Gordon #238573 v. Howes
OPINION; signed by District Judge Paul L. Maloney (Judge Paul L. Maloney, cmc)
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
EARNEST GORDON, III, # 238573,
Case No. 1:09-cv-521
Honorable Paul L. Maloney
This is a habeas corpus proceeding brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner’s conviction arises out of the killing of Ean French, which
occurred sometime between the late hours of February 3, 2003, and the early hours of
February 4, 2003. Petitioner testified that he was a drug dealer and that he had been
at French’s house in rural Kent County, Michigan, with Corey McCullough and
Edward Johnigan on the night in question solely to conduct a drug transaction. He
denied taking any part in robbing or killing French.
When Edward Johnigan testified at petitioner’s trial, he had already received
a separate trial based on his role in French’s death, and he had been convicted of “firstdegree murder, under dual theories of premeditation and felony murder, and
possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.” People v. Johnigan, No.
258961, 2006 WL 932302, at * 1 (Mich. Ct. App. Apr. 11, 2006). Johnigan had
previously been convicted for his role in two other murders, and he had been sentenced
to life imprisonment. (See Michigan Court of Appeals Op. at 1, ECF No. 55) (citing
People v. Johnigan, 696 N.W.2d 724 (Mich. Ct. App. 2005)). The Michigan Court of
Appeals described Johnigan as a “hardened contract killer” who “will spend the rest
of his life in prison on the basis of his murder convictions.” 696 N.W.2d at 732.
Johnigan offered testimony in support of petitioner’s version of events, claiming
that he had decided to rob and kill French after petitioner and McCullough left.1
Johnigan testified that he acted alone. Apparently, the jury did not find petitioner and
Johnigan’s respective testimony to be credible, as it convicted petitioner of seconddegree murder.
The trial court sentenced petitioner as an habitual offender, third felony offense,
to sixty to ninety years’ imprisonment. This sentence was to be served consecutive to
the remainder of a two year term of imprisonment and a one to twenty year term of
imprisonment on earlier criminal convictions for which petitioner was on parole when
he committed this crime.
After unsuccessful attempts to overturn his conviction in state court, petitioner
filed this habeas corpus petition. The twelve grounds that petitioner raises in his
Petitioner’s initial trial had been a consolidated trial with co-defendant Corey
McCullough before separate juries. This trial ended in a mistrial with regard to
petitioner. McCullough was found guilty of second-degree murder and possession of
a firearm during the commission of a felony. (See Michigan Court of Appeals Op. at 1,
ECF No. 55; see also ECF No. 19-36; People v. McCullough, No. 260592, 2008 WL
3349072, at * 1 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 12, 2008).
Third Amended Petition are as follow:2
The prosecutor’s race-neutral reasons for dismissing minority (i.e.
African American and Hispanic) jurors were insufficient to avoid
a finding of purposeful discrimination in the exercise of
peremptory challenges. Further, the trial court’s finding that the
reasons were adequate was clearly erroneous and the court’s
rejection of the defense claim was an abuse of discretion.
The trial court’s allowance of evidence of another uncharged 1999
robbery where the victim expressly advised the petitioner as not
being the person who robbed him was an abuse of discretion and
denied petitioner’s federal constitutional right to a fair trial.
The evidence presented at trial was insufficient to support the
jury’s verdict finding petitioner guilty of second-degree murder.
The trial court’s replacement of an absent juror with an alternate
juror was an abuse of discretion which violated petitioner’s Sixth
The prosecutor violated petitioner’s right to remain silent and a
fair trial “by admitting evidence of petitioner Gordon’s [in]voking
his right to remain silent and request for an attorney.”
Prosecutorial misconduct in closing argument deprived petitioner
of a fair trial.
The judge’s comment indicating that co-defendant McCullough had
not yet been sentenced deprived petitioner of a fair trial.
Petitioner raised seventeen grounds in his second amended petition. (ECF No.
11). Respondent filed an answer. (ECF No. 15). Petitioner subsequently filed a motion
for leave to file a third amended petition (ECF No. 66) for the purpose of withdrawing
five of the claims in light of the arguments raised by respondent’s answer. (See 5/19/14
Order at 1, ECF No. 71, PageID.907). The proposed Third Amended Petition was
deemed filed instanter. (Id.). Respondent’s answer to the second amended petition
stood as the answer to the third amended petition. (Id., PageID.908). At petitioner’s
request, the case caption was “amended to show Jeffrey Woods, Warden of the
Chippewa Correctional Facility, as respondent.” (Id.).
VIII. The trial court violated petitioner’s due process and equal
protection rights by admitting, over an objection, highly prejudicial
evidence without a proper foundation.
The trial court judge violated petitioner’s due process rights by
giving a modified accomplice instruction over defense counsel’s
Petitioner’s right to a fair trial was violated when the prosecution’s
witness “asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege and continued to
testify without the court conducting a hearing outside the presence
of the jury.”
Petitioner was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective
assistance of trial and appellate counsel.
The cumulative effect of the above-referenced errors denied
petitioner a fair trial.
(Third Amended Petition at 5-6, ECF No. 73, PageID.914-15).3
Respondent argues that grounds I through IV should be denied for lack of merit.
(See ECF No. 15 at 42-57, PageID.808-23). Respondent argues that Grounds V through
XII are procedurally defaulted. (Id. at 19, 25-41, PageID.785, 791-807).
After review of the state-court record, the petition will be denied. Grounds I
through IV were considered and rejected by the Michigan Court of Appeals. Petitioner
has not shown that the decision on these claims by the Court of Appeals was “contrary
to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as
determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” nor that they were based on
“an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the
Petitioner’s references to his rights under Michigan law have been ignored.
Federal habeas corpus relief can only be granted on grounds that the prisoner “is in
custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28
U.S.C. § 2254(a).
State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Grounds V through XII are procedurally
defaulted for failure to present them in petitioner’s appeal as of right, and petitioner
has not shown cause and prejudice or actual innocence to excuse the defaults.
Petitioner has not established grounds for federal habeas corpus relief.
Standard of Review
The Court’s review of this petition is governed by the provisions of the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214
(AEDPA). See Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001). AEDPA “dictates a highly
deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings which demands the state court
decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455 (2005)
(citations omitted). “AEDPA requires heightened respect for state court factual and
legal determinations.” Lundgren v. Mitchell, 440 F.3d 754, 762 (6th Cir. 2006).
“State-court factual findings  are presumed correct; the petitioner has the burden of
rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence.” Davis v. Ayala, 135 S.
Ct. 2187, 2199-2200 (2015) (citations and internal quotations omitted).
If a state court adjudicated the claim, deferential AEDPA standards must be
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see Premo v. Moore, 562 U.S. 115, 121 (2011);
Waddington v. Sarausad, 555 U.S. 179, 190 (2009); Holder v. Palmer, 588 F.3d 328,
341 (6th Cir. 2009) ((“[A]ny claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court
proceedings’ is subject to AEDPA deference.”) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). AEDPA
prevents federal habeas “retrials” and ensures that state court convictions are given
effect to the extent possible under law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). It
prohibits “using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the
reasonable decisions of state courts.” Parker v. Matthews, 132 S. Ct. 2148, 2149 (2012)
The AEDPA standard is difficult to meet “because it was meant to be.”
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). “Section 2254(d) reflects the that
habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice
systems, not a substitute for ordinary error corrections through appeal.” Id. at 102-03
(citation and internal quotation omitted); see Woods v. Donald, 135 S. Ct. 1372, 1376
(2015). Section 2254(d) states that an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf
of a person who is incarcerated pursuant to a state conviction cannot be granted with
respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the
adjudication “(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an
unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the
Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based upon
an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the
State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see White v. Wheeler, 136 S. Ct. 456, 460
(2015); Davis v. Ayala, 135 S. Ct. at 2198; White v. Woodall, 134 S. Ct. 1697, 1702
The only definitive source of clearly established federal law for purposes of
§ 2254(d)(1) is the holdings—not dicta—of Supreme Court decisions. White v. Woodall,
134 S. Ct. at 1702; see Woods v. Donald, 135 S. Ct. at 1377 (“Because none of our cases
confront ‘the specific question presented by this case,’ the state court’s decision could
not be ‘contrary to’ any holding from this Court.”). “[W]here the precise contours of a
right remain unclear, state courts enjoy broad discretion in their adjudication of a
prisoner’s claims.” Id. (quotations and internal citations omitted).
An unreasonable application of the Supreme Court’s holding must be
“‘objectively unreasonable,’ not merely wrong; even ‘clear error’ will not suffice.” White
v. Woodall, 134 S. Ct. at 1702 (quoting Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003)).
Rather, “[a]s 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.”
White v. Woodall, 134 S. Ct. at 1702 (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. at 103).
“[C]ircuit precedent does not constitute ‘clearly established Federal law, as determined
by the Supreme Court,’ ” and “[i]t therefore cannot form the basis for habeas relief
under AEDPA.” Hill v. Curtin, 792 F.3d 670, 677 (6th Cir. 2015) (quoting Parker v.
Matthews, 132 S. Ct. at 2155); see Glebe v. Frost, 135 S. Ct. 429, 431 (2014) (per
curiam) (“As we have repeatedly emphasized,  circuit precedent does not constitute
‘clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court.’”).
“[A] state-court factual determination is not unreasonable merely because the
federal habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the first instance.”
Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301 (2010). Section 2254 (d)(2) requires that this Court
accord the state trial court substantial deference. If reasonable minds reviewing the
record might disagree about the finding in question, on habeas review that does not
suffice to supersede the trial court’s determination. Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S. Ct. 2269,
2277 (2015); Burt v. Titlow, 134 S. Ct. 10, 15 (2013).
Findings of Fact
Circuit Court Proceedings
Petitioner was charged with first-degree felony murder, first-degree
premeditated murder, and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. His
trial began on October 18, 2004, and it concluded on November 9, 2004, with the jury’s
verdict finding him guilty of second-degree murder in the killing of Ean French. (Trial
Transcripts , TT1-TT17, ECF No. 37-53).
Petitioner was represented by counsel. During jury selection, petitioner’s
attorney objected to some of the peremptory challenges exercised by the prosecutor
under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986).
Judge Johnston overruled the
objections, finding that the prosecutor’s exercise of peremptory challenges had not been
based on racially discriminatory reasons. (TT1, 68-78, 154-56; see also TT1, 12, 33, 5152, 112-18).
The prosecutor moved to be allowed to present 404(b) evidence that petitioner
had previously used duct tape to restrain a robbery victim, Brandon O’Connor. Prior
to ruling on the motion, the court noted that, in light of the earlier mistrial, the court
and the attorneys had a good idea what evidence would be presented. (TT2, 3-8).
Judge Johnston ruled that the evidence was admissible, explaining:
Well, it seems to me that if the defense intends to proceed along the same
line as it did previously [by relying on Mr. Johnigan’s testimony], that the
404(b) evidence becomes all the more compelling because duct taping
robbery victims by Mr. Gordon seems to be something of a trademark and
certainly a modus operandi. Given the probable line of defense, it seems
to me that this is admissible evidence for proving that this is an unlikely
coincidence here and to show, method, scheme, or plan or system of doing
an act, otherwise known as modus operandi. It seems to me this makes
it in the nature of the case less likely that Mr. Gordon had nothing to do
with the crime, which seems to be the general line of the defense here.
The prosecutor’s opening statement described the evidence that the prosecution
would be presenting to establish that on or about February 3, 2003, petitioner, Corey
McCullough, and Edward Johnigan came to Ean French’s house in Courtland
Township, Kent County, Michigan, where they robbed and killed French. French had
been a drug dealer. He had been bound with duct tape and shot in the back a dozen
times, six shots from a .40 caliber Beretta and another six shots from a .380. (TT2, 1844).
Petitioner’s attorney outlined the defense in his opening statement, asserting
that Edward Johnigan killed Ean French, and noting that Johnigan, had already been
convicted. Petitioner’s attorney indicated that petitioner would not be disputing that
he had been to French’s house a number of times beforehand for heroin deals. He also
would not be disputing that he had been at French’s house on the night police believed
French had been killed. (TT2, 45-48).
James Schultz testified that on Thursday, January 30, 2003, he had been at Ean
French’s house with two other men: petitioner, Ernest Gordon a/k/a Peewee, and
Damien Johnson a/k/a Slick. (TT3, 71, 103-04). Schultz knew Johnson, but this was
his first encounter with petitioner. Petitioner, Schultz, and Johnson were delivering
close to a thousand dollars worth of heroin to Ean French. Johnson was a drug dealer
and he provided the heroin that he had obtained in Detroit. Schultz knew the
directions to French’s house. Petitioner was the driver for the group. Johnson knew
petitioner and agreed to pay petitioner $100 to drive him to French’s house. (TT3, 7276, 106, 109-10, 128-29; TT7, 16-17). Schultz did not think that petitioner knew Ean
French. During the car trip there had been a discussion about French’s selling of
marijuana. Schultz testified that it was obvious that French had money: “he lives out
here in the woods. I mean, you roll up you see the toys and the cars and the TVs[.]”
(TT3, 77). In fact, that day French had a new big screen television inside a trailer
behind his vehicle. Petitioner and the others helped French move the televison from
the trailer into French’s house. (TT3, 75, 106-07). While petitioner and the others
were inside the house, French had shown them some of his high quality marijuana.
(TT3, 77, 113).
The next day, petitioner and Johnson brought French more heroin. Petitioner
was the driver and he supplied this heroin. Petitioner did not require directions. He
remembered the directions from the night before. On this occasion, French showed
them “more pounds of weed.” (TT3, 114-16, 133-34, 139).
Christian Burke, French’s friend, testified that February 3, 2003, had been the
last time that he had seen French alive. (TT2, 49-50, 59). They had been at French’s
house, smoking marijuana and watching a movie on French’s new television. (TT2, 7173). Burke testified that, sometime earlier, French gave him $6200 in $50 bills and
that Burke had arranged for a “no receipt” purchase of that television from someone
at Classic Stereo. (TT2, 90-91). Burke knew that French sold drugs for a living.
French’s job as a power washer would not have paid enough for the nice things he had.
(TT2, 50). French was primarily involved in selling high quality marijuana. (TT2, 80;
TT3, 25, 70-71, 89, 91; TT10, 81-82, 84, 92). Around February 3, 2003, French had
received a large shipment of marijuana for which he paid around $70,000. (TT2, 51).
French also kept at his residence a large number of prescription pills, including
Valium, Xanax, and Vicodin. (TT2, 50, 81; TT3, 10). French had a large stack of
Viagra sample packages. There appeared to be more pills than any individual could
use in a lifetime. (TT2, 77, 91; TT3, 10, 61). French indicated that Burke had to leave
because he had “buddies” coming over. (TT2, 74-75). Given his knowledge of French’s
primary source of income, Burke suspected that French had a drug deal going down.
Christian Burke returned to Ean French’s house on February 7, 2003. He had
been contacted by French’s mother, Linda French. (TT2, 103-05). Burke went to Ean
French’s house to check on him, accompanied by a friend named Carl Romence. (TT2,
54-55; TT4, 6-7). When Burke pulled his truck in the driveway, he noted that the
porch light was on in the middle of the day and that the storm door was shut but the
front door of French’s house was open. (TT2, 56-57). When Burke entered, he saw duct
tape wrapped around French’s hands. French’s legs were also bound with duct tape.
(TT2, 59, 68, 88). French was dead. His body was a bloody mess of gunshot or stabbing
wounds. A couch was on top of his body. (TT2, 59). French’s house had been
ransacked (TT2, 64, 68), and his XBox gaming system was missing. (TT2, 67, 88; TT3,
5). Mr. Romence had stayed outside in Christian Burke’s truck. When Burke returned
he was distraught. He told Romence that Ean French was dead and that the house
was in shambles. (TT4-9, 14).
Ean French’s autopsy indicated that he had been killed around midnight of
February 3, 2003, into the early morning hours of February 4, 2003. (TT8, 9). The
victim’s hands and legs had been bound with duct tape. (TT8, 10). There was a 3/4
inch deep stab wound in French’s upper right arm and shoulder region. (TT8, 13, 52).
This wound could have been inflicted with the knife found imbedded in the carpet next
to the victim’s body. (TT4, 40; TT8, 15). French had been alive when this knife wound
was inflicted. (TT8, 18). Tests on the knife revealed a mixture of DNA from Ean
French and Edward Johnigan. (TT4, 99-101, 106).
When the police arrived at Ean French’s house on February 7, 2003, it was
apparent that French had been dead for some time. The victim was face down with a
lot of pooling of blood into his face area. (TT3, 98). French’s body had a total of 12
gunshot wounds. (TT8, 30). Not all the gunshots had been delivered while French had
been face down on the floor. He had been shot twice though his left forearm and these
were non-lethal injuries. (TT8, 21, 26). French had either been on his knees or
standing when some of the gunshot wounds had been inflicted. (TT8, 21-26, 41-42).
Most of the gunshots were through the victim’s back. He was also shot in the neck.
All the wounds had been sustained in a matter of minutes and every gunshot other
than the two shots through the left forearm would have been fatal on its own. (TT8,
26-36). The gunshot wounds were consistent with two shooters, each holding a
separate caliber gun, one shooting on the left side and one shooting on the right, and
some shooter having to change his position to be standing over French’s body and
shooting him three times. (TT8, 42, 73). French had also been subjected to blunt force
trauma to the back of his head. French had been alive when he received this blow to
the head. (TT8, 16-18, 55).
Bullets were recovered from French’s body, the floor, and the basement. (TT4,
36). A total of five bullets were recovered from Ean French’s body. One bullet came
from a large caliber weapon and the other four came from a medium caliber weapon.
(TT8, 36-38). A total of twelve spent casings were recovered: six .40 caliber casings
and six .380 caliber casings. (TT4, 33-34). One of the pieces of duct tape found on the
floor near the victim physically fit the end of a known roll of duct tape recovered from
Edward Johnigan’s residence. (TT4, 44, 46, 49, 118-19; TT8, 109-10).
French’s house had been ransacked. (TT3, 99). Cupboard doors and drawers in
the kitchen were open and the contents appeared to have been rifled through. (TT4,
24-25). Bedroom sheets and the mattress pad had been pulled up. (TT4, 55-56).
Clothing had been pulled out of cabinets and closets. (TT4, 56). A toilet tank cover had
been removed. (TT4, 57). Cabinet drawers were opened and the contents spilled on
the floor. (TT4, 57). French’s wallet was open and there was no money inside it. (TT4,
24). It appeared that the house had been searched. (TT8, 99-101; TT9, 10- 20, 29, 33).
With the assistance of a trained canine, police were able to find a duffel bag in
a hidden compartment in the attic space of the master bedroom. It contained a
substantial quantity of very high grade marijuana. (TT4, 58; TT6, 106, 111-12; TT8,
109-11; TT9, 3-4, 23-26). Police found drug paraphernalia in other areas of the house,
including spoons with residue and hypodermic needles. (TT4, 59). They did not
recover any Viagra. (TT4, 60-61).
Gerald McBurrows testified that Corey McCullough was his friend. McCullough
and a young lady came to visit McBurrows in Atlanta. McBurrows owned a .40 caliber
Beretta. McBurrows indicated that he left the gun in McCullough’s car. Although
McCullough promised to return the gun, he never did. When police arrested Corey
McCullough, he was living in Atlanta with McBurrows. (TT5, 8-16; TT9, 82). Police
recovered the .40 caliber Beretta from Edward Johnigan’s residence. (TT5, 21-25; TT6,
109). This .40 caliber Beretta had been used in shooting six of the twelve shots fired
into Ean French. (TT5, 49-55).
Cherie Hatcher testified that she had been petitioner’s girlfriend in the early
months of 2003. (TT6, 89-90). Nicholas Thomas testified that he had attempted to buy
a .380 caliber handgun from Ms. Hatcher. Hatcher referred to the gun as her baby and
she refused to sell it to Mr. Thomas. (TT7, 21-23). Hatcher had a white van. (TT6, 9091). The other vehicle shown on a security video was a white, four-door, 1994 Pontiac
Grand Prix, that belonged to Johnigan’s sister. (TT6, 108; TT7, 5).
Phone records indicated that, on February 3, 2003, at 10:12 p.m. a call had been
placed to Ean French from a pay phone located in the Meijer’s store on Alpine Avenue.
(TT9, 89-90, 98; TT10, 28). Security footage showed Hatcher’s white van. Immediately
behind the van was Johnigan’s sister’s white Grand Prix. (TT9, 95). At 10:15 p.m.
petitioner’s phone was involved in a nearly seven-minute phone call with Hatcher’s
phone. The signal hit the cell phone tower for the Meijer store coverage area. (TT9,
104). At approximately 10:22 p.m., the van left the Meijer parking lot with the white
car following it out. (TT9, 105). At 11:05 p.m., there was a ten-second phone exchange
between Corey McCullough’s phone and petitioner’s phone, the signals from both
phones using the same cell tower near French’s residence. There was a period of
cessation of calls involving petitioner, McCullough, and Johnigan after the ten-second
call. When petitioner received a 25-second call from Damien Johnson at 11:58 p.m.,
petitioner’s cell phone signal continued to hit the cell phone tower associated with
French’s residence. (TT10, 29-30).
Yvonnie Thompson, petitioner’s sister, was a reluctant witness. (TT6, 61). She
testified that Edward Johnigan’s street name was “Main.” (TT6, 65). She also testified
that Johnigan was Corey McCollough’s friend.
Ms. Thompson had
previously testified that Johnigan got lost on his way to Grand Rapids on February 3,
2003.4 (TT9, 86). After McCullough talked to Johnigan on the phone, Johnigan arrived
a short time later at her residence. (Id.). Johnigan was driving an older model white
vehicle. (Id.). Petitioner arrived shortly thereafter. (TT9, 87). Ms. Thompson had
seen McCullough with a .40 caliber Beretta. (TT9, 88).
When Ms. Thompson appeared as a witness at petitioner’s second trial, she
provided unresponsive answers to questions by the prosecutor, and she blamed the
It is unclear from the record provided to this Court the nature of the proceeding
in which Ms. Thompson previously testified. During his direct examination, Detective
E. J. Johnson testified that Ms. Thompson had agreed in December 2003 to provide
truthful testimony in exchange for a dismissal of pending embezzlement charges
against her. (TT9, 83-84). The prosecutor then elicited testimony from Detective
Johnson regarding Ms. Thompson’s testimony from “January 28, ,” including the
information in this paragraph. (TT9, 84, 86-88).
investigating detectives and the prosecutor.5 (See, e.g., TT6, 55-56, 59-60, 65-66). Ms.
Thompson tried to avoid answering the question whether she had testified in the past,
then she indicated that she had not been honest in her previous testimony. (TT6, 69).
Eventually, Ms. Thomson’s conduct as a witness resulted in the following
Well, at the preliminary hearing you were asked to come up and
take an oath to tell the truth. Do you remember that much?
And I tried to tell them that I didn’t know when – before I even got
incarcerated, I tried to tell them that I didn’t know what was going
on. And then when I got in trouble, and that’s when they just, the
detectives and stuff, just came up with a lot of stuff for me to do to
get out of jail. And I just wanted to get home to my kids. But
when I was free and on my own free will and testified that I didn’t
know. I don’t.
Well, I’ll put it this way. I certainly asked you questions and so
did the defense attorneys, and you answered them.
And, like I said, I’m sorry and – I don’t know. I mean they know
already the questions that –
Please stop. I just want you to answer my questions. I want you
to listen to my question and then answer the question. The
answers you gave under oath, were they true or were they lies?
Can I plead the Fifth? Or do I have that option of pleadin’ the
Fifth, I mean?
You know you can plead the Fifth on this.
Can I? I don’t know. I wish I could, because I really don’t feel
comfortable with you.
Ms. Thompson also testified in September 2004 in petitioner’s consolidated trial
with McCullough. (ECF No. 21 at 54-95; ECF No. 22 at 5-15, 25-92).
I think she can, your Honor, the position she’s placed
Well, I agree she’s placed herself in grave danger, it
seems to me, of prosecution for perjury, which in a
capital case carries a very serious criminal penalty.
I’m just – I want to plead the Fifth.
Let’s move on.
BY MR. SCHIEBER.
Who was Mr. Gordon’s girlfriend back then?
I don’t know.
Ms. Thompson invoked the Fifth Amendment again in response to the
prosecutor’s redirect examination asking her whether there was anything in her trial
testimony that she wanted to change. (TT6, 86). Subsequent questioning established
that Ms. Thompson had visited McCullough in jail on numerous occasions. She had
visited him five times in August 2004 alone. (TT6, 87). She testified that she may
have been McCullough’s girlfriend back in the summer 2002, but she persisted in
claiming that she had not been his girlfriend in February 2003. (TT6, 87).
Petitioner was arrested on April 24, 2003. (TT7, 10; TT9, 67). A recording of
Detective Jack Smith’s interview of petitioner was played for the jury. (TT7, 11-15, 2931). Petitioner originally denied having any knowledge of the robbery/murder. That
changed when petitioner was informed that police could place him in the area based
on cell phone tower data and calls that had been made with his phone. (TT9, 43; TT12,
116-17). On February 3, 2003, there had been a total of seventeen phone calls between
Corey McCullough and petitioner. (TT10, 7). On February 3, 2003, there were a total
of phone 24 calls between Edward Johnigan and McCullough. (TT10, 7). No calls had
been placed between petitioner and Johnigan. (TT10, 8).
During cross-examination of Detective Smith, petitioner’s attorney attempted
to establish that during the taped interview petitioner indicated that he would “put the
pieces together” for the police after he had an attorney to make a deal. (TT9, 66-68).
There is no evidence indicating that petitioner ever made an unequivocal request for
counsel. Further, petitioner did not exercise his right to remain silent. He elected to
spend about four hours speaking to Detective Smith and the jury heard this recording.
The jury heard recordings of petitioner’s April 2003 phone calls from jail. (TT9,
44-55). During an April 26, 2003, phone call to Charles Newsome, petitioner revealed
that three people had been involved. (TT12, 120-22). They also discussed the possible
criminal penalties that would accompany convictions for armed robbery or being an
accessory after the fact. (TT12, 127). Petitioner made a phone call to his girlfriend,
Ms. Hatcher. Petitioner told Ms. Hatcher to contact his sister, Yvonnie Thompson.
Ms. Thompson was to be instructed that “brother-in law,” a coded reference to Corey
McCullough, was to “hold fast” and “don’t do shit.”
(TT12, 119, 122-24, 134).
Petitioner denied that his reference to dropping off money in a subsequent call to Ms.
Thompson was an instruction for her to pay Slick so that he would stop cooperating
with the police investigation. (TT12, 124-25).
Brandon O’Connor was an inmate with the Michigan Department of Corrections.
He testified briefly and reluctantly, indicating that in 1999, someone named Peewee
had pulled a gun on him and taken some of his drugs, money and jewelry. He stated
that petitioner was not the Peewee involved in that incident, although that Peewee,
like petitioner, had a cousin named Marchello Sylvester and a girlfriend named
Kowana Crawford. (TT8, 77-84). O’Connor testified that duct tape had been placed
over his eyes during the incident, but he could not recall whether his hands and feet
had been duct taped. (TT8, 77-98).
Edward Johnigan was called by the defense. (TT11, 3). Johnigan had already
been convicted of murder for killing French. (TT11, 36-37). He had also been convicted
of another murder in Detroit. (TT11, 58). At the time he testified at petitioner’s trial,
he was serving three life sentences stemming from three different cases. (TT11, 59).
Johnigan testified that he could not stand snitches and that he would never be a
snitch. (TT11, 136-37). He denied that his testimony was an attempt to “take the fall”
for his friend Corey McCullough and petitioner. (TT11, 137, 154-55; TT12, 17-18).
Johnigan supplied a version of events that was favorable to McCullough by
indicating that McCullough never came into French’s house, and favorable to petitioner
by indicating that petitioner had left French’s house before Johnigan decided to rob
and kill French. (TT11, 35-48, 55-57, 86, 88, 91, 95; TT12, 39).
Johnigan’s testimony was unfavorable to petitioner to the extent that it
supported much of the prosecution’s case by placing petitioner inside French’s home
on the night French was killed. Johnigan stated that when he drove to Grand Rapids
on February 3, 2003, he missed his highway exit and got lost. He needed directions
over the phone from Corey McCullough to find his way to Yvonnie Thompson’s house.
(TT11, 13-14, 93-94). Johnigan was driving his sister’s white Grand Prix. Johnigan
testified that he had heroin and two handguns in the trunk, a .380 caliber and a .40
caliber. (TT11, 19). Johnigan testified that he met petitioner on February 3, 2003, at
a gas station. (TT11, 4, 18; TT12, 8). Johnigan followed petitioner and McCullough to
the Meijer store. (TT11, 22). Johnigan identified McCullough as the individual shown
on the Meijer security video getting out of petitioner’s van. (TT11, 112). Johnigan
testified that they went from Meijer to French’s home. (TT11, 24).
Johnigan denied that the trip that he made with petitioner and McCullough to
Ean French’s house had been a planned robbery from the outset. He claimed that it
was only after the drug transaction had been completed and McCullough and petitioner
were gone that he decided to rob French. (TT11, 85, 91). Johnigan testified that he
wore gloves while he was inside French’s house. Johnigan made no attempt to explain
how his wearing gloves throughout a purported drug deal at French’s home would not
have aroused suspicion. (TT11, 114; TT12, 35-36). None of the murders committed by
Edward Johnigan, other than that of French, had involved restraining the victim with
duct tape. (TT11, 126). Johnigan claimed that he had acted alone when he subdued
French by hitting him in the head with a gun, found multiple rolls of duct tape,
restrained French with duct tape, stabbed French in the shoulder, conducted an
extensive search of French’s residence, and shot Ean French with two different
handguns, all of which he completed in a period of an hour to an hour and thirty
minutes. (TT11, 99, 105, 107-08, 115, 121-22, 125, 127-32, 151-53).
The .40 caliber Beretta used to kill French had been provided by Corey
McCullough. McCullough was Johnigan’s friend. Johnigan lied to police when he
stated that he bought the gun off the street. He denied that he had lied in an attempt
to protect McCullough, however. (TT11, 132-34). Johnigan conceded that the .40
caliber Beretta that the police found at his house was one of the guns used to kill
French. Police did not find the .380. (TT11, 134). Johnigan claimed that a day or two
after murdering French he gave the “dirty” .380 to a “friend,” purportedly named
“Jake,” and Johnigan did not know he where “Jake” lived or even his last name. (TT11,
Petitioner elected to testify. He testified that in February 2003 he was a drug
dealer. (TT12, 44, 101). He conceded that he had been at French’s residence on two
occasions before February 3, 2003, and on one of those occasions had helped move
French’s new big screen TV inside. (TT12, 49-50, 53-54). Petitioner testified that the
reason he went to French’s house with Johnigan and McCullough on February 3, 2003,
was for a drug deal, not to rob or kill French. (TT12, 63, 97, 113, 132, 144). He
testified that he drove the van with McCullough as his passenger and Johnigan
followed them in another car from the Meijer store to French’s house. (TT12, 71-74,
110, 143, 151).
Petitioner testified that he went into French’s house and that Johnigan came in
some time thereafter. He testified that McCullough did not come inside. (TT12, 75-21-
He claimed he witnessed a drug transaction, received a quarter-pound of
marijuana as his cut, and then left with McCullough because he was upset that
Johnigan and French appeared to be cutting him out of future drug deals. (TT12, 7985, 137). Petitioner denied having had anything to do with French’s death. (TT12, 98).
After the close of proofs, the attorneys delivered their closing arguments. (TT13,
3-105). Petitioner’s attorney made a single objection during the prosecutor’s closing
argument to the effect that the prosecutor had misrepresented Brandon O’Connor’s
testimony regarding whether petitioner was the “Peewee” who had robbed O’Connor.
(TT13, 44). Judge Johnston overruled the objection. He reminded the jury that
attorney arguments were not evidence. The prosecutor was entitled to argue his theory
of the case. (Id.).
There were no objections made during petitioner’s attorney’s closing argument.
Petitioner’s attorney argued that, although the prosecutor had
presented evidence that placed petitioner at Ean French’s house earlier in the evening
on the night of the murder, he had not presented sufficient evidence to prove beyond
a reasonable doubt that petitioner was present when French was murdered. He also
emphasized the lack of evidence placing a gun in petitioner’s hand. He offered
arguments that the jury should believe the testimony of Johnigan and petitioner.
Petitioner’s attorney also provided a lengthy explanation as to why petitioner
had elected against telling the whole story to Detective Smith. (See TT13, 77-78).
Petitioner’s attorney’s closing argument concluded with a request that petitioner be
found not guilty. (TT 13, 79).
The prosecutor delivered his rebuttal. (TT13, 79-105). Petitioner’s attorney
made six objections that the prosecutor was straying beyond the scope of the defense
closing argument. His objections were not sustained. (TT13, 95, 98-103). There were
no objections to the prosecutor’s arguments that petitioner and Johnigan were not
telling the truth. (TT13, 5, 79). The prosecutor responded to defense counsel’s
arguments that the jury should accept petitioner and Johnigan’s respective testimony
by exploring their motives for lying. For example, the prosecutor highlighted that
Johnigan had nothing to lose in providing testimony claiming that he had acted alone
when he decided to rob and kill Ean French: “What about Mr. Johnigan? He is right
now serving three life sentences for three separate cases. Life has less mystery for him
than a lot of people. He doesn’t know when he’s gonna die, but he knows where. He’s
35 years old and he’s already spent 19 years of his adult life in prison.” (TT13, 83).
Defense counsel did not object to the brief rebuttal addressing the defense argument
that petitioner knew there had been a murder, but did not want to tell Detective Smith
the whole story until after he had worked out a deal through an attorney. (TT13, 99).
Judge Johnston delivered the jury instructions. (TT13, 105-25). Petitioner’s
attorney objected to the fact that an accomplice instruction had been given. (TT13,
127-28). Judge Johnston overruled the objection:
The instruction is based on the standard instructions, CJI 2nd 5.4 and
5.7. As defined in 5.4, Mr. Johnigan is an undisputed accomplice, and, as
indicated under the use notes, under 5.6 the instruction, while it’s
generally used where the prosecutor brings in an accomplice to testify
against the co-defendant, may, in fact, be tailored to be used where a
defendant brings in an accomplice or co-defendant to testify on behalf of
the defense. There is significant material in the use note to that effect
and a helpful citation to the Court of Appeals Opinion in People v.
Heikkinen, H-E-I-K-K-I-N-E-N, 250 Mich App 322, 2002, a case in which
the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. The court basically
followed the directives in that case and in the use notes in formulating
the specific instruction given and indicated to counsel ahead of time that
it would do so.
On the afternoon of November 4, 2004, the court was presented with two jury
The first question: “What was Johnigan’s statement regarding
McCullough’s sentence.” (TT14, 5). Judge Johnston gave the following response: “The
answer is I don’t have any idea. I don’t remember what he may have said in that
regard or if he said anything in that regard. And I guess the reason is that if he did
I don’t know that I would have regarded it as terribly important. I can tell you this.
Mr. McCullough has not been sentenced in this case, therefore there is no sentence
about which to comment.” (TT14, 5). Judge Johnston offered to replay the testimony
of Johnigan, or any other witness, if the jury wanted to review it. (TT14, 5-6).
Petitioner’s attorney acknowledged that it was petitioner’s witness, Johnigan,
who brought up that McCullough was convicted. Petitioner’s attorney had no objection
to the judge’s response to the jury’s question. (TT14, 7-8). Further, Judge Johnston
noted for the record that he had never indicated to the jury that McCullough had been
convicted of anything. (TT14, 8).
The second question came in late in the day: “If a juror cannot come to a
decision on a charge, can that juror just be excused.” (TT14, 9). Judge Johnston
replied that the answer was no. He observed that this note was unclear whether the
juror could not make up his or her mind or whether the juror was having difficulty on
one charge as opposed to another charge. The judge concluded proceedings for the
day, but encouraged the jurors to continue working in good faith to arrive at a verdict
when they returned. (TT14, 9-12).
The next day was a Friday, and in the early afternoon, the jury sent a note
indicating that they could not reach a verdict. Judge Johnston reassured jurors that
he would do everything he could to accommodate their schedules and deal with any
problems or concerns regarding their employers. He elected to excuse the jury at
12:55 p.m. He encouraged jurors to continue discussing matters and to deliberate
when they returned on Monday. There were no objections to the judge’s delivery of this
standard jury instruction. (TT15, 3-9).
On the following Monday, shortly after the jury had reconvened, the judge
received a note stating: “Need to break until 1:00 p.m.” (TT16, 14). There were no
objections to granting this request, and at 9:49 a.m. the jury was excused until
1:00 p.m. (TT16, 15). Judge Johnston gave absent Juror 9 more than a full hour after
the 1 p.m. deadline to return. He reconvened court at 2:06 p.m. to address the course
of action that would be taken in light of the juror’s departure:
Looks like juror in Seat # 9 evidently took off her juror badge and turned
it in at the jury clerk’s office and more or less seceded from the jury. She
called the Court over the noon hour and left a recorded message which
counsel and I have listened to. In the message she essentially says it’s
been a long, hard trial and it’s been very stressful, that it’s ruining her
health and that she’s sorry, but she just can’t go on, that she can’t come
back, that she can’t do this anymore. And I think in three different ways
she reiterated that she’s not coming back.
Judge Johnston discussed the matter on the record with all counsel present.
The prosecution suggested that an alternate be seated, finding significant that Juror
9 had not indicated her vote. Petitioner’s counsel objected and requested that the
Juror 9 be brought before the court and questioned. Judge Johnston overruled the
Well, I guess I’m of the opinion that to bring [Juror 9] back would simply
be counterproductive. If I thought by bringing her back and holding
hands with her we could woo her back to the process, I’d say let's do it.
But if we bring her in here by force and against her will, I just don’t see
her as being a productive deliberating participant in the process. I think
she seceded from the panel, lawfully or not, and I think we have to accept
that as a fete accompli. So to the extent that you want us to go round her
up and drag her back, I’m disinclined to do that.
The court secured the attendance of the two alternate jurors and confirmed on
the record that they had abided by the court’s instructions by not discussing the case
or otherwise contaminating themselves in any way. One of the alternates was selected
through a random draw process and seated. (TT16, 22-29).
Petitioner’s attorney noted for the record that he continued to object to the
court’s decision against bringing back Juror 9 and questioning her in court. Counsel
had no objection to the steps that the court had taken in the process of seating an
Judge Johnston noted for the record that the
communications that Juror 9 had provided reinforced his decision against forcibly
compelling her to come back to court:
All right. Well again, as I said earlier, I thought because she had very
vociferously indicated she did not want to be part of the jury any longer
and that it was ruining her health, it seemed to me that having [Juror 9]
return was simply not productive or really even possible. I do note that
I have another message here from Gail VanTimmermen, the jury clerk,
saying that she had heard, I’m not sure if it’s the same message we heard
or another message, she may have left voice messages in both places
saying that “she doesn’t want to return and she feels she will have a
nervous breakdown”, and she’s saving the message. So I think once a
juror has taken that position that it’s counterproductive to attempt to
proceed further. Even if we brought her back and grilled her and then
put her back in the jury room, I don’t think we can expect any reasonable
participation at this stage.
The jury was instructed to commence its deliberations anew because an
alternate juror had been seated. (TT16, 32-33).
On November 9, 2004, the jury found petitioner guilty of second-degree murder.6
(TT17, 3-4). On January 25, 2005, Judge Johnston sentenced petitioner as an habitual
offender to 60 to 99 years’ imprisonment, his sentence to run “consecutively with the
two-year sentence and the one-to-twenty years sentence for which [he was] on parole
at the time of [his] arrest.” (Sentencing Transcript at 34, ECF No. No. 54; see
Judgment of Sentence Commitment to Department of Corrections, copy found in
Michigan Court of Appeals Record, ECF No. 55).
Petitioner filed an appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. He was represented
by appellate counsel who argued that petitioner’s conviction should be overturned on
the same issues raised in the pending habeas grounds I through IV. (Statement of
Questions Presented, Defendant-Appellant’s Brief at vii-viii, found in Michigan Court
Judge Johnston noted that the alternate juror that had been seated was an
African American female who had taken copious notes throughout the trial. When this
alternate had been seated in place of Juror 9, the ethnic balance of the jury was not
disturbed. The jury that found petitioner guilty included three African American
of Appeals Record, ECF No. 55). On August 12, 2008, the Michigan Court of Appeals
affirmed petitioner’s conviction. (8/12/08 Op., ECF No. 55; People v. Gordon, No.
261724, 2008 WL 3349072 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 12, 2008).
On November 14, 2008, petitioner filed his application for leave to appeal in the
Michigan Supreme Court. Petitioner raised the four issues that had been raised by his
appellate counsel. On April 8, 2009, Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal.
(ECF No. 57).
On June 5, 2009, petitioner filed his federal habeas corpus petition. (ECF No. 1)
Petitioner filed a Rule 6.500 motion in the Kent County Circuit Court seeking
postconviction relief. On November 18, 2009, Judge Johnston entered an opinion and
order denying petitioner’s motion for relief from judgment. (ECF No. 59). Petitioner
had argued “(i) that evidence of his exercise of his right to remain silent was
improperly introduced at trial; (ii) that the prosecutor engaged in improper final
argument; (iii) that it was improper to state that co-defendant Corey McCullough
(‘McCullough’) had not yet been sentenced; (iv) improper admission of demonstrative
evidence; (v) improper accomplice instructions; (vi) that a prosecution witness who
attempted to assert a [F]ifth [A]mendment right continued to testify; (vii) that it was
error for the Court not to give a specific instruction on conspiracy; (viii) that conspiracy
to commit second-degree murder is not an actual crime; (ix) that OV-6 was improperly
scored; and (x) that he was denied effective assistance of trial and appellate counsel;
and that the effect of these errors was to deny him a fair trial.” (Opinion & Order at 1,
ECF No. 59). Judge Johnston found that these issues had been defaulted because
petitioner did not raise them on direct appeal: “Defendant is not entitled to relief
because he has failed to show good cause for not raising these issues in his prior
appeals, nor has he demonstrated actual prejudice as required by MCR 6.508(D)(3).”
(Opinion & Order at 1).
Judge Johnston applied the standard the Supreme Court established in
Strickland v Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), and rejected petitioner’s claim of
ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. The judge noted that appellate counsel had
raised four issues on direct appeal, one of which had prompted one of the appellate
judges to write a dissent. The judge also noted that appellate counsel was not required
to raise every arguable claim, and petitioner had not demonstrated any prejudice
attributable to the omission of the issues petitioner later raised in his pro se Rule 6.500
Judge Johnston found that petitioner failed to establish ineffective
representation or prejudice. As a result, the claims that he raised in his 6.500 motion
were “procedurally barred due to [petitioner’s] failure to establish ‘good cause’ as
required by MCR 6.508(D)(3).” (Opinion & Order at 3, ECF No. 59).7
Judge Johnston found that petitioner failed to demonstrate actual prejudice.
The judge agreed with the appellate finding that there had been sufficient evidence
presented at trial to support the jury’s finding that petitioner was guilty of seconddegree murder, either on the basis that petitioner “committed or aided and abetted the
A photocopying error resulted in the omission of the third page of Judge
Johnston’s Opinion and Order from the Rule 5 materials from the Michigan Court of
Appeals. The third page of the Opinion and Order is found in the Michigan Supreme
Court record. (ECF No. 59).
murder of French.”
(Id. at 3).
Judge Johnston conducted an examination of
petitioner’s claims and found that there was no prejudice or miscarriage of justice to
correct because petitioner’s claims lacked merit. (Id.). There had been no violation of
petitioner’s rights by the introduction of the recording of the interview with Detective
Smith. Although the jury learned through the recording that at some point petitioner
had invoked his right to remain silent, petitioner continued to speak and denied any
involvement in the killing of French. Further, the prosecutor never highlighted
petitioner’s invocation of his right to remain silent or used it against him in any way.
(Opinion & Order at 4, ECF No. 58).
Judge Johnston found that there was no prosecutorial misconduct in closing
argument. Argument that the testimony of petitioner and Johnigan were “liars”
because their testimony was not credible fell within the range of permissible argument.
The prosecutor may comment on testimony and “may argue from the facts and
evidence a witness, including the defendant, is not worthy of belief.” (Id.) (citing People
v. Viaene, 326 N.W.2d 607 (Mich. Ct. App. 1982)).
Judge Johnston found meritless petitioner’s claim that the court had erred in
informing the jury that petitioner’s co-defendant McCullough had not yet been
sentenced. The information had been provided in response to jury question asking
“[w]hat was Johnigan’s statement regarding McCullough’s sentence.” The Judge
responded: “The answer is I don’t have any idea. I don’t remember what he may have
said in that regard. And I guess the reason is that if he did I don’t know that I would
have regarded it as terribly important. I can tell you that Mr. McCullough has not yet
been sentenced in this case, therefore there is no sentence about which to comment.”
The jury had been informed of McCullough’s involvement through the testimony of
petitioner’s witness, Edward Johnigan. Further, any error that may have occurred was
harmless in light of the weight of the evidence of petitioner’s guilt. (Opinion & Order
Judge Johnston found no merit to petitioner’s argument that the admission of
evidence seized from Johnigan’s home, including weapons and ammunition, had been
improper. “The Court ruled on the relevance of the offered evidence at trial pursuant
to defense counsel’s objection, noting that although the evidence seized from Johnigan’s
home and not linked to Defendant directly, ‘the evidence which may characterize the
nature of Mr. Johnigan’s business and lifestyle to the extent that it connects ultimately
with Mr. Gordon is germane.’ ” (Id. at 5).
Judge Johnston rejected petitioner’s assertion that it erred in not specifically
instructing the jury that it had the option of acquitting him based on Johnigan’s
testimony. Petitioner’s jury received the standard jury instructions that he could only
be convicted on the basis of proof beyond a reasonable doubt that he had committed the
crime. Petitioner “failed to provide any evidence that the result would have been
different if the judge had given a more specific instruction.” (Id.).
Judge Johnston found no error in the scoring of OV-6 under Michigan’s
sentencing guidelines. “[T]here was ample evidence to support the Court’s finding that
[petitioner] and his co-defendants acted with intent to kill and that scoring at the
upper end of the guidelines was proper.” (Id. at 6).
Judge Johnston applied the Strickland standard and rejected petitioner’s claims
of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. Petitioner “failed to show that his trial
counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness[.]” The trial
court noted that counsel’s performance had secured a hung jury in petitioner’s first
trial. Petitioner had not demonstrated prejudice stemming from counsel’s purported
errors. Petitioner “failed to demonstrate ineffective assistance of counsel at either the
trial or appellate level.” (Opinion & Order at 6).
Judge Johnston’s rejected all the remaining arguments that petitioner had
raised in his motion for relief from judgment:
Finally, Defendant next alleges several errors which are nonsensical and,
at a minimum, have no factual or legal grounds. Defendant argues it was
improper that a prosecution witness who attempted to assert a Fifth
Amendment right continued to testify, yet a witness may only invoke
such a privilege to avoid self-incrimination. The Fifth Amendment does
not protect the witness from perjury. Since the witness was not deprived
of any constitutional rights, there was no error. In addition, defendant
argues that the Court should have given a specific instruction related to
the crime of conspiracy. However, defendant was convicted of murder,
not conspiracy, and the Court is not required to give sua sponte
instructions that were not requested. Defendant also asserts that his
conviction was more than likely based on the prosecutor’s original charge
of conspiracy and that conspiracy to commit second degree murder is not
an actual crime in Michigan. This argument is without merit. Defendant
was convicted of second-degree murder and there is no reason to assume
that such conviction was based on a charge of conspiracy and the fact that
conspiracy to commit second degree murder is not an offense in Michigan
is irrelevant and illogical.
Judge Johnston’s opinion concluded as follows: “Defendant failed to show good
cause as to why the above issues were not raised on appeal and he has not
demonstrated actual prejudice. Consequently, his claims are procedurally barred
under MCR6.508(D)(3).” (Opinion & Order at 7).
On March 17, 2010, the Michigan Court of Appeals denied petitioner’s
application for leave to appeal. (3/17/10 Order, ECF No. 58). On July 26, 2010, the
Michigan Supreme Court denied petitioner’s application for leave to appeal. (7/26/10
Order, ECF No. 59).
On September 23, 2010, he filed his first amended petition. (ECF No. 7). On
October 13, 2010, he filed his second amended habeas corpus petition. (ECF No. 11).
On May 19, 2014, the Court entered an order granting petitioner’s motion for leave to
file a third amended petition. (ECF No. 71).
Grounds Rejected By the Michigan Court of Appeals
In Ground I, petitioner argues that the prosecutor’s race-neutral reasons for
dismissing minority (i.e. African American and Hispanic) jurors were insufficient to
avoid a finding of purposeful discrimination in the exercise of peremptory challenges.
Further, the trial court’s finding that the reasons were adequate was clearly erroneous
and the trial court’s rejection of the defense claim was an abuse of discretion. (Third
Amended Petition at 5, ECF No. 73, PageID.914; Petitioner’s Brief at 2-6, ECF No. 74,
In Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 96, (1986), the Supreme Court articulated
a three-step analysis to be applied to an Equal Protection Clause claim that purposeful
discrimination occurred in the selection of the petit jury based solely on the
prosecutor’s exercise of his peremptory challenges at trial. See Purkett v. Elem, 514
U.S. 765, 767 (1995). First, the defendant must establish a prima facie case of racial
discrimination. Id. at 767. “[T]he defendant is entitled to rely on the fact, as to which
there can be no dispute, that peremptory challenges constitute a jury selection practice
that permits ‘those to discriminate who are of a mind to discriminate.’ ” Batson, 476
U.S. at 96 (quoting Avery v. Georgia, 345 U.S. 559, 562 (1953)). Ultimately, petitioner
must “raise an inference that the prosecutor used [a peremptory challenge] to exclude
the veniremen from the petit jury on account of their race.” Id.; see Johnson v.
California, 545 U.S. 162, 168 (2005).
Second, once the defendant has raised the necessary inference, “the burden
shifts to the state to come forward with a neutral explanation for challenging
[potential] jurors.” 476 U.S. at 97; see Foster v. Chatman, 136 S. Ct. 1737, 1747 (2016).
“The government is not required to persuade the court that its reasons for dismissing
the juror were well-founded; rather it need only demonstrate that its reasons were
race-neutral.” United States v. Copeland, 321 F.3d 582, 599 (6th Cir. 2003). More
specifically, “[t]he second step of this process does not demand an explanation that is
persuasive or even plausible. ‘At this ... step of the inquiry, the issue is the facial
validity of the prosecutor’s explanation. Unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in
the prosecutor’s explanation, the reason offered will be deemed race neutral.” Purkett
v. Elem, 514 U.S. at 767-68 (quoting Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. 352, 360 (1991)).
Third, the court must determine “whether the defendant has carried his burden
of proving purposeful discrimination.”8 Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 359. In making this
determination, the Court presumes that the facially valid reasons proffered by the
prosecution are true. Id. at 359-60. Racially discriminatory purpose or intent must be
affirmatively shown by the opponent of the strike. Id. at 360. The ultimate burden of
persuasion always remains with the opponent of the strike. See Johnson v. California,
545 U.S. at 171; Purkett v. Elem, 514 U.S. at 768.
“[A] trial court finding regarding the credibility of the attorney’s explanation on
the ground for a peremptory challenge is entitled to great deference. On direct appeal,
those findings may be reversed only if the trial judge is shown to have committed clear
error. Under AEDPA, even more must be shown. A federal habeas court must accept
the state-court finding unless it was based on ‘an unreasonable determination of the
facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.’ § 2254(d)(2).
‘State court factual findings, moreover, are presumed correct; the petitioner has the
burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence.’ § 2254(e)(1).”
Davis v. Ayala, 135 S. Ct. 2187, 2199-2200 (2015) (citations and quotations omitted);
see also Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231, 240 (2005). Further, because the Michigan
Court of Appeals rejected petitioner’s Batson claim, he “cannot obtain federal habeas
Notwithstanding this three-part test, however, the Supreme Court has held
that the question of whether a prima facie case has been established becomes moot
once a court rules on the ultimate question under Batson of whether there was
purposeful discrimination. Hernandez, 500 U.S. at 359. “Once a prosecutor has offered
a race-neutral explanation for the peremptory challenges and the trial court had ruled
on the ultimate question of intentional discrimination, the preliminary issue of
whether the defendant had made a prima facie showing becomes moot.” Id.
corpus relief under § 2254(d)(1) unless he can show that the decision of the [Michigan
Court of Appeals] ‘was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly
established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court.’ ” Thaler v. Haynes, 559
U.S. 43, 46 (2010).
The Michigan Court of Appeals recited the Batson standard and thoroughly
analyzed the factual record, applying the facts to the Batson standard:
[Defendant] challenges three of the prosecutor’s peremptory challenges:
Venireperson Patterson, a male African-American; Venireperson Jones,
a female African American; and Venireperson Cardenas, a female
After defense counsel objected to the prosecutor’s peremptory dismissal
of these jurors, the trial court required the prosecution tender neutral
explanations for their removal. The prosecutor explained that he
removed Venireperson Patterson because he did not respond (by nodding
like the other panel members) to the prosecutor’s first question on voir
dire. The prosecutor also explained:
... I apologize to him for this, but he doesn’t appear very
smart. I was over there asking the question about decision
making and [he was] rambling and it went on and on and
I’m physically over near him and Ms. Cardenas is right in
front of me and she was rolling her eyes at some point about
In regard to Venireperson Cardenas, the prosecutor explained that:
her boyfriend got arrested and she very obviously reacted to
that. Her eyes welled up and she was obviously close to
tears. At one point I asked her if she was all right. That an
arrest situation, it’s a big issue with her, it’s an issue with
me and so she’s gone.
In regard to Jones, the prosecutor explained that: “Ms. Jones because I
thought of the remaining jurors she was one most likely to be, in part
because she had just too many contacts with relatives in the criminal
justice system for me to perfectly (sic) at ease with her.”
We conclude the prosecutor’s explanations of his peremptory challenges
were racially-neutral and adequate. . . .
Also, there is evidence that Venireperson Patterson’s answer to the
prosecutor’s question was “not really responsive” and that other jurors
audibly groaned at Venireperson Patterson’s lengthy and irrelevant
response. The trial court did not err in finding this explanation for a
peremptory challenge both racially-neutral and adequate. Further, that
Venireperson Cardenas became emotional with the mention of the arrest
of her boyfriend is plainly a racially-neutral and adequate explanation of
potential bias against the prosecution, and permissible justification for
a peremptory challenge. Last, Venireperson Jones’ contacts with police
presented potential juror bias in this case. The prosecution’s theory was
largely based on the jury accepting circumstantial evidence presented by
police. The prosecution clearly intended to prevent seating a juror that
did not accept this evidence simply based on a juror’s negative prior
contacts with police. The trial court properly held that the prosecution
explanation for its peremptory challenges both racially-neutral and
2008 WL 3349072, at * 19-20.
The trial court and the Michigan Court of Appeals each correctly found that the
prosecutor’s explanations were facially race-neutral and therefore valid. See Purkett
v. Elem, 514 U.S. at 768-69. The reasons were unrelated to the prospective jurors’
race. They were tailored to the specific responses offered to questions presented in voir
dire. “Unless a discriminatory intent is inherent in the prosecutor’s explanation, the
reason offered will be deemed race neutral.” Hernandez v. New York, 500 U.S. at 360.
The prosecutor’s explanations satisfied equal protection guarantees as a matter of law.
Petitioner has not satisfied his burden to overcome the trial court’s factual finding. See
Davis v. Ayala, 135 S. Ct. at 2199-2200.
Further, petitioner has not shown that the decision of the Michigan Court of
Appeals rejecting his Batson claims “(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined
by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based
upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in
the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
In Ground II, petitioner argues that Judge Johnston’s ruling allowing evidence
of the robbery of Brandon O’Connor was an abuse of discretion and denied petitioner’s
right to a fair trial.
(Third Amended Petition at 5, ECF No. 73, PageID.914;
Petitioner’s Brief at 7-11; ECF No. 74, PageID.930-34).
The extraordinary remedy of habeas corpus lies only for a person held in custody
in violation of the “Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(a). As the Supreme Court explained in Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62 (1991),
an inquiry whether evidence was properly admitted or improperly excluded under state
law “is no part of the federal court’s habeas review of a state conviction [for] it is not
the province of a federal habeas court to re-examine state-court determinations on
state-law questions.” Id. at 67-68 (citations and quotations omitted). Rather, “[i]n
conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction
violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Id. at 68; accord
Swarthout v. Cooke, 562 U.S. 216, 219-21 (2011).
Petitioner has not shown that the admission of this evidence resulted in a
federal due process violation. “A due process claim premised on a mistaken state court
evidentiary ruling faces a steep climb. The kind of foundational unfairness and
arbitrariness needed to show that a flawed evidentiary ruling rises to the level of a due
process violation is not a broad category[.]” Burger v. Woods, 515 F. App’x 507, 510 (6th
Cir. 2013). Garden variety claims that the trial court misapplied Michigan Evidence
Rule 404(b) do not “cross the constitutional threshold of due process.” Burger, 515 F.
App’x 510 (citations and quotation omitted). State-court evidentiary rulings cannot
rise to the level of due process violations unless they offend some principle of justice
so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental.
Seymour v. Walker, 224 F.3d 542, 552 (6th Cir. 2000); accord Bugh v. Mitchell, 329
F.3d 496, 512 (6th Cir. 2003). This approach accords the state courts wide latitude in
ruling on evidentiary matters. Seymour, 224 F.3d at 552.
O’Connor was a minor witness who gave brief testimony during a lengthy trial.
His testimony tended to show that petitioner used duct tape to secure his victims,
which contradicted petitioner’s and Johnigan’s testimony that Johnigan alone robbed
and killed French.
O’Connor’s testimony did not render petitioner’s trial
fundamentally unfair. The jury could have disregarded this evidence and, nonetheless,
found petitioner guilty. Among other things, petitioner’s own testimony placed him at
French’s house on the night that French was killed. The physical evidence, including
the fact that the victim was killed by shots fired from two different caliber handguns,
seriously undermined the defense theory that Johnigan had acted alone. The jury
necessarily determined that the testimony provided by Johnigan and petitioner was
The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected petitioner’s argument that the trial
court committed error and violated his constitutional rights in admitting O’Connor’s
testimony. There is no clearly established Supreme Court precedent that holds that
a state court violates the Due Process Clause by permitting propensity evidence in the
form of other bad acts evidence. In Estelle, the Supreme Court declined to hold that
the admission of prior acts evidence violated due process. Estelle, 502 U.S. at 75. The
Court stated in a footnote that, because it need not reach the issue, it expressed no
opinion as to whether a state law would violate due process if it permitted the use of
prior crimes evidence to show propensity to commit a charged crime. Id. at 75 n.5.
While the Supreme Court has addressed whether prior acts testimony is
permissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence, see Old Chief v. United States, 519
U.S. 172 (1997); Huddleston v. United States, 485 U.S. 681 (1988), it has not explicitly
addressed the issue in constitutional terms. The Sixth Circuit has found that “[t]here
is no clearly established Supreme Court precedent which holds that a state violates
due process by permitting propensity evidence in the form of other bad acts evidence.”
Bugh, 329 F.3d at 512. The decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals rejecting
petitioner’s claim was not “contrary to, or involve an unreasonable application of,
clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States” or “an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence
presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
Sufficiency of the Evidence
In Ground III, petitioner argues that the evidence presented at trial was
insufficient to support the jury’s verdict finding him guilty of second-degree murder.
(Third Amended Petition at 5, ECF No. 73, PageID.914; Petitioner’s Brief at 12-22,
ECF No. 74, PageID.935-45). A section 2254 challenge to the sufficiency of evidence
is governed by the standard set forth by the Supreme Court in Jackson v. Virginia, 443
U.S. 307, 319 (1979), which is “whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” This standard of review recognizes
the trier of fact’s responsibility to resolve reasonable conflicts in testimony, to weigh
the evidence, and to draw reasonable inferences from basic facts to ultimate facts. Id.;
see Cavazos v. Smith, 132 S. Ct. 2, 3-4 (2011) (per curiam ) (Jackson v. Virginia “makes
clear that it is the responsibility of the jury – not the court – to decide what conclusions
should be drawn from evidence admitted at trial.”). Issues of credibility may not be
reviewed by the habeas court under this standard. See Herrera v. Collins, 506 U.S.
390, 401-02 (1993). Rather, the habeas court is required to examine the evidence
supporting the conviction, in the light most favorable to the prosecution, with specific
reference to the elements of the crime as established by state law. Jackson, 443 U.S.
at 324 n. 16; Davis v. Lafler, 658 F.3d 525, 531 (6th Cir. 2011).
The Michigan Court of Appeals ruled directly on this claim. Review of this issue
must be conducted under the AEDPA standard, which the Sixth Circuit has described
as “very deferential.” Durr v. Mitchell, 487 F.3d 423, 448 (6th Cir. 2007). Review of
challenges to the sufficiency of evidence under the Jackson v. Virginia standard
proceeds under the “unreasonable application” prong of AEDPA. See Saxton v. Sheets,
547 F.3d 597, 602 (6th Cir. 2008). Such an argument is properly understood as an
allegation that the state court’s decision resulted in an unreasonable application of
Jackson v. Virginia. See Eady v. Morgan, 515 F.3d 587, 601-02 (6th Cir. 2008). Review
in such cases “is limited to determining whether the evidence was so overwhelmingly
in favor of the petitioner that it compelled a verdict in his or her favor.” Thompson v.
Bock, 215 F. App’x 431, 436 (6th Cir. 2007).
This standard presents a “nearly
insurmountable hurdle” for the habeas petitioner. Davis v. Lafler, 658 F.3d at 534.
“Adding to this extremely high bar are the stringent and limiting standards of
The Sixth Circuit has summarized the “double layer of deference” given the
state-court decisions in the context of sufficiency-of-the-evidence claims:
First, as in all sufficiency-of-the-evidence challenges, we must determine
whether, viewing the trial testimony and exhibits in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found
the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. See
Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560
(1979). In doing so, we do not re-weigh the evidence, re-evaluate the
credibility of witnesses, or substitute our judgment for that of the jury.
See United States v. Hilliard, 11 F.3d 618, 620 (6th Cir. 1993). Thus,
even though we might have not voted to convict a defendant had we
participated in jury deliberations, we must uphold the jury verdict if any
rational trier of fact could have found the defendant guilty after resolving
all disputes in favor of the prosecution. Second, even were we to conclude
that a rational trier of fact could not have found a petitioner guilty
beyond a reasonable doubt, on habeas review, we must still defer to the
state appellate court’s sufficiency determination as long as it is not
Brown v. Konteh, 567 F.3d 191, 205 (6th Cir. 2009).
The Michigan Court of Appeals held that the evidence at trial was sufficient to
support the jury’s verdict finding petitioner guilty of second-degree murder. See 2008
WL 3349072, at *22-23. Habeas corpus review does not involve re-weighing the
evidence, re-evaluating the credibility of witnesses, or substituting this Court’s
judgment for that of the jury. See Johnson v. Mitchell, 585 F.3d 923 (6th Cir. 2009).
Here, the Michigan Court of Appeals articulated the appropriate standard under
Jackson v. Virginia, citing state cases adopting this standard. The decision of the
Michigan Court of Appeals finding that there was sufficient evidence to support the
jury’s verdict finding petitioner guilty of second-degree murder was not an
unreasonable application of the Jackson v. Virginia standard. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).
Replacement of Absent Juror
In Ground IV, petitioner argues that the trial court’s replacement of an absent
juror with an alternate juror was an abuse of discretion, which violated his Sixth
(Third Amended Petition at 5, ECF No. 73, PageID.914;
Petitioner’s Brief at 23-26, ECF No. 74, PageID.946-949). The Michigan Court of
Appeals rejected this claim. See 2008 WL 3349072, at *23-24.
Petitioner has not shown that the decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals
rejecting his claim based on the seating of the alternate juror was “contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined
by the Supreme Court of the United States,” or “was based upon an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court
proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
“[The Supreme Court has not yet specifically ruled on the constitutionality of
substituting an alternate juror after jury deliberations have begun.” Claudio v.
Snyder, 68 F.3d 1573, 1575 (3d Cir. 1995); see also Dean v. Woods, No. 2:15-cv-13911,
2016 WL 4537863, at *5 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 31, 2016). This novelty alone is fatal to
petitioner’s habeas corpus claim because he cannot possibly demonstrate a violation
of clearly established Supreme Court precedent.9 See Premo, 562 U.S. at 127; see also
Woods v. Donald, 135 S. Ct. at 1377.
“In addition, petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on this claim because he
has presented no evidence to this Court that the alternate juror was actually biased
or had been subjected to extrinsic influences.” King v. Berghuis, No. 07-12011, 2010
WL 3515775, at *7 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 8, 2010). There was no evidence that the
alternate juror was biased, and the trial court record establishes that the alternate
juror seated had not been subjected to extrinsic influences and the jury was instructed
to begin deliberating anew. See Moore v. Patton, No. 12-cv-173, 2015 WL 1246053, at
*14 (N.D. Okla. Mar. 18, 2015).
“Federal habeas courts generally refuse to hear claims ‘defaulted ... in state
court pursuant to an independent and adequate state procedural rule. ’ ” Johnson v.
Although a violation of clearly established Supreme Court authority is required
for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), it is nonetheless appropriate to
note that most federal courts that have addressed the issue have held that the
“substitution of an alternate juror in place of a regular juror after deliberations have
begun does not violate the Constitution, so long as the judge instructs the reconstituted
jury to begin its deliberations anew and the defendant is not prejudiced by the
substitution.” Claudio, 68 F.3d at 1575-76.
Lee, 136 S. Ct. 1802, 1803-04 (2016) (quoting Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750,
(1991)). When a state-law default prevents further state consideration of a federal
issue, the federal courts ordinarily are precluded from considering that issue on habeas
corpus review.10 See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 801 (1991). To determine
whether a petitioner procedurally defaulted a federal claim in state court, the Court
must consider whether: (1) the petitioner failed to comply with an applicable state
procedural rule; (2) the state court enforced the rule so as to bar the claim; (3) the state
procedural default is an “independent and adequate” state ground properly foreclosing
federal habeas review of the federal constitutional claim; and (4) the petitioner has
shown “cause and prejudice” to excuse the procedural default. See Guilmette v. Howes,
624 F.3d 286, 290 (6th Cir. 2010) (en banc). In determining whether a state procedural
rule was applied to bar a claim, a reviewing court looks to the last reasoned state-court
decision disposing of the claim. See Ylst, 501 U.S. at 803; Guilmette v. Howes, 624 F.3d
Failure to Raise Grounds V through XII on Direct Appeal
Petitioner first raised Grounds V through XII in a motion for relief from
judgment. Both the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court
denied petitioner’s applications for leave to appeal under MCR. 6.508(D). In Guilmette
“A State’s procedural rules are of vital importance to the orderly
administration of its criminal courts; when a federal court permits them to be readily
evaded, it undermines the criminal justice system.” Johnson v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. at 1807
(quoting Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997)). “[A] habeas petitioner who
has failed to meet the State’s procedural requirements for presenting his federal claims
has deprived the state courts of an opportunity to address those claims in the first
instance.” Coleman, 501 U.S. at 732.
v. Howes, the Sixth Circuit held that brief form orders by the Michigan appellate courts
invoking Mich. Ct. R. 6.508(D) are unexplained orders within the meaning of Ylst v.
Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. at 803. Such form orders are presumed to uphold or reject the
last reasoned decision below. Guilmette, 624 F.3d at 291-92.
The trial court held that review was barred under Mich. Ct. R. 508(D)(3), and
it denied petitioner’s motion for relief from judgement. Under Mich. Ct. R. 6.508(D)(3),
a defendant may not collaterally attack a conviction based upon claims that were
decided against him in a prior appeal or that could have been raised on direct appeal.
For a claim that could have been raised in a previous appeal, the defendant is entitled
to relief only if he can establish “good cause” for failing to raise the grounds on appeal
and “actual prejudice,” as shown by a “reasonably likely chance of acquittal” or an
“irregularity so offensive to the maintenance of a sound judicial process that the
conviction should not be allowed to stand.” MICH. CT. R. 6.508(D)(3)(a)-(b).
“State rules count as ‘adequate’ if they are ‘firmly established and regularly
followed.’ ” Johnson v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. at 1804 (quoting Walker v. Martin, 562 U.S. 307,
316 (2011)). Michigan’s rule requiring that claims of error be raised in a timely fashion
on direct appeal is firmly established and regularly followed.11 It is an adequate and
“The general rule in federal habeas cases is that a defendant who fails to raise
a claim on direct appeal is barred from raising the claim on collateral review.
Likewise, state postconviction remedies generally may not be used to litigate claims
which were or could have been raised at trial or on direct appeal. It appears that every
State shares this procedural bar in some form.” Johnson v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. at 1805
(citations and internal quotations omitted).
The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Johnson v. Lee emphasized that a state
court’s exercise of its discretion in denying a claims on the merits despite defaults in
failure to raise issues on direct appeal did not show that the procedural rule was not
independent state ground for the purpose of the procedural default doctrine. See
Howard v. Bouchard, 405 F.3d 459, 477 (6th Cir. 2005); see also Manoku v. Bauman,
No. 15-2039, 2016 WL 418408, at *4 (6th Cir. Feb. 4, 2016) (“This court has 
recognized that enforcement of MCR 6.508(D)(3) constitutes ‘an independent and
adequate state ground sufficient for procedural default.’ ”) (quoting Ames v. Renico, 683
F.3d 720, 733 (6th Cir. 2012)).
“Ordinarily, violation of ‘firmly established and regularly followed state rules’
will be adequate to foreclose review of a federal claim. There are, however, exceptional
cases in which exorbitant application of a generally sound rule renders the state
ground inadequate to stop consideration of a federal question.” Lee v. Kemna, 534 U.S.
362, 375-76 (2002). This case falls well within the general rule and outside the narrow
exception recognized by the Kemna decision. See 534 U.S. at 387 (summarizing the
combination of special circumstances necessary to fall within the “small category” of
cases within the narrow exception to the general rule).
The Court finds that the State of Michigan had a firmly established rule of
procedural bar in place, that petitioner violated the rule, and that the state court relied
upon petitioner’s violation of those rules.
Petitioner is therefore barred from
maintaining the grounds asserted in the petition, unless he bears the burden of
regularly followed. “[A] state procedural bar may count as an adequate and
independent ground for denying a federal habeas petition even if the state court had
discretion to reach the merits despite the default.” Johnson v. Lee, 136 S. Ct. at 1806
(quoting Walker v. Martin, 562 U.S. 307, 311 (2011)).
showing both cause for and prejudice from the procedural default or a fundamental
miscarriage of justice.
Cause and Prejudice
If a petitioner procedurally defaulted his federal claims in state court, the
petitioner must demonstrate either (1) cause for his failure to comply with the state
procedural rule and actual prejudice flowing from the violation of federal law alleged
in his claim, or (2) that a lack of federal habeas review of the claim will result in a
fundamental miscarriage of justice. See House v. Bell, 547 U.S. 518, 536 (2006);
Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 495 (1986). The miscarriage-of-justice exception can
be met only in an “extraordinary” case where a prisoner asserts a claim of actual
innocence based upon new reliable evidence. House, 547 U.S. at 536. A habeas
petitioner asserting a claim of actual innocence must establish that, in light of new
evidence, it is more likely than not that no reasonable juror would have found
petitioner guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. (citing Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298,
Ineffective assistance of counsel can constitute “cause” in the procedural default
context. See Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 451-52 (2000). The Supreme Court
emphasized in Edwards v. Carpenter that not just any deficiency in counsel’s
performance will suffice to establish cause:
Although we have not identified with precision exactly what constitutes
“cause” to excuse procedural default, we have acknowledged that in
certain circumstances counsel’s ineffectiveness in failing to preserve the
claim for review in state court will suffice. Not just any deficiency in
counsel’s performance will do, however; the assistance must have been so
ineffective as to violate the Federal Constitution. In other words,
ineffective assistance adequate to establish cause for the procedural
default of some other constitutional claim is itself an independent
Id. at 451-52.
The Court has assumed for analytical purposes that petitioner is claiming that
ineffective assistance of appellate counsel constitutes cause to excuse his procedural
Ineffective assistance of appellate counsel “may constitute cause for
procedural default, but only if it is constitutionally ineffective under the standard
established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).” Howard v. Bouchard,
405 F.3d 459, 478 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488-89
(1986)); see Wade v. Timmerman-Cooper, 785 F.3d 1059, 1077 (6th Cir. 2015).
Petitioner’s argument that his appellate counsel should have raised additional
issues in the Michigan Court of Appeals (Petitioner’s Brief at 51-53, ECF No. 74,
PageID.974-76) falls short of establishing cause to excuse petitioner’s procedural
defaults. Claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel are measured under the
Strickland standard. Evitts v. Lucey, 469 U.S. 387 (1985). Petitioner must prove (1)
that appellate counsel’s performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness
Respondent is correct that the pro se petitioner did not argue that ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel was “cause” to excuse his procedural defaults.
Petitioner ignored the procedural default issue. (See Petitioner’s Brief at 27-56, ECF
No. 74, PageID.950-79).
and (2) that counsel’s deficient performance prejudiced defendant resulting in an
unreliable or fundamentally unfair outcome. 466 U.S. at 687-88. “In the appellate
counsel context, counsel’s failure to raise an issue on direct appeal could only be
ineffective assistance if there is a reasonable probability that inclusion of the issue
would have changed the result of the appeal.” Wade v. Timmerman-Cooper, 785 F.3d
at 1077 (citation and quotation omitted).
In adjudicating the first prong of the standard, the Court must judge the
reasonableness of counsel’s challenged conduct on the facts of the particular case,
viewed as of the time of counsel’s conduct. The Court should recognize that counsel is
“strongly presumed to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant
decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional judgment.” 466 U.S. at 690. The
Sixth Amendment is violated only if counsel’s acts or omissions “were outside the wide
range of professionally competent assistance.” Id. Strategic choices after thorough
investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options are “virtually
In the case of appellate counsel, petitioner has no constitutional right to have
had every nonfrivolous issue raised on appeal. Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745 (1983).
Tactical choices regarding issues on appeal are properly left to the sound judgment of
counsel. See United States v. Perry, 908 F.2d 56, 59 (6th Cir. 1990). “ ‘Winnowing out
weaker arguments on appeal and focusing on’ those more likely to prevail, far from
being evidence of incompetence, is the hallmark of appellate advocacy.” Smith v.
Murray, 477 U.S. 527, 536 (1986) (quoting Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. at 751-52)).
Petitioner’s appellate counsel raised four issues on direct appeal and those
issues have already been addressed herein. Petitioner argues that appellate counsel
was constitutionally ineffective because he failed to raise additional claims that
petitioner raised in his motion for postconviction relief. (Third Amended Petition at
6, ECF No. 73, PageID.915; Petitioner’s Brief at 53, ECF No. 74, PageID.976).
Where appellate counsel is charged with ineffectiveness for failure to raise a
particular claim, “it is difficult to demonstrate that counsel was incompetent.” Smith
v. Robbins, 528 U.S. 259, 288 (2000). To overcome the presumption of competence of
appellate counsel in these circumstances, a petitioner must show that the omitted
issues were “clearly stronger” than those counsel chose to assert. Id. (quoting Gray v.
Greer, 800 F.2d 644, 646 (7th Cir. 1986)). Here, the issues raised by appellate counsel
had a far better chance of success than the grounds petitioner now claims were
Further, the trial court rejected petitioner’s claim of ineffective assistance of
appellate counsel. The state court finding is entitled to an additional layer of deference
under AEDPA. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); see Burt v. Titlow, 134 S. Ct. 10 (2013); Cullen
v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 189 (2011). Petitioner has not shown that the state court
decision rejecting his claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel resulted in
a decision that was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly
established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.”
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).
The prejudice prong requires the petitioner to show that the alleged error
“ ‘worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage.’ ”13 Perkins v. LeCureux, 58 F.3d
214, 219 (6th Cir. 1995) (quoting United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982)
(emphasis in Frady)). “ ‘[The prejudice component of the cause and prejudice test is not
satisfied if there is strong evidence of petitioner’s guilt and a lack of evidence to
support his claim.’ ” Perkins, 58 F.3d at 219 (quoting Rust v. Zent, 17 F.3d 155, 161-62
(6th Cir. 1994)). In the instant case, there was very strong evidence of petitioner’s
None of the grounds raised by petitioner provides a basis for a finding of
prejudice. Prejudice cannot be shown where, as here, the underlying claims lack merit.
See Burton v. Renico, 391 F.3d 764, 774 (6th Cir. 2004).
This Court is cognizant of the Sixth Circuit’s admonition that the prejudice
inquiry “necessitates delving into the actual merits of the claim[s], and that it often
makes sense “to consider those merits in the first instance.” Wade v. TimmermanCooper, 785 F.3d 1059, 1077 (6th Cir. 2015). The result in this case would be the same,
however, if, under the authority provided under Lambrix v. Singletary, 520 U.S.518,
525 (1984) and its progeny, this Court elected to ignore petitioner’s defaults for
analytical purposes and proceeded directly to a review of the merits of all petitioner’s
Petitioner provides no new evidence concerning his actual innocence. He
cannot demonstrate that failing to address his claims, despite procedural bars, would
result in a “miscarriage of justice.” See Carrier, 477 U.S. at 496; see also Frazier v.
Jenkins, 770 F.3d 485, 497 (6th Cir. 2014).
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
In Ground XI, petitioner argues that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right
to effective assistance of trial counsel because counsel failed “to make objections on the
record to habeas claims V, VI, IX and X[.]” (Third Amended Petition at 6, ECF No. 73,
PageID.915; Petitioner’s Brief at 51-53, ECF No. 74, PageID.974-76).
The Strickland, standard applies. A court considering a claim of ineffective
assistance must “indulge a strong presumption that counsel’s conduct falls within the
wide range of reasonable professional assistance.” 466 U.S. at 689. The defendant
bears the burden of overcoming the presumption that the challenged action might be
considered sound trial strategy. Id. (citing Michel v. Louisiana, 350 U.S. 91, 101
(1955)). On the prejudice prong, the Court focuses on “whether counsel’s deficient
performance renders the result of the trial unreliable or the proceeding fundamentally
unfair.” Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 372 (1993). Petitioner “must show there
is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of
the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. Petitioner
does not approach satisfying either component of this demanding standard.
Petitioner’s trial counsel’s conduct did not fall below an objective standard of
reasonableness. The work of petitioner’s trial counsel was largely responsible for
petitioner avoiding a first-degree murder conviction and the accompanying
nonparolable life sentence. Petitioner argues that his attorney’s performance was
deficient “in failing to make objections on the record to habeas claims  V, VI, IX and
X” (Petitioner’s Brief at 53, ECF No. 74, PageID.976), but all of those grounds lack
merit. Petitioner’s attorney was not required to raise meritless objections. Counsel’s
failure to make a frivolous or meritless motion or objection does not constitute
ineffective assistance of counsel. See Smith v. Bradshaw, 591 F.3d 517, 523 (6th Cir.
2010); O’Hara v. Brigano, 499 F.3d 492, 506 (6th Cir. 2007). Petitioner has not shown
“a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.
Prosecutorial Misconduct Claims
The scope of review in a habeas action of prosecutorial misconduct is narrow.
“Petitioner’s burden on habeas review is quite a substantial one.” Byrd v. Collins, 209
F.3d 486, 529 (6th Cir. 2000). This Court does “not possess supervisory powers over
state court trials.” Id. “It is the responsibility of the state courts to police their
prosecutors; [this court has] no such authority.” Id. “Therefore, on habeas review, our
standard is limited to ‘the narrow one of due process.’ ” Id. (quoting Darden v.
Wainwright, 477 U.S. 168, 181 (1986)). To be grounds for habeas corpus relief, the
alleged misconduct must have “so infected the trial with unfairness as to make the
resulting conviction a denial of due process.” Darden, 477 U.S. at 181.
In Ground V, petitioner argues that the prosecutor violated his right to remain
silent by “admitting evidence of petitioner  [in]voking his right to remain silent and
for an attorney.” (Third Amended Petition at 5, ECF No. 73, PageID.914; Petitioner’s
Brief at 27-30, ECF No. 74, PageID.950-53).
The Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides that no person
“shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” U.S. CONST.
amend. V. In order to prevent coercive custodial interrogations designed to undermine
the Fifth Amendment, the Supreme Court held in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436
(1966) that, when an individual is in custody, law enforcement officials must warn the
suspect before his interrogation begins of his right to remain silent, that any statement
may be used against him, and that he has the right to retained or appointed counsel.
Id. at 478-79. Under Miranda, evidence of a defendant’s custodial statement may only
be introduced as evidence of guilt at trial if the defendant was first given such
warnings. Id. at 479. Petitioner received Miranda warnings.
In Doyle v. Ohio, 426 U.S. 610, 619 (1976), the Supreme Court considered
whether a defendant’s silence during a custodial interrogation could be used, not as
evidence of guilt, but to impeach the defendant’s testimony at trial. The Court held
“that the use for impeachment purposes of petitioners’ silence, at the time of arrest and
after receiving Miranda warnings, violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment.” The theory underlying Doyle is that, while Miranda warnings contain
no express assurance that silence will carry no penalty, “such assurance is implicit to
any person who receives the warnings.” Id. at 618. On this reasoning, the Court
concluded that it would be fundamentally unfair first to induce a defendant to remain
silent through Miranda warnings and then to penalize the defendant who relies on
those warnings by allowing the defendant’s silence to be used to impeach an
exculpatory explanation offered at trial. Id.
The facts in this case are significantly distinct from those in Doyle. Petitioner
did not remain silent. He elected to speak to Detective Smith for several hours after
he had received Miranda warnings. “[A] defendant who voluntarily speaks after
receiving Miranda warnings has not been induced to remain silent. As to the subject
matter of his statements, the defendant has not remained silent at all.” Anderson v.
Charles, 447 U.S. 404, 408 (1980).
Detective Smith’s questioning after petitioner mentioned an attorney did not
violate petitioner’s Fifth Amendment rights under Edwards v. Arizona, 451 U.S. 477,
482 (1981) and Davis v. United States, 512 U.S. 452, 459 (1994). There is no evidence
that petitioner made an unequivocal request for counsel. See Davis v. United States,
512 U.S. at 459. Petitioner related that he wanted an attorney present to work out a
deal before he would “put the pieces together” for the police. Detective Smith had no
obligation to terminate questioning in response to petitioner’s equivocal statement. Id.
at 459; see also Henness v. Bagley, 644 F.3d 308, 320 (6th Cir. 2011).
In Ground VI, petitioner argues that prosecutorial misconduct in closing
argument deprived him of a fair trial. (Third Amended Petition at 5, ECF No. 73,
PageID.914; Petitioner’s Brief at 31-33, ECF No. 74, PageID.954-56). Petitioner’s
argument is not a model of clarity. He simply states that the prosecutor “attacked and
denigrated him by calling him a liar on at least two occasions; expressed personal belief
in Petitioner Gordon’s guilt; denigrated trial counsel and insinuated that trial counsel
was lying as well.” (Petitioner’s Brief at 31, PageID.954). Petitioner does not provide
citations to the purportedly offending portions of the prosecutor’s argument. Upon
review, the Court finds that the prosecutor’s arguments were within the scope of
permissible argument and none of the purported errors approached the level of so
infecting the trial with unfairness as to make the resulting conviction a denial of due
process. Darden, 477 U.S. at 181.
Petitioner’s argument that the prosecutor improperly appealed to the jury to
sympathize with the victim’s mother because he referred to Ean French as Mrs.
French’s “child” rather than her 28 year old adult son (Petitioner’s Brief at 32-33) is
patently meritless. The prosecutor was simply emphasizing that he did not expect the
jury to accept everything from every witness that he had called. The example that he
gave was Mrs. French’s assertion that “she thought the drugs that were found in her
son’s home were left there or planted there and, to put it in her words, was left by the
killers.” (TT13, 5-6). The prosecutor then asserted: “And that may be some mental
gymnastics on her part, not wanting to believe that her son was involved in the things
he was involved in. I don’t know and I guess I don’t care. But what she said, obviously
was wrong. It was false, either by something that she needed to think about her son,
or it was false for whatever other reasons.” (TT13, 6).
Claims Based on Alleged Trial Court Errors
In Ground VII, petitioner argues that Judge Johnston’s response to the jury’s
question regarding Edward Johnigan’s testimony about Corey McCullough deprived
petitioner of a fair trial because of a potential inference that, because Johnigan and
McCullough had already been convicted, petitioner was probably guilty as well. (Third
Amended Petition at 5, ECF No. 73, PageID.914; Petitioner’s Brief at 34-35, ECF No.
74, PageID.957-58). The jury learned of McCullough’s conviction from Johnigan,
petitioner’s witness. Judge Johnston indicated that whatever Johnigan may have said
about McCullough’s sentence was not important because McCullough had not been
sentenced. There was no confirmation from the court that McCullough had been
convicted of anything. Judge Johnston offered to allow the jury hear Johnigan’s
testimony again if it believed that whatever Johnigan may have said about
McCullough’s sentence was significant – an offer the jury apparently declined. The
judge’s response was appropriate and did nothing to deprive petitioner of a fair trial.
Ground VIII is petitioner’s claim that the trial court violated his due process and
equal protection rights by admitting, over an objection, certain items of evidence from
Edward Johnigan’s home.14 (Third Amended Petition at 5-6, ECF No. 73, PageID.91415; Petitioner’s Brief at 36-39, ECF No. 74, PageID.959-62). The trial court determined
that evidence seized from Johnigan’s home, including weapons and ammunition, was
admissible under Michigan law. (Opinion & Order at 5).
In any event, the extraordinary remedy of habeas corpus lies only for a violation
of the Constitution. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). An inquiry whether evidence was properly
admitted or improperly excluded under state law “is no part of the federal court’s
habeas review of a state conviction [for] it is not the province of a federal habeas court
to re-examine state-court determinations on state-law questions.” Estelle v. McGuire,
502 U.S. 67-68.
The admission of this evidence did not deprive petitioner of a
Under this heading, petitioner expresses his dissatisfaction with a ruling that
the court made on “September 10, 204,” during his earlier trial. (Petitioner’s Brief
at 37, ECF No. 74, PageID.960). Petitioner’s earlier trial is not at issue. His habeas
corpus petition is a challenge to his conviction based on the trial that began on October
18, 2004, and ended on November 9, 2004, with the jury’s verdict finding him guilty of
second-degree murder. (TT1-TT17, ECF No. 37-53).
fundamentally fair trial. See Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 825 (1991); accord Roe
v. Baker, 316 F.3d 557, 567 (6th Cir. 2002) (“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.”).
In Ground IX, petitioner states that the trial court violated his due process
rights by giving a modified accomplice instruction over defense counsel’s objection.
(Third Amended Petition at 6, ECF No. 73, PageID.915). In his brief, however,
petitioner asserts: “It’s not Petitioner Gordon’s contention that the judge should not
have [given] the accomplice instruction, but rather the modified instruction that was
given informed the jury that it could convict on the basis of accomplice testimony, but
failed to charge that it could also acquit on the basis of such testimony.” (Petitioner’s
Brief at 45, ECF No. 74, PageID.968). Petitioner never requested the instruction that
he now claims was improperly omitted. The objection preserved at trial was to giving
an accomplice instruction, not the flaw petitioner now perceives. (TT13, 127-28).
Typically, a claim that a trial court gave an improper jury instruction is not
cognizable on habeas review. Instead, the petitioner must show that the erroneous
instruction “so infected the entire trial that the resulting conviction violates due
process.” Henderson v. Kibbe, 431 U.S. 145, 154 (1977); see also Estelle v. McGuire, 502
U.S. at 75 (erroneous jury instructions may not serve as the basis for habeas relief
unless they have “so infused the trial with unfairness as to deny due process of law”).
Here, the trial judge’s failure to sua sponte provide an additional instruction that
petitioner could be acquitted on the basis of an accomplice’s testimony did not prejudice
petitioner’s due process rights. The accomplice instruction (TT13, 113-14) did not, as
petitioner claims, instruct the jury that it could convict on the basis of accomplice
The jury was instructed to carefully and cautiously consider an accomplice’s
testimony. Further, the jury was instructed that petitioner was presumed innocent
and entitled to a verdict of not guilty unless the jury was satisfied beyond a reasonable
doubt that petitioner was guilty. It was advised that it was the jury’s job to decide the
facts of the case. (TT13, 105-06, 111). The jury was instructed that it was also the
jury’s job to determine the extent to which the testimony of any witness would be
believed. (TT13, 111).
In Ground X, petitioner argues that his right to a fair trial was violated when
the trial court failed to stop trial proceedings and conduct a hearing after petitioner’s
sister, Yvonnie Thompson, invoked her Fifth Amendment right against selfincrimination in response two of the prosecutor’s questions. (Third Amended Petition
at 6, ECF No. 73, PageID.915; Petitioner’s Brief at 47-50, ECF No. 74, PageID.970-73).
This claim is meritless.
The Self-Incrimination Clause of the Fifth Amendment provides: “No person
shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself.” The Supreme
Court “has explained that this privilege protects a person only against being
incriminated by his [or her] own compelled testimonial communications.” Doe v.
United States, 487 U.S. 201, 207 (1988) (quotation and citations omitted). Answers of
a witness “are not compelled within the meaning of the Fifth Amendment unless the
witness is required to answer over [her] valid claim of the privilege.” Minnesota v.
Murphy, 465 U.S. 420, 427 (1984).
Ms. Thompson was not compelled to answer over a claim of privilege. In
addition, petitioner cannot assert his sister’s Fifth Amendment rights. “The Fifth
Amendment privilege against self-incrimination is a privilege personal to the witness.”
United States v. Mayes, 512 F.2d 637, 649 (6th Cir. 1975).
Petitioner’s due process rights were not violated when his sister invoked her
privilege against self-incrimination. The trial court did not commit any error, much
less an error depriving petitioner of a fair trial, when it failed to sua sponte conduct a
hearing after Ms. Thompson invoked her privilege against self-incrimination. The trial
judge had the benefit of the tremendous insight provided by the earlier trial and Ms.
Thompson’s testimony at that trial. It was patent from the questions and the setting
in which they were asked that Ms. Thompson faced a very real danger of selfincrimination if she gave a direct answer to the questions where she invoked her
privilege against self-incrimination.15
The privilege “extends only to witnesses who have reasonable cause to
apprehend a danger from a direct answer.” Ohio v. Reiner, 532 U.S. 17, 21 (2001).
Trial courts are granted “broad discretion” in determining whether the witness has
reasonable cause to apprehend a danger from a direct answer. United States v. Mack,
159 F.3d 208, 217 (6th Cir. 1998). “To sustain the privilege, it need only be evident
from the implications of the question, in the setting in which it was asked, that a
responsive answer to the question or an explanation of why it cannot be answered
might be dangerous because injurious disclosure could result.” Davis v. Straub, 430
F.3d 281, 288 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Hoffman v. United States, 341 U.S. 479, 486-87
(1951)). “The trial judge in appraising the claim must be governed as much by his
personal perception of the peculiarities of the case as by the facts actually in evidence.”
The prosecutor did not err in posing the questions and he was free to move along
to another line of questioning. See Minnesota v. Murphy, 465 U.S. at 428. Petitioner’s
attorney had more than adequate opportunity to cross-examine Ms. Thompson if he
believed that any aspect of her trial testimony required further exploration.
In Ground XII, petitioner argues that the accumulation of errors in the trial and
appellate proceedings rendered his conviction fundamentally unfair. (Third Amended
Petition at 6, ECF No. 73, PageID.915; Petitioner’s Brief at 54-55; ECF No. 74,
PageID.977-78). Under settled Sixth Circuit authority, a claim that the cumulative
effect of errors rendered a trial fundamentally unfair is “not cognizable” after AEDPA.
See Sheppard v. Bagley, 657 F.3d 338, 348 (6th Cir. 2011); accord Henshaw v.
Berghuis, 469 F. App’x 418, 423 (6th Cir. 2012). “The Supreme Court has not held that
constitutional claims that would not individually support habeas relief may be
cumulated in order to support relief.” Scott v. Elo, 302 F.3d 598, 607 (6th Cir. 2002);
see also Moreland v. Bradshaw, 699 F.3d 908, 931 (6th Cir. 2012). Moreover, because
the individual claims are without merit, petitioner cannot show that any cumulative
error violated his constitutional rights. See Seymour v. Walker, 224 F.3d 542, 557 (6th
In summary, the Court finds that Grounds I through IV of the Third Amended
Petition were rejected by the Michigan Court of Appeals and the claims of ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel in Ground XI were rejected by the trial court in its
decision denying petitioner’s motion for postconviction relief. Petitioner has not shown
Hoffman, 341 U.S. at 487 (citation and quotation omitted).
that these decisions were “contrary to or involved an unreasonable application of,
clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States” or “an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence
presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
The Court finds that Grounds V through XII are procedurally defaulted and that
petitioner has not shown cause and prejudice or actual innocence to excuse the
Certificate of Appealability
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2), the Court must determine whether a certificate
of appealability should be granted.
A certificate should issue if petitioner has
demonstrated a “substantial showing of a denial of a constitutional right.” 28 U.S.C.
The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has disapproved issuance of blanket denials
of a certificate of appealability. Murphy v. Ohio, 263 F.3d 466 (6th Cir. 2001). Rather,
the district court must “engage in a reasoned assessment of each claim” to determine
whether a certificate is warranted. Id. Each issue must be considered under the
standards set forth by the Supreme Court in Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473 (2000).
Murphy, 263 F.3d at 467. Consequently, the Court has examined each of petitioner’s
claims under the Slack standard.
Petitioner cannot demonstrate on Grounds I-IV and the claims of ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel in Ground XI that reasonable jurists would find that
the denial of habeas corpus relief on each of the grounds raised in his petition is
debatable or wrong. See Slack, 529 U.S. at 484. Petitioner cannot overcome his burden
on all other claims which are barred by procedural defaults. He cannot demonstrate
that reasonable jurists “would find it debatable whether the petition states a valid
claim of the denial of a constitutional right and that jurists of reason would find it
debatable whether the district court was correct in its procedural ruling.” Id.; see
Kissner v. Palmer, 826 F.3d 898, 901-02 (6th Cir. 2016). Accordingly, the Court will
enter an order denying petitioner a certificate of appealability.
For the foregoing reasons, a judgment will enter denying the petition because
it does not provide a basis for federal habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254.
Dated: September 23, 2016
/s/ Paul L. Maloney
Paul L. Maloney
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?