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Rooney v. Lizarraga

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 20, 2017

SEAN M. ROONEY, Petitioner,
JOE A. LIZARRAGA, Respondent.



         Before the Court is the above-titled petition for a writ of habeas corpus, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 by petitioner Sean M. Rooney, challenging the validity of a judgment obtained against him in state court. Respondent has filed an answer to the petition, and petitioner has filed a traverse. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.


         In June 2012, an Alameda County jury found petitioner guilty of first degree murder and found true an allegation that petitioner used a deadly weapon during the commission of the crime. Ex. 1 at 338, 409-410.[1] The trial court subsequently sentenced petitioner to 26 years to life in state prison. Id. at 415.8-415.11.

         On November 27, 2013, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the conviction in an unpublished opinion. Ex. 7. On February 11, 2014, the California Supreme Court denied review. Exs. 8, 9.

         On January 28, 2015, petitioner filed a habeas petition containing one exhausted claim in this Court. ECF No. 1. The Court granted petitioner's request to stay this action so that petitioner could return to state court to exhaust his remedies as to additional unexhausted claims. ECF No. 8. On December 16, 2016, this Court denied petitioner's request for leave to amend his petition to include the additional claims, finding them barred by the statute of limitations. ECF No. 25. The Court directed respondent to answer the one exhausted and timely claim in the petition. Id.


         The following background facts describing the crime and evidence presented at trial are from the opinion of the California Court of Appeal:[2]

During the weekend after Thanksgiving of 2009, defendant noticed a Craigslist ad he found insulting and relating to him personally. Defendant also concluded the listing was posted by his former lover, John Frum. Defendant believed the listing was a dangerous “omen” and he became very concerned about it. A few days later, on December 1, 2009, defendant went to Frum's apartment with a rubber mallet. At the apartment, defendant went to the parking area and vandalized the car of Frum. He used the mallet to smash the car's windows and body. Defendant then climbed to the second floor of Frum's apartment. He used the mallet to break the windows along the deck and entered the unit. Once inside the apartment, defendant attacked Frum. Frum was forced to flee the unit screaming for his neighbors to help him. Defendant pursued Frum with a knife. Eventually, defendant caught up with Frum in front of the apartment. He proceeded to stab Frum 14 times, eventually, leaving the blade of the weapon in the sternum of the deceased. The blood loss triggered the death by exsanguination.
One of the witnesses to this offense was Desmond Morris. He lived on the second floor of 3149 Brookdale Avenue, apartment 5, in Oakland. The Brookdale address had eight stories, a gate that blocked the front of the property from the street, and a first-floor laundry room near the carport. Morris was the next-door neighbor of the victim, John Frum.
On December 1, at approximately 9:00 a.m., Morris was in the laundry room of the building. He noticed Frum's car in the slot assigned to the victim and it was in normal condition. Morris left the building at 10:00 a.m. for a job interview. He returned to his home at 10:30 a.m. and called his girlfriend. While talking, he heard a considerable amount of banging noise. He looked out his kitchen window, but saw nothing. More banging noise was heard coming from the parking area of the building. It was the sound of glass breaking and force hitting metal.
Morris looked out his window and saw Frum walking quickly on the walkway toward his apartment. Frum then entered his unit and closed the door. Within seconds, Morris heard the sound of broken glass. Shortly after the noise subsided, the neighbor heard Frum yell, “[P]lease help, call the police.”
Looking through the front door peephole, Morris saw Frum running toward the front stairs. Frum was yelling in a loud voice for someone to “call the police. Help, I need help.” Frum then declared, “Please call the police, he is trying to kill me.” Morris continued speaking with his girlfriend and indicated he was reluctant to get involved. He did not call the police, but speculated his girlfriend may have based on what he stated.
Within a few minutes, Morris heard someone outside the building yell to put the weapon down and “freeze.” From his balcony vantage point, Morris saw about five police officers, Frum and defendant. Morris then exited his apartment heading towards the back stairs. As he passed Frum's unit, he noticed broken glass all over the place. He also saw drops of blood alongside Frum's front door.
As Morris neared the front of the building, he saw Frum sitting on the stairs. Frum tried to stand up, but police advised him to remain seated. He was clearly bleeding from the neck and underarm. The defendant was also with the police. Morris had known defendant because the suspect had lived with Frum in the building. Morris believed defendant had moved out of the property approximately eight months before this date. On this date, defendant was quite aggressive and hostile, calling Frum a “bitch” and yelling “fuck you.” Defendant also told Frum, “I told you I was going to get you.”
Morris walked across the street to join other spectators. He saw the ambulance come for Frum and the police forcibly restrain defendant. Defendant was tased two times before taken away in an ambulance himself.
Another witness, Yvette Horn, lived at 3208 Brookdale Avenue, across the street from the victim's home. On December 1, at 11:30 a.m., she heard window glass breaking. She saw a familiar person on the balcony of the second floor. She knew the person from the area and had last seen him about a year ago. He had been in the company of a neighbor walking the dog. The two men had lived together. When she saw the man on the balcony that day, he had a mallet or hammer in his hand.
Horn saw the man with the mallet break the window glass several times and look inside the apartment. She then saw the man enter. Then she heard someone scream and call for help. Horn called 911 for help. While she was speaking with the dispatcher, Horn saw a police car travel down the street and called out, pointing at the apartment across the street.
As the police pulled up, Horn saw the victim exit the apartment calling for help. There was blood on his upper shirt. She also saw the suspect following Frum telling him, “you better run.” Eventually, the pursued victim stopped in front of the mailboxes of the building. When defendant reached the street, he ran up to Frum and stabbed him 10-20 times.
Horn also observed the police admonish defendant to stop what he was doing, but he did not. An officer eventually grabbed defendant and made him drop the weapon. The company of officers had to pin defendant down on the ground. He continued to struggle with the police, appearing to try to get away. The police eventually strapped defendant onto a gurney. Horn heard defendant yell, “[W]as it worth it?” Before strapping the suspect, the police tased him.
Officer Thomas Lopez was a responder to the incident. He observed Frum running from the second floor of the building towards the front entrance. He was calling for “help.” Lopez also saw defendant approximately five feet behind Frum. When Lopez saw defendant he was holding a 10-inch knife. Pursuing the bleeding Frum, defendant caught up with the victim at the front gate area. In front of Officer Lopez, defendant stabbed the victim “two to four” times in the upper torso, shoulders and chest area. Frum tried to cover his head. Lopez did not see Frum fight back in any way. Even as Lopez drew his weapon and ordered defendant to stop his conduct, the suspect would not cease. Lopez said to defendant, “Stop or I will shoot you.” Defendant stabbed Frum two more times and then dropped the knife.
While defendant was being subdued by Lopez and other police officers, he remained agitated and challenging. He kept saying, “That's what you get, John. You're the biggest meth dealer. You deserved it. You deserve to die. I hope you die.” In fact, defendant continued his aggressive posture even when he was warned he would be tased. He eventually had to be tased. Lopez found no evidence defendant manifested symptoms of alcohol intoxication. Lopez did indicate, based on the aggressiveness of defendant, that he could have been under the influence of a stimulant.
Sergeant Wing Wong also arrived at the Brookdale address. Wong saw a knife blade protruding from the chest and throat area of Frum, and blood covered his shirt. Defendant kept saying the victim was “the biggest ...

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