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Samantha E. Rothwell v. Lydia C. Hense

November 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge



On July 13, 2011, Samantha E. Rothwell ("Petitioner"), a California state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (the "Petition") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On August 12, 2011, Respondent filed an Answer to the *fn1 Petition (the "Answer"), as well as a memorandum of points and authorities in support of the Answer (the "Answer Memo"). Respondent lodged eight documents from Petitioner's state proceedings, including a two-volume copy of the Clerk's Transcript ("CT"), a one-volume copy of the Clerk's Supplemental Transcript ("CST"), and a seven-volume copy of the Reporter's Transcript ("RT"). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). For the reasons discussed below, the Petition is DENIED and this action is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.


On April 16, 2008, a jury in the Orange County Superior Court convicted Petitioner of second degree murder in violation of California Penal Code ("Penal Code") section 187(a). (2 CT 282). The jury also found true the allegation that Petitioner personally used a deadly weapon pursuant to Penal Code section 12022(b)(1). (2 CT 283). On June 13, 2008, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to an aggregate indeterminate term of sixteen years to life in state prison. (2 CT 357).

On April 22, 2010, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's judgment with a reasoned opinion. (Lodgment 5, Unpublished Opinion of the California Court of Appeal ("Lodgment 5") at 1, 2, 13). Petitioner subsequently filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which was denied on June 30, 2010, without comment or citation to authority. (Lodgment 6, Petition for Review ("Lodgment 6"); Lodgment 7, California Supreme Court Order ("Lodgment 7")). Petitioner did not seek collateral review in the state courts. On July 13, 2011, Petitioner filed the instant Petition.



The following facts, taken from the California Court of Appeal's unpublished decision, have not been rebutted with clear and convincing evidence and must, therefore, be presumed correct. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

One afternoon, a group of 10 to 15 friends rented a room at the Hotel Huntington Beach to celebrate Nicole Alcala's birthday. [Petitioner], one of the invitees, and her friend, Kristina Torres, arrived around 8:30 p.m. Marc Bellatiere and his girlfriend, Jennifer Mulcahy, were at the party when [Petitioner] and Torres arrived. Mulcahy also invited her brother Ryan Soto. Eighteen-year-old Walter Rivas was also at the party.

Sometime in the evening, the group went to the beach to meet with friends. [Petitioner] chose to stay at the hotel. When the group returned sometime after midnight, Soto recalled that [Petitioner] "didn't seem like herself." While some people started getting ready for bed, Bellatiere went outside to the fifth floor stairwell landing to smoke a cigarette. Mulcahy, Torres, [Petitioner], and Rivas joined him. For the first five to 10 minutes, the mood was fine.

However, the atmosphere changed when Rivas began talking about seeing God the last time he was in Huntington Beach. [Petitioner] became upset and ordered Rivas to not "talk about God. I don't like hearing about that stuff." Rivas was taken aback by [Petitioner's] response and asked her why. She replied, "It's because I'm the devil," and demanded Rivas "stop talking about it." Rivas responded, "I'll talk about whatever I want." [Petitioner] threatened, "If you don't stop talking, shut up, I'll stab you." No one in the group took [Petitioner's] threat seriously. Rivas said jokingly, "If you are going to do it, do it," and continued to talk about God. Rivas was not threatening, did not make any aggressive moves toward [Petitioner], and made no physical contact with her.

[Petitioner] walked to the hotel room and flung the door open. Mulcahy followed and tried to calm her down. Rivas stayed on the landing talking with Torres. When [Petitioner] and Mulcahy entered the hotel room, it was dark and everyone was sleeping. [Petitioner] went to the side of the bed where her belongings were located and began digging through her purse while saying, "Fuck this guy . . . he can't be talking to me like this." Mulcahy tried to grab [Petitioner] and calm her down, but [Petitioner] pulled away and left the room.

[Petitioner] returned to the stairwell and headed straight for Rivas. [Petitioner] swung her closed fist toward Rivas's neck. Rivas was substantially taller than [Petitioner] and struggled against her, but she stabbed him in the jugular vein and in the back. When [Petitioner] took her arm away, Rivas was bleeding profusely and said, "That bitch fucking stabbed me. That bitch fucking stabbed me." Bellatiere and Torres walked Rivas back to the hotel room where they had him lay on the bathroom floor.

[Petitioner] returned to the room and quickly gathered her things to leave. Soto asked, "Why did you do it? What happened?" and [Petitioner] responded, "It wasn't a big fucking deal, get over it," or "Get the fuck over it. Fuck you," and left the room passing a bloody Rivas. [Petitioner] left bloody fingerprints on the stairwell railing as she left. Someone called 911.

Bellatiere, Mulcahy, and Soto left the hotel scared and panicked while Alcala and Torres tended to Rivas. The group drove down the street and parked. Bellatiere left because he was the only one in the group who was over 21 years old and had brought alcohol for the party, which included underage party guests. Bellatiere, Mulcahy, and Soto called Mulchay's mother and asked what they should do. As a result of that conversation, about one hour later, Bellatiere, Mulcahy, and Soto returned to the hotel. Bellatiere and Mulcahy spoke to police who were at the hotel.

Rivas died at the hospital. An autopsy determined he bled to death as a result of an L-shaped stab wound in the left jugular vein of the neck. Rivas had a blood alcohol level of .09% before his death. He would have needed four and one-half to five drinks to reach that level.

Police officers arrested [Petitioner] the next day at her apartment in Valencia. Officer Michael Reilly executed a search warrant and found her purse and backpack. In a small pocket of her backpack, he found a folding knife with dried blood on it. Dried blood was also found on her backpack, tennis shoes, and pants. Inside [Petitioner's] purse, Reilly found a McDonald's receipt from earlier that morning at 2:39 a.m. for a double cheeseburger and chicken nuggets.

Later that day, officers interviewed [Petitioner] at the Huntington Beach Police Department. After waiving her Miranda rights, [Petitioner] told police she consumed


three beers and two or three shots of alcohol and vomited while the others were at the beach. [Petitioner] explained that while having a cigarette on the fire escape, she had a conversation with Mulcahy about how she used to cut herself, which sparked an argument with Rivas. She recalled Rivas said he "found God in Huntington Beach," but said it did not make her upset and she was joking when she said the devil visited her. She explained Rivas had been drinking and yelled at her to stab him. In response, she walked back to the hotel room and got her knife. She denied saying she was going to stab Rivas. When she went back to the stairwell, [Petitioner] alleged Rivas was taunting her to "stab me like that." [Petitioner] explained the two were wrestling and she was trying to get away when she swung three times at his stomach and back and inadvertently stabbed him in the neck. [Petitioner] explained Torres was screaming at her to stop, but she was "drunk" and "pissed off" because Rivas had yelled at her and was grabbing her by the arms. She told police that after she stabbed Rivas, he said, "You got me," and "[She] killed him." [Petitioner] admitted seeing Rivas laying on the floor bleeding profusely but gathered her belongings and left the hotel room because she was terrified and realized he might die. [Petitioner] recalled saying, "tell everybody to go to hell" to Mulcahy's friend Marshall who had followed her down the stairs. [Petitioner] explained that when she left the hotel she drove to McDonald's and purchased a double cheeseburger and chicken nuggets. [Petitioner] explained she then went home and waited for the police to come and arrest her.

[FN2] Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436.

During the interview, [Petitioner] at times explained she was really drunk during the incident. However, she also denied feeling "buzzed," explaining she could "see straight" and was not falling down drunk. She also admitted she drinks "a little bit" and takes medical marijuana everyday. [Petitioner] said she takes Lexapro for anxiety and depression and that she had taken her medication the night of the incident. [Petitioner] told police she has anger problems and when her father died two years ago it "kinda pushed" her over the edge. She admitted to stabbing a friend Alex Montes in the arm approximately a year and one-half before when they were drunk and playing around. [Petitioner] explained she was not mad at Montes, but he had said "you won't [stab me]," so she did. [Petitioner] agreed there were similarities about the two incidents with Rivas and Montes because each man had dared her to stab him.

[Petitioner] cried while she told police she did not mean to kill Rivas. When she heard about Rivas's death she "felt sick" and felt bad for his family. [Petitioner] did not know what made her do it and admitted she is "not right."

An indictment charged [Petitioner] with murder in violation of Penal Code section 187, subdivision (a). The


indictment alleged she personally used a knife, a dangerous and deadly weapon, in the commission of the crime, pursuant to ...

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