United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
C. Hanks Jr. United States District Judge
jury convicted Mario Guadalupe Meza of arson and made an
affirmative finding that he used a deadly weapon in the
commission of the offense. After unsuccessfully seeking state
appellate and habeas relief, Meza seeks a federal writ of
habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Docket Entry No.
1). Respondent Lorie Davis moves for summary judgment,
arguing that Meza's claims are without merit and that he
is not entitled to relief. (Docket Entry No. 21). Meza has
not filed a response. After reviewing the record, the
pleadings, and the applicable law, with special consideration
given to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty
Act's (“AEDPA”) deferential standard of
review, the Court will grant Respondent's motion for
summary judgment and deny Meza's petition. The Court will
not certify any issue for appellate review.
Court sets forth the reasons for its adjudication below.
State of Texas charged Meza with first degree felony arson in
2011. Specifically, the indictment charged that, with
“intent to damage or destroy a habitation located in
League City, Texas, ” Meza “start[ed] a fire . .
. by igniting an ignitable substance, knowing that said
habitation was within the limits of an incorporated city or
town . . . .” Clerk's Record at 6. Meza stood trial
under cause number 11-CR-0345 in the 10th Judicial District
Court of Galveston County, Texas. Meza retained Joa Sherman
and Gene A. Whatkins as defense counsel. As summarized on
appeal, the facts presented at trial showed the following:
Alejandra Quezada and [Meza] had been in a relationship since
2007. [Meza] had assisted Alejandra in finding the location
of her home and in designing the house to accommodate her
disabled son. Alejandra and [Meza] also had a son, M.C., and
had been involved in a long custody battle over him. [Meza]
had never been inside the new home. On the night of the fire,
[Meza] returned M.C. to Alejandra at a corner store.
Alejandra and her two sons stayed at another home that night
because the walls in the new house had recently been painted.
Alejandra was woken up by her mother and told her house was
on fire. Alejandra rushed home.
Officer Eric Leland of the League City Police Department was
dispatched to a house fire at approximately 2:00 a.m. When
Alejandra came to the police department later that day she
told Officer Leland that she believed her ex-boyfriend,
[Meza], caused the fire.
[Meza] gave a statement to Officer Leland that was
videotaped. The statement was admitted into evidence and
played to the jury. [Meza] claimed that on the morning in
question, he got home from a bar between 1:30 and 2:00 a.m.
He said his receipt from the bar reflected a time of 2:22,
but subsequently indicated it might have been 2:00.
Detective Joseph J. Jack, Deputy Fire Marshal for the City of
League City, testified he is a certified arson investigator
and peace officer. He was dispatched to the fire at
Alejandra's home. Detective Jack retrieved a DVR player
that was part of the home's security system. Detective
Jack testified the burn patterns emanated from the garage.
Three walls in the garage had very little damage but one wall
had significant damage. The garage was the point of origin
and the fire spread upward into the attic. Detective Jack
found no sign of forcible entry.
Officer Jonathan Cox of the Pearland Police Department was
asked to recover any video from the DVR system. Officer Cox
was able to view the video up to a point where the fire
stopped the video from recording and he copied that video
onto a disk. The video was admitted into evidence. The video
depicts the following events, in order and all over a period
of approximately two minutes: a male approaching the camera
in a hooded jacket, then stooping such that only the top of
the jacket remained in the frame, remaining in that position
for no more than a minute, standing up, disappearing from the
frame, returning to the frame facing away from the camera,
walking away from the camera, and then, shortly thereafter,
smoke and flickering.
During his statement to Officer Leland, [Meza] admitted the
person in the recovered video looked like him, but said he
did not have a jacket like the one the person in the video
was wearing. [Meza] denied being the person on the video.
Officer Leland also testified about an interview with
[Meza's] current girlfriend in which she was able to
identify not only the person in the video, but also the
jacket that the person was wearing. Finally, Alejandra
testified at trial and identified the person in the video as
Detective Jack testified the video shows [Meza] leaving the
garage and there is smoke coming out of the garage. There is
a flicker of light in the garage; it grows brighter from the
fire growing inside the garage. Detective Jack testified the
fire was intentionally set by [Meza].
Gabriel Moreno, a fire explosion investigator, took samples
of the debris at the scene. He determined the origin of the
fire was the garage. Jeremy Rummel, a senior analyst at
Armstrong Forensic Laboratory, tested Moreno's samples.
He found the samples contained “a heavy petroleum
distillate of the fuel oil series” typical of kerosene,
an ignitable liquid. Rummel testified an ignitable liquid was
found in the debris.
Meza v. State, 2014 WL 1852760, at *1-2 (Tex. App.
-Houston [14 Dist.], 2014) (footnotes omitted).
jury found Meza guilty as charged in the indictment.
Clerk's Record at 57.
jury also answered affirmatively a special verdict question
which asked whether Meza used a deadly weapon during the
commission of the offense. Clerk's Record at 58. Meza
elected for the trial court to assess punishment. Clerk's
Record at 66. The trial court sentenced Meza to twenty
years confinement. Clerk's Record at 65.
counsel withdrew from representing Meza after sentencing.
Clerk's Record at 74. The trial court appointed Joseph G.
Salhab to represent Meza on appeal. Clerk's Record at 78,
80. Meza filed a motion for new trial arguing that trial
counsel provided ineffective representation, but without
identifying any specific errors committed by counsel.
Clerk's Record at 82.
appeal to the Fourteenth Court of Appeals for the State of
Texas, Meza claimed that insufficient evidence supported his
conviction. Meza based his claim on two arguments: (1) the
evidence was insufficient to prove he started the fire and
(2) the State did not prove that the fire had an incendiary
origin. The appellate court affirmed Meza's conviction in
an unpublished opinion. Meza v. State, 2014 WL
1852760, at *1-2 (Tex. App. -Houston [14 Dist.], 2014). Meza
did not seek discretionary review in the Texas Court of
filed a state application for a writ of habeas corpus raising
three claims: (1) trial counsel provided ineffective
representation by inadequately preparing for trial and not
presenting expert testimony; (2) the evidence was
insufficient to support the deadly weapon finding; and (3)
appellate counsel performed deficiently. The trial-level
habeas court ordered Meza's trial and appellate attorneys
to provide affidavits. State Habeas record at 69. Finding the
affidavits to be credible, and relying on the State's
answer to the habeas application, the trial court entered a
short order recommending the denial of relief. State Habeas
Record at ...