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Capers v. Warden, Louisiana State Penitentiary

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

February 19, 2015



MARK L. HORNSBY, Magistrate Judge.


Two women who were involved in two motel robberies identified Johnny Lee Capers ("Petitioner") as their co-conspirator and the gunman. A Caddo Parish jury convicted Petitioner of two counts of armed robbery. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal. State v. Capers , 938 So.2d 1076 (La.App.2d Cir. 2006), writ denied, 955 So.2d 683 (La. 2007). He was adjudicated an habitual offender and, after a number of appeals and related proceedings, was determined to be a fourth-felony offender and received two terms of life imprisonment without benefit of parole. The habitual offender adjudication and sentences were affirmed. State v. Capers , 998 So.2d 885 (La.App.2d Cir. 2008), writ denied, 18 So.3d 102 (La. 2009). Petitioner also pursued a post-conviction application in the state courts. State ex rel. Capers v. State , 73 So.3d 372 (La. 2011). He now seeks federal habeas corpus relief based on claims of (1) insufficient evidence, (2) ineffective assistance of counsel, and (3) sentencing error. For the reasons that follow, it is recommended the petition be denied.

Sufficiency of the Evidence

A. The Evidence

Michael Kyle testified that he was working at the Plantation Inn motel early one morning when two women came in and talked to him about renting a room. Kyle looked over the shoulder of one of the women and saw a masked man approaching the desk. One of the women saw him and moved to the side. The man aimed a semi-automatic handgun at Kyle and demanded money. Kyle handed over money from the cash drawer, and the gunman ordered him to get on the floor face down. The two women and the man left.

The Comfort Inn in Shreveport was robbed about an hour later. Ramesh Venugopal testified that he was a college student who was filling in for a friend at the motel desk. Two women entered and began negotiating room prices when, suddenly, a man armed with a semi-automatic handgun jumped over the counter and demanded money. Venugopal showed the man where the money was, and the man took the two or three hundred dollars that was there. His face was covered with a dark mask of some kind. As the man left, he told Venugopal that he would kill him "another time."

Both motels had surveillance cameras. Videotapes of the robberies were entered into evidence. Shreveport police Corporal Danny Duddy testified that he used the video to locate places to test for fingerprints. He was told that the suspects were Sandra Alexander, Melissa Miller, and Petitioner. Duddy found fingerprints that matched the two women. He found a left index fingerprint and a palm print at the Comfort Inn that matched Petitioner.

Miller and Alexander implicated themselves as well as Petitioner and James Williams, who was said to be the getaway driver who was not seen on the video. Miller and Alexander each testified that it was Petitioner's idea to rob the motels and that they entered first to distract the clerk and look for cameras. They said that Petitioner wore a bandana over his face. They described the clothing he wore as similar to the descriptions given by the clerks and as depicted on the video. Both women were cross-examined extensively about their prior inconsistent statements and their motivation to gain favor with the prosecution. The jury returned a verdict of guilty as to Petitioner, but James Williams was found not guilty of both charges.

B. Standard of Review

Petitioner argues that the evidence was insufficient to support his convictions. In evaluating the sufficiency of evidence to support a conviction "the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt." Jackson v. Virginia , 99 S.Ct. 2781, 2789 (1979). "[I]t is the responsibility of the jury-not the court-to decide what conclusions should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial." Cavazos v. Smith , 132 S.Ct. 2, 4 (2011).

Habeas corpus relief is available with respect to a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in the state court only if the adjudication (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(d). Thus a state-court decision rejecting a sufficiency challenge is reviewed under a doubly deferential standard. It may not be overturned on federal habeas unless the decision was an objectively unreasonable application of the deferential Jackson standard. Parker v. Matthews , 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2152 (2012).

C. Analysis

The state appellate court reviewed all of the evidence and applied the Jackson standard. They found that the testimony of the motel clerks, police officer, and co-defendants, together with the video and fingerprint evidence, was sufficient when viewed in a light most favorable to the prosecution to support the armed robbery convictions. State v. Capers , 938 So.2d at ...

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