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Grasty v. Parris

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

September 19, 2019

QUINZELL LA'WON GRASTY, Petitioner,
v.
MIKE PARRIS, Warden, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CURTIS L. COLLIER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Quinzell La'Won Grasty, an inmate proceeding pro se, has filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the legality of his confinement under Tennessee judgments of conviction for felony murder, second-degree murder, attempted especially aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the State-court record, and the law applicable to Grasty's claims, the Court finds that the petition should be denied.

         I. SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Quinzell La'Won Grasty shot and killed Steven Matthew Coyle during a home invasion and attempted robbery that occurred on April 16, 2009 [See Doc. 9-1 at 5-7]. Sarah Gill, who lived with Coyle at the time of his murder, testified that she and Coyle were awakened by a "crashing noise" at approximately 9:00 a.m. on April 16, 2009 [Doc. 9-2 at 156, 164-166]. Coyle stated to her that he thought someone had broken into the house and opened the bedroom door to go investigate [id. at 166]. He was immediately shot in the head [id. at 167]. Gill saw Coyle on the floor with "a hole in his face" and called 911 [id. at 169].

         Chattanooga Police Detective James Holloway, the lead investigator on the case, testified that at approximately 7:30 p.m. on April 16, 2009, he received a phone call from police dispatch advising him that an Officer Tyrone Williams had requested that Detective Holloway call him [Doc. 9-3 at 109]. Detective Holloway called Officer Williams, who told him that an individual named Cordarious Holloway had approached him and stated that "he may have transported the suspects" to the crime scene [id.]. Detective Holloway interviewed Cordarious, who gave Detective Holloway names and nicknames of persons who might have been involved in the victim's death [id. at 111-12]. Based on these statements, in conjunction with a later-conducted surveillance operation, the police developed Grasty as a suspect [id. at 112-15]. Grasty was brought in for questioning, where he gave an initial statement to police [id. at 117-18].

         During his initial statement, Grasty related conflicting accounts of his whereabouts at the time of the murder, including being dropped off at a Steak-n-Shake near the victim's residence, waiting at a nearby apartment complex, and waiting outside the victim's home while others went inside [Doc. 9-10 at 35-122]. Grasty finally admitted, however, that he was at the victim's house, that he had a shotgun in a bookbag, and that, after checking one of the rooms in the home, he heard the door open behind him [id. at 116-17]. Grasty stated "the gun went off. . . My hand wasn't just, I wasn't doing like this . . . I'm saying I know I didn't mean to kill the man, but it happened" [id. at 118-19]. The following exchange between the detective and Grasty then transpired:

A. Yeah, he opened the door and then I was just turning around, know what I'm saying, and the gun went off. And I looked at him like, Oh, and just they took it, and then they took the gun and just dipped.
Q. Who took it?
A. Everybody that was in the car, they took the gun to the[] house and . . .
Q. I mean you ran out with it, I guess, or no?
A. Yeah, I had it in my hand when I ran out.
***
Q. So when the dude opened the door, it scared you and you shot by accident?
A. Yes, sir.
Q. You didn't mean to kill the guy?
A. No, sir.
Q. And you don't know where the gun is now?
A. No, sir.
***
Q. Is everything that you've told us, here toward the end, the truth?
A. Yes, sir.

[Doc. 9-10 at 119-121]. Prior to giving his statement, Grasty signed a form waiving his rights [Doc. 9-10 at 33].

         Grasty then gave a second statement to police on May 6, 2009, where he recanted his earlier admission, stating he had only promised to "take the charge" because he was not facing any charges at the time of the murder, and the real perpetrator was already on house arrest [id. at 138-140]. Audio recordings of both statements were played for the jury at Grasty's trial [Doc. 9-3 at 127-30; Doc. 9-4 at 17-18].

         Agent Mark Dunlap, a special agent forensic scientist in serology DNA for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation ("TBI"), testified that a backpack found at the crime scene showed a mixture of genetic material from at least four different individuals, and that Grasty could not be excluded as a contributor [Doc. 9-4 at 76, 84, 91-92].

         TBI Agent Steve Scott, an expert in firearms, testified that he analyzed shot shell waddings taken from the crime scene and determined that the wadding was consistent with a Winchester 12-gauge, AA type [id. at 125, 128-130, 138]. Agent Scott also reviewed portions of Grasty's statement where he described the weapon as 16 to 18 inches long with a sawed-off stock and muzzle [id. at 142-43]. Based on that description and the recovered wadding, Agent Scott produced a replica firearm as a demonstrative exhibit at Grasty’s trial [id. at 143]. The weapon was obtained from a reference collection of firearms maintained at the Nashville TBI facility, which is a collection maintained to borrow parts or produce exhibits for demonstration purposes in court [id. at 150-51]. Agent Scott testified that the purpose of sawing off a shotgun is to maneuver in an enclosed space and for concealment [id. at 147-48]. He demonstrated how the weapon could have fit within the backpack recovered from the murder scene [id. at 148].

         Grasty did not testify at trial [Doc. 9-5 at 8-9]. A Hamilton County jury convicted Grasty of felony murder, second-degree murder, attempted especially aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary [id. at 92-100]. He received an effective sentence of life imprisonment [id. at 101; Doc. 9-6; see also Doc. 9-1 at 101-104]. On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed his convictions and sentence. See State v. Grasty, No. E2012-00141-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 1458660 (Tenn. Crim. App. Apr. 10, 2013), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Sept. 16, 2013) (“Grasty I”). The Supreme Court of Tennessee denied Grasty’s application for discretionary review on September 16, 2013. Id.

         On October 30, 2013, Grasty filed a petition for post-conviction relief [Doc. 9-18 at 3-10]. Counsel was subsequently appointed, and both Grasty and post-conviction counsel filed an amended post-conviction petition [id. at 12-13, 14-20]. Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied relief [id. at 96-115]. The TCCA affirmed the post-conviction court’s decision on February 17, 2017. Grasty v. State, No. E2015-02075-CCA-R3-PC, 2017 WL 656905 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 17, 2017), perm. app. denied (May 18, 2017) (“Grasty II”). The Supreme Court of Tennessee denied Grasty’s application for discretionary review on May 18, 2017 [Doc. 9-27].

         Thereafter, Grasty filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus on September 7, 2017, asserting the following grounds for relief, as paraphrased by the Court:

I. Whether Grasty received the ineffective assistance of counsel.
II. Whether the trial court erred in denying Grasty’s petition for ...

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