Smith v. Commissioner of Correction
Without a persuasive showing that the habeas court's crucial finding was clearly erroneous that witnesses produced to support a third party culpability claim were "individually and collectively unimpressive and, in large part, useless," the Appellate Court would not disturb the habeas court's finding. Joshua Smith was convicted of murder in the first degree for the shooting death of Devon Laidley. Two witnesses testified that they knew Smith prior to the murder and positively identified him as the gunman. The conviction was affirmed on appeal. Smith filed this third amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging that his trial counsel, Michael Sherman, rendered ineffective assistance in failing to investigate adequately and to present certain witnesses and evidence. He further alleged that the prosecutor was in violation of the 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case of Brady v. Maryland by failing to disclose certain exculpatory photographs. The habeas court denied the petition. Smith appealed claiming that the court improperly concluded that he received effective assistance of counsel and that there was no Brady violation. The Appellate Court affirmed the judgment. The petitioner did not establish that he was prejudiced by counsel's actions and could not prevail on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim. As the habeas court noted, the testimony of the witnesses who the petitioner claimed "should have been interviewed" was "vague, contradictory and simply not exculpatory." None of the witnesses implicated another person as the shooter; at best, their testimony showed inconsistencies in the perceived height of the shooter which was cumulative of testimony introduced at trial. The habeas court did not conclude, as claimed, that counsel was freed from his obligation to conduct a thorough investigation once counsel decided that the alibi defense the petitioner provided him with was not viable. The petitioner's overall claim that counsel failed to conduct an adequate pretrial investigation was rejected. The court focused on prejudice not performance. The Brady claim failed because missing crime scene photographs were not material. They did not materially impeach the testimony of an eyewitness as claimed and could have been used by the state to damage the defense at trial.