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Bush v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 6, 2016


          Argued September 12, 2016

         Appeal from Superior Court, judicial district of Tolland, Mullins, J.

          David J. Reich, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Linda Currie-Zeffiro, assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were John C. Smriga, state's attorney, and Craig Nowak, senior assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          Sheldon, Keller and Foti, Js.


          KELLER, J.

         The petitioner, Dion Bush, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court denying his amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus as well as the denial of his petition for certification to appeal.[1] The petitioner claims that the habeas court erred by not concluding that his appellate counsel in a prior habeas appeal was ineffective. Specifically, the petitioner argues that his prior habeas appellate counsel was ineffective by failing to properly brief issues on appeal relating to: (1) alleged ineffectiveness by the petitioner's criminal trial counsel for not moving to sever the petitioner's trial from that of his codefendant; and (2) an alleged conflict of interest by criminal trial counsel resulting from his representation of another client that rendered his representation of the petitioner ineffective. We conclude that the habeas court did not abuse its discretion in denying the petition for certification to appeal, and, accordingly, we dismiss the appeal.

         The following facts underlying the petitioner's conviction, as set forth by our Supreme Court in the petitioner's direct appeal, are pertinent to our resolution of these issues. ‘‘On September 25, 1993, the victim, Norman Jones, a member of the Brotherhood street gang, was socializing at a party in Bridgeport. Antoin Pettway also was present at the party. At some point during the evening, the victim and Pettway left the party together and went to the Pequonnock housing project, where Pettway had an apartment. Upon arriving at the housing project, Pettway entered his apartment building. The victim, who did not live at Pequonnock, remained directly outside the building's front entrance.

         ‘‘Pettway encountered Robert Robertson, a member of the Bush Mob gang, in the building's lobby. Robertson asked Pettway if the person outside the building's entrance was Jones, and Pettway responded affirmatively. Both men then left the lobby. Robertson entered the stairwell and went upstairs, while Pettway took the elevator to his apartment.

         ‘‘Shortly thereafter, Robertson and the [petitioner], who also was a member of the Bush Mob gang, entered the lobby from the stairwell. The two men, each of whom was armed with a handgun, then went to the building's front entrance and pointed their guns in the direction of the victim. Robertson diverted his aim from the victim and fired once into the air. The [petitioner], however, fired several rounds at the victim, stopping only when his gun had been emptied. As the [petitioner] and Robertson then retreated through the lobby, Bernard Johnson, who had been in the lobby at that time, asked them why they had shot at the victim. One of the two men responded that they had done so to retaliate for the recent murder of a Bush Mob gang member.

         ‘‘Within minutes, Bridgeport police officers arrived and found the victim lying on the ground a short distance away from the entrance of the building. He had been shot once in the back and was unconscious. He subsequently was transported to Saint Vincent's Medical Center in Bridgeport, where attempts to save his life proved unsuccessful.'' (Footnote omitted.) State v. Bush, 249 Conn. 423, 425-26, 735 A.2d 778 (1999).

         The petitioner and Robertson were both charged with murder as either a principal or an accessory in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-54a (a) and 53a-8, and conspiracy to commit murder in violation of General Statutes §§ 53a-48 and 53a-54a (a). The petitioner was represented by Attorney Dante Gallucci, and Robertson was represented by Attorney Lawrence Hopkins. ‘‘Prior to trial, the state moved to consolidate the trials of the [petitioner] and Robertson. Neither the [petitioner] nor Robertson objected to that motion, and thereafter, the trial court granted it.[2] Immediately before the start of the state's case-in-chief, however, Robertson moved to sever the trials on the ground that there was a potential for antagonism between his defense and the [petitioner's].[3] Although both the [petitioner] and Robertson planned to assert that they had not been present when the victim was shot, Robertson claimed that he might pursue a different strategy during the trial if, as anticipated, the state presented evidence from which the jury could infer that the [petitioner] had fired the shot that had killed the victim. Thereafter, the [petitioner] also moved for severance claiming that, if Robertson were to change his theory of defense during trial, there was a potential for antagonism between his defense and Robertson's. The trial court determined that, because at that time there was no conflict between the defenses of the [petitioner] and Robertson, the motions for severance on the basis of antagonistic defenses were premature. The court, therefore, denied those motions. In so doing, however, the court specifically stated that both the [petitioner] and Robertson could renew their severance motions if an actual conflict between their defenses arose during trial. Neither the [petitioner] nor Robertson renewed his motion for severance on the basis of antagonistic defenses at any time thereafter.'' (Emphasis in original; footnotes altered.) Id., 426-27.[4]

         During the trial the state called as a witness Maria Caban, who testified that the petitioner told her that he had shot the victim and that Robertson was also present during the shooting. She also testified that the petitioner told her that Robertson did not fire at the victim. Instead, he indicated that Robertson ‘‘punked out'' and fired a single shot into the air. She also stated that, subsequent to the shooting, a group of men came to her apartment to retrieve what she was told was the murder weapon, and that the petitioner, but not Robertson, was present at that time.[5] During cross-examination of Caban, Hopkins prompted her to reiterate those portions of her testimony that indicated that Robertson did not fire the shot that killed the victim. During his closing argument on behalf of Robertson, Hopkins argued that both Johnson and Caban lacked credibility, but that even if the jury believed their suspect testimony, it was clear that the bullet that killed the victim had been fired by the petitioner. The jury convicted the petitioner of murder and conspiracy to commit murder, [6] and the court, Ford, J., imposed a total effective sentence of sixty years incarceration.

         The petitioner, still represented by Gallucci, appealed his conviction to our Supreme Court, arguing, inter alia, that the trial court erred by denying his motion to sever his trial from that of Robertson. Our Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, concluding that the petitioner had failed to preserve the claim by failing to renew his severance motion on the basis of antagonistic defenses at any time during the trial as permitted by the court. State v. Bush, supra, 249 Conn. 428.

         The petitioner then filed his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus.[7] Represented by Attorney Howard Wicker, the petitioner claimed that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel at his criminal trial because Gallucci did not, inter alia: (1) timely move to sever his trial from that of Robertson; or (2) move to withdraw from representing the petitioner because of a conflict of interest. During the petitioner's first habeas trial, Gallucci testified as a witness for the respondent, the Commissioner of Correction, and stated that the petitioner's defense was one of general denial, although the petitioner did not have a supportable alibi. With regard to Robertson's defense, Gallucci explained: ‘‘Well, the basic thrust of the defense, that he wasn't involved. I recall at some points, [Hopkins] was also trying to show . . . not only was [Robertson] not there and [he] didn't do it, but virtually nobody said [he] did it. It was a little different than our defense, but basically, the defenses were consistent; that [they] weren't there. [They] didn't do it.'' The habeas court, White, J. (first habeas court), denied the petition, concluding that the petitioner had failed to show that Gallucci was deficient in his performance at trial or that the petitioner was prejudiced by such alleged deficiencies. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). The first habeas court also denied the petition for certification to appeal. Represented by Special Public Defender Mary Trainer, the petitioner appealed the first habeas court's judgment to this court. See Bush v. Commissioner of Correction, 92 Conn.App. 537, 885 A.2d 1265 (2005), cert. denied, 277 Conn. 906, 894 A.2d 986 (2006). This court concluded that the first habeas court did not abuse its discretion in denying the petition for certification to appeal.

         The petitioner then filed his second petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the action underlying this appeal. The petitioner, represented by Attorney Frank Cannatelli, alleged ineffective assistance by Trainer, Wicker, and Gallucci.[8] After a trial, the habeas court, Mullins, J. (second habeas court), for reasons detailed subsequently in this opinion, denied the petition for a writ of habeas corpus as well as a subsequent petition for certification to appeal. The petitioner then brought the present appeal. The issues raised in the present appeal relate only to claims in the petition regarding the alleged ineffective assistance of Trainer as appellate counsel in the prior habeas appeal. Additional facts will be set forth as necessary.

         As a preliminary matter, we set forth the applicable standard of review. ‘‘Faced with a habeas court's denial of a petition for certification to appeal, a petitioner can obtain appellate review of the dismissal of his petition for [a writ of] habeas corpus only by satisfying the two-pronged test enunciated by our Supreme Court in Simms v. Warden, 229 Conn. 178, 640 A.2d 601 (1994), and adopted in Simms v. Warden, 230 Conn. 608, 612, 646 A.2d 126 (1994). First, he must demonstrate that the denial of his petition for certification constituted an abuse of discretion. . . . Second, if the petitioner can show an abuse of discretion, he must then prove that the decision of the habeas court should be reversed on its merits. . . .

         ‘‘To prove an abuse of discretion, the petitioner must demonstrate that the [resolution of the underlying claim involves issues that] are debatable among jurists of reason; that a court could resolve the issues [in a different manner]; or that the questions are adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further. . . . To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show (1) that counsel's performance was deficient and (2) that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. . . . Furthermore, [i]n a habeas corpus proceeding, the petitioner's burden of proving that a fundamental unfairness had been done is not met by speculation . . . but by demonstrable realities.'' (Citations omitted; emphasis in original; internal quotation marks omitted.) Griffin v. Commissioner of Correction, 119 Conn.App. 239, 241-42, 987 A.2d 1037, cert. denied, 295 Conn. 912, 989 A.2d 1074 (2010).

         ‘‘It is axiomatic that, in order to establish a claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, a habeas petitioner must establish both deficient performance and the resulting prejudice. . . . The performance prong requires proof that appellate counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. . . . There is a strong presumption that counsel has rendered adequate assistance and made all significant decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment. . . . Just as the decision of trial counsel not to object to certain evidence is a matter of trial tactics, not evidence of incompetency . . . the tactical decision of appellate counsel not to raise a particular claim is ordinarily a matter of appellate tactics, and not evidence of incompetency, in light of the presumption of reasonable professional judgment. . . .

         ‘‘The prejudice prong requires proof that, had the prior performance been reasonable rather than inadequate, there is a reasonable probability that the petitioner would have prevailed on the appeal. . . . A failure to establish either prong will be fatal to a claim of ineffectiveness of counsel. . . . Our scope of review regarding the underlying facts found by the habeas court is the clearly erroneous standard, and the plenary standard of review applies regarding the legal conclusion of whether those facts amount to ineffectiveness of counsel.'' (Citations omitted; emphasis added.) Alterisi v. Commissioner of Correction, 145 Conn.App. 218, 222-23, 77 A.3d 748, cert. denied, 310 Conn. 933, 78 A.3d 859 (2013).

         We also stress that ‘‘[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential. It is all too tempting for a defendant to second-guess counsel's assistance after conviction . . . and it is all too easy for a court . . . to conclude that a particular act or omission of counsel was unreasonable. . . . A fair assessment of attorney performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct . . . . [A] court must indulge a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance . . . .'' (Internal quotation marks omitted.) Johnson v. Commissioner of Correction, 285 Conn. 556, 577, 941 A.2d 248 (2008).


         The petitioner first argues that the second habeas court erred by not concluding that Trainer's performance was deficient for failing to properly brief the issue of Gallucci's alleged ineffectiveness for not moving a second time to sever the petitioner's criminal trial from Robertson's. We do not find this argument persuasive.

         The following additional facts are relevant to this claim. In the present appeal, the petitioner points to two instances in his criminal trial that are offered to show that he and Robertson pursued antagonistic defenses necessitating severance. The first instance is the cross-examination of Caban by Robertson's defense counsel, Hopkins, which transpired as follows:

         ‘‘[Attorney Hopkins]: Miss Caban, you indicated that at some point shortly after the shooting you had an opportunity to speak to Mr. Bush, correct?

         ‘‘[The Witness]: Yes.

         ‘‘[Attorney Hopkins]: Dion Bush. And he told you at that time that [Robertson], although he may have been present, fired one shot and he, as you say, punked out. Did ...

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