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Cooke v. Commissioner of Correction

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

December 17, 2019


          Argued September 23, 2019

         Procedural History

         Petition for a writ of habeas corpus, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Tolland and tried to the court, Cobb, J.; judgment denying the petition; thereafter, the court denied the petition for certification to appeal, and the petitioner appealed to this court; subsequently, the court, Cobb, J., granted the petition for certification to appeal; thereafter, the court, Bright, J., denied the petition for a writ of mandamus filed by the petitioner. Affirmed.

          Ian Cooke, self-represented, the appellant (petitioner).

          Steven R. Strom, assistant attorney general, with whom were Matthew A. Weiner, assistant state's attorney, and, on the brief, William Tong, attorney general, Michael L. Regan, state's attorney, and Lawrence J. Tytla, supervisory assistant state's attorney, for the appellee (respondent).

          Lavine, Devlin and Beach, Js.


          DEVLIN, J.

         The petitioner, Ian Cooke, appeals from the judgment of the habeas court denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On appeal, the petitioner asserts that (1) his claims were properly certified for appellate review by the habeas court, (2) the cumulative effect of his trial counsel's errors deprived him of effective assistance of counsel, (3) his trial counsel was ineffective in not ensuring that he was competent to stand trial, and (4) the court erred in failing to issue a writ of mandamus directing the Office of the Chief Public Defender to provide him with legal assistance to pursue the present appeal. The respondent, in turn, argues that the habeas court lacked jurisdiction to grant the petition for certification to appeal more than four months after its initial denial of certification to appeal. In response, the petitioner contends that the court had continuing jurisdiction to grant the petition for certification to appeal. We agree that the court had continuing jurisdiction to grant the petition for certification to appeal, but conclude that it did not abuse its discretion in denying both the petition for a writ of habeas corpus and the petition for a writ of mandamus. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to this appeal. Following a jury trial, the petitioner was convicted of murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54a, capital felony murder in violation of General Statutes § 53a-54b (7), and possession of a sawed-off shotgun in violation of General Statutes § 53a-211 (a). The court sentenced him to a total effective term of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. The petitioner's conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Cooke, 134 Conn.App. 573, 581, 39 A.3d 1178, cert. denied, 305 Conn. 903, 43 A.3d 662 (2012). In its resolution of that appeal, this court set forth the following facts, which are relevant to this appeal.

         ‘‘Sometime after 3 p.m. on May 27, 2006, the town of Groton dispatch center received a 911 call from 1021 Pleasant Valley Road reporting that one Gregory Giesing had been shot at his residence. Police officers, including Officer Sean Griffin, arrived at the scene, and Gregory Giesing's wife, Laurel Giesing, reported that she had observed in her driveway after she had found her husband shot a ‘dark, silver grayish' Jeep with thick piping on the front. After going through the residence to ensure that it was safe, Griffin went to the lower unit of the residence and found Derek Von Winkle, Gregory Giesing's stepbrother, who also had been shot. Shortly thereafter, fire and medical personnel arrived.

         ‘‘One of the responders from the fire department informed Griffin that there had been a stabbing at the LaTriumphe Apartments, which was near the Giesings' residence. The police, including Griffin, responded to that location, entered an apartment through an open sliding door and found on the living room floor the [petitioner], whose hand and cheek were injured. The police spoke with the [petitioner's] father, who had called 911 and had told the dispatcher that his son may have been stabbed by a drug dealer or drug dealers. Based upon the conversation between the police and the [petitioner's] father, Griffin then went outside to the parking lot to look for the Jeep that Laurel Giesing had described. Griffin located a silver gray Jeep with a ‘brush guard,' and observed blood on the exterior driver's side and on the driver's side interior compartment of the vehicle. Laurel Giesing was later shown the vehicle and, after examining it, stated that it looked ‘very similar' to and ‘the same' as the vehicle she saw at her residence after her husband had been shot. Additionally, a search of the general outside area, including a wooded area, around the [petitioner's] apartment revealed apparently bloodstained duffle bags containing illegal drugs and a disassembled shotgun.

         ‘‘An associate medical examiner for the state determined that Gregory Giesing died of a gunshot wound to the chest. The medical examiner concluded that Von Winkle died of a shotgun wound to the neck and chest. . . .

         ‘‘Several items of evidence, including three known samples of DNA from Von Winkle, Gregory Giesing and the [petitioner], were submitted to the state forensic science laboratory for DNA analysis. Nicholas Yang, a forensic science examiner, performed the tests. At trial, he testified as to his findings. Yang determined that the [petitioner's] DNA was consistent with that found on the exterior of a duffle bag found outside the [petitioner's] apartment complex, the doorknob to Von Winkle's apartment, multiple locations on pants retrieved from Gregory Giesing's body, the wooden deck area of Gregory Giesing's residence, a part of the floor mat of the Jeep and on various parts of the disassembled shotgun. The [petitioner] could not be eliminated as a source of DNA on the zipper of a Dudley bag, a reddish-brown stain on a knife found near Gregory Giesing's body, a blood-like substance taken from the interior door of Gregory Giesing's apartment, the steering wheel of the Jeep, a hacksaw from the apartment in which the [petitioner] was found, two swabs from the floor mat of the Jeep and the brake pedal from the Jeep.'' (Citations omitted; footnote omitted.) Id., 575-77.

         On August 4, 2011, the petitioner filed a self-represented petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Subsequently, Attorney John Williams was appointed to represent the petitioner. Williams never filed an amended petition. When asked by the habeas court, Cobb, J., to clarify the claims raised in the petition, Williams presented three claims that the petitioner's trial counsel, Attorney John Walkley, was ineffective by: ‘‘(1) failing to adequately investigate and prepare the case for trial, (2) failing to adequately challenge the prosecution's case and present the defense's case at trial and (3) failing to assure that the petitioner was competent to stand trial.'' In addition, the petitioner's brief to the habeas court raised two more claims that Walkley was ineffective in cross-examining one witness and impeaching another witness.

         The habeas court conducted a five day trial between March 20, 2014, and September 10, 2014. On July 8, 2015, the habeas court issued a memorandum of decision denying the petition. The habeas court concluded that, as to each of the petitioner's claims, he had failed to prove either that Walkley's performance was deficient or that the petitioner was prejudiced by Walkley's performance, as required by Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), to establish ineffective assistance of counsel. The habeas court also noted that the petitioner had offered little to no evidentiary support for most of his claims.

         Shortly thereafter, on July 13, 2015, Williams filed a petition for certification to appeal setting forth two issues: ‘‘Did [the habeas] [c]ourt err in [1] requiring petitioner to prove prejudice from trial counsel's failure to have a competency exam, when such retrospective proof is impossible and prejudice is presumed; and [2] in failing to address counsel's failure to visit the crime scene and test . . . both sound and sight?'' The court denied the petition for certification to appeal on July 14, 2015.

         On July 22, 2015, independently of Williams, the petitioner filed an application for waiver of fees, costs and expenses and appointment of counsel on appeal (waiver application). Attached to the waiver application, the petitioner included a document titled, ‘‘Affidavit in Support of Petition for Certification to the Appellate Court.'' In this affidavit, the petitioner requested certification to appeal on different grounds than those articulated by Williams. The petitioner sought certification to appeal on four other issues: (1) whether the court properly considered the petitioner's argument that he was not competent to assist Walkley; (2) whether the evidence, in the aggregate, supported the petitioner's theory that Walkley had not conducted a thorough and complete investigation of the blood and DNA evidence; (3) whether there were cumulative deficiencies in Walkley's representation and whether those numerous deficiencies, in the aggregate, prejudiced the petitioner; and (4) whether the court erred in not considering the totality of Walkley's alleged errors in conducting its Strickland analysis. While the habeas court did grant the petitioner's waiver application on July 27, 2015, there was no indication in the record at that time that the court had ruled on the petitioner's request for certification of additional issues on appeal.

         On August 17, 2015, the petitioner filed his appeal. Subsequently, on November 5, 2015, Attorney Allison Near filed her appearance as appointed appellate counsel for the petitioner. On June 10, 2016, Near filed a motion for leave to withdraw as appointed counsel accompanied with an Anders brief.[1] The petitioner later filed, on January 4, 2017, a motion to remove Near as appointed counsel and to proceed self-represented. The court, Bright, J., granted the petitioner's motion on March 6, 2017. Subsequently, the self-represented petitioner filed an appearance with this court on March 17, 2017.

         On March 31, 2017, the petitioner filed a motion for articulation, requesting that the habeas court issue a ruling on his affidavit attached to his waiver application, which he had filed on July 22, 2015, that outlined additional issues for appeal. In a handwritten ruling added at the end of the petitioner's motion and dated May 9, 2017, the court, Cobb, J., concluded that ‘‘[i]n view of the petitioner's status as a self-represented litigant, the [c]ourt treats this motion for articulation as a motion to amend his petition for certification to include additional issues on appeal, and grants it.'' Subsequently, on appeal, the petitioner has challenged the habeas court's judgment denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus on the grounds raised in his affidavit.

         On May 3, 2017, the petitioner filed a petition seeking a writ of mandamus to compel the Office of the Chief Public Defender to assist the petitioner's legal research. In his petition, the petitioner contended that he was incapable of conducting legal research, because the Department of Correction does not provide law libraries or online legal resources to its inmates and, as a result of his decision to proceed as a self-represented petitioner, he did not have access to outside legal assistance. Consequently, the petitioner argued that the lack of legal resources violated his federal and state constitutional right to have meaningful access to the courts and, thus, necessitated an order to compel legal assistance from the Office of the Chief Public Defender. On June 26, 2017, the ...

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