United States District Court, D. Connecticut
TROY M. LITTLE, Petitioner,
COMMISSIONER OF CORRECTION, et al., Respondents.
RULING ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
JEFFREY ALKER MEYER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Troy Little brings this action pro se for a writ of
habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On May 21,
2003, following a jury trial in Connecticut state court,
Little was convicted on charges of first-degree manslaughter
and unlawful carrying of a pistol without a permit. Little
now challenges his conviction on three grounds: (1) that the
trial court unfairly marshaled the evidence in its charge to
the jury, (2) that the prosecutor committed misconduct during
closing arguments, and (3) that he received ineffective
assistance of counsel. Because it is clear to me that the
Connecticut state courts did not unreasonably apply federal
law in rejecting all of these claims, I will deny the
August 17, 2000, one of the occupants of a house at 25 Lilac
Street in New Haven found the body of Kishawn Council on the
back steps of the house. The cause of death was a gunshot.
Little surrendered himself to the police on April 1, 2001,
and he was arrested and charged with murder and carrying a
pistol without a permit. The jury trial began on May 12,
2003, in the Superior Court, Judicial District of New Haven,
and the trial lasted six days, concluding on May 20, 2003.
prosecution's evidence included the testimony of multiple
eyewitnesses, the medical examiner who conducted the autopsy,
and a firearms examiner. This evidence established that on
the night of August 16, 2000, Little was walking with four
young women along Lilac Street, and Council drove a black car
alongside the group as it walked. Council called out to the
women to get their attention, and Little and Council soon
began to argue. Council continued to follow alongside the
group as the two men argued. Council then got out of his car
and punched Little in the face, while Little tried to hit
Council with a stick. A bystander broke up the fight and
separated the two men. Council returned to his car, and
Little ran across the street to a friend and asked him for a
gun. Little's friend initially refused, but subsequently
gave him a black nine millimeter handgun after he saw Council
reach inside the car. Armed with the gun, Little chased
Council in between two houses on Lilac Street and then fired
at Council from the driveway between the two houses. See
State v. Little, 88 Conn.App. 708, 709-11 (2005).
Little's theory of defense at trial was that there were
inconsistencies in the testimony of the State's
witnesses, that the State's witnesses were not credible,
that the forensic evidence did not support the State's
case, and that the State had not proved its case.
jury found Little guilty of the lesser included offense of
manslaughter in the first degree and of carrying a pistol
without a permit. The trial court rendered judgment
accordingly and sentenced Little to a total effective
sentence of 32 years in prison.
subsequently appealed his conviction to the Connecticut
Appellate Court. He raised two grounds: (1) the trial court
violated his Due Process rights by marshaling the evidence in
favor of the state, and (2) the prosecutor committed
misconduct that resulted in a denial of his Due Process
rights to a fair trial. The Appellate Court rejected these
claims and affirmed the conviction in May 2005. See
Little, 88 Conn.App. at 720. The Connecticut Supreme
Court denied discretionary review. See State v.
Little, 274 Conn. 916 (2005).
five years later, Little filed a state habeas corpus petition
in the Connecticut Superior Court on December 20,
2010. Little alleged that he was denied the
effective assistance of counsel prior to his criminal trial,
at his criminal trial, and on appeal from his conviction. He
alleged that his trial counsel, Thomas Farver, failed to: (1)
communicate to him a plea bargain made by the state, (2)
properly examine a key witness, and (3) request balancing
language in the court's consciousness-of-guilt charge.
Little further alleged that his appellate counsel, Richard E.
Condon, Jr., failed to adequately address the
consciousness-of-guilt charge on appeal.
13, 2011, the state habeas court held an evidentiary hearing
and heard the testimony of five witnesses. The court also
reviewed Farver's notes of a conversation with the
prosecutor, the transcripts of the trial in the underlying
criminal case, documents related to Little's appeal, and
the notice and transcript of Condon's deposition. The
court denied the petition on August 26, 2011. See Little
v. Warden, State Prison, 53 Conn.Supp. 236 (Conn. Super.
Ct. 2011). Little appealed this decision to the Connecticut
Appellate Court, which dismissed the appeal on January 14,
2014. See Little v. Comm'r of Correction, 147
Conn.App. 520 (2014). Little subsequently sought
certification from the Connecticut Supreme Court, which
denied the petition for certification on March 12, 2014.
See Little v. Comm'r of Correction, 311 Conn.
9, 2014, Little filed this federal habeas corpus action
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Little first claims that
the trial court improperly marshaled the evidence against him
and in favor of the State in its instructions to the jury. He
contends that the court repeatedly referenced the State's
evidence on motive and the State's theory of the case,
but ignored his evidence and defense theory throughout the
jury charge. Second, Little alleges that the prosecutor
committed misconduct during closing arguments by improperly
appealing to the jury's passions, emotions, and
prejudices. Finally, he argues that he suffered ineffective
assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel. He alleges
that trial counsel failed to: (1) communicate pre-trial
settlement information to Little, (2) adequately question a
key witness, and (3) object to the trial court's
instruction on flight and consciousness of guilt. Little also
contends that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing
to raise any issues relating to consciousness of guilt and
flight on direct appeal.
courts have very limited authority to overturn state court
convictions. A state court defendant seeking relief by way of
a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus must show that
his state court conviction was rendered by means of a clear
violation of clearly established federal law-i.e.,
that the state court's adjudication of his claims
“(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States, ” or that it “(2) resulted in a decision
that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts
in light of the evidence presented in the State court
proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2).
court decision involves an “unreasonable
application” of federal law under § 2254(d)(1) if
the state court identifies the correct governing legal
principle from the Supreme Court's decisions but
“unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of
the prisoner's case.” Cullen v.
Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011). Alternatively, a
petitioner may prevail under § 2254(d)(2) by showing
that a state court's decision was “contrary
to” federal law by demonstrating either that the state
court reached a conclusion of law that directly contradicts a
holding of the Supreme Court, or that, when presented with
“facts that are materially indistinguishable from a
relevant Supreme Court precedent, ” the state court
arrived at a result opposite to the one reached by the
Supreme Court. Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 453
a “highly deferential standard for evaluating
state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions
be given the benefit of the doubt.” Cullen,
563 U.S. at 181. As the Supreme Court has more recently
explained, “[w]hen reviewing state criminal convictions
on collateral review, federal judges are required to afford
state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only
when there ...