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Woo v. Beard

December 27, 2006

ROGER JIUNNMING WOO PETITIONER,
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, ET AL., RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Arthur J. Schwab

Magistrate Judge Francis X. Caiazza

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This is a federal habeas corpus case brought under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and it is before the Court on objections filed by Petitioner Roger Jiunnming Woo (Doc. 24), to the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of Magistrate Judge Francis X. Caiazza (Doc. 19). In the R&R, Magistrate Judge Caiazza recommends that Woo's petition be denied and that a certificate of appealability be denied.

Where, as here, objections have been filed, the Court is required to make a de novo determination as to those portions of the R&R to which objections were made. See 28 U.S.C.§ 636(b)(1). Accordingly, the Court has carefully examined de novo all claims raised by Woo in his objections. Also, in ruling on Woo's objections, the Court has carefully reviewed all aspects of the R&R and finds it to be thorough and well reasoned. In almost all respects, it requires no amplification or elucidation.

The Court writes now only to address limited, specific issues raised by Woo in his objections. As discussed more fully below, the Court overrules Woo's objections and approves and adopts Magistrate Judge Caiazza's R&R in full, as supplemented herein.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Woo graduated from Columbia University in or around 1990 with a degree in metallurgical engineering. In 1994, he was employed as a metallurgist at Latrobe Steel. He was married and he and his wife were expecting their first child in August of that year. In or around the summer of 1994, he met the victim in this case, Sherri Lynn Aukerman. By September 1994, Woo and his wife had separated, and Aukerman had moved in with him.

By his own admission, Woo's affair with Aukerman was tumultuous. On September 18, 1994, he shot her in the head. Aukerman died from the injuries she sustained. In his defense at his subsequent trial for murder, Woo maintained, inter alia, that his gun accidentally discharged.*fn1

Woo's defense was belied, however, by a confession he gave to the police on September 23, 1994 in which he admitted that he shot Aukerman because he was upset with her. To further buttress its position that Woo intentionally shot Aukerman, the Commonwealth presented the testimony of a firearms examiner, who explained that the only way to discharge the gun used in the shooting was to apply at least five and one-half pounds of pressure to the trigger. The Commonwealth also presented evidence to establish that Woo and Aukerman may have had a troubled relationship and that on the day of the shooting she appeared to be upset. Finally, the Commonwealth presented witnesses that related incriminating comments that Woo made after the shooting.

The jury found Woo guilty of first-degree murder. The Honorable Richard E. McCormick, who presided over the trial, sentenced him to the mandatory term of life imprisonment. Woo's judgment of sentence was affirmed on direct appeal. He then filed a petition for post-conviction relief pursuant to the Pennsylvania Post-Conviction Relief Act (the "PCRA"). Therein, he claimed that his trial attorney, Thomas Ceraso, Esquire,*fn2 provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel because he failed to investigate and present a diminished-capacity defense.*fn3

During the PCRA proceedings, Woo established that, when he was age nine, his mother committed suicide and he discovered her body. He never received mental health counseling to cope with that traumatic event because in his Chinese culture, such assistance would have been viewed as shameful. He presented the expert testimony of two psychiatrists, Gary M. Glass, M.D. and Qi Hu, M.D., each of whom had examined him for the PCRA proceedings.*fn4 (See PCRA Tr., 33-106, Dec. 15, 2000). The doctors testified that in their expert opinion, the trauma that Woo experienced as a child resulted in mental disorders that so affected him that he lacked the specific intent to kill Aukerman. The Commonwealth countered Dr. Glass's and Dr. Hu's testimony with its own mental health expert, Martin Jerome Fialkov, M.D. (See PCRA Tr., 4-45, Aug. 22, 2002). Dr. Fialkov concluded that Woo did not suffer from any mental defect or disorder at the time of the shooting that affected his ability to form the specific intent to kill.

Judge McCormick denied PCRA relief. Commonwealth v. Woo, No. 3290 C 1994, slip op. (C.P. Westmoreland Co. Apr. 7, 2003).*fn5 The Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed. Commonwealth v. Woo, No. 895 WDA 2003, slip op. (Pa.Super.Ct. Sept. 2, 2004)).*fn6 Woo then filed in this Court a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1). He raises one claim: that he is entitled to a new trial because Attorney Ceraso provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to investigate and present a diminished capacity defense at trial.

The Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Francis X. Caiazza. On October 25, 2006, Magistrate Judge Caiazza issued the R&R recommending that Woo's request for habeas relief be denied and that a certificate of appealability be ...


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