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Moyer v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 18, 2014

PAULA R. MOYER, Petitioner,
v.
DEBORAH K. JOHNSON, Warden, Central California Women's Facility, [1] Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION

JAMES K. SINGLETON, Jr., Senior District Judge.

Paula R. Moyer, a state prisoner represented by counsel, filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254. Moyer is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and incarcerated at the Central California Women's Facility. Respondent has answered, and Moyer has replied.

I. BACKGROUND/PRIOR PROCEEDINGS

On September 11, 2007, Moyer and her co-defendants, James Ray and Christopher Morgan, were charged with murder in connection with the May 5, 2006, robbery and subsequent death of a 78-year-old man. The information also alleged robbery and burglary special circumstances.

On direct appeal of her conviction, the California Court of Appeal recounted the following facts underlying the case against Moyer:

Farhan Jweinat lived in the Vacaville home of his son Suleiman2 and his family. Farhan was in good health for his age, although he suffered from coronary artery disease and had stents in two arteries. On the afternoon of May 5, 2006, while other members of the Jweinat family were not at home, neighbors discovered Farhan standing in the front yard, covered in blood with his hands tied behind his back. Farhan said in broken English, "[T]hey won't stop hitting me, they won't stop hurting me, they just keep hitting me over and over." He said they had wanted money and he gave them $700. Farhan was taken to the hospital for treatment, where he told Detective Carey of the Vacaville Police Department that his attackers were two "American" men in their 30s.
FN2. Because this opinion refers to family members who share the same last name, we sometimes refer to them by their first names only. No disrespect is intended.
Farhan's daughter-in-law Vera Jweinat rushed home after she learned what had happened. She walked through the house with Detective Carey and saw that every room had been ransacked. There was blood on the floor in the kitchen, family room, Farhan's bedroom and an adjacent bathroom. Farhan's bedroom, which was usually spotless, was in disarray, and his dentures were found in a large pool of blood in the kitchen. Vera found a bottle of pepper spray on her bedroom dresser that did not belong to her, and Detective Carey smelled pepper spray and noticed a liquid that appeared to be pepper spray on the kitchen floor. Vera discovered that gold jewelry worth between $50, 000 and $70, 000 was missing, as was a computer, a Gameboy, her son's tennis shoes and various household decorations. One of the neighbors had seen a blue car parked in the Jweinats' driveway and had noticed a woman with long black hair and a red sweater near the car.
Appellant Moyer, who has long black hair, had recently worked as a housekeeper for the Jweinats. Farhan had been home when Moyer came to clean, although the two did not have much interaction because Farhan's English was limited. In March 2006, Vera Jweinat had discovered that about $60, 000 to $70, 000 in casino winnings was missing from its hiding place in her master bedroom, and she suspected Moyer of taking it. She reported the theft to police, but then asked them to stop the investigation because her daughter was afraid. Vera had asked Moyer to return for one final cleaning job, intending to confront her, but when Moyer came over, Vera changed her mind and decided not to raise the subject.
After reviewing the police report regarding the March 2006 theft, Detective Carey decided to contact Moyer about the current burglary and assault on Farhan. Carey went with other officers to Moyer's house in Woodland at about 11:45 p.m. on May 5, 2006, the same day as the burglary and assault. They found a black ring on the counter next to Moyers's purse and a bracelet inside the purse, both of which were later identified by Vera Jweinat as belonging to her. The purse also contained a receipt from a McDonald's located about half a mile from the Jweinats' home, which was generated on May 5, 2006, at 12:33 p.m. Moyer's boyfriend Paul Hinojosa was present and his black Acura was parked in the driveway. The car was impounded and later searched, during which time officers found a red sweatshirt and three rings belonging to Vera Jweinat.
After interviewing Moyer, police went to the home of her next door neighbors, appellant James Ray and his girlfriend Karly Harrison. Ray was discovered hiding under the bed with a gun holster underneath him, and a handgun was found under the mattress. He was carrying a wallet with over $400 in cash, and another $200 in cash was inside the pocket of a pair of shorts found in the bedroom. Jewelry that was later identified as belonging to Vera Jweinat was found in the bedroom closet, hidden between some pants that were folded on a shelf. A pair of black pants found in the house ultimately tested positive for Farhan Jweinat's blood.3
FN3. The pants had a size 38 waist. The blue jeans Ray was wearing at the time of his arrest had a size 33 waist.
Meanwhile, Farhan Jweinat remained in the hospital for treatment. On May 17, 2006, he suffered a cardiac arrest and stopped breathing after receiving surgery for a broken jaw that he suffered during the attack. He was resuscitated, but remained in a persistent vegetative state and ultimately died on March 19, 2007, about 10 months after the attack. According to Dr. Arnold Josselson, who performed the autopsy, the cause of death was "anoxic encephalopathy (loss of oxygen to the brain) due to blunt force injuries."
Although she initially lied to the police to protect Ray (who wrote her love letters while they were both in jail), Karly Harrison ultimately became the principal witness for the prosecution and was allowed to plead guilty to first degree burglary with a maximum sentence of four years in exchange for her truthful testimony at appellants' trial. She testified to the following events surrounding the burglary of the Jweinat home:
Harrison had met Ray while they were both residents in a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in 2005. They moved in next door to Moyer and her boyfriend Hinojosa, with whom they became acquainted. Moyer bragged to Harrison about taking $74, 000 from a house in Vacaville while she was working as a housekeeper, and said she had bought two cars with the money after spending $5, 000 on drugs and in casinos. In March 2006, Moyer told Harrison she had been called to clean the house again and was nervous that it might be a "setup."
Moyer, Ray and Hinojosa discussed burglarizing the Jweinats' house to see whether they had more cash. Harrison was opposed, because she was worried that Ray would get into trouble and go to prison. The plan was to commit the burglary on May 4, 2006, but it did not go forward and Hinojosa said he could not do it the following day because he had an appointment he could not miss. Moyer came to Ray and Harrison later that night and told them that Hinojosa's brother Chris (appellant Christopher Morgan) could stand in for Hinojosa.
Early the next morning, May 5, 2006, Moyer came to the house and gave Harrison a line of methamphetamine. Moyer also brought over some beanies, walkie talkies and gloves. Harrison understood that they were going to burglarize the Jweinats' house that day, and Ray convinced her to come along so she could make sure he stayed in the car and did not go inside the house.
Harrison and Ray drove to Vacaville in Ray's car, a teal blue Corsica, and met Moyer and Morgan at a McDonald's near the Jweinats' home. Moyer and Morgan were driving the black Acura owned by Hinojosa. After having lunch, Moyer told Harrison to get into the Acura with her, while Ray and Morgan got into the Corsica. Moyer led the way to the Jweinats' house, parked on the street and then conferred with Ray and Morgan. Ray parked the Corsica in the Jweinats' driveway and went toward the house with Morgan. Moyer received a call on her cell phone and Harrison heard her tell the caller to use the back door because it was always open.
As she and Harrison were waiting in the Acura, Moyer changed into a red sweatshirt. After about 10 minutes, Moyer told Harrison to drive her to the Jweinats' house so she could "get them out." Moyer went inside the house while Harrison drove back to their original parking place, and about 10 minutes later, Harrison saw Moyer, Ray and Morgan come out of the house and get into Ray's car. Harrison met them back at the McDonald's, where she noticed that Morgan had blood on his clothes. Moyer and Morgan drove away in the Acura, while Harrison rode home in the Corsica driven by Ray. Ray told her that everything had "got all fucked up, " and "the less you know the better." He showed her a gun in a holster and told her he got it during the burglary.4
FN4. Although Suleiman and Vera Jweinat told the police they did not have a gun in the house, bullets were found in Farhan's room during the investigation of this crime.
Later that day, Moyer, Hinojosa and Morgan went to Ray's and Harrison's house and divided up jewelry, watches, "little bags, " shoes, clothing and a computer. After the others left, Ray started talking about leaving California and Harrison took him to a motel in Sacramento. Ray returned later that night because he did not want to be without Harrison, and Harrison began packing so they could go to Reno. At some point she realized that police were entering Moyer's house. She told Ray to leave, but he did not do so and they were both arrested that night.
Another important trial witness was Mariah Alsop, the significant other of Moyer's mother, Gail Garcia. Alsop testified at trial that on the day after Moyer's arrest, she and Garcia went to Moyer's home to remove Moyer's belongings. While Alsop was standing outside smoking a cigarette, a man she did not then know, but whom she identified as appellant Morgan, came up to her and started talking. He said, "I'm so scared, " and when asked why, said it was "because they're looking for me." Morgan told Alsop that they were supposed to steal a car and he was going to drive one of the cars, then said that he waited at a McDonald's and they were supposed to bring the car to him. He then changed his story and said that he and Ray went into a house and found an old man there. They bound the man and put him in the bathroom, and Morgan told him that if he kept his mouth shut nothing would happen. Morgan went upstairs to look for things to steal and heard Ray yelling, "You better get the f-down here, I just hit this old man." Morgan went downstairs and saw Ray viciously beating the old man, who had blood running down his head. Morgan told Alsop that he joined Ray in the beating, and then he and Ray left.
Ray testified in his own defense and claimed that he had moved out of the home he shared with Harrison several days before the crime was committed and had not participated at all. He explained that he was visiting Harrison on the night of their arrest because they needed to discuss their relationship. Ray's friend John Lee and other members of Lee's family testified that Ray was at their home in Sacramento during the day on May 5, 2006, a fact they remembered because of the Cinco de Mayo holiday.
Ray also called Detective Carey as a witness, who testified that a man named Jason Stevens had been discovered with jewelry taken from the Jweinats' house. Carey did not consider him a suspect in the case and had not tried to verify his whereabouts on May 5, 2006. Other individuals in the Woodland and Davis areas were also caught with jewelry that had been taken from the Jweinats' house.
In addition to Ray's alibi/third party culpability defense, appellants attempted to show that they were not liable for felony murder or the special circumstances because the injuries Farhan suffered during the robbery and burglary did not cause his death. The medical evidence was as follows:
Farhan was initially admitted to North Bay Medical Center on the day of the attack, and was then airlifted to U.C. Davis Medical Center for treatment, where he was admitted in critical condition. His jaw was broken, but the necessary surgery was delayed to allow the blood thinners that he was taking for his heart condition to leave his system. Farhan had difficulty breathing and was placed on a ventilator several times during his stay, and a tracheostomy tube was placed in his neck to allow him to breathe more easily. Surgery was performed on his broken jaw on May 12, 2006 (a week after the attack), and he remained in critical condition in the intensive care unit until May 16, 2006, when he was moved to a regular hospital ward. On May 17 he had a cardiac arrest and stopped breathing, which deprived his brain of oxygen. It was impossible to determine which occurred first-the cessation of breathing or the cardiac arrest. Although Farhan was resuscitated, he remained in a persistent vegetative state until he died 10 months later, on March 19, 2007.
Dr. Josselson, a forensic pathologist who testified as the prosecution's expert, testified that it was not possible to determine exactly what caused Farhan's heart to stop. The medical records noted that a mucous plug may have developed in his tracheostomy tube, thus blocking the flow of oxygen and causing a cardiac arrest due to the loss of oxygen. Though Farhan had been checked shortly before the episode, a mucous plug could have developed suddenly. Dr. Josselson also believed that the various stresses to Farhan-the recent attack, his stay at the hospital, the use of a breathing tube, his inability to readily communicate with hospital staff in English, all on top of a heart weakened by coronary disease-could have caused him to suffer cardiac arrest. The medical notes from Farhan's records showed that his blood pressure was elevated after the surgery, and that the doctors were trying to control his pain, another source of stress. Farhan had undergone a procedure on May 9, 2006 (a few days before his jaw surgery) to insert a filter into his vena cava so a blood clot developing in his leg would not go into his heart.
Farhan was not on a heart monitor at the time of his cardiac arrest, so there was no electrocardiogram (EKG) to indicate a problem immediately before the event. Dr. Josselson thought that both stress and a mucous plug contributed to the cardiac arrest, but either factor alone could have been the cause. Dr. Josselson believed that the assault during the burglary led to a chain of events causing cardiac arrest and that as a result of the cardiac arrest, Farhan went into a vegetative state and died.
The defense presented the expert testimony of Dr. Coleman Ryan, a cardiologist. According to Dr. Ryan, Farhan had suffered from coronary artery disease but had been doing well for several days before and after the jaw surgery on May 12, 2006. He was no longer on a ventilator, his oxygen readings were good and his treating physicians had declared him stable. Dr. Ryan characterized the cause of death as a "mystery." It was unlikely that stress caused cardiac arrest, as stress is more likely to cause heart arrhythmia and there was no evidence of arrhythmia. Dr. Ryan did not believe there was any evidence of a mucous plug, although he had not been provided with a hospital note by a U.C. Davis medical resident the day after the event noting "susp mucous plug" as a cause. He noted that while morphine (which was being administered to Farhan) could cause respiratory arrest, there was no indication of an excessive dose. Dr. Ryan did not believe that the injuries Farhan suffered on May 5, 2006 caused the cardiac arrest.
Dr. Steven Karch, an expert in cardiac pathology, also testified for the defense. Dr. Karch believed the cause of death was undetermined, but was definitely not a heart attack, as the EKGs had been normal and there was no evidence of stressors. In his opinion, a mucous plug was unlikely to have been the cause because a person deprived of oxygen in this manner is apt to thrash around trying to breathe, and there is no evidence that this occurred. Dr. Karch acknowledged that Farhan's hands had been tied to the bed to prevent him from pulling out the tracheostomy tube. Farhan suffered from an enlarged heart, which can cause sudden cardiac arrest and death.

People v. Ray, Nos. A127613, A127690, 2011 WL 3930322, *1-5 (Cal.Ct.App. Sept. 8, 2011).

On November 10, 2009 a jury found Moyer, Ray, and Morgan guilty of murder. The jury found true as to all three defendants the burglary special circumstance allegation and also found true as to Ray and Morgan the robbery special circumstance. On February 3, 2010, the trial court sentenced each of ...


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