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Samuels v. Brown

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division

December 10, 2014

DANNIE LEE SAMUELS, JR., Petitioner,
v.
DENNIS BROWN, Warden, Respondent

Dannie Lee Samuels, Jr., Petitioner, Pro se, Sparta, GA.

For Dennis Brown, Warden, Respondent: Paula K. Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dept. of Law, GA Attorney General's Office, Atlanta, GA.

MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

BRIAN K. EPPS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

Petitioner, an inmate at Hancock State Prison in Sparta, Georgia, brings the above-captioned petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Having considered all the relevant pleadings, for the reasons set forth below, the Court REPORTS and RECOMMENDS that Petitioner's § 2254 petition be DENIED, this civil action be CLOSED, and a final judgment be ENTERED in favor of Respondent.

I. BACKGROUND

This case challenges the validity of Petitioner's convictions for a litany of offenses in the Superior Court of McDuffie County, Georgia. On June 12, 2006, a McDuffie County grand jury indicted Petitioner for malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, rape, aggravated sodomy, aggravated battery, and concealing the death of another. (Doc. no. 20-3, pp. 6-10.) The Supreme Court of Georgia provided the following description of facts underlying the offenses based on the evidence offered against Petitioner at trial:

After the victim failed to show up for a prearranged appointment with a friend, police were called to her residence. They found the victim's bedroom in disarray and blood stains present on the floor, bedding and items of her clothing. The victim's body was found later that day partially submerged in a local lake. The cause of death was manual strangulation along with blunt force trauma to the head, chest and extremities. Forensic evidence also established vaginal and anal injuries consistent with forcible and violent penetration.
Vaginal swabs taken from the body were tested for DNA, and the results were run through the DNA computer index system. When a match for [Petitioner's] DNA was found, he was arrested and taken to the GBI office. After receiving Miranda warnings, [Petitioner] executed a waiver of rights and agreed to speak with the investigating officers. He subsequently confessed that he raped and killed the victim, dragged her body from her home, and left it at the lake.

Samuels v. State, 701 S.E.2d 172, 173 (Ga. 2010)

In accordance with Georgia law, the state filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty eighteen days after Petitioner was indicted. (Doc. no. 20-3, pp. 12-14.) Petitioner subsequently waived his right to a trial by jury in exchange for the prosecution waiving its right to seek the death penalty. (Doc. no. 11-2, pp. 44-48.) Accordingly, Petitioner had a bench trial before Chief Judge Roger W. Dunaway, Jr. of the Toombs Judicial Circuit. (Doc. no. 11-3, p. 41.) Petitioner was represented by Joseph Romond and Joseph Vigneri of the Georgia Capital Defender's Office at the trial. (Id. at 50.)

The trial court found Petitioner guilty on all counts on August 19, 2009 and sentenced him the next day to life imprisonment without parole for malice murder, life imprisonment for rape, fifteen years for aggravated sodomy, fifteen years for aggravated battery, and ten years for concealing the death of another. (Id. at 22, 25, 27.) Petitioner was not sentenced for felony murder and aggravated assault because those two counts merged into the count of malice murder. (See doc. no. 15-1, p. 44.)

On September 10, 2009, Petitioner filed a motion for new trial which he amended with an ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim after the appointment of Sara E. Meyers as new counsel. (Id. at 28-34; Doc. no. 20-1, p. 24.) Petitioner claimed that a new trial was necessary because (1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (2) the verdict was contrary to law and principles of justice and equity; (3) the evidence was sufficiently close to warrant a new trial; (4) the court committed an error of law warranting a new trial; (5) the sentence imposed was improper and excessive; and (6) trial counsel was ineffective. (Id. at 32.) The trial court denied the motion. (Id. at 40.)

Ms. Meyers, representing Petitioner on direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia, raised the following enumerations of error:

(1) The trial court erred when it admitted Petitioner's taped confession into evidence;
(2) The weight of the evidence is not sufficient to support the verdict.

(Doc. no. 19-1, p. 42.) Because Petitioner was convicted of murder, the Supreme Court of Georgia had exclusive jurisdiction over his appeal. See Ga. Const. art. VI, § 6, ¶ III(8). On October 10, 2010, the Supreme Court of Georgia rejected Petitioner's contentions and affirmed his convictions. See Samuels, 701 S.E.2d at 173.

Petitioner filed a state habeas corpus petition pro se on December 2, 2010 in Ware County alleging the following grounds for relief:

(1) The sentence imposed for malice murder and rape violates O.C.G.A. § 17-10-7(c).

(2) A fifteen-year sentence for aggravated sodomy is not allowed under O.C.G.A. § 16-6-2.

(3) Petitioner was wrongly denied a mental evaluation after the state's notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
(4) Appellate counsel was ineffective and incompetent.
a) Appellate counsel erred in focusing on admittance of the custodial statement.
b) Appellate counsel failed to attack the bench trial.
c) Appellate counsel failed to raise ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
d) Appellate counsel failed to raise the arguments in grounds one, two, and three of Petitioner's state habeas petition.

(Id. at 6-8.) Evidentiary hearings were conducted on August 11, 2011 and November 10, 2011, and appellate counsel testified at the August hearing. (Doc. no. 19-1, p. 1; doc. no. 20-1, pp. 2, 23.) The state habeas court denied relief in a final order filed on April 16, 2012. (Doc. no. 10-2.)

On May 8, 2012, Petitioner filed a certificate of probable cause to appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court, seeking review of the state habeas court's decision. See Supreme Ct. Ga., (Dec. 10, 2014), http://www.gasupreme.us/docket_search/results_one_record.php?caseNumber=S12H1456. On January 1, 2013, Petitioner filed a § 2254 petition that this Court dismissed without prejudice because Petitioner's application for a certificate of probable cause was still pending. Samuels v. Johnson, CV 113-015, doc. nos. 1, 5 (S.D. Ga. Jan. 25, 2013). The Georgia Supreme Court denied the certificate on May 6, 2013. (Doc. no. 10-3.)

Petitioner timely filed the above-captioned § 2254 petition pro se on October 9, 2013. (Doc. no. 1.) In the operative amended petition, Petitioner raised the following grounds for relief:

I. The trial court's sentence of life without parole for malice murder is illegal.
a) The sentence violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments and corresponding provisions of ...

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