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Martin v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

February 13, 2018


          Argued October 23, 2017

         Procedural History

         Amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland and tried to the court, Sferrazza, J.; judgment denying the petition, from which the petitioner, on the granting of certification, appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Darcy McGraw, for the appellant (petitioner).

          Harry Weller, senior assistant state's attorney, with whom, on the brief, were Stephen J. Sedensky III, state's attorney, and Tamara Grosso, assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          Alvord, Sheldon and Bishop, Js.


          ALVORD, J.

         The petitioner, Carlton Martin, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On appeal, he claims that the court erred in: (1) rejecting his claim that his due process right to a fair trial under the state and federal constitutions was violated by the introduction of testimony from an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at his underlying criminal trial, which was later determined to be scientifically invalid; and (2) concluding that his habeas counsel did not render ineffective assistance of counsel. We affirm the judgment of the habeas court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the petitioner's appeal. In 2000, following a jury trial during which the petitioner was represented by Attorney Robert Field, the petitioner was convicted of felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54c, robbery in the first degree in violation of General Statutes § 53a-134 (a) (2), and five counts of tampering with a witness in violation of General Statutes § 53a-151. The petitioner was sentenced to a total effective sentence of ninety years imprisonment.

         The petitioner appealed from the judgment of conviction, and this court set forth the facts underlying his conviction. ‘‘At 6 a.m., on January 18, 1999, the [petitioner] called Nicole Harris and asked her to drive from Bridgeport to Danbury to pick up his cousin, Tommie L. Martin. At approximately 8:30 a.m., Harris and the [petitioner] picked up Tommie Martin in Danbury. Harris then drove Tommie Martin and the [petitioner] to a gasoline station located next to Gallo's Hi-Way Package Store (Gallo's) in Danbury. After filling Harris' brown Chevrolet Chevette with gas, Harris drove along the street, passing Gallo's, and turned onto the street next to Gallo's, where she parked. The [petitioner] and Tommie Martin left Harris' vehicle and went toward Gallo's. After five minutes, the [petitioner] and Tommie Martin returned to the vehicle and Tommie Martin told Harris to drive around the block. When the vehicle was in front of Gallo's, Tommie Martin told Harris to drive by slowly. As Tommie Martin peered into Gallo's, he said, ‘[h]e's by himself, ' and the [petitioner] responded, ‘I have my heat on me, we'll go back in.' Tommie Martin told Harris to turn her vehicle around and park next to Gallo's. The [petitioner] and Tommie Martin left the vehicle and returned ten minutes later with bottles of E & J brandy. When they reentered the vehicle, Tommie Martin told Harris to drive onto the highway. While driving toward Bridgeport, the [petitioner] and Tommie Martin talked excitedly and were asking each other, ‘[W]as it worth it?' Shortly thereafter, police were called to the liquor store, where they found the victim, Robert Gallo, lying motionless, having been shot multiple times. The cash register had been disturbed, and two bottles of E & J brandy were missing. Gallo died as a result of his injuries. The [petitioner] subsequently told Harris that he and Tommie Martin were involved in the robbery and shooting at Gallo's.'' State v. Martin, 77 Conn.App. 778, 781, 825 A.2d 835, cert. denied, 266 Conn. 906, 832 A.2d 73 (2003).

         ‘‘On January 20, 1999, the [petitioner] called Harris and told her to come to his apartment to pick up something. When she arrived, the [petitioner] handed Harris a shoe box containing a .25 caliber handgun wrapped in a towel.'' Id., 781-82. ‘‘On January 25, 1999, the Danbury police department obtained a search warrant for the [petitioner's] and Tommie Martin's residence at 2108 Seaview Avenue in Bridgeport. The police executed the warrant. The police seized a sawed-off shotgun, a box of .25 caliber ammunition, a .22 caliber firearm and a magazine for a .22 caliber firearm.'' Id., 782. ‘‘While awaiting trial, the [petitioner] attempted to contact Harris from prison and did contact associates of Harris to urge her not to cooperate with the state and to dispose of the .25 caliber handgun, which she had been hiding.'' Id. ‘‘In March, 1999, Harris turned the gun over to the police, and ballistics tests confirmed that it had been used to fire the bullets that killed Gallo.''[1] Id.

         Attorney James Stree to represented the petitioner with respect to his appeal. This court affirmed the petitioner's conviction, rejecting arguments that the trial court improperly ‘‘(1) failed to recuse itself, (2) denied his motion to suppress certain letters and telephone call tapes, (3) refused to give a requested jury instruction on specific intent, (4) charged the jury as to consciousness of guilt, (5) denied his motion to suppress evidence pursuant to Franks v. Delaware, 438 U.S. 154, 98 S.Ct. 2674, 57 L.Ed.2d 667 (1978), and (6) denied him his constitutional right to present a defense as a result of certain evidentiary rulings.''[2] Id., 780, 818.

         In 2006, the petitioner, represented by Attorney Sebastian DeSantis, filed his first petition for a writ of habeas corpus (first habeas petition). In his amended petition, dated August 31, 2009, the petitioner alleged that (1) he was denied the effective assistance of appellate counsel in violation of the sixth and fourteenth amendments to the United States constitution and article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution, (2) his conviction should be vacated because of newly discovered evidence disclosed by the FBI to the State's Attorney, and (3) he was prejudiced by the late disclosure of Brady material. The first habeas petition was tried before the court, T. Santos, J., which issued a memorandum of decision on November 16, 2011, denying the petition. With respect to the claim of newly discovered evidence, the habeas court found such claim ‘‘indistinguishable, especially in light of the petitioner's assertion that this evidence is clear and convincing and would have proven that he is not guilty, from an actual innocence claim.'' Martin v. Warden, Superior Court, judicial district of Tolland, Docket No. CV-06-4001122-T (November 16, 2011). The court found that the evidence produced in support of the claim, consisting of two letters from the FBI regarding the comparative bullet lead analysis used in the petitioner's case, fell short of the actual innocence standard. Following the granting of certification to appeal, the petitioner appealed, and this court affirmed the judgment of the habeas court by memorandum decision issued March 5, 2013. Martin v. Commissioner of Correction, 141 Conn.App. 903, 60 A.3d 412 (2013).

         In August, 2013, the petitioner filed a second petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the petition at issue in this appeal. In his second amended petition, he alleged: (1) a violation of his constitutional rights to due process under the fourteenth amendment to the United States constitution and article first, § 8, of the Connecticut constitution on the basis that his conviction was obtained using evidence of comparative bullet lead analysis that was subsequently discredited by the FBI and that there existed a ‘‘reasonable probability that but for [such] evidence . . . the petitioner would not have been convicted''; and (2) ineffective assistance of Attorney DeSantis, who represented the petitioner with respect to his first habeas petition. Specifically, the petitioner claimed that Attorney DeSantis was ineffective in failing to (1) challenge the testimony concerning comparative bullet lead analysis from FBI Agent Kathleen Lundy, (2) consult with a metallurgist to challenge the testimony of Lundy, (3) present forensic evidence with respect to the petitioner's seized clothing, and (4) present testimony of a crime reconstruction expert. The petitioner also claimed that Attorney DeSantis was ineffective in failing to consult with and present the testimony of an expert regarding comparative bullet lead analysis evidence. The second habeas petition was tried before the habeas court, Sferrazza, J., which heard testimony from the petitioner, Attorney DeSantis, and William Tobin, a forensic metallurgist material scientist.

         In its memorandum of decision, the habeas court described Lundy's testimony during the petitioner's criminal trial. Lundy testified as to her examination of bullets recovered from the victim's body and the crime scene, and bullets from cartridges in the ammunition box seized from the petitioner's bedroom closet using a technique known as comparative bullet lead analysis (CBLA). Lundy's testimony purportedly showed that the bullets retrieved from the victim's body and the crime scene came from the same box of ammunition seized from the petitioner's bedroom closet. The FBI previously had used CBLA to deduce whether a lead bullet came from a particular cartridge box from 1996 until it discontinued such examinations on September 1, 2005, after an independent research committee of experts concluded that chemical comparison of trace elements found within bullets through CBLA did not produce sufficiently distinct outcomes to enable an analyst to conclude that bullets with the same chemical profiles come from the same box.

         The habeas court rejected the petitioner's claim that the admission of CBLA evidence violated his due process rights, concluding that no violation occurred on the basis that the petitioner had presented no evidence that the state actors were aware of defects in CBLA evidence at the time of the petitioner's criminal trial. The court further concluded that the petitioner had failed to show that the CBLA evidence prejudiced his case, explaining that the more salient forensic evidence was the showing that the pistol the petitioner had given to Harris, which Harris had turned over to the police, was the pistol used to shoot the victim.

         With respect to the petitioner's ineffective assistance of habeas counsel claim, the habeas court found that because the petitioner's trial counsel, Attorney Fields, could not have been deficient in failing to challenge the then-uncontroverted CBLA evidence, Attorney DeSantis could not be faulted for failing to claim ineffective assistance by Attorney Fields in the petitioner's first habeas trial. The court denied the petition and granted certification to appeal. This appeal followed.

         ‘‘Initially, we set forth the appropriate standard of review for a challenge to the denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus when certification to appeal is granted. The conclusions reached by the trial court in its decision to dismiss [a] habeas petition are matters of law, subject to plenary review. . . . [When] the legal conclusions of the court are challenged, [the reviewing court] must determine whether they are legally and logically correct . . . and whether they find support in the facts that appear in the record. . . . To the extent that factual findings are challenged, this court cannot disturb the underlying facts found by the habeas court unless they are clearly ...

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