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Thomas v. Warden

Superior Court of Connecticut, Judicial District of Tolland, Rockville, Geographic Area 19

August 8, 2017

James Thomas (Inmate #144120)


          Vernon D. Oliver, J.

         The petitioner, James Thomas, initiated this petition for a writ of habeas corpus claiming that his first habeas counsel and underlying trial counsel provided him ineffective legal representation. He seeks an order of this court vacating his convictions and returning the matter to the criminal court with instructions to allow the petitioner to accept a twenty-year plea offer. The respondent denies the petitioner's claims and asserts a claim of procedural default. The court finds the issues for the respondent and DENIES the petition.



         The petitioner was the defendant in State of Connecticut v. James Thomas, Docket Number CR03-0188268, in the Fairfield Judicial District in the Bridgeport Geographical Area court. On March 22, 2004, the petitioner was convicted, after a jury trial, of one count of murder, in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a(a). On May 14, 2004, the trial court, Harper, J., sentenced the petitioner to a total effective sentence of sixty years to serve. The petitioner was represented at all relevant times, for both trial and appeal, by attorney Jeffrey Beck.

         The petitioner's convictions were affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Thomas, 98 Conn.App. 384, 909 A.2d 57, cert. denied, 281 Conn. 906, 916 A.2d 47 (2007). In affirming the judgment below, the court made the following relevant findings:

         " Teresa Alers knew both the defendant and Henry Goforth, with whom she sold narcotics. She saw the two men together on the evening of October 7, 1999. A dispute ensued that night over money Goforth allegedly owed the defendant. When the defendant demanded payment, Goforth indicated that he had no money. At approximately 6 a.m. on the morning of October 8, 1999, Goforth's body was found under a stairwell outside building fifteen of the P.T. Barnum apartment complex (complex) in Bridgeport. Detective Tijuana Webbe of the Bridgeport police department arrived shortly thereafter and observed wounds to the face, head, neck and chest of the body.

         " That afternoon, Alers, Persons and two other females were seated in a vehicle across from a mini-mart in the complex. They observed the defendant toss a bag into a dumpster adjacent to the mini-mart. After the defendant left, all four headed to the dumpster. Alers testified that they thought that the bag contained narcotics. When they opened the dumpster, they saw the bag on top of a pile of cardboard. Persons opened the bag, looked inside and screamed, " He ain't going to get away with this." Persons took the bag to a police officer nearby, who forwarded it to Webbe. Among the items Webbe discovered in the bag were a handle with a broken blade and a broken knife that had " Goforth" written on it.

         " Medical examiner Arkady Katsnelson performed an autopsy, which revealed multiple stab wounds to Goforth's body. Notably, Katsnelson found the blade of a knife, which had penetrated Goforth's left lung, lodged completely inside the body. Karen Lamy, a criminalist with the state forensic science laboratory, testified that the blade recovered from Goforth's body and the handle recovered from the bag found in the dumpster were parts of the same knife. The defendant subsequently was arrested and charged with murder in violation of § 53a-54a(a). After a trial by jury, the defendant was found guilty, and the court rendered judgment accordingly." State v. Thomas, supra, 98 Conn.App. at 385-86.

         On May 6, 2009, the petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, assigned Docket Number CV-04-4000131. He was represented by attorney Melissa Toddy in that matter. In the five-count amended complaint, the petitioner asserted a Brady/Giglio violation, prosecutorial impropriety, ineffective assistance of underlying counsel, ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, and failure of underlying counsel to advise the petitioner of his right to sentence review (Ex. 7). The amended petition did not raise any issue related to a lapsed plea offer.

         On March 5, 2010, the court, Fuger, J., denied the petition. The judgment was affirmed on appeal. Thomas v. Comm'r of Corr., 141 Conn.App. 465, 62 A.3d 534, cert. denied, 308 Conn. 939, 66 A.3d 881 (2013). The petitioner was also represented by attorney Toddy on appeal. On October 10, 2013, the petitioner filed the pro se petition giving rise to the instant matter. In his two-count second amended petition, filed on February 3, 2016, the petitioner makes the following claims against underlying trial counsel, Jeffrey Beck:

1. That counsel advised the petitioner to take his case to trial without explaining the evidence against him;
2. That counsel advised the petitioner that he would almost certainly win at trial;
3. That counsel did not advise the petitioner of a plea deal offered by the State prior to trial;
4. That counsel gave affirmative misadvice to the petitioner concerning the choice to go to trial; and
5. That counsel gave affirmative misadvice to the petitioner about the evidence against the petitioner.

         As to first habeas counsel, the petitioner asserts that attorney Toddy was constitutionally inadequate in that she failed to bring all of the ...

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