Coward v. Commissioner of Correction
As explained in the 2011 Appellate Court case of Henderson v. Commissioner of Correction, 'although the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment may be understood to grant the accused the right to testify, the if and when of whether the accused will testify is primarily a matter of trial strategy to be decided between the defendant and his attorney.' Anthony Coward was convicted following a jury trial with crimes including murder, felony murder, robbery, burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary, in connection with the forced entry into the home of Wahied Jerjies by three men that ended in the deaths of Jerjies and his wife, Sara Sedor. The Supreme Court affirmed the conviction. Coward filed a second amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus alleging that his trial counsel, attorneys Margaret Levy and John Walkley, provided ineffective assistance. The habeas court denied the petition and subsequent petition for certification to appeal. The Appellate Court dismissed Coward's appeal. The petitioner first claimed that his attorneys provided ineffective assistance by improperly advising him not to testify and failing to ensure that he understood the implications of not testifying. He argued that his attorneys were deficient for not advising him he would need to testify to challenge his purported statement to police. The Appellate Court concluded that the habeas court did not err in determining that Levy and Walkley's representation fell within the range of reasonable professional assistance. The petitioner presented no credible evidence from which the habeas court could have found that his attorneys' advice was so deficient as to have left the petitioner to make a wholly uninformed decision as to whether to testify. His claims were not persuasive because they were directed at his attorneys' trial strategy. The trial court canvassed the petitioner, who stated three times he did not want to testify. Levy and Walkley attempted to demonstrate, through cross-examination of witnesses, that the petitioner had not known about or agreed to the robbery plan to negate the state's accessory theory of liability. The habeas court also reasonably could have found that the attorneys were not ineffective in their investigation of a potentially exculpatory witness. The petitioner provided nothing to overcome the presumption that the tactical decision not to pursue the witness was anything other than sound trial strategy.