          Geoffrey W. Crawford, Judge

         This is a claim for post-conviction relief filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The case arises out of the state prosecution and conviction of petitioner Wendell Hasan on charges of felony murder and burglary in 1986. He is currently serving a sentence of 80 years. The application for a writ of habeas corpus before this court challenges the constitutionality of a search wan-ant permitting a search of his home in July of 1985.

         Because the federal petition was not filed until 2011, the State has filed a motion to dismiss on grounds of time-bar. Mr. Hasan has raised a claim of equitable tolling to excuse his delay in filing the petition. This court previously ruled that the equitable tolling issue required an evidentiary hearing. This hearing occurred on February 17, 2016, and this decision is based in large part on the evidence provided at the hearing. Before reaching the issue of equitable tolling, however, it is necessary to review the history of the case from the beginning.

         I. Background

         A. The Trial

         The facts giving rise to Mr. Hasan's prosecution were considered on direct appeal to the Connecticut Supreme Court. The following summary is drawn from that court's decision. See State v. Hasan, 205 Conn. 485 (1987).

         On July 2, 1985, police responded to the home of George and Rachel Tyler in Darien, Connecticut, They, fbimd Mr. Tyler dead in the kitchen. Mrs. Tyler was injured. The house had been burglarized. Police investigators found a bloody footprint made by a sneaker.

         Three days later, a plumber clearing a clogged toilet in an apartment in South Norwalk discovered two credit cards in the name of George Tyler. The apartment was the home of Mr. Hasan, his mother, stepfather, brother, two sisters, and brother's girlfriend. The police conducted a search pursuant to a warrant. They found a bloody Puma sneaker in one of the bedrooms. Following his arrest, Mr. Hasan told the police that he lived at the apartment and owned a pair of Puma sneakers like those seized.

         The evidence at trial included comparison of glass shards and linoleum taken from the crime scene with similar materials taken from the sole of the bloody sneaker. The traces of blood on the sneaker were consistent with the victims' blood but could not be positively identified as theirs. An investigator from the Connecticut state forensic laboratory identified the bloody footprint as made by the Puma sneaker. Mr. Hasan's brother testified that Mr. Hasan had been in and out of the South Norwalk apartment between July 1 and July 3 and that the Puma sneakers were Mr. Hasan's because they were in his room under his bed. A former cellmate testified that Mr. Hasan had admitted taking part in the crime.

         A podiatrist named Dr. Robert Rinaldi testified that the bloody sneaker showed signs of wear which matched the size and shape of Mr. Hasan's foot.

         B. The Direct Appeal

         On direct appeal, counsel for Mr. Hasan challenged the admissibility of the podiatrist's statement. On December 15, 1987, the Connecticut Supreme Court affirmed the admissibility of the expert testimony. Although there was no established "science of matching shoes to people, " the podiatrist had sufficient experience in the field to permit him to compare Mr. Hasan's feet with the sneakers. Id. at 494. The court drew a parallel to the identification of skeletal remains, bite marks, and footprints through physical comparison rather than scientific test or experiment. The court concluded, "[w]e consider this case one in which the established techniques in [the expert's] uncontested area of expertise have been applied to the solution of a novel problem that is well within the capability of those techniques." Id.

         C. The First State Habeas Application

         In 1986, Mr. Hasan filed his first state court application for a writ of habeas corpus. He filed the application pro se. Attorney Louis Avitabile was assigned to represent Mr. Hasan.

         In his application, Mr. Hasan claimed ineffective assistance of trial counsel. The state trial judge denied the application following a three-day evidentiary hearing. See Hasan v. Warden, No. 86-0000326, 1991 WL 25770 (Conn. Super. Ct. Feb. 1, 1991). On the third day of the trial, Mr. Hasan's attorney raised for the first time a claim that trial counsel had been ineffective in failing to challenge the search warrant affidavit which led to the discovery and seizure of the bloody sneaker. The trial court denied a motion to amend the petition to include this claim. The ...


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