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Smith v. Chamberlain

November 12, 2009

LAVON CECIL SMITH, JR., PETITIONER
v.
DAWN CHAMBERLAIN; THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY OF THE COUNTY OF ALLEGHENY; THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF PENNSYLVANIA, RESPONDENTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy Reynolds Hay Chief United States Magistrate Judge

Amy Reynolds Hay Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Lavon Cecil Smith ("Petitioner"), a state prisoner, was convicted in a bench trial of first degree murder in the stabbing death of his wife and of aggravated assault in the contemporaneous stabbing attack on their teenaged daughter. Petitioner has filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to Section 2254, attacking his convictions. Unfortunately, the habeas petition is not a model of clarity. However, Petitioner does raise a whole host of ineffective assistance of trial counsel and appellate counsel claims in addition to other miscellaneous claims. Because the state courts rejected all but one of his claims on the merits, and because Petitioner fails to show that the state courts' disposition of his claims was contrary to or an unreasonable application of United States Supreme Court precedent, his petition should be denied. Because the one issue not addressed by the state courts is meritless, there is no basis for granting relief.

Relevant Factual and Procedural History

At the bench trial both Petitioner and his daughter-victim took the stand and testified to their competing versions of the events. The daughter victim testified that Petitioner's attack was unprovoked and that only after he had started stabbing her and her mother did they attempt to defend themselves from Petitioner. Petitioner testified that it was they who attacked him and he had to defend himself against them. The trial judge credited the daughter-victim's version of the events and discredited Petitioner's version of the events. After the bench trial, Petitioner filed a direct appeal to the Superior Court. In response to the appeal, the trial court filed an opinion addressing the issues that Petitioner raised on appeal. The trial court recounted the factual history of the case as follows:

In September of 2000, the Defendant, the deceased, Donna Williams, and their daughter, Daunita Smith, were living at [a home] in the City of Pittsburgh. The son of the Defendant and Ms. Williams [the wife-victim] was living away at college. Daunita Smith testified that during the month of September, she noticed friction in the household between her parents. She testified that on numerous occasions, her mother asked the Defendant to leave the household. (T.T. 26-29). At one point, days before September 24, 2000, the police were called by Daunita because she was awakened in the middle of the night by her mother screaming. The police spoke with both parents and left the household. (T.T. 30-32)

On Sunday, September 24, 2000, Ms. Williams and Ms. Smith went to church and had dinner with friends before arriving home at approximately 3:30 p.m. The Defendant was in the home watching television. The Defendant then began a series of altercations with Ms. Williams and Ms. Smith, all of which occurred in the kitchen. The Defendant, in a sarcastic tone, chastised Daunita for calling the police and used vulgarities toward both victims. The Defendant was also upset because he was asked to leave the house and would not be there to see his son graduate college. At one point, the altercations escalated to the Defendant breaking a beer bottle on the kitchen floor. (T.T. 36-39).

Following the incident with the beer bottle, the Defendant went into the kitchen and grabbed two (2) knives out of a drawer and told the victims it was about to end. (T.T. 41-42) The Defendant said he wanted to kill Daunita first because she called the police. The Defendant then trapped both victims in a corner and told them they had thirty (30) seconds to tell him why they should not die. Not satisfied with their answer that, "God would not want him to kill," the Defendant began stabbing the victims repeatedly. (T.T. 42-44)

Donna Williams was able to get to a phone and summon the police. The Defendant was then able to get on top of both victims and repeatedly stabbed them saying that he did not want to see them breath anymore. (T.T. 47-48) The police arrived and the Defendant was subdued.

Donna Williams suffered multiple stab wounds to her body. The wound, which caused her death, was a stab wound to the abdomen, which perforated the aorta and another vein. (T.T. 149).

Daunita Smith survived the attack, but she was hospitalized for six (6) days. She had to have multiple surgeries and had numerous scars from her wounds and subsequent surgeries. (T.T. 51-55)

The Defendant was transported to the Detective Bureau, where he was mirandized and gave a taped statement to the police.

Dkt. [16-2] at 9 to 11 (foot note omitted).

The Respondents note that there were significant discrepancies between what Petitioner testified to on the stand at trial and what he said in his recorded statement to the police. Specifically, the Respondents note that Petitioner never told the Detectives that he retrieved the two knives so as to carve a roast, or that his daughter had either attempted to or did successfully stab him, or that his wife had attacked him without provocation, all of which he testified to at trial but failed to mention in his taped statement. Petitioner told police in his Statement that Daunita only started to hit him after he brandished the knives. Dkt. [16] at 23.

Petitioner raises the following issues in this habeas petition:

1. THE SUPERIOR COURT ERRORED [sic] IN REVIEWING PETITIONER'S FIRST QUESTION "WHETHER TRIAL COUNSEL RENDERED INEFFECTIVE COUNSEL BY NOTIFYING THE COURT'S [sic] ON MAY 16, 2001, JUNE 28, 2001, AND JULY 24, 2001 OF MENTAL INSANITY DEFENSE AND DURING THE TRIAL, WHEN THERE WAS AN EXISTING ISSUE OF SELF-DEFENSE FROM UNLAWFUL FORCE ON OCTOBER 6, 2000, THAT TRIAL AND DIRECT APPEAL COUNSEL PRESENTED DUAL CHARACTER TRAITS WHICH CREATED PETITIONER GOING TO TRIAL WITH TWO DEFENSES. . . .

Dkt. [1] at 11.

2. THE SUPERIOR COURT ERRORED [sic] IN REVIEWING ADDRESSING [sic] THE SUBSTANTIVE LEGAL QUESTION/ISSUE RAISED IN PETITIONER'S APPEAL OF THE COGNIZABLE ISSUE OF APPELLATE AND TRIAL COUNSEL'S INEFFECTIVE ASSISSTANCE [sic] OF COUNSEL THAT SO UNDERMINED THE TRUTH DETERMINING PROCESS BY FAILING TO SECURE AND PRESENT/PRESERVE A SCIENTIFIC EXPERT[] TO EXAMINE AND TEST THE "THREE WEAPON'S"[sic] FOR PETITIONER'S DAUGHTER['s] BLOOD, HAIR, SKIN, AND VICTIMS FINGERPRINTS AND OTHER PHYSICAL EVIDENCE, WHICH WAS TESTIFIED [to] BEFORE AND DURING TRIAL WHICH WOULD HAVE GIVEN GREATER CREDIBILITY TO THE PETITIONER'S SELF-DEFENSE DEFENSE, RESULTING IN PETITIONER BEING DENIED THE REQUIRED EFFECTIVE ...


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