Watson v. Denmark
ORDER ADOPTING 31 Report and Recommendations - The petitioner Dexter Watson's Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (docket entry 1 ) is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. A Final Judgment dismissing Watson's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus will follow in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58. Signed by Honorable David C. Bramlette, III on 10/18/2017 (ND)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF MISSISSIPPI
CIVIL ACTION NO. 5:14-cv-108(DCB)(MTP)
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
AND DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
This cause is before the Court on Magistrate Judge Michael T.
Petitioner Dexter Watson’s objections thereto (docket entries 34,
37). Magistrate Judge Parker recommends that the Court deny Dexter
Watson’s Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254
(docket entry 1).
Having reviewed the Report and Recommendation,
Petitioner’s objections, and applicable statutory and case law,
the Court finds as follows:
I. Factual and Procedural Background
Department of Corrections, serving a life sentence for murdering
Dotson died of blunt-force injuries, including
a stab wound severing her jugular vein.
Dotson’s body was found near First Baptist Church in Port
Gibson, Mississippi, on March 6, 2011.
On the same day, the Chief
Deputy of the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department interviewed
The Chief Deputy noticed stains on Watson’s shoes and
scratches on Watson’s arms.
Watson stated that he had last seen
Dotson several days earlier.
Later, Watson was interviewed by an agent for the Mississippi
Bureau of Investigation.
Although Watson first told the agent
that he had not seen Dotson in several days, he later stated that
two men named “Cool” and “Little Will” murdered Dotson.
further claimed that he was outside a home, heard arguing inside,
and entered to find Dotson alive but lying in a pool of blood.
Watson stated that he witnessed two men load Dotson into the back
of a car and dump her body.
Watson said he wiped blood off of
Dotson’s body with his t-shirt before throwing it into an abandoned
building. The agent was unable to locate the men Watson implicated
and could not corroborate much of Watson’s story.
At trial, Watson’s testimony cast “Cool” and “Little Will” as
Watson testified that before Dotson and “Little
Will” went behind the church, “Cool” told him, “You better not
open your mouth.” Watson further testified that when he went behind
the church, he found Dotson bleeding.
Dotson said a few words and
triggering a sentence of life imprisonment.
The Mississippi Court
of Appeals affirmed his conviction, and the Mississippi Supreme
Court denied his petitions for post-conviction relief.
filed Original and Amended Petitions for Habeas Corpus, raising
ten grounds for relief:
(1) Watson was illegally arrested and unreasonably searched
The evidence was insufficient to support Watson’s murder
The jury was improperly instructed.
The jury was not instructed on the essential elements of
the offense of murder.
Watson’s constitutional rights were violated when he was
not afforded an initial appearance.
(6) Watson’s trial counsel was ineffective in failing to
conduct an adequate pretrial investigation.
(7) Watson’s trial counsel was ineffective in failing to
request a jury instruction on the lesser-included
offense of manslaughter.
(8) Watson’s trial counsel was ineffective in failing to
obtain a “blood-stain pattern” expert.
(9) Watson’s trial counsel was ineffective in failing to
request a circumstantial evidence instruction.
(10) Watson’s appellate counsel was ineffective.
(docket entry 1, pp. 1-24; docket entry 18, pp. 1-5)
On June 6, 2017, Magistrate Judge Parker entered his Report
and Recommendation denying Watson’s Petition for Habeas Corpus
(docket entry 31).
Watson timely objected to Magistrate Judge
Parker’s Report and Recommendation on July 21, 2017.1
II. Magistrate Judge’s Findings
In his Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Parker
thoroughly examined each of the ten grounds for relief raised by
Watson and found habeas relief unwarranted.
Magistrate Judge Parker deemed Watson’s illegal arrest and
seizure contention (ground one) unavailing because Watson had an
“opportunity for full and fair litigation of that claim at trial
and on direct review” (docket entry 31, p. 8).
Magistrate Judge Parker found relief unwarranted on Watson’s
sufficiency of evidence challenge (ground two) because “[t]he
evidence in this case, when viewed in the light most favorable to
the State, is not such that no rational trier of fact could have
found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable
doubt” (docket entry 31, p. 10).
Magistrate Judge Parker reasoned that Watson’s challenges to
the jury instructions (grounds three and four) were barred from
habeas review because those arguments were raised in Watson’s
second petition for post-conviction relief in state court (docket
1 Ordinarily, a party must file an objection to a magistrate judge’s
report and recommendation within fourteen days. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Because
Watson was served by regular mail, however, three days were added to the
fourteen-day objection period. Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(d). Further, the Court granted
Watson an additional thirty days to file his objections to Magistrate Judge
Parker’s Report and Recommendation (docket entry 33).
entry 31, pp. 10-13).
Because the petition containing the jury
instruction challenges was barred by the Mississippi Uniform PostConviction Collateral Relief Act’s successive-writ prohibition, a
judgment,” grounds three and four were barred from habeas review
(docket entry 31, p. 11).
entitled to relief on the basis of the State’s alleged violation
of Rule 6.03 of Mississippi’s Uniform Rules of Circuit and County
Court Practice (ground five).
Magistrate Judge Parker reasoned
that Watson’s waiver of his Miranda Rights operated as a waiver of
the Rule 6.03 presentment requirement (docket entry 31, p. 17).
Judge Parker concluded that Watson’s
insufficient to justify habeas relief because Watson failed to
show that the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision to reject those
Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984) (docket entry 31, pp. 14-26).
III. Petitioner’s Objections
When a party objects to a magistrate judge’s proposed findings
and recommendations under 28 U.S.C.§ 636(b)(1), the Court reviews
de novo those recommendations to which an objection is made.
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Longmire v. Guste, 921 F.2d 620, 623
(5th Cir. 1991).
The Court is not required to reiterate the
findings and conclusions of a magistrate judge, nor need it
consider frivolous, conclusory, or generalized objections.
v. U.S. Parole Comm’n, 834 F.2d 419, 421 (5th Cir. 1987).
recommendation of the magistrate judge, receive further evidence
in the case, or return the matter to the magistrate with further
instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C).
Recommendation, appearing to argue that Magistrate Judge Parker
erred in: (1) “re-weighing the evidence” (docket entry 34, pp. 2,
6); (2) concluding that Mississippi’s successive-writ prohibition,
Miss. Code Ann. § 99-39-27(9), was regularly followed at the time
of Watson’s appeal (docket entry 34, pp. 3, 7-8); (3) finding a
manslaughter instruction unwarranted, such that Watson’s trial
counsel could not be held ineffective for failing to request such
an instruction (docket entry 34, pp. 4, 10); (4) finding a general
Watson’s trial counsel could not be held ineffective for failing
to request such an instruction (docket entry 34, pp. 5, 11-12);
and (5) finding his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel
claim meritless (docket entry 34, pp. 5, 12-13).
In his first objection, Watson contends that Magistrate Judge
Parker applied an incorrect standard of review and “re-weighed”
the evidence (docket entry 34, p. 6). A review of Magistrate Judge
Parker’s Report and Recommendation confirms that no “re-weighing”
Magistrate Judge Parker properly applied the standard
of review prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) to the specific issue
of whether a “rational trier of fact could have found the essential
elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Cockrell, 271 F.3d 190, 193 (5th Cir. 2001) (quoting Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319 (1979)).
In his second objection, Watson argues that the Report and
contained in the procedurally-barred petitions he filed in state
court. Specifically, Watson attempts to overcome the procedural
bar enunciated in Sayre v. Anderson, 238 F.3d 631, 634 (5th Cir.
2001) by arguing that Mississippi did not strictly follow the
successive-writ bar around the time of his appeal (docket entry
34, pp. 3, 7-8).
To avail himself of this exception, Watson must “demonstrate
that the state has failed to apply the procedural bar rule to
claims identical or similar to those raised by the petitioner
Stokes v. Anderson, 123 F.3d 858, 860 (5th Cir. 1997);
see also Nixon v. Epps, 111 F. App’x 237, 245 (5th Cir. 2004). As
purported support, Watson cites Ballenger v. State, 761 So. 2d 214
(Miss. 2000); Shaffer v. State, 740 So. 2d 273, 282 (Miss. 1998);
Hunter v. State, 684 So. 2d 625 (Miss. 1996); and Harrell v. State,
134 So. 3d 266 (Miss. 2014) (docket entry 34, p. 7). But none of
prohibition was not strictly applied at the time of his appeal.
Thus, Watson’s objection lacks merit.
In his third and fourth objections, Watson takes issue with
ineffective assistance of counsel.
Specifically, Watson contends
that manslaughter and circumstantial evidence instructions were
warranted, and his lawyer’s failure to request such instructions
constitutes ineffective assistance of counsel (docket entry 34,
With regard to Watson’s ineffective assistance of counsel
arguments (objections three, four, and five), Magistrate Judge
Parker’s Report and Recommendation properly framed the issue as:
unreasonable application (and not merely an incorrect application)
of Strickland” (docket entry 31, p. 15) (internal brackets and
quotations omitted). This Court’s de novo review of the objections
correctly concluded that the evidence presented at trial did not
support a lesser-included offense instruction (docket entry 31, p.
The Report and Recommendation was further correct to advise
that, even if the evidence supported a lesser-included offense
instruction, counsel’s decision to eschew such an instruction
could have been a matter of sound trial strategy.
Mosley v. Quarterman, 306 F. App’x 40, 48 (5th Cir. 2008).
bottom, Watson has not shown that the Mississippi Supreme Court
ineffective assistance of counsel on the basis of counsel’s failure
to request a lesser-included offense instruction. Thus, the Report
and Recommendation properly found habeas relief unwarranted on
this basis, and Watson’s objection is without merit.
As to objection four, the Report and Recommendation was
correct to reject Watson’s claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel based on a failure to request a circumstantial evidence
Even assuming the case against Watson was “purely or
wholly circumstantial,” Mississippi law required only either a
“two-theory” or circumstantial evidence instruction to be given.
Jordan v. State, 158 So. 3d 348, 350 (Miss. Ct. App. 2014).
A circumstantial evidence instruction is necessarily
included in a “two-theory” instruction.
See Id., 158 So. 3d at
Thus, a separate circumstantial evidence instruction was not
required and the Report and Recommendation properly concluded that
Watson’s trial counsel’s failure to request such an instruction
could not supply grounds for habeas relief.
appellate counsel argument, simply rehashes the arguments advanced
in Watson’s Amended Petition (docket entry 21).
concluding he had not established that the Mississippi Supreme
ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim. See Neal v.
Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 236 (5th Cir. 2002).
The Court has independently reviewed the entire record and
reviewed de novo the matters raised by the objections.
objections (docket entries 34, 37)
lack merit and should be
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Michael T.
Parker’s Report and Recommendation (docket entry 31) is ADOPTED as
the findings and conclusions of this Court;
FURTHER ORDERED that the petitioner Dexter Watson’s
Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (docket
entry 1) is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
A Final Judgment dismissing Watson’s Petition for Writ of
Habeas Corpus will follow in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil
SO ORDERED this the 18th day of October, 2017.
/s/ David Bramlette_________
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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