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Bell v. Biter

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 5, 2016

WALTER LEE BELL, AP-7365, Petitioner,
v.
MARTIN D. BITER, Warden, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          CHARLES R. BREYER United States District Judge

         Petitioner Walter Lee Bell, a state prisoner at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California, seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 invalidating a special circumstance murder conviction from Contra Costa County Superior Court. Per order filed on December 8, 2015, the court found that the petition appears to state cognizable claims for relief under § 2254, when liberally construed, and ordered respondent to show cause why a writ of habeas corpus should not be granted. Respondent has filed an answer to the order to show cause and petitioner has filed a traverse.

         BACKGROUND

         A. Statement of the Case

         The Contra Costa County District Attorney filed an information charging petitioner with the January 20, 2009 murder of Rylan Fuchs. Cal. Penal Code § 187. The information further alleged that petitioner committed the murder while engaged in, and an accomplice to, the commission and attempted commission of a robbery, id. § 190.2(a)(17), and personally and intentionally discharged a firearm causing great bodily injury and death, id. § 12022.53(b), (c), (d).

         On May 13, 2013, a jury found petitioner guilty as charged. On June 21, 2013, the Contra Costa County Superior Court sentenced him to a prison term of 25 years to life consecutive to life without possibility of parole.

         On December 31, 2014, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment of conviction and, on March 11, 2015, the Supreme Court of California denied review.

         On October 29, 2015, petitioner filed the instant federal habeas action.

         B. Statement of the Facts

         The California Court of Appeal summarized the facts of the case as follows:

         I. The Prosecution Case

On January 20, 2009 shortly after 9:00 p.m., 17-year-old Rylan Fuchs was shot once in the neck while standing in front of his home on El Capitan Drive in Danville. He was shot from a distance of more than two or three feet. Fuchs’s parents heard a bang and went out the front door to investigate. Fuchs’s mother called 911. Fuchs was taken to the hospital where he died the next morning.
There was no exit wound. The bullet recovered at the autopsy was a hollow-point .38-caliber bullet that had been chambered in a .38-special or .357-magnum, and was almost certainly fired from a revolver. A hollow-point bullet is designed to kill a human target. It lodged in the left side of the neck after transecting the left carotid artery and jugular vein. Based on the bullet’s trajectory and other factors, Fuchs may have been on his knees or bending to the right when shot. The gun was never found.
Contra Costa County Sheriff’s deputies and fire department personnel responded to the report of a gunshot injury and set up a crime scene. No drugs or shell casings were found. A cell phone was found sitting on a truck parked in the driveway of Fuchs’s home. No weapons or marijuana ...

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