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Riley v. Semple

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 2, 2018

WINSTON RILEY, Petitioner,
SCOTT SEMPLE, Respondent.



         Winston Riley (“Petitioner”) filed this petition of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction on charges of criminal attempt to commit robbery and criminal attempt to commit larceny.

         For the reasons that follow, the Second Amended Petition is DENIED.


         A. Factual Allegations

         The Connecticut Appellate Court determined that the jury reasonably could have found the facts as follows.

On March 18, 2012, the [petitioner] drove to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Montville in order to make up an $800 gambling loss from the prior day. Upon his arrival at the casino, the [petitioner] attempted to withdraw money from an automated teller machine, but could not do so because his wife had transferred money out of their account. After returning to his car and falling asleep for a period of time, the [petitioner] woke up and decided to commit a robbery. The [petitioner] thus slipped a knife up the sleeve of his sweatshirt and began to walk around the parking garage.
Louise Carty, an eighty-three year old woman, was at the casino on March 18, 2012, to play the penny slots. As she was entering the elevator in the Winter Parking Garage, Carty noticed that a man, later identified as the [petitioner], was following her inside. After the elevator door closed, the man, whom Carty was never able to identify, “all of a sudden pull[ed] a knife out of his pocket and head[ed] toward me.” In response, Carty screamed, “No, no, no, ” and shoved the man, causing him to jump away from her. Carty then grabbed the man's sweatshirt by the sleeve and pursued him off the elevator. The man never took or demanded money or property from Carty or verbally threatened her.
At trial, the [petitioner] sought to defend himself by raising the defense of renunciation under General Statutes § 53a-49(c). In support of that defense, he testified as follows. First, he admitted that he was the man who had accosted Carty in the elevator. Having initially intended to rob her, he admittedly followed her into the elevator, pulled a knife out of his sleeve to confront her and took two or three steps toward her after the elevator doors closed. The [petitioner] described as follows what happened in the elevator as he began to approach Carty:
“[Defense Counsel]: What was your intention at that moment?
“[The [Petitioner]]: My intentions as I approached her, as I took, like, the second or third step to her, I'm, like, oh, my God, this could by my grandmother; what am I doing?
“[Defense Counsel]: So, when you thought that, what were you going to do about that; were you going to do anything about your thought?
“[The [Petitioner]]: I immediately said I'm sorry. I basically curled the knife toward myself, and I was, like, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. She then grabbed me.”
Carty, by contrast, testified that, although she heard the man mumble something after she shoved him, she could not make out what he said and did not hear him say that he was sorry. After she and the man exited the elevator, the man hustled away from Carty while she told others in the vicinity that the man had tried to knife her.

State v. Riley, 159 Conn.App. 462, 466-67, 123 A.3d 123, 127-28 (2015), cert. denied, 319 Conn. 949, 125 A.3d 528 (2015) (footnote omitted).

         B. Procedural Background

         Mr. Riley faced trial in Connecticut Superior Court for the judicial district of New London on charges of attempted robbery in the first degree, Conn. Gen. Stat §§ 53a-49, 53a-134(a); threating in the second degree, Conn. Gen. Stat § 53a-62; reckless endangerment, Conn. Gen. Stat § 53a-63; larceny in the second degree, Conn. Gen. Stat. 53a-123; and carrying a dangerous weapon, Conn. Gen. Stat § 53-206. On March 16, 2013, a jury acquitted Mr. Riley of the reckless endangerment charge, but convicted him on all of the other charges. A judge subsequently sentenced him to a term of imprisonment of six years.

         On direct appeal, Mr. Riley challenged only the two attempt charges. He argued that there was insufficient evidence to support the jury's rejection of his renunciation defense and that the jury charge on the defense of renunciation was constitutionally inadequate. The Connecticut Appellate Court affirmed the conviction and the Connecticut Supreme Court denied the petition for certification. Riley, 159 Conn.App. at 464-66, 123 A.3d at 126-27.

         In 2014, while his direct appeal was pending, Mr. Riley filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in state court on the grounds that trial counsel was ineffective and the police violated his rights by questioning him after he had requested an attorney. Resp't's Mem. App. G, ECF No. 16-8 at 4. A trial was held in January 2018. Riley v. Warden, State Prison, No. TSR-CV14-4006347-S. A decision in that matter has yet to issue.

         Mr. Riley filed a second state habeas petition in 2017 challenging the denial of his request for immigration parole. Resp't's Mem. App. H, ECF No. 16-9 at 5. That case remains pending. Riley v. Commissioner of Correction, No. TSR-CV17-4008656-S. No. issues from these state petitions are included as grounds for relief in this federal petition.

         Mr. Riley petitioned this Court for relief on September 26, 2016. The operative petition is the Second Amended Petition.


         A federal court will review a petition for writ of habeas corpus challenging a state court conviction, only if the petitioner claims that his custody violates the Constitution or federal laws. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         A federal court may grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by a person in state custody with regard to any claim that was rejected on the merits by the state court ...

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