Hoskins v. Attorney General of the State of Mississippi et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION re 18 Order Dismissing Case. Signed by District Judge Michael P. Mills on 6/13/17. (jla)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
TREVOR KENNTERRI HOSKINS
ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI and
WARDEN SONJA STANCIEL
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Petitioner Trevor Hoskins, an inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of
Corrections, has filed a pro se habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging the
conviction and sentence for domestic aggravated assault that he received in the Circuit Court of
Washington County, Mississippi. Having considered the submission of the parties, the State
court record, and the law applicable to Hoskins’ claims, the Court finds that the petition should
be denied, for the reasons that follow.
Background Facts and Procedural History
Around 6:50 a.m. on July 4, 2012, Armilla Lucius (“Lucius”) called the 911 dispatch in
Greenville, Mississippi, and reported to responding officers that she had been beaten by Trevor
Hoskins, who was asleep in the bedroom at the time she made the 911 call. See Doc. #14-3 at
88-89-91; 110-113. Officers testified that when they arrived at Lucius’ residence, Lucius had to
crawl to open the locked door for officers, and it was reported that she was covered in so much
blood and had sustained so many bruises that she appeared to have suffered “a beating in
astronomical proportions.” Id. at 92-95; 110-13. The crime scene was described as “horrific,”
and officers found broken glass in the living room and blood in almost every room of the house.
Id. at 100; 106-08; 111-13; see also Doc. #14-4 at 10-13. Guided by Lucius’ statements
regarding the location of her assailant, officers entered a bedroom and found a male, dressed in a
t-shirt and boxers, asleep in the bed. Doc. #14-3 at 96-97; 107. The male, subsequently
identified as Hoskins, was arrested, and Lucius was taken to the hospital. Id. at 94; 97-98; 107.
According to Lucius’ medical records, she suffered a broken arm, a broken leg, fractures
in her nasal cavity, and bruising throughout her entire body as a result of the attack. Doc. #14-4
at 22. Dr. William Barber, the trauma surgeon who treated Lucius at the hospital, testified that
she had a scalp laceration, a broken right arm, a broken left lower leg, and a broken nose. Id. at
34-35. These injuries would have been caused by multiple blows, Dr. Barber stated, and Lucius
reported her pain level as a 10 out of 10 when she arrived at the hospital. Id. at 35. Dr. Barber
testified that Lucius required surgery for both her arm and her leg fractures. Id. at 36. Testimony
was also offered that Lucius’ arm never healed properly, and that she has a permanent limp after
the attack. Id. at 56-58.
Lucius reported that she had been dating Hoskins for approximately two months as of
July 4, 2012. Doc. #14-3 at 101; Doc. #14-4 at 40. She testified that the evening of July 3, 2012,
she had gone to sleep alone in her home and was later awakened by Hoskins hitting her on the
head with a beer bottle. Id. at 43. Hoskins struck her with a baseball bat as she attempted to flee,
and he pursued her through several rooms striking her with the bat. Id. at 43-48. Lucius lost
consciousness, but when she came to, she dragged herself to a phone and placed a call to 911
while Lucius was lying in bed. Id. at 50-51.
Cuttings were taken from the t-shirt Hoskins was wearing at the time of his arrest, and
DNA swabs were taken from Lucius. See Doc. # 14-3 at 115-117; Doc. #14-4 at 4-5, 13. The
baseball bat used in the attack, which was found lying on an ironing board in the bedroom, was
taken into evidence and swabbed. Doc. #14-3 at 101, 117; Doc. #14-4 at 4-5. Forensic
testimony established that Lucius could not be excluded as the donor of DNA that was recovered
from the cuttings of Hoskins’ t-shirt and the bat. Doc. #14-3 at 115-117. In fact, the genetic
profile generated from the sample was determined to occur with a “frequency of approximately 1
and greater than 10 billion random unrelated people[.]” Id. at 120. In other words, the genetic
profile generated from the evidence matched the victim. Id.
Linda Taylor (“Taylor”), a prior romantic partner of Hoskins’ who was also one of his
prior victims, was allowed to testify to Hoskins’ prior assault of her “for purposes of intent and
knowledge, lack of accident or mistake.” Doc. #14-4 at 89; see also Doc. #14-3 at 66-68 and 7475. Taylor dated Hoskins for approximately three months prior to his relationship with Lucius.
Doc. #14-4 at 79-81. She testified that Hoskins tried to kill her in February 2012 after they
argued concerning his allegations that she was seeing other men. Id. at 81-84. Taylor stated that
Hoskins, who had been driving a vehicle in which she was riding at the time the argument began,
parked the car, opened the passenger side door, and physically pulled Taylor from the vehicle
while beating her with his fists and kicking her with steel-toed boots. Id. at 83-86. During this
attack, he choked her, attempted to gouge out her eyes, and cut her neck with a knife. Id. at 8687. He bit her face and back, and he actually bit off a part of her ear. Id. Taylor had to have
operations on her jaw and ear and suffers hearing problems as a result of the attack. Id. at 91.
Hoskins did not testify, and the defense presented no witnesses. After an hour and five
minutes of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Doc. #14-4 at 134. Hoskins was
sentenced to a twenty-year prison term in this case to run consecutively with the previous twentyyear sentence he received for his attack on Taylor. Id. at 138-39.
Hoskins’ conviction and sentence were affirmed on appeal. Hoskins v. State, 186 So. 3d
898 (Miss. Ct. App. 2015), reh’g denied December 8, 2015, cert. denied March 10, 2016 (Cause
No. 2013-KA-01785-COA). Hoskins did not seek post-conviction relief in State court.
The Court’s review of Hoskins’ claims is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), because his federal habeas petition was filed after the
statute’s effective date. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997). The AEDPA prevents the
grant of federal habeas relief on any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless that
adjudication (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established United States Supreme Court precedent; or (2) resulted in a
decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the presented
evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (2); Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007).
A state court’s decision is “contrary to” Supreme Court law if (1) “the state court applies
a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases,” or (2) “if the state
court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the
Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [its] precedent.” Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). The “unreasonable application” clause is reserved for
decisions that either fail to identify the correct governing law, or identify the correct governing
law but misapply it to the case. Id. at 407. Under this standard, a state court’s decision will not
warrant federal habeas relief unless its application of federal law is both incorrect and
unreasonable. Garcia v. Dretke, 388 F.3d 496, 500 (5th Cir. 2004) (emphasis in original)
(citation omitted). A reviewing habeas court considers only the state court’s conclusion when
determining whether there has been an unreasonable application of federal law, not the court’s
reasoning in reaching the decision. Neal v. Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 246 (5th Cir. 2002).
When considering whether the state court’s decision was based on unreasonably
determined facts, the federal court must presume that the state court determined the facts
reasonably; it is the petitioner’s burden to prove otherwise with clear and convincing evidence.
Miller v. Johnson, 200 F.3d 274, 281 (5th Cir. 2000); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
In his first claim of error, Hoskins complains that the trial court erred in amending the
indictment to charge him with domestic aggravated assault when the indictment returned by the
grand jury only tracked the language of aggravated assault, thereby requiring him to stand trial
for a completely different crime than the one initially charged. See Doc. #2 at 6.
The indicted charge against Hoskins was titled “Domestic Aggravated Assault” pursuant
to § 97-3-7(4) of the Mississippi Code, and it read, in pertinent part:
That Trevor Hoskins, on or about the 4th day of July, 2012, in Washington
County, did unlawfully, willfully, and feloniously cause or attempt to cause
serious bodily harm to Armilla Lucius, a person, by hitting the victim in the head,
arm, and ankle with a baseball bat under circumstances manifesting extreme
indifference to the value of human life.
Doc. #14-1 at 11. On March 15, 2013, the State filed a motion to amend the indictment to add
the language “who had a romantic relationship with or was the girlfriend to TREVOR HOSKINS
at the time of the aggravated assault” after the words, “ a person” in the indictment. Doc. #14-1
at 71. Finding the amendment to be of form and not substance, and in no way prejudicial to the
defendant, the trial court granted the motion to amend on May 21, 2013. Id. at 82. Trial
commenced on October 2, 2013, some four months later. Doc. #14-3 at 6.
On direct appeal, the appellate court considered the claim now raised in federal habeas
and found Hoskins’ argument without merit, noting that the amendment to correct a “scrivener’s
error” was one of form, and that Hoskins had adequate notice of the changes suggested by the
State prior to trial.1 Hoskins, 186 So. 3d at 901.
Mississippi Uniform Circuit and County Court Rule 7.09 allows indictments to be amended to
form only, and only “if the defendant is afforded a fair opportunity to present a defense and is not
The sufficiency of a state indictment is not a matter for federal habeas corpus relief unless
it can be shown that the indictment was so defective that the convicting court had no jurisdiction.
See Riley v. Cockrell, 339 F.3d 308, 313-14 (5th Cir. 2003). “State law dictates whether a state
indictment is sufficient to confer a court with jurisdiction.” Williams v. Collins, 16 F.3d 626, 637
(5th Cir. 1994). In instances where the sufficiency of the indictment “was squarely presented to
the highest court of the state on appeal, and that court held that the trial court had jurisdiction
over the case,” then the issue is foreclosed on habeas. Wood v. Quarterman, 503 F.3d 408, 412
(5th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). Here, the State courts rejected Hoskins’ challenge to the
sufficiency of the indictment, thereby implicitly finding the circuit court had jurisdiction. See
Murphy v. Beto, 416 F.2d 98, 100 (5th Cir. 1969) (“[J]urisdiction to try an offense includes
jurisdiction to determine whether the offense is properly charged.”). Therefore, this issue is not
cognizable on federal habeas.
Moreover, the Court notes that the indictment against Hoskins is entitled “domestic
aggravated assault” and cites § 97-3-7(4) of the Mississippi Code, which provides, in relevant
(4)(a) When the offense is committed against a . . . a person who has a current or
former dating relationship with the defendant . . . a person is guilty of aggravated
domestic violence who:
(i) Attempts to cause serious bodily injury to another, or causes such an injury
purposely, knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme
indifference to the value of human life;
(ii) Attempts to cause or purposely or knowingly causes bodily injury to another
with a deadly weapon or other means likely to produce death or serious bodily
(iii) Strangles, or attempts to strangle another.
Upon conviction, the defendant shall be punished by imprisonment in the custody
of the Department of Corrections for not less than two (2) nor more than twenty
Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-7(4).
Hoskins had pretrial notice of the amendment and notice of the exact statutory provision
under which he was indicted. Therefore, the Court otherwise finds that he has not demonstrated
that his rights were infringed. McKay v. Collins, 12 F.3d 66, 68 (5th Cir. 1994) (“An indictment
should be found sufficient unless no reasonable construction of the indictment would charge the
offense for which the defendant has been convicted.”). Accordingly, this issue is not cognizable,
and the Court otherwise finds that the decision rejecting this claim is neither contrary to, nor does
it involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, nor is it based on an
unreasonable determination of facts in light of the evidence presented at trial.
Prior Victim’s Testimony
Hoskins’ second federal habeas claim is that the trial court improperly allowed Linda
Taylor to testify that she had previously been romantically involved with Hoskins and that he had
physically abused her. Hoskins maintains that this testimony constituted improper character
evidence that was introduced for the sole purpose of showing his actions in this case were in
conformity with his prior bad acts, which is prohibited by Mississippi Rule of Evidence 404(b)2.
Doc. #2 at 13.
Prior to trial, the State announced that it intended to introduce the testimony of Linda
Taylor in order “to prove intent, plan, absence of mistake or accident and knowledge” under Rule
404(b). Doc. #14-1 at 105. The trial court ultimately found Taylor’s testimony admissible,
finding evidence of “the same incident” highly probative and no more prejudicial than the other
evidence in the case. Doc. #14-3 at 74-75. The trial court did, however, give a limiting
Rule 404(b) of the Mississippi Rules of Evidence provides:
Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a
person in order to show that he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be
admissible for other purposes such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent, preparation,
plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident.
instruction concerning the evidence. Doc. #14-1 at 121.
When this issue was decided on direct appeal, the appellate court noted that while
evidence of a prior crime is generally inadmissible, it may be admissible if offered to prove a
material issue other than the defendant’s character, and its probative value is outweighed by its
prejudicial effect. Hoskins, 186 So. 3d at 902. In this case, the State court found: (1) that
“Taylor’s testimony was offered to prove the knowledge, intent, lack of mistake, plan, and
motive of Hoskins in committing the assault;” (2) that “the probative value of the testimony
outweighed the prejudicial effect on Hoskins;” and that (3) even if the admission of Taylor’s
testimony was error, it was not reversible error, as evidence of Hoskins’ guilt was so
overwhelming that no fair-minded juror could have arrived at a not-guilty verdict. Id.
The rulings of state courts on evidentiary matters are solely issues of state law and
“present cognizable habeas claims only if they run afoul of a specific constitutional right or
render the petitioner’s trial fundamentally unfair.” Johnson v. Puckett, 176 F.3d 809, 820 (5th
Cir. 1999) (citing Cupit v. Whitley, 28 F.3d 532, 536 (5th Cir. 1994)). Even if prejudicial
testimony is admitted in error, “[t]he erroneous admission of prejudicial testimony does not
justify habeas relief unless the evidence played a ‘crucial, critical, and highly significant’ role in
the jury’s determination.” Jackson v. Johnson, 194 F.3d 641, 656 (5th Cir. 1999) (citation
Lucius testified that Hoskins caused her devastating injuries by beating her with a
baseball bat, and numerous law enforcement officers testified that a baseball bat with Lucius’
DNA on it was recovered from the room where Hoskins was found sleeping, and that he was
taken into custody wearing a blood-stained t-shirt that DNA linked to Lucius. Therefore, the
Court finds that Taylor’s testimony, even if improperly admitted, did not play a “crucial, critical,
and highly significant role” in the jury’s verdict. See Jackson, 194 F.3d at 656. Accordingly, the
decision rejecting this claim is not contrary to, nor does it involve an unreasonable application of,
clearly established federal law, nor is it based on an unreasonable determination of facts in light
of the evidence presented at trial.
Certificate of Appealability
Hoskins must obtain a certificate of appealability (“COA”) before appealing this Court’s
decision denying federal habeas relief. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1). A COA will not issue unless a
petitioner makes “a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right” of any claim
rejected on its merits, which he may do by demonstrating that “reasonable jurists would find the
district court’s assessment of the constitutional claims debatable or wrong.” 28 U.S.C. §
2253(c)(2); Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 484 (2000). Applying this standard, the Court
concludes that a COA should be denied in this case.
It is hereby ordered that Hoskins’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus is DENIED and
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. A certificate of appealability is DENIED. A final
judgment in accordance with this opinion and order will issue today.
SO ORDERED, THIS the 13th day of June, 2017.
/s/ Michael P. Mills
MICHAEL P. MILLS
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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