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United States v. Casby

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 14, 2018


         SECTION "L" (2)


         Before the Court are Defendant Cyrus Casby's Motion to Vacate under 28 U.S.C. 2255 (R. Doc. 388) and Motion for Evidentiary Hearing (R. Doc. 394). The Government opposes (R. Doc. 396), and Cyrus Casby filed a reply (R. Doc. 397). Having considered the parties' briefs, the record, and the applicable law, the Court now issues this Order and Reasons.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Deputies responded to a fire in Apartment C of a two-story four-plex at 1005 Tallowtree Lane in Harvey, Louisiana in the early morning of November 10, 2014. The bodies of Cynthia Carto, her 19-month-old daughter Cyanna Carto, Janice Carto, and Cleveland McGinnis, Jr. were found inside. Cynthia died from multiple stab wounds before the fire started. Janice and Cleveland also had stab wounds but were alive when the fire began. They, along with Cyanna, died as a result of the fire. Jarvis Carto survived the fire but sustained significant brain damage.

         Defendant Cyrus Casby (“Casby”) was taken to the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office within an hour. Casby waived his Miranda rights and gave three statements to detectives. In the first two, Casby denied setting the fire but admitted that he was in the apartment a few hours before the fire and had an altercation with unknown males who tried to steal his car radio. In the third, Casby admitted to fighting with and stabbing the Carto family in self-defense and burning his leg as he fled the apartment. Casby was prosecuted for four counts of second degree murder in the 24th Judicial District Court for the Parish of Jefferson. On May 31, 2008, the jury acquitted him of all counts.

         On June 2, 2011, a federal grand jury indicted Casby for arson that resulted in the deaths of Cyanna and Cleveland and the injuries of Janice, Jarvis, and Fireman Walter Allen, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 844(i). This Court made numerous accommodations in its appointment of counsel throughout this case. First, two attorneys were appointed for the then-capital proceedings: Valerie Welz Jusselin and Kerry P. Cuccia. After motions were filed and hearings were held, the Court granted Casby's request to replace them with two CJA-appointed counsel. When the Government indicated it would not seek the death penalty, the Court appointed Robin Ljungberg in place of the two prior CJA counsel. Mr. Ljungberg was appointed at the recommendation of the Federal Public Defender, and he represented Casby at trial.

         Casby was convicted after a five-day trial. He then fired Mr. Ljungberg, and the Court appointed Michael Riehlmann. Ultimately, Casby fired Mr. Riehlmann and retained his seventh attorney in this case, Jerome Matthews.

         After Casby was sentenced to life imprisonment and a notice of appeal was filed, Mr. Matthews was permitted to withdraw. Casby filed a motion to proceed pro se in his criminal appeal, and the Fifth Circuit allowed Julie Tizzard, counsel hired by Casby's family, to withdraw. The Fifth Circuit gave Casby three opportunities to pursue his appeal before finally dismissing his appeal for want of prosecution on December 2, 2016. R. Docs. 343, 344, 355, 373, 384, 385. The United States Supreme Court denied Casby's petition for writ of certiorari. R. Doc. 386.


         Casby, proceeding pro se, moves the Court to vacate, set aside, or correct his sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. R. Doc. 388. He divides his motion into twelve separate claims: (1) DNA contamination/spoliation; (2) failure to prove the elements of the indictment; (3) double jeopardy; (4) district court's denial of motion to suppress statements; (5) district court's evidentiary rulings under Rule 403; (6) pro se denial during trial; (7) discovery/Brady issues; (8) failure to receive medication while awaiting trial; (9) representation affected by trial counsel's alcohol addiction; (10) false testimony; (11) attorney's failure to secure evidence; and (12) ineffective cross examination. Casby alleges ineffective assistance of counsel throughout these twelve grounds. Furthermore, Casby requests an evidentiary hearing with respect to grounds one and eight, and asks the Court to hold ground three (double jeopardy) in abeyance pending the Supreme Court's ruling in Gamble v. United States.

         In opposition, the Government argues that Casby fails to establish ineffective assistance of counsel, and that he has not demonstrated the cause and actual prejudice necessary to pursue matters more appropriate for appellate review through a 2255 motion. R. Doc. 396.


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, a prisoner may move the convicting court to vacate, set aside, or correct his conviction or sentence. Section 2255 provides four grounds: (1) the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States; (2) the court was without jurisdiction to impose the sentence; (3) the sentence exceeds the statutory maximum sentence; or (4) the sentence is otherwise subject to collateral attack. Upon a finding that any of the four grounds for relief exist, the court “shall vacate and set the judgment aside and shall discharge the prisoner or resentence him or grant a new trial or correct the sentence as may appear appropriate.” 28 U.S.C. § 2255(b).

         “It has, of course, long been settled that an error that may justify reversal on direct appeal will not necessarily support a collateral attack on a final judgment.” United States v. Addonizio, 442 U.S. 178, 184 (1979). “Section 2255 does not offer recourse to all who suffer trial errors.” United States v. Capua, 656 F.2d 1033, 1037 (5th Cir. Unit A 1981). Relief under § 2255 is “reserved for transgressions of constitutional rights and for a narrow range of injuries that could not have been raised on ...

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