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Pelfrey v. Buchanan

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division, Dayton

June 28, 2019

TIM BUCHANAN, Warden, Noble Correctional Institution Respondent.

          Walter H. Rice District Judge.


          Michael R. Merz United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is an action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a writ of habeas corpus. It is referred to the undersigned under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) for a report on dispositive matters under the Dayton General Order of Assignment and Reference, Day 13-01.

         Pelfrey filed his Petition on February 26, 2019 (ECF No. 1). Upon initial review under Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, the Magistrate Judge ordered the State to respond (ECF No. 3). It has done so by filing the State Court Record (ECF No. 7) and a Return of Writ (ECF No. 8). Petitioner has now filed a Reply (ECF No. 11), making the case ripe for decision.

         Litigation History

         Pelfrey was indicted by a Montgomery County, Ohio, grand jury on November 6, 2015, on two counts of theft and one count of forgery (Indictment, State Court Record, ECF No. 7, Ex. 1, PageID 185-86). On October 7, 2016, and November 16, 2016, he was separately indicted on two counts of tampering with evidence. Id. at Exs. 3 and 5, PageID 188-89, 192-93. After trial to a jury, he was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to an aggregate term of imprisonment of thirteen years. He appealed and the Ohio Second District Court of Appeals affirmed. State v. Pelfrey, 2nd Dist. Montgomery No. 27474, 2018-Ohio-2427 (Jun. 22, 2018), appellate jurisdiction declined 153 Ohio St.3d 1475, 2018-Ohio-3637 (2018).

         Pelfrey filed a petition for post-conviction relief under Ohio Revised Code § 2953.21 (State Court Record, ECF No. 7, Ex. 30, PageID 503 et seq.). On May 18, 2018, the trial court granted the State summary judgment, id. at Ex. 34, PageID 576-87, and the record does not show Pelfrey appealed.

         Pelfrey then filed an Application to Reopen his appeal under Ohio R. App. P. 26(B). Id. at Ex. 35, PageID 588 et seq. The Second District denied the application. Id. at Ex. 40, PageID 721-31. Pelfrey appealed to the Supreme Court of Ohio, but that court declined to exercise jurisdiction. State v. Pelfrey, 154 Ohio St.3d 1482, 2019-Ohio-173.

         Pelfrey then filed his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus in this Court on February 26, 2019 (ECF No. 1), pleading the following grounds for relief:

Ground One: Prosecutorial misconduct in violation of Pelfrey's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by (1) failing to clear up any testimony that he knew to be incorrect or misleading, (2) failing to disclose evidence favorable to the accused, and (3) knowingly making improper statements.
Supporting Facts:
(1) The State violated Pelfrey's right to a fair trial under Fourteenth Amendment by failing to clear up any testimony that he knew to be incorrect or misleading.
(2) The State violated the Due Process Clause of the Pelfrey's Fourteenth Amendment by failing to disclose evidence favorable to the accused.
(3) The State violated the Due Process Clause of the Pelfrey's Fourteenth Amendment by knowingly making improper statements during closing
Ground Two: The trial court erred in allowing parol evidence regarding the power of attorney in violation of the Due Process Clause of Pelfrey's Fourteenth Amendment.
Ground Three: Pelfrey's convictions were based on insufficient evidence in violation of the Due Process Clause of Pelfrey's Fifth Amendment for failing to prove beyond a reasonable doubt every element of the crimes with which Pelfrey was charged. The Constitution prohibits the criminal conviction of any person except upon proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358');">397 U.S. 358 [(1970)].
Ground Four: The trial court violated his right to a speedy trial in violation of Pelfrey's Sixth Amendment right under the IAD [Interstate Agreement on Detainers].

(Petition, ECF No. 1, PageID 25, 26, 31, 3339, 43, 47) (emphasis removed).


         State Court Findings of Fact

         The Return of Writ commences with a Statement of Facts, copied from the Opinion of the Second District (ECF No. 8, PageID 1249-54), as follows:

I. Background and Procedural History
{¶ 4} For approximately 48 years, Judith Daniel resided in a house on Connie Drive in Franklin, Ohio. Daniel and her husband purchased the home in 1967, the mortgage loan was paid off in 1983, the couple had raised their children there, and her husband died there in 2012. In March 2014, Daniel was 73 years old, and the home was in need of repair.
{¶ 5} National Title Company in Centerville, Ohio, closes loans for people when they buy and sell real property. National Title's owner, Ray Woodie, also arranges loans for individuals through a network of private lenders; these loans usually involve situations where the borrower intended to “flip” the property, i.e., sell it again quickly. Woodie had previously arranged for private loans for Greg Dart, an acquaintance of Daniel's grandson, Pelfrey. In February 2014, Dart contacted Woodie, asking if Woodie could arrange for Pelfrey to obtain a private loan. Pelfrey told Woodie that he was going to fix up his grandmother's house. Woodie arranged for Pelfrey to obtain a $75, 000 loan from Troy Pinkerton, a participant in Woodie's private network of lenders; Daniel's house would serve as security for the loan.
{¶ 6} On March 31, 2014, Pelfrey went to National Title to close on the private loan. When Pelfrey did not bring his grandmother to National Title and did not have a power of attorney for her, Woodie told Pelfrey that it was necessary to have Daniel's power of attorney to close on the loan.
{¶ 7} According to Daniel, that same day (March 31), Pelfrey approached her about signing a power of attorney. Pelfrey told Daniel that he had sold his business to Dart for $100, 000, but that Dart was not going to pay the first $50, 000; instead, Dart would fix Daniel's house. Pelfrey told Daniel that he needed her to sign a power of attorney so that he could authorize Dart to perform the work. Daniel testified that, on March 31, she picked up Pelfrey at his girlfriend's residence, and they drove to a bank where Daniel had a document notarized granting Pelfrey a power of attorney for that one day. Daniel was apprehensive about the power of attorney and called Pelfrey afterward to see if he had used it; Pelfrey told Daniel that he had not.
{¶ 8} On April 1, 2014, Woodie received a phone call from a man identifying himself as Pelfrey, asking Woodie to explain the transaction to his grandmother. Woodie spoke to the woman on the phone, and he believed he was talking to Daniel. At trial, Daniel denied that she had spoken with Woodie.
{¶ 9} Later that day (April 1), Pelfrey returned to National Title with the power of attorney. While there, Pelfrey, as attorney in fact for Daniel, closed on a one-year $75, 000 loan from Pinkerton; neither Daniel nor Pinkerton was present. Under the terms of the promissory note, Daniel agreed to pay Pinkerton $991.13 for 12 months, followed by a balloon payment of $71, 390.40 on April 1, 2015. The note was secured by a mortgage on Daniel's residence. Pelfrey received a check made payable to Daniel for $71, 174 from National Title. (The check was not for the full $75, 000 due to closing costs.) Daniel testified that she never would have signed the power of attorney if she knew Pelfrey were going to obtain a mortgage loan and that she only signed the power of attorney because of his statement that it was needed for Dart to do repairs on her home.
{¶ 10} The power of attorney presented to Woodie and recorded with the Warren County Recorder's Office was dated and notarized on April 1, 2014. At trial, Daniel acknowledged that her initials and signature were on the document, but she said it looked different from the one she had signed. Daniel had previously told Detective Daniel Osterfeld of the Centerville Police Department that Pelfrey had approached her about the power of attorney on April 1, not March 31.
{¶ 11} The record does not reflect when the check to Daniel was cashed and how the check was spent, but no money was provided to Daniel. Daniel testified that Dart and Pelfrey came to her home a couple of times to discuss possible repairs. Daniel called Pelfrey the day after they had spoken about the repairs, and she told Pelfrey to stop the work on her house, because she did not think $50, 000 would cover it. Daniel testified that somebody built a small deck on the front of her house (but did not finish it), and a little room was built in her garage; she thought that the builder worked for Dart. It is unclear when that work on her house occurred.
{¶ 12} On June 13, 2014, Daniel learned that the power of attorney had been used to secure a loan and that there was a lien on her house. Daniel also received correspondence from the Warren County Recorder's Office, which prompted her to call Pelfrey; Pelfrey came to Daniel's residence, took the correspondence, and said that he would take care of it. However, Daniel repeatedly received bills from Pinkerton that she was unable to pay.
{¶ 13} At some point, Daniel spoke with Detective Osterfeld about the power of attorney and the lien on her house. Osterfeld spoke with Pelfrey about the March 31/April 1 transaction in late November 2014.
{¶ 14} On April 29, 2015, Daniel executed a quit claim deed conveying her property, in lieu of foreclosure, to Pinkerton. Daniel vacated the residence in May 2015. Pinkerton testified that he performed approximately $25, 000 in repairs on the property and that he had a contract to sell the property for $110, 000.
{¶ 15} In May 2015, Pelfrey was residing in Miami, Florida. There, he met Ruken Oral and began a relationship with her; Pelfrey introduced himself as Ryan Owen.
{¶ 16} On November 6, 2015, Pelfrey was indicted for (1) theft from an elderly or disabled adult ($37, 500 or more, but less than $150, 000/ beyond scope of consent), in violation of R.C. 2913.02(A)(2) (Count 1); (2) forgery (uttering a forged power of attorney), in violation of R.C. 2913.31(A)(3) (Count 2); and (3) theft from an elderly or disabled adult ($37, 500 or more, but less than $150, 000/ deception), in violation of R.C. 2913.02(A)(3). Pelfrey was not immediately served with the indictment. The record reflects that, at this time, Pelfrey was incarcerated in Danville, Kentucky, on unrelated charges.
{¶ 17} In January 2016, Oral learned Pelfrey's actual name upon looking up Pelfrey's ex-wife, whose name Pelfrey had mentioned. When Oral confronted Pelfrey about his identity, Pelfrey became angry and told Oral not to trust anyone named Detective Osterfeld if the detective ever contacted her.
{¶ 19} On February 8, 2016, Pelfrey sent handwritten instructions to Oral, asking her to conduct research on Dart and for her to prepare an affidavit with specific averments that Pelfrey provided. Stated generally, the affidavit by Oral was to describe a sexual relationship between Oral and Dart, describe Dart as the person behind the power of attorney and the National Title loan, and indicate that Pelfrey was misled by Dart regarding the loan. Pelfrey asked Oral to mail three original copies back to him, noting, “This is very important to getting the charge dropped and released.” Oral had an affidavit prepared, as instructed. The typed date on the affidavit was January 7, 2015, but it was notarized on February 25, 2016, in New Jersey, where Oral was then residing.
{¶ 19} On June 29 or 30, 2016, Pelfrey, while incarcerated in Kentucky, completed paperwork requesting that he be returned to Ohio to face the pending charges, pursuant to the Interstate Agreement on Detainers (IAD), codified in Ohio as R.C. 2963.30.1 On July 6, 2016, Pelfrey was served with the indictment in Danville, Kentucky, and returned to Ohio. Pelfrey appeared in Montgomery County, Ohio, for arraignment on July 12, 2016.
{¶ 20} By July 2016, Oral believed Pelfrey was being “disloyal” to her, and on July 6, 2016, Oral contacted Detective Osterfeld. Oral met with the detective on July 13, 2016, and provided him the handwritten instructions by Pelfrey (State's Exhibit 11) and the typed and notarized affidavit she prepared (State's Exhibit 12). Oral testified that none of the statements in the affidavit was true. She stated that she did not know Dart when she prepared the affidavit.
{¶ 21} The trial court set a scheduling conference for July 26, 2016. Pelfrey's counsel moved for a continuance to gather additional discovery; the trial court reset the conference for August 9, 2016. (The document containing counsel's motion and the court's entry was filed on July 27.) At the August 9, 2016 conference, the trial court scheduled the final pretrial conference for October 4 and the trial for October 17, 2016, and Pelfrey's counsel requested a continuance until that time; the court granted the continuance. (A written motion for continuance and the court's entry granting the motion were filed on August 10, 2016.)
{¶ 22} In the late summer of 2016, while Pelfrey was in the Montgomery County Jail, Pelfrey became acquainted with Katrina Bercot, who spoke with him and visited him at the jail. Bercot's testimony is somewhat unclear, but it appears that her boyfriend was incarcerated with Pelfrey at the Montgomery County Jail and that her boyfriend "got [her] started" with helping Pelfrey.
{¶ 23} In September 2016, Bercot received handwritten instructions from Pelfrey. The instructions told Bercot to type up a handwritten agreement that he was providing, print it, photocopy the agreement with signatures that he was providing, destroy the signatures, and mail three copies back to Pelfrey. Pelfrey also had a series of phone calls with Bercot (which were recorded by the jail), where they talked about having Bercot type up a document, put signatures on it, and deliver it to Pelfrey's attorney. The agreement stated, in its entirety:
I Greg Dart agree to complete the renovation and remodel at 3523 Connie St, Franklin, oh 45005. Pay any outstanding balance owed to any contractor, for work completed to date, and repay the $3, 000.00 I borrowed from you, for the 4pts to generate the loan against your Grandmas house from the proceeds at closing.
The renovation and remodel will be completed no later than September 1, 2014 at which time I will pay the loan off, and complete the purchase of Go reclaimed.
In exchange, I expect the proceeds from the loan to be signed over and endorsed to [I]ntrigue Property Management, So I can Handle the dispensing of any and all funds for record purposes, full access and rights to go reclaimed, LLC including but not limited to any unsold reclaimed material and inventory, Barns needing to be Dismantled, customer and vender contracts, Tools owned by the company, and any phone number, email, or Domain associated with business.
This agreement will be considered Valid and Binding upon both parties agreeing to the terms Herein and signing and Dating below.
(Grammatical, punctuation, and capitalization errors sic.) The typed agreement appeared to be signed by two individuals, Pelfrey and presumably Dart (illegible), on April 1, 2014. Bercot later provided the handwritten instructions (State's Exhibit 7), the handwritten agreement (State's Exhibit 8), and the typed agreement (State's Exhibit 9) to the police.
{¶ 24} Bercot testified that she also sent text messages to an individual on Pelfrey's behalf, as instructed by Pelfrey. The messages told the recipient not to lie about his (the recipient's) involvement in the loan, his presence at the closing on April 1, and about being with Pelfrey when the check was cashed. The messages show “Greg” (presumably Dart) as the recipient, but Bercot did not know whom she had texted. (See State's Exhibit 13.) Bercot testified that she visited Pelfrey in jail and got the exact wording and phone number for the messages from Pelfrey.
{¶ 25} The office of Pelfrey's attorney received a copy of the purported April 1, 2014 agreement between Pelfrey and Dart, and it was relayed to Pelfrey's attorney. On October 7, 2016, Pelfrey's counsel provided the prosecutor a copy of the purported April 1, 2014 agreement as part of counsel's reciprocal discovery in this case.
{¶ 26} The same day (October 7), Pelfrey was indicted for tampering with evidence, in violation of R.C. 2921.12(A)(2), based on his conduct regarding the ...

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