Gipson v. Romanowski
OPINION and ORDER Denying Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus 17 and Denying Certificate of Appealability and Granting Permission to Appeal in Forma Paupers. Signed by District Judge Denise Page Hood. (LSau)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Case No. 2:11-cv-14822
Hon. Denise Page Hood
OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING AMENDED PETITION FOR WRIT
OF HABEAS CORPUS AND , (2) DENYING CERTIFICATE OF
APPEALABILITY, AND (3) GRANTING PERMISSION TO APPEAL IN
This is a habeas case brought by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. Ted Gipson, (“Petitioner”), was convicted after a jury trial in the
Macomb Circuit Court of first-degree felony murder, MICH. COMP. LAWS §
750.316, and armed robbery, MICH. COMP. LAWS § 750.529, for actions taken
with his brother, Scott Gipson, in the beating death of David Witting. Petitioner
was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder conviction and 285 to 480
months for the robbery conviction.
The amended petition asserts six grounds for relief: (1) Petitioner was
denied his right to a fair trial by admission of evidence of his “Murder 1” tattoo,
(2) Petitioner’s Fifth Amendment rights were violated by admission of his
coerced statement to police, (3) Petitioner’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel
was violated when the prosecutor used jail-house informants to elicit
incriminating statements from him, (4) Petitioner was denied his Sixth
Amendment right to the effective assistance of appellate counsel, (5) the
prosecutor committed misconduct by offering perjured testimony from the jailhouse informants, and (6) the Michigan Court of Appeals erroneously
dismissed Petitioner’s application for leave to appeal following his state postconviction proceeding.
The Court finds that Petitioner’s claims are without merit. Therefore, the
petition will be denied. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of
appealability, but it will grant him permission to appeal in forma pauperis.
The Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the
Michigan Court of Appeals, which are presumed correct pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(e)(1). See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009):
Defendant’s convictions arise from the beating death of
defendant’s drug supplier, David Witting, during a robbery.
Evidence at trial indicated that defendant arranged a meeting with
Witting to purchase drugs. During the transaction, defendant’s
brother, Scott Gipson, emerged from behind a dumpster and
struck the victim on the head with a bottle. Defendant and Gipson
thereafter punched and kicked the victim, who died from internal
bleeding after his spleen ruptured. There is no dispute that
defendant was present during the assault, and defendant
admitted kicking or punching the victim once or twice, but
defendant generally maintained that he did not know that Gipson
was going to attack the victim, and defendant claimed that he only
struck the victim when he believed the victim was going to hit him.
People v. Gipson, No. 287324, 787 N.W.2d 126, *1 (Mich. App. Jan. 28,
Following his conviction and sentence, Petitioner filed a claim of appeal
in the Michigan Court of Appeals. His appellate brief raised what now form his
first two habeas claims. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner’s
convictions in a published opinion. Id.
Petitioner subsequently filed an application for leave to appeal in the
Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same two claims he raised in the
Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied the
application because it was not persuaded that the questions presented should
be reviewed. People v. Gipson, 784 N.W.2d 213 (Mich. July 26, 2010) (table).
Petitioner then filed the instant action along with a motion to stay the
case so that he could present additional claims to the state courts in a postconviction review proceeding. The Court granted the motion.
Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment in the state trial
court. The motion raised what now form Petitioner’s third, fourth, and fifth
habeas claims. On September 11, 2013, the trial court issued an opinion and
order denying the motion. See Dkt. 20-3.
Pursuant to Michigan Court Rule 7.205(G)(3), Petitioner had six months
to file a delayed application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of
Appeals. On March 12, 2014, the last day to file an appeal, Petitioner
attempted to file a delayed application for leave to appeal. On March 24,
2014, the Michigan Court of Appeals’ Clerk notified Petitioner that his
application was defective because he did not provide a proof of service upon
On June 3, 2014, the appeal was dismissed for failure to
pursue the case in conformity with the court rules. People v. Gipson, No.
320828 (Mich. Ct. App. June 3, 2014). Petitioner’s motion for reconsideration
was denied on July 21, 2014.
On September 2, 2014, Petitioner attempted to file a second application
for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The court summarily
dismissed the appeal “because appellant failed to file the application within
the 6-month time period required by MCR 7.205(G)(3).” People v. Gipson, No.
323449 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 20, 2014).
In the meantime, Petitioner had filed an application for leave to appeal
in the Michigan Supreme Court from his first dismissed appeal to the Michigan
Court of Appeals. On April 28, 2015, the Michigan Supreme Court issued an
order denying leave to appeal because the court was not persuaded that the
questions presented should be reviewed. People v. Gipson, 861 N.W.2d 902
(Mich. 2015) (table).
Petitioner then returned to this Court and filed a motion to reinstate his
federal habeas case and an amended petition. The Court granted the motion,
and Respondent subsequently filed a responsive pleading and the relevant
portions of the state court record. The matter is now ready for decision.
II. Standard of Review
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) curtails a federal court’s review of constitutional
claims raised by a state prisoner in a habeas action if the claims were
adjudicated on the merits by the state courts. Relief is barred under this
section unless the state court adjudication was “contrary to” or resulted in an
“unreasonable application of” clearly established Supreme Court law.
“A state court’s decision is ‘contrary to’ . . . clearly established law if it
‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court
cases]’ or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from
a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different
from [this] precedent.’” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003), quoting
Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000).
“[T]he ‘unreasonable application’ prong of the statute permits a federal
habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing
legal principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies that
principle to the facts’ of petitioner’s case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510,
520 (2003) quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413.
“A state court’s determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal
habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree’ on the correctness
of the state court’s decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011),
quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004). “Section 2254(d)
reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions
in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error
correction through appeal. . . . As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus
from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court’s ruling
on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification
that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law
beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at
103 (internal quotation omitted).
A. Procedural Default and Statute of Limitations
As an initial matter, Respondent asserts that several of Petitioner’s
claims are barred by his state court procedural default and by application of
the one-year statute of limitations. Under the procedural default doctrine, a
federal habeas court will not review a question of federal law if a state court’s
decision rests on a substantive or procedural state law ground that is
independent of the federal question and is adequate to support the judgment,
absent a showing of cause and prejudice to excuse the default. See Coleman
v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729 (1991).
A state court procedural default, however, is not a jurisdictional bar to
a review of a habeas petition on the merits. See Trest v. Cain, 522 U.S. 87,
89 (1997). That is, “federal courts are not required to address a
procedural-default issue before deciding against the petitioner on the merits.”
Hudson v. Jones, 351 F. 3d 212, 215 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Lambrix v.
Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997)). It may be more economical for the
habeas court to simply review the merits of the petitioner's claims, “for
example, if it were easily resolvable against the habeas petitioner, whereas
the procedural-bar issue involved complicated issues of state law.” Lambrix,
520 U.S. at 525. Similarly, where the statute of limitations poses complicated
issues, it may be more efficient for the Court to resolve the merits of the
petition against the Petitioner. See, e.g., Johnson v. Mackie, 2014 U.S. Dist.
LEXIS 50896, *7, 2014 WL 1418678 (E.D. Mich. April 14, 2014).
In the present case, the Court deems it more efficient to proceed directly
to the merits of Petitioner’s substantive claims, especially because Petitioner
alleges that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to preserve the
defaulted claims (habeas claim 4), and because Petitioner contends that the
prison or state appellate court mishandled his appellate filings on state postconviction review causing his default (habeas claim 6). Accordingly, the Court
will bypass discussion of Respondent’s procedural arguments, (and the Court
therefore also need not discuss Petitioner’s fourth and sixth claims which seek
to undermine those defenses), as it is more efficient to resolve Petitioner’s
substantive claims on the merits against him.
B. Admission of Tattoo Evidence
Petitioner first asserts that his trial was rendered fundamentally unfair
by the admission of evidence that he bore a tattoo stating “Murder One.” This
claim was presented to and rejected by the Michigan Court of Appeals on the
merits during Petitioner’s direct appeal.
“Errors by a state court in the admission of evidence are not cognizable
in habeas proceedings unless they so perniciously affect the prosecution of
a criminal case as to deny the defendant the fundamental right to a fair trial.”
Biros v. Bagley, 422 F.3d 379, 391 (6th Cir. 2006). Typically, to show a
due-process violation under AEDPA rooted in an evidentiary ruling, there must
be a Supreme Court case establishing a due-process right with regard to that
specific kind of evidence. Collier v. Lafler, 419 F. App’x 555, 558 (6th Cir.
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied relief with respect to Petitioner’s
evidentiary claim on the following basis:
Defendant argues first that the trial court erred in admitting
evidence that, after the charged offenses, he obtained a tattoo
that read “Murder 1” and depicted a chalk outline of a dead body
underneath. Defendant argues that this evidence was irrelevant
and unfairly prejudicial. We review the trial court’s decision to
admit this evidence for an abuse of discretion, which exists when
the trial court’s decision falls outside the range of principled
outcomes. People v. Blackston, 481 Mich. 451, 460 (2008).
Generally, “the trialcourt’s decision on a close evidentiary
question . . . ordinarily cannot be an abuse of discretion.” People
v. Sabin, 463 Mich. 43, 67 (2000).
Generally, all relevant evidence is admissible. MRE 402;
People v. Yost, 278 Mich. App. 341, 355 (2008). Evidence is
relevant if it has any tendency to make the existence of a fact that
is of consequence to the action more probable or less probable
than it would be without the evidence. MRE 401; Yost, supra at
355. Even if relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative
value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair
prejudice. MRE 403; Yost, supra at 407. “Unfair prejudice may
exist where there is a danger that the evidence will be given
undue or preemptive weight by the jury or where it would be
inequitable to allow use of the evidence.” Blackston, supra at 462.
The determination whether evidence should be excluded pursuant
to MRE 403 is best left to the trial court’s contemporaneous
Defendant asserts that there are many possible reasons for
the tattoo. Indeed, defendant was able to present to the jury a
number of plausible theories as to why he obtained the tattoo.
Those theories included referring to his dog, which was shot
during the police raid on his house; and as a reminder of
something he overcame in his life, because he believed he would
win the case and not even be charged with the instant offenses.
However, there was also evidence that defendant altered the
tattoo from an outline of a body to the shape of a dog after being
informed that the police wanted to photograph the tattoo.
Furthermore, other possible reasons are, as argued by the
prosecution, bravado or a symbolic representation of defendant’s
acknowledged connection to the victim’s death. Under the
circumstances, the tattoo was relevant to the issues of
defendant’s intent and culpability in the victim’s death. Because
the prosecution presented significant other evidence of
defendant’s guilt without unduly focusing on the tattoo evidence,
and because defendant had the opportunity to present his own
explanation of the tattoo, we do not believe that the probative
value of the tattoo was substantially outweighed by any danger of
unfair prejudice. At the most, it would be a close question of the
kind that we could not deem an abuse of discretion.
Gipson, 787 N.W.2d 126, *1-2.
This decision did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly
established Supreme Court law. First, Petitioner has failed to cite to, and this
Court is unaware of, any Supreme Court case holding that the admission of
potentially prejudicial tattoo evidence can render a trial fundamentally unfair
in violation due process. In the absence of a Supreme Court case
“establishing a due-process right with regard to that specific kind of evidence,”
Petitioner cannot established entitlement to relief under section 2254(d).
Collier, 419 F. App’x at 558.
Petitioner asserts that there are also innocent explanations for the
tattoo. He was allowed to present those alternate explanations at trial during
his own testimony, preserving the fundamental fairness of his trial. This claim
is without merit.
C. Admission of Petitioner’s Statement to Police
Petitioner next asserts that his statement to police was admitted at trial
in violation of his Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination
because it was the product of police coercion. This claim was also rejected by
the Michigan Court of Appeals during Petitioner’s direct appeal.
The Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination
bars the admission of involuntary confessions. Colorado v. Connelly, 479 U.S.
157, 163-64 (1986). A confession is considered involuntary if: (1) the police
extorted the confession by means of coercive activity; (2) the coercion in
question was sufficient to overbear the will of the accused; and (3) the will of
the accused was in fact overborne “because of the coercive police activity in
question.” McCall v. Dutton, 863 F. 2d 454, 459 (6th Cir. 1988).
In determining whether a confession is voluntary, the ultimate question
is “whether, under the totality of the circumstances, the challenged confession
was obtained in a manner compatible with the requirements of the
Constitution.” Miller v. Fenton, 474 U.S. 104, 112 (1985). Without coercive
police activity, however, a confession should not be deemed involuntary.
Connelly, 479 U.S. at 167 (“coercive police activity is a necessary predicate
to the finding that a confession is not ‘voluntary’ within the meaning of the Due
The Michigan Court of Appeals did not unreasonably apply this clearly
established when it rejected Petitioner’s claim on the merits as follows:
Defendant next argues that statements that he made while
in police custody should have been suppressed because they
were not voluntarily made. Defendant argues that the statements
were given while he was under the influence of drugs and were
coerced by the police.
Statements of an accused made during custodial
interrogation are inadmissible unless the accused voluntarily,
knowingly, and intelligently waived his or her Fifth Amendment
rights. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444 (1966); People v.
Daoud, 462 Mich. 621, 633 (2000). We review de novo a trial
court’s determination that a waiver was knowing, intelligent, and
voluntary. People v. Tierney, 266 Mich. App. 687, 707-708 (2005).
When reviewing a trial court's determination of voluntariness, we
examine the entire record and make an independent
determination. People v. Shipley, 256 Mich. App. 367, 372 (2003).
But we review a trial court’s factual findings for clear error and will
affirm the trial court’s findings unless left with a definite and firm
conviction that a mistake was made. People v. Sexton, 461 Mich.
746, 752 (2000). Deference is given to a trial court’s assessment
of the weight of the evidence and the credibility of the witnesses.
“[W]hether a waiver of Miranda rights is voluntary depends
on the absence of police coercion.” Daoud, supra at 635. A waiver
is voluntary if it was the product of a free and deliberate choice
rather than intimidation, coercion, or deception. Shipley, supra at
373-374.The voluntariness of a defendant’s statements is
determined by examining the totality of the circumstances
surrounding the interrogation. Daoud, supra at 633-634. A court
should consider factors such as: the duration of the defendant's
detention and questioning; the age, education, intelligence, and
experience of the defendant; whether there was unnecessary
delay of the arraignment; the defendant's mental and physical
state; whether the defendant was threatened or abused; and any
promises of leniency. Shipley, supra at 373-374.
“[W]hether a waiver was made knowingly and intelligently
requires an inquiry into defendant’s level of understanding,
irrespective of police conduct. Daoud, supra at 636. A defendant
does not need to understand the consequences and ramifications
of waiving his or her rights. A very basic understanding of those
rights is all that is necessary. Id. at 642. Intoxication from alcohol
or other substances can affect the validity of a waiver, but is not
dispositive. People v. Leighty, 161 Mich. App. 565, 571 (1987).
Defendant argued below that his statements were coerced
because the police threatened his mother. He testified at the
Walker hearing that the police told him that his mother, who had
been taken into custody, was being detained naked because her
clothes were confiscated for evidence. They also allegedly told
him that if he spoke, she would be released. Otherwise, she
would be charged with being an accessory to murder. Defendant
further testified that during the 24 hours before he was taken into
custody, he drank four to five 40-ounce beers, ingested
approximately 25 Vicodin pills, and smoked 12 marijuana joints.
Conversely, the detectives denied making the alleged statements
regarding defendant’s mother. They also testified that based on
their experience, defendant did not appear to be under the
influence of alcohol or drugs, and they had no trouble
communicating with defendant. Defendant does not dispute that
at the time his statements were given, he was in his mid-20s, had
a GED, had some limited prior contact with the police, was
interviewed within a short time after being taken into custody, and
that his interviews, which were about three hours apart, lasted
approximately an hour each. Defendant’s suppression motion
depended on the trial court’s resolution of the parties’ conflicting
accounts of the circumstances surrounding defendant’s
interrogations, specifically whether the police threatened
defendant’s mother and whether defendant was under the
influence of drugs when he gave his statements. In this regard,
the trial court found that Detectives Keith Keitz and Kevin Woods,
who both denied making the alleged statements regarding
defendant’s mother, and who both stated that defendant did not
appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, were
credible. Further, as the trial court observed, defendant’s admitted
ability to lie regarding the amount of sleep he had and regarding
his initial account of his role in the offense, as well as his ability to
change his story to account for inconsistencies between his and
Scott Gipson’s account while minimizing his own involvement,
belied defendant’s assertion that he was “in a fog” because of his
intoxication. Considering the totality of the circumstances and
giving deference to the trial court’s assessment of credibility, the
trial court did not err by determining that defendant’s statements
were made voluntarily, knowingly, and intelligently. Thus, the trial
court properly denied defendant’s motion to suppress.
Gipson, 787 N.W.2d 126, *2-4.
As noted by the state appellate court, the resolution of Petitioner’s
coerced-confession claim essentially boiled down to a determination of
whether Petitioner’s account of the circumstances surrounding his questioning
or the officers’ contrary account was true. After hearing and observing the
witnesses’ testimony, the trial court chose to believe the officers’ accounts.
Subsidiary factual questions in determining the voluntariness of a
statement to police, such as whether the police engaged in the intimidation
tactics alleged by a habeas petitioner, are entitled to the presumption of
correctness accorded to state-court findings of fact. Miller, 474 U.S. at 112;
§ 2254(e)(1). On federal habeas review, a federal court must presume that the
state court’s factual findings were correct, unless the petitioner shows
otherwise by clear and convincing evidence. Williams v. Jones, 117 F. App’x
406, 412 (6th Cir. 2004). Here, Petitioner does not offer clear and convincing
evidence to overcome the presumption of correctness attaching to the trial
court’s credibility determination. Accepting the officers’ version of the
questioning as true, Petitioner has failed to demonstrate that his statement to
police was the product of police coercion. The claim is therefore without merit.
D. Housing Petitioner with Known Police Informant
Petitioner next asserts that his Sixth Amendment right to counsel was
violated when the prosecution placed jail-house informants in his housing unit
to elicit inculpatory statements, thereby violating his Sixth Amendment right
This claim was raised by Petitioner in his motion for relief from
judgment, but the trial court failed to address it in its opinion denying the
motion. The state appellate courts subsequently dismissed Petitioner’s appeal
for failing to timely correct his filing deficiencies. Nevertheless, there is a
presumption that a state court reached and rejected the merits of a claim
when there is no statement in the state court order indicating that the
adjudication was on a basis other than the merits. See Kernan v. Hinojosa,
136 S. Ct. 1603, 1606 (2016) (per curiam) (“Containing no statement to the
contrary, the Supreme Court of California’s summary denial of Hinojosa’s
petition was therefore on the merits.”). Accordingly, despite the lack of an
explicit merits determination by the state trial court, Petitioner is required to
show that the implicit merits denial of this claim ran contrary to, or involved an
unreasonable application of, clearly established Supreme Court law under
Under established Supreme Court law, a criminal defendant does not
establish a Sixth Amendment violation “simply by showing that an informant,
either through prior arrangement or voluntarily, reported his incriminating
statements to the [government]. Rather, the defendant must demonstrate that
the [government] and their informant took some action, beyond merely
listening, that was designed deliberately to elicit incriminating remarks.”
Kuhlmann v. Wilson, 477 U.S. 436, 459 (1986). “[T]he Sixth Amendment is not
violated whenever–by luck or happenstance–the State obtains incriminating
statements from the accused after the right to counsel has attached.” Maine
v. Moulton, 474 U.S. 159, 176 (1985). The Supreme Court has found that
“[w]hen a suspect considers himself in the company of cellmates and not
officers, the coercive atmosphere is lacking.” Illinois v. Perkins, 496 U.S. 292,
Petitioner supports his claim with the purported affidavit of Chris
Holman. Holman states in the affidavit that police contacted him about
Petitioner’s case and gave him the entire police file to review so that he could
fabricate his testimony. See Dkt. 17, Exhibit B, Affidavit of Chris Holman.
Holman states that the police also placed him with another inmate, Daryl
Whittie, so that the two could corroborate each other’s testimony that
Petitioner made incriminating statements. Id. Holman states that Petitioner
never in fact confessed to him, and that his trial testimony about statements
made by Petitoner was false. Id., ¶ 14.
At trial, Holman testified that he was housed in the same unit in jail with
Petitioner. Dkt. 10-7, at 95-96. He testified that no one from the prosecution
contacted him, and that he was the one who initiated communication after
Petitioner made incriminating statements. Id., at 96. Petitioner described the
circumstances surrounding the crime, and he admitted to kicking the victim.
Holman testified to the promises made to him in exchange for his testimony.
Id.,at 99-101. On cross-examination, defense counsel admitted the letter
Holman wrote to the prosecutor initiating communication regarding Petitioner.
Id., at 109. The letter was written in December of 2007. Id., at 124-25.
Daryl Whittie testified that he also wrote a letter to the prosecutor about
Petitioner’s incriminating statements made in December of 2007. Id., at 129.
According to Whittie, Petitioner made “hundreds” of statements about the
crime. Id., at 131-33. Whittie was contacted by the police after he wrote the
letter. Id., at 134. Whittie also testified that he was the inmate who tattooed
Petitioner with “Murder 1,” and then helped cover the tattoo after Petitioner
realized that it might be used against him. Id., at 134-35.
Neither the trial record nor Holman’s dubious affidavit support
Petitioner’s claim. At trial, both jail-house informants testified that they
contacted the prosecution or police after Petitioner made incriminating
statements. Therefore based on the trial record, the two men were not agents
of the prosecution, and Petitioner’s Sixth Amendment rights were not
implicated by statements he made to them.
Holman’s affidavit does not save the claim. In it, Holman states that
Petitioner did not make any incriminating statements, and that Holman
fabricated his testimony. If that is what happened, Petitioner’s Sixth
Amendment rights were not implicated because Petitioner did not make any
incriminating statements. Instead, the issue would be the presentation of
Holman’s fabricated testimony discussed below.
In any event, there are very good reasons to doubt the statements in
Holman’s affidavit. At trial, defense counsel offered as an exhibit the initiating
letter Holman wrote to the prosecutor. Dkt. 10-7, at 109. Holman’s affidavit
contains a detailed account of his contacts with the police, but it completely
fails to mention the initiating letter he wrote. If the prosecution had Holman
write them a fraudulent letter to make it appear that he was the one who
initiated contact, one would expect that important and damning fact to be
included in his affidavit. The failure to mention the letter created a reasonable
basis for a reviewing court to find the contents of the affidavit to be false.
Accordingly, the rejection of Petitioner’s claim was not unreasonable.
First, the claim is belied by the trial testimony of Holman and Whittie, neither
of whom testified that they elicited statements from Petitioner as agents of the
prosecution. In fact, Holman’s affidavit claims that Petitioner never made any
incriminating statements to him. Finally, the affidavit does not account for
Holman’s letter to the prosecutor admitted at trial, undermining its veracity.
Petitioner has therefore failed to demonstrate that the rejection of this claim
was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly
established Supreme Court law.
E. Admission of Perjured Testimony
Petitioner’s next claim also concerns Holman and Whittie, and it asserts
that the prosecutor committed misconduct by knowingly offering their false
testimony at trial. This claim was also presented to the trial court in
Petitioner’s motion for relief from judgment. Unlike the previous claim, the trial
court examined this claim in detail, recounting and parsing the relevant trial
testimony, and deciding that the new information in Holman’s affidavit would
not have made a different result at trial probable. The trial court also found
that the affidavit was not sufficiently credible to warrant a new trial:
Defendant submits that the fact that the two witnesses
perjured themselves was “open, obvious and substantial and
would have been out-come-determinative [sic] if raised on
appeal”. However, he has not explained how this fact could have
been known at the time of appeal, because the knowledge of the
alleged misdeed was not unearthed until he was in possession of
an affidavit attested to by one of the witnesses, Christopher
Holman, in 2012. In this affidavit, Mr. Holman has recanted his
testimony and set forth the scheme about which defendant
complains. In this regard, defendant cannot justifiably make a
claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel.
Defendant further asserts that the affidavit constitutes newly
discovered evidence. Granting a new trial on the basis of newly
discovered evidence requires a defendant to show that (2) the
evidence itself, not merely its materiality, is newly discovered, (2)
the newly discovered evidence is not cumulative, (3) using
reasonable diligence, the party could not have discovered and
produced the evidence at trial, and (4) the new evidence makes
a different result probable on retrial. People v. Grissom, 492 Mich.
296, 320 (2012).
The Court finds that while the subject affidavit, taken at face
value, satisfies the first three prongs necessary, it does not satisfy
the fourth prong for several reasons. Defendant asserts that if he
were granted a new trial, and if the subject witnesses were
precluded from testifying, a different outcome would result, and he
would be acquitted. The Court respectfully disagrees. After
reviewing the transcripts of witness testimony given at trial, and
defendant’s own testimony at trial, it is clear that there is not much
difference in the testimony, such that a jury could reach a verdict
of innocence. For example, when inquired as to what defendant
had told Christopher Holman, he responded,
“He called, he called his buddy up to cop some pills,
some Vicodins. His buddy was supposed to meet him.
He went to meet him. His buddy didn't know his
brother Scott was there and he went around the back,
held out his hand. His buddy was pouring some pills
into his hand. Scott, his brother, hit him in the back of
the head with a beer bottle. The guy hit the ground.
They continued, they continued to put the boots to
him, kick him, continued to do this over a matter of
minutes, reached in his pocket, took his wallet, took
the Vicodins and left.” T June 11, 2008, pp 98-99.
“One time he, he made the comment that he took the
guy’s wallet and he took a couple hundred dollars out
and threw the wallet into the sewer in front of his
house. He’s saying that’s when the police found it, but
then I heard him also say, there was a couple
hundred dollars, I took the wallet and I threw the
wallet. That was the only time that money was ever
discussed.” T June 11, 2008 p 102.
“He went there for the pills. He didn't have any
“I was told it was a 22-ounce bottle of beer. That’s
what I was told, he was hit in the back of the head
with it.” Id, pp 102-103.
Witness Daryl Whittie testified in relevant part as follows:
“Well, he said him and his brother, you know, planned
on, they called up this dude and they planned on
robbing him or whatever and his brother waited for
him behind a building with a beer bottle and he was
counting out Vicodins so he didn’t see him, because
he was busy and he bashed him in the head with it. I
guess they, you know, kicked him and punched him
and all that stuff.” T June 11, 2008 p 131.
“Well, he said they took some Vicodins and a
wallet. At first he told me he took $200 out of his, out
of the guy's wallet or something. As a matter of fact,
the first time he said that the guy owed him $200 for
something, because he ripped him off or something
like that. But then it kind of changed up. He said they
took the wallet and threw it down in the sewer or
something.” Id. pp 132-133.
Compare defendant’s trial testimony with the subject
witnesses, and while there are some discrepancies, the general
context and sequence of events are in accord:
“Well, I had called Dave up and I was going to buy
Vicodins. I had $20.00 to buy Vicodins. He said - he
came to my house. I gave him the money and he said
he would be back in an hour and he never showed
back up to my house.” T June 16, 2008, p 11.
[The Vicodins were for his brother’s girl and she had
given defendant the $20 to buy them. When Dave
never returned with the Vicodins, defendant began
calling him but got no response. Three days later,
defendant finally contacted him.]
“I said, man, are you crazy, my brother want to beat
you up, man, you’ve got to get these pills and you’ve
got to get this money back to him and he said I’m
going to do that. All right, so that’s how it slatted. So
then I called him back later and that’s when he
actually answered his phone for once and he said
yeah, meet me up at Joe’s General, I got the Vicodins
and the money for you now because it was three days
because he decided to go on a crack binge for three
days and he finally got his prescription so he had
money now. So he was going to make everything
right. I was going to make everything right.” Id. p 12.
[Defendant testified he and his brother had no set
plan when they went to meet the victim.]
“No, Actually he [brother Scott] wasn’t supposed to go
and the reason that he went is because, see, the
thing is my brother wanted to beat him up, okay, and
I figured if he could get the money and pills back, and
I talked to my brother, and he said that’s fine then
there would be no problems, okay. So I called Dave
and made the set up and I was going to get them and
he said I’m coming to make sure you get them.” Id. p
[Defendant testified that he had no intention to go and
either beat up or rob the victim, nor did he tell the
police or anybody else that he intended to steal
something from him. Id. p 14.]
[After defendant and the victim met up, and the victim
was in the act of giving defendant the drugs,]
“My brother came out and smashed him in the head
with a beer bottle.” Id. p 15.
“Well, actually when he struck him in the head with
the beer bottle he came from behind and I was on the
side like this and here’s Dave. So when he struck him
on the head Dave looked at me all crazy and that’s
when I struck him” Id. p 15-16.
[Defendant testified the reason he struck the victim
was because he thought the victim was going to strike
“After I punched him my brother grabbed him and
threw him on the ground.” Id p 16.
“After my brother threw him on the ground I kicked
him once in the leg, in the thigh area.” Id.
[After defendant’s brother had kicked the victim
several times while defendant testified he stood by
and watched, he finally stopped.]
“He [brother Scott] told me - he looked at me kind of
crazy and told me grab the wallet, grab the wallet.” Id.
p 18. “I grabbed the wallet because I was only
listening to him, you know, he’s my bigger brother.
He’s - he’s bigger than me, stronger than me, and I
was scared of him. After I saw what he just did to this
guy I- I was worried.” Id.
[Prior to his brother hitting the victim,]
“That’s what he [victim] was doing. He was making a
deal - making the deal right. The deal was I’m going
to pay you back, I don’t want no problems. I’m going
to give you the money and I’m going to give you the
pills for a bonus. So he was doing that. I don’t know
why my brother hit him in the head with the beer
bottle. I didn’t even know he was going to hit him in
the head with a beer bottle. He was drinking a beer.
He had no weapon. He told me he wasn’t going to
hurt him as long as I got the pills and the money back.
I was just trying to be the peacemaker in between.” Id.
[After defendant was arrested and he was in the MCJ,
he met both Whittie and Holman. Holman and Whittie
were cell mates. Defendant denied that he boasted
about any of the details that led him to jail but did
“No, and I guess you could say that I was a big mouth
when I always said that I didn’t know my brother was
going to hit him in the head with the bottle. It was a
stupid mistake. He told me to grab the wallet and I
grabbed the wallet. That’s what I said I did. I didn’t
know any of this was going to happen. This was
supposed to be a regular set up, that’s all I ever told
him. I never would say that - boost [sic] about
anything I didn’t do.” Id. p 33.
[Defendant testified that he took the only money in the
wallet - $40, and the witnesses’ statements that there
was $200 could have come from newspaper
accounts; he did not know.]
The major discrepancy between defendant and Whittie’s
testimony concerns whose idea it was that defendant get a tattoo,
crafted by Whittie, in the jail. Defendant claims it was Whittie’s
idea; Whittie claims defendant came to him and asked him to give
him one. This discrepancy does nothing more than create a
credibility issue for the jury, as the fact remains they both testified
that Whittie did indeed give defendant a tattoo with a staple
attached to a pencil, dipped in crafted ink.
Significantly defendant testified that he did discuss the
crimes he was alleged to have committed with his jail mates. As
earlier stated, the details of each testimony may have not all
matched up, but the general gist of the overall criminal action
painted the same picture. This is to be expected, as each
individual remembered and related conversations as he perceived
them. Therefore, the Court is convinced that the testimony given
by Whittie and Holman was based on conversations had among
Now, Christopher Holman purportedly has recanted the
testimony he gave. His affidavit states that the information
gleaned came from police officers and defendant's case file. He
attested at paragraph 14:
“At no time did Ted Gipson confess any crimes to me.
All information I testified to was information I received
from reading the case file of Ted Gipson provided to
me by Det. Woods and Daryl’s sister, the female
officer.” Further, at paragraph 15, it is stated, “My
entire testimony in this case was false, fabricated by
the Warren Police Detectives, done out of fear of
them following through with the threats they made.”
[The affidavit did not state what type of threats were
The issue before the Court now, of course, is was
Christopher Holman lying at trial or is he lying now?
Where newly discovered evidence takes the form of
recantation testimony, it’s traditionally regarded as suspect and
untrustworthy. People v. Barbara, 400 Mich. 352 (1977).
Consequently, Michigan courts have expressed reluctance to
grant new trials on the basis of recanting testimony. People v.
Cante, 197 Mich. App. 550 (1992). Where neither the veracity nor
the falsity of a recanting witness’s testimony has been clearly
established and where prior statements of that witness both
support and contradict the new recanting testimony, it is not error
for the trial court to deny a motion for new trial. Id. It is relevant
whether the recanting witness comprised the sole complaining
witness at trial, and where other witnesses testifying against the
defendant are supported in their testimony by corroborating
evidence and expert testimony, this supports a refusal to admit
the recanting testimony. Id. In the instant case, there was
corroborating testimony - specifically, defendant’s testimony itself.
Additionally, where facts pertaining to the credibility of the
recanting witness were before the jury at trial, this militates
against the unlikelihood that the witness’s testimony was afforded
undue significance, having caused the jury to closely scrutinize
that witness and testimony. Id. Here, the witnesses’ credibility was
tested at great length in examination.
Whether to grant a new trial on the basis of recantation
testimony is a decision committed to trial court’s discretion. Id.
For the reasons as stated above, the Court is not persuaded
that defendant has satisfied the requirements of MCR 6.508 such
that he is entitled to the relief requested; accordingly, defendant’s
motion for relief from judgment is DENIED.
Dkt. 20-3, at 2-9 (brackets in original).
The Supreme Court has made clear that the “deliberate deception of a
court and jurors by the presentation of known and false evidence is
incompatible with the rudimentary demands of justice.” Giglio v. United States,
405 U.S. 150, 153 (1972). It is thus well-settled that “a conviction obtained by
the knowing use of perjured testimony is fundamentally unfair, and must be
set aside if there is any reasonable likelihood that the false testimony could
have affected the judgment of the jury.” United States v. Agurs, 427 U.S. 97
(1976) (footnote omitted); see also Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 271
(1959); Coe v. Bell, 161 F.3d 320, 343 (6th Cir. 1998). To prevail on a claim
that a conviction was obtained by evidence that the government knew or
should have known to be false, a defendant must show that the statements
were actually false, that the statements were material, and that the prosecutor
knew that the statements were false. Coe, 161 F.3d at 343. A habeas
petitioner bears the burden of proving that the disputed testimony constituted
perjury. Napue, 360 U.S. at 270.
The trial court implicitly found that Holman’s recanting affidavit was not
credible. Dkt. 20-3, at 8. As indicated above, a federal district court must
presume the correctness of state court factual determinations, and a habeas
petitioner may rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence.
Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F. 3d 652, 656 (6th Cir. 2001); § 2254(e)(1). A state
court’s factual determination that a prosecution witness’ recantation and
supporting affidavit is not credible is entitled to the presumption of correctness
in a federal habeas proceeding. See Richardson v. Lord, 7 F. App’x. 1, 2 (2nd
Cir. 2001); See also Poe v. Rapelje, 5:12-CV-11390, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS
132443, 2014 WL 4715460, * 2 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 22, 2014).
Petitioner does not offer clear and convincing evidence that Holman’s
affidavit is credible. The affidavit warrants the extreme suspicion typically
afforded recanting affidavits and witnesses by the courts. Byrd v. Collins, 209
F.3d 486, 508 n.16 (6th Cir. 2000). See also Welsh v. Lafler, No. 10-1467,
444 F. App'x 844, 850 (6th Cir. 2011) (trial witness’s sworn recantation must
be viewed with caution); Bower v. Curtis, No. 03-1821, 118 F. App’x 901, 908
(6th Cir. Dec. 17, 2004) (“The recanting of trial testimony by prosecution
witnesses is typically viewed with the ‘utmost suspicion.’”) (internal quotation
omitted). The affidavit contradicts Holman’s sworn trial testimony. It was
executed in 2012, approximately four years after Petitioner’s 2008 trial.
Holman offers no reason for his recantation other than a generalized desire
to clear his conscious. And as discussed above, defense counsel admitted at
trial the letter Holman wrote to the prosecutor initiating contact, thus
contradicting his new claim that the prosecution contacted him and fed him
information about Petitioner’s case so he could concoct a confession.
As described in the trial court’s opinion, Petitioner admitted at trial that
he was a “big mouth” in jail, and that Holman and Whittie were in jail with him.
Dkt. 11-1, at 32-33. He also testified at trial that he thought Holman and
Whittie obtained information about the crime by reading newspaper articles.
Id. This contradicts Holman’s claim in his affidavit that “at no time did Ted
Gipson confess any crimes to me. All information I testified to was information
I received from reading the case file of Ted Gipson provided to me. . . .” Dkt.
17, Exhibit B, ¶ 14. The trial court’s decision that Gipson’s affidavit was not
credible has not been rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. The claim
fails because Petitioner has failed to establish that perjured testimony was
presented at trial.
Additionally, and for the reasons detailed in the trial court’s lengthy
discussion, the alleged perjured testimony by Holman and Whittie was not
significantly different than what Petitioner admitted to at trial. Neither man
testified that Petitioner admitted to being a significantly more active participant
in the beating of the victim than Petitioner himself testified to at trial. Their
recollection of Petitioner’s statements referred to “put[ting] boots to him,”
“kicking,” and “punching” in general. Petitioner admitted at trial that he
punched the victim in the face and kicked him when he was on the ground.
Dkt. 11-1, at 15-17. Petitioner minimized his conduct by stating that he
stopped striking the victim while his brother continued to beat him. Id. Holman
and Whittie’s trial accounts did not dispute this testimony and were not
substantially more damaging than Petitioner’s own account.
Therefore, discounting Holman and Whittie’s testimony, it was
reasonable for the state court to reject the claim because Petitioner did not
demonstrate a reasonable likelihood that the false testimony affected the
judgment of the jury. That is, it was reasonable to deny relief with respect to
the claim first by reasonably rejected as false the contents of Holman’s
affidavit, and then second by reasonably finding that even if the testimony was
false, Holman and Whittie did not add significant weight to the prosecutor’s
Because none of Petitioner’s claims merit relief, the petition will be
IV. Certificate of Appealability
Before Petitioner may appeal this Court’s dispositive decision, “a circuit
justice or judge” must issue a certificate of appealability. See 28 U.S.C. §
2253(c)(1)(A); Fed. R.App. P. 22(b). A certificate of appealability may issue
“only if the applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a
constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).To satisfy § 2253(c)(2), Petitioner
must show “that reasonable jurists could debate whether (or, for that matter,
agree that) the petition should have been resolved in a different manner or
that the issues presented were adequate to deserve encouragement to
proceed further.” Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000) (citation and
internal quotation marks omitted). The Court finds that reasonable jurists
would not debate the resolution of his claims. The Court will therefore deny a
certificate of appealability with respect all of Petitioner’s claims.
If Petitioner chooses to appeal the Court’s decision, however, he may
proceed in forma pauperis because an appeal could be taken in good faith.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3).
Accordingly, the Court 1) DENIES WITH PREJUDICE the petition for a
writ of habeas corpus, 2) DENIES a certificate of appealability, and 3)
GRANTS permission to appeal in forma pauperis.
S/Denise Page Hood
Denise Page Hood
Chief Judge, United States District Court
Dated: February 7, 2018
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon
counsel of record on February 7, 2018, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
S/LaShawn R. Saulsberry
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