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Chiesa v. Veal

January 20, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur L. Alarcón United States Circuit Judge Sitting by Designation


A Calaveras County Superior Court jury convicted Peter Jordan Chiesa ("Petitioner") of two counts of second-degree murder in violation of California Penal Code section 187. The jury also found that he committed these murders with a personal firearm in violation of Penal Code section 12022.53(d). ( Am. Appl. at 4).*fn1 The trial court sentenced Petitioner to two consecutive fifteen years-to-life prison terms for the murder convictions. He was also sentenced to serve consecutive twenty-five years-to-life enhancements for his personal firearm use as to each count of second-degree murder. (Resp't Answer at 3). Thus, he was sentenced to eighty years-to-life imprisonment.

Pending before this Court is Petitioner's amended application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), filed on October 27, 2008 (Doc. 23), Respondent's Answer (Doc. 29), and Petitioner's Reply, which is styled "Traverse."(Doc. 33). For the reasons discussed below, Petitioner's application for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.


The California Court of Appeal for the Third District, summarized the facts as follows*fn2

Ronald and Annette Truman, William and Leslie Hannameyer, and defendant and his wife Donna owned parcels of land adjacent to each other off Highway 12 in Calaveras County. The Truman parcel was west of defendant's parcel, and the Hannameyer parcel was west of the Truman parcel. The Trumans and Hannameyers obtained access to their properties from Highway 12 by means of a dirt road that ran within an easement across defendant's property. The easement was 50 feet wide, and was granted for ingress and egress and for utilities. The access road was much narrower than 50 feet. The portion of the road on defendant's property was lined on one side with eucalyptus trees planted by defendant. Oak trees lined the other side. Relations between defendant and his neighbors were not good. Over the years, the Trumans and the Hannameyers had numerous confrontations with the Chiesas regarding the use of their properties. Much of the acrimony concerned the parties' use and maintenance of the access road and the easement. Defendant had accused his neighbors of stealing his gravel to widen the road, making the road too wide towards the eucalyptus trees and taking part of his land. The Trumans and Hannameyers claimed it was not defendant's land but was part of the easement, and they were entitled to use the easement's entire 50-foot width. They thought no one owned the easement. FN1. FN1. While under cross-examination, Ronald Truman was asked to confirm he thought the easement was owned by no one: "A. Well, I know it had to be owned by someone. But I"Q. Who did you think-"A. But I just didn't know who. "Q. So did you think you may have owned it? "A. No, Sir. I know I didn't own it. "Q. Well, if you didn't own it, were the Chiesas the only other parties that could own it? "A. Yes, sir. "Q. So you knew, then, that Chiesas owned that property? "A. Yes, sir."

In early 2002, defendant installed metal posts on either side of the easement road that restricted entrance to a 14-foot-wide space between the posts. Johanna Smith, a friend of Annette Truman and Leslie Hannameyer, saw defendant setting the posts. She asked defendant why the parties were not communicating about the easement, and defendant said he wanted to get his property back. Smith asked him what he would do if a court ordered him to stop. Defendant replied he would do whatever it took to get his property back, and said, "They shoot people [for this] in other countries." The Trumans and Hannameyers complained to the Chiesas about the posts, asking them to provide greater width to the access road. They also complained about a wooden fence the Chiesas had begun constructing alongside the easement road and within the easement. The Chiesas hired attorney Stephen Zalkind to advise them of their rights. Zalkind informed them under California law, the dominant tenement owners of the easement could use only as much of the easement within the 50 feet as was reasonably required to access their properties. The servient tenement owner continued to own the property, was required to pay taxes on the property, and could use the property in a manner that did not unreasonably interfere with the dominant tenement owners' right of access. The Chiesas could plant trees in the easement as long as they did not interfere with access. Zalkind also testified the minimum required width of this type of roadway under county ordinance was 18 feet.

The attorney for the Trumans and Hannameyers, Kenneth Meleyco, took the position that his clients were entitled to use the entire 50 feet of the easement. The Trumans and Hannameyers sued the Chiesas to have the posts removed, to obtain a declaration of the parties' rights under the easement, and also to stop defendant from erecting the fence. They sought a preliminary injunction.

In response, the Chiesas filed a cross-complaint to declare they had the right to place the posts a minimum of 19 feet apart and to quiet title against the neighbors. Before the hearing on the injunction, defendant moved the posts to approximately 19 feet apart, but the plaintiffs sought greater access. Once, after the suit was filed, defendant told Ronald Truman that when neighbors start arguing, "ugly things happen, real ugly things." The trial court in that action denied the Truman and Hannameyers' motion for a preliminary injunction.

In late spring 2002, the Chiesas hired a tree service company to trim the eucalyptus and oak trees along the easement road and some trees that existed between their property and the Truman's property. The work took about two weeks to complete. The company's workers left the road relatively clear, but there were tree trimmings left on the ground, including some on the road.

The Trumans and Hannameyers decided to prune the eucalyptus trees even more and clean up the trimmings along the road and under the trees. They did this in part on the advice of attorney Meleyco, who told them it would affect their rights to the easement. Before then, the only clean-up they had done was pick up branches and litter on the road. They had not cleaned under the trees before as they believed it had not been necessary. They did not notify the Chiesas of their intentions.

Annette Truman and Leslie Hannameyer began the work on the morning of June 25, 2002, aided by their sons, 11-year-old Ben Truman and 15-year-old Brian Hannameyer. They had a chainsaw and ATVs, one of which was pulling a trailer.

At 10:03 a.m., the defendant telephoned 911 and stated: "I'm going to shoot these mother fuckers down here. They're cutting my trees down." Defendant gave his name and address and said to hurry up because he was going there with a gun. When asked if he had said he would shoot them, defendant replied, "You better believe it."

At one point, Brian left the group on an ATV to tow a branch to a burn pile. Annette was working at the road's edge by the eucalyptus trees near Ben and the ATV and trailer, and Leslie was working close by. Defendant drove his truck to the workers and walked over to the ATV. He had a handgun in one hand, a rifle in the other, and an ammunition belt slung over his shoulder. Defendant asked Annette, "What the hell are you guys doing here?" Annette told defendant they had a right to be there because it was nobody's property. Annette told Ben to call the police, and he left.

As Ben ran home, he heard a shot. He looked back, and saw his mother run out of the trees holding her arm. She yelled for him to call 911. Defendant was walking out of the bushes and had his gun pointed towards the bushes. Ben heard another shot and kept running. He looked back and saw defendant in the middle of the road by the ATV.

Ben ran to Brian, who was returning from dumping the tree branch. Ben told him someone was shooting at their mothers. They both headed to Brian's house where they called 911. Ben reported his mother had been shot and five or six shots had been fired at him. Ben later told police he heard two shots, saw his mother had been shot and saw the color of Leslie's shirt near the ATV, and then he heard five or six more shots fired and bullets flying by him.

A motorist traveling on Highway 12 heard gunshots and saw a man fire a handgun more than one time. He also saw a woman bent over a small quadrunner. A neighbor across the street from defendant also saw a man fire a handgun apparently into the ground. Both witnesses thought the man was trying to shoot at snakes. The neighbor also saw Ben Truman run down the road.

Police found Leslie slumped over between the ATV and the trailer. Annette was lying on the ground about 200 feet away on the road's edge. Neither woman had a pulse. It was later determined Leslie died from a bullet wound shot at close range to the base of her skull. Annette died from a bullet wound to her upper back. She also had a bullet wound in the back of her arm.

After shooting the two women, defendant returned to his house, called 911, and said he would not be taken alive. A SWAT team surrounded his house while a sheriff's negotiator continued speaking with defendant on the ...

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