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Quintana v. Mulheron

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 18, 2019

JAMES MULHERON, Warden, and HECTOR H. BALDERAS, Attorney General for the State of New Mexico Respondents.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court[1] on Petitioner Gabriel Quintana's pro se “Writ of Habeas Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254” (“Petition”) [ECF No. 1], Respondents' Answer [ECF No. 16], and Petitioner's Response [ECF No. 18].[2] Having reviewed the briefing and being fully advised, this Court recommends the Petition be DENIED for the reasons that follow.[3]


         A New Mexico state court jury convicted Petitioner of first degree murder, attempt to commit a violent felony, second degree murder, aggravated battery against a household member, tampering with evidence, and violation of a protective order. On direct appeal, the New Mexico Supreme Court (“NMSC”) affirmed, [4] except for the aggravated battery conviction. The NMSC determined that that conviction constituted a predicate felony to the felony murder conviction in violation of the constitutional protections against double jeopardy. On remand, the state district court re-sentenced Petitioner to a term of life imprisonment plus six years, with an award of 781 days of pre-sentence confinement credit.

         On November 19, 2009, Petitioner filed a pro se writ of habeas corpus in state court. Petitioner's appointed counsel subsequently filed an amended petition that included an affidavit from Cynthia Hill, in which she asserted that she and her co-counsel had provided ineffective assistance as Petitioner's trial counsel. The state habeas court ordered the State to file a response. The State failed to comply with the order for reasons not relevant to the instant Petition. Consequently, the state district court granted the writ of habeas corpus, vacated Petitioner's convictions, and ordered a new trial. Soon after, the State filed a motion to reconsider. At the hearing on the motion, the State introduced a competing affidavit by Damian Horne, Petitioner's other trial counsel, that contradicted the assertions made by Ms. Hill. The district court nonetheless denied the motion to reconsider. The State appealed.

         The NMSC reversed the grant of habeas relief and remanded back to the district court with directions to permit the State to file a response and also to hold “an evidentiary hearing on the merits of Quintana's petition because of the factual issues created by the competing affidavits of Quintana's trial counsel.” Quintana v. Bravo, 2013-NMSC-011, ¶ 33, 299 P.3d 414.[5] The State's response-supported by Mr. Horne's affidavit-denied the allegations in Petitioner's ineffective assistance claim. Petitioner then amended his habeas petition and the State again responded. Upon completion of the briefing, the parties deferred to the state habeas court to determine which claims would receive an evidentiary hearing.

         The court held an evidentiary hearing to consider these claims:

From the Pro Se Petition, the following claims survived: Ground Three (regarding victims' family's involvement in drug dealing), Ground Six (that Petitioner wanted to take the stand in his own defense), and Ground Seven (regarding an anonymous letter purportedly identifying the actual perpetrator). From the Amended Petition, the following claims survived- that trial counsel was ineffective for: (1) failure to effectively impeach prosecution witnesses; (2) failure to investigate; (3) failure to retain expert witnesses; and (4) cumulative effect of counsel's errors.

Answer, Ex. TT at 2 (attach. 4, 80).[6] On February 23, 2018, the district court denied habeas relief. Petitioner sought review by the NMSC on March 22, 2018, but the court denied review on March 30, 2018. On May 18, 2018, Petitioner then sought review in this Court by filing the instant Petition.


         Pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), the Court presumes the factual findings of the NMSC are correct. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473-74 (2007). The NMSC summarized the facts as follows:

Gabriel (Defendant) and Marisela Quintana were married in 2003. In June 2005, Marisela left Defendant and moved in with her parents two miles away. In August of that year, Marisela obtained an order of protection barring Defendant from any contact with her or the couple's children. Defendant violated the order by physically confronting Marisela at her place of work, and, on September 4, by going to her parents' home in an attempt to remove the children.
On the morning of September 5, 2005, Marisela left for work in her two-door Chevrolet Cavalier, accompanied by her mother Elisa Apodaca. As they approached the main highway, Defendant emerged from the bushes and stood in front of the car wearing black pants and a black jacket. He was angry and said he wanted to get back together with Marisela. Elisa told Defendant that Marisela did not want to be involved with him any longer. Marisela asked Defendant to move, but he persisted, ultimately opening the car door, entering the rear of the car, and attacking Marisela. He stabbed her in the leg, arms, back, breast and face. The wounds were not life threatening.
When Defendant finally relented, Marisela locked the doors and started to drive to the highway to look for help. However, she noticed that Elisa was no longer in the vehicle, and as she drove away, Marisela observed Defendant in the driveway with his hand raised above Elisa. Marisela arrived at the home of her neighbors, who helped contact the police and paramedics.
Elisa died at the scene, sustaining at least nine stab wounds, several of which penetrated deep within vital areas of her body cavity. She also suffered several defensive wounds. She died as a result of blood loss from a combination of the wounds, the most severe of which severed her aorta.
Approximately twelve hours after the attack, police received a tip from Defendant's brother, Carlos Heredia, stating that Defendant was at their parents' house changing clothes. Defendant was apprehended in the vicinity shortly thereafter wearing a blue T-shirt, dark sweat pants, and boots. His clothes were wet from the waist down, and appeared soiled and littered with stickers. There was no blood on Defendant's clothing at the time of his arrest. Whether these were the same clothes he wore at the time of the attack is a matter of some dispute, though the fact is not dispositive.
The police investigation revealed two additional sets of facts relevant to our consideration regarding Defendant's conduct between the time of the attack and his apprehension. First, another of Defendant's brothers, Librado Heredia, told investigators that Defendant had contacted him, admitting that he had stabbed Marisela and Elisa, and requesting money to go to San Diego. State Police Officer Lorenzo Aguirre testified at trial that Librado had reported the same to him when he arrived at the home of Defendants' parents on the morning of September 5.
Second, at about 7:00 a.m. on the day of the attack, a janitorial worker observed an occupied white Ford truck near the restrooms in a no-camping area at Abiquiu Dam. He observed the same truck in the same location the following day, and reported the vehicle to Ranger Phil Martinez. On Wednesday, two days after the attack, Ranger Martinez inspected the vehicle and discovered a receipt and a torn photograph of Defendant's family in a garbage bag in the bed of the truck. Ranger Martinez then contacted law enforcement, which later verified that the truck was registered to Defendant. They then obtained a warrant and searched the truck, finding nothing of significant evidentiary value.

State v. Quintana, No. 30, 847, 2009 WL 6608347, at *1-2 (N.M. Oct. 19, 2009).


         Petitioner advances three grounds for relief:

(1) Ineffective assistance of trial counsel: that an affidavit from trial counsel establishes ineffectiveness. Pet. 10.[7]
(2) Victim's family were not made available for questioning: that questioning the victim's family members would have exonerated Petitioner. Id. at 11.
(3) Three knives found in victim's vehicle that matched the stab wounds were never taken into custody: that three bloody knives allegedly found in the victim's car would have proven Petitioner's innocence. Id. at 13.

         With respect to Grounds One and Two, Petitioner exhausted the available state court remedies. See Exs. L (attach. 2, 5-18), N (attach. 2, 21-77), UU (attach. 4, 90-107). Petitioner failed to exhaust Ground three, but Respondents have expressly waived the exhaustion requirement. See Answer 6; see also 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(3).[8] Therefore, the Court will address all three grounds on the merits.

         IV. APPLICABLE LAW [9]

         The “AEDPA requires that [courts] apply a difficult to meet and highly deferential standard in federal habeas proceedings under 28 U.S.C. § 2254; it is one that demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Simpson v. Carpenter, 912 F.3d 542 (10th Cir. 2018) (quoting Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011)) (internal quotation marks omitted). “[T]he standard of review applicable to a particular claim depends upon how that claim was resolved by state courts.” Cole v. Trammel, 735 F.3d 1194, 1199 (10th Cir. 2013). When a petitioner includes in his habeas ...

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