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Hedgespeth v. Warden, Louisiana State Penitentiary

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

February 13, 2015



MARK L. HORNSBY, Magistrate Judge.


A Caddo Parishjury convicted Thomas Hedgespeth ("Petitioner") ofboth aggravated rape and aggravated burglary in connection with an attack on a 79-year-old woman. His convictions and sentences were affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Hedgespeth, 974 So.2d 150 (La.App.2d Cir. 2008), writ denied, 992 So.2d 1008 (La.). He also pursued post-conviction applications and a motion to correct his sentence. He now seeks federal habeas corpus relief on a number of claims. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended the petition be denied.


Petitioner was 17 years old in October 2003 when he and his friend, Christopher Jackson, broke into a house with the intent to steal the homeowner's car. The home was owned by 79-year-old M.J. The victim testified that she was alone in her home when she heard a noise and looked down a hallway to see two black men wearing hooded sweatshirts standing near her front door.

M.J. attempted to run to the bedroom to call for help, but one of the men went into the room, hit and choked her, threatened to kill her, and forced her to turn over her car keys. Petitioner then forced M.J. to perform oral sex on him. She could not do so because her jaw had slipped out of place from screaming, so he hit her again and pushed her onto the bed, where he had vaginal intercourse with her against her will. M.J. could not identify the man, but Petitioner was taller than Jackson. M.J. testified that the rapist took her keys and her billfold, which contained credit cards and some cash.

Petitioner and Jackson left in M.J.'s car, and M.J. called the police. An officer spotted the car and approached. Petitioner and Jackson fled, but they were eventually caught. Petitioner admitted to police that he broke into M.J.'s house and that he raped M.J. He said, "All right dog. I poked her. What else do you want to know?" Co-defendant Jackson testified for the State. He implicated himself and Petitioner in the burglary, admitted that Petitioner and the victim were engaged in a struggle that involved screaming, but denied knowledge of any rape.

Petitioner and Jackson consented to have their cheeks swabbed for DNA testing. A vaginal swab, anal swab, and neck swab were taken from the victim. An expert from the Crime Lab testified that Christopher Jackson could be excluded as contributing to any of the swab samples. Petitioner's DNA was consistent with the swabs, and the probability that another person left the DNA taken in the vaginal and anal swabs was one in 46.8 trillion. Petitioner's DNA was also consistent with that taken from the victim's neck area.

Petitioner took the stand at trial. He testified that Jackson had been taking Ecstasy and drinking gin and juice when Jackson suggested they visit M.J.'s son, from whom Jackson had purchased marijuana. Petitioner said that Jackson kicked open the door to the house, and Petitioner ran into the yard. Jackson went inside and later emerged with a pocketbook and car keys. Jackson tossed the keys to Petitioner, and the two drove away in the victim's car with Petitioner at the wheel.

Petitioner said he later turned himself in to police and gave two statements. In the second statement, he admitted that he had sex with or "poked" the victim, but he claimed at trial that the statement had been a lie, which he told because a detective said he would be released to his parents if he admitted to the two crimes. He said that he never went inside the home. Petitioner said he understood his sperm was found inside the victim, but he had no idea how it got there.

Before trial, the State offered to allow Petitioner to plead guilty to forcible rape and receive a 40 year sentence. He countered with 20 years. The State offered 30 years, but Petitioner turned it down and went to trial. Tr. 505. The jury heard the evidence described above and convicted Petitioner of aggravated rape and aggravated burglary.

Judge Jeannette Garret said at sentencing that she would "always remember this trial" that she described as "one of the worst cases that this judge has heard." She recognized that Petitioner was only 17 when he committed the crimes but said that "doesn't excuse any of this" and that Petitioner was "a very dangerous person who needs to be removed from the public." The aggravated rape statute mandates a life sentence without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence. La. R.S. 14:42. Judge Garrett imposed the mandatory life sentence on that charge and added 30 years, to run consecutively, on the aggravated burglary charge. Tr. 503-10.

Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

A. Introduction

Petitioner was represented at trial by attorney Mary Harried. Petitioner argues that counsel rendered ineffective assistance because (1) counsel did not object to Christopher Jackson's testimony that he had been convicted of the crimes Petitioner was on trial for, (2) counsel did not request a limiting instruction regarding the use of Jackson's conviction, and (3) counsel did not ...

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