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MacIntosh v. Davis

March 22, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David M. Lawson


Petitioner Jeffrey MacIntosh, a thirty-six-year-old developmentally disabled male, was convicted by an Oakland County, Michigan jury of first-degree, premeditated murder and sentenced to prison for the rest of his life. He has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 alleging that his confession was improperly obtained; the trial court should not have allowed evidence of a prior, unrelated assault; and the State failed to present sufficient evidence of premeditation. The Michigan appellate courts rejected each of these claims. This Court finds that those decisions are not contrary to or an unreasonable application of federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. Therefore, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus will be denied.


The petitioner was befriended by the Watson family, who lived in Huntington Woods, Michigan. The patriarch of the family, James Watson, who was sixty-seven years old and suffered from short-term memory loss, was found stabbed to death in the family home on February 24, 2003. The prosecution's theory of the case was that the petitioner stabbed Watson in the back with a knife from the kitchen in an act of revenge because of rejection by James Watson's wife and daughters.

The petitioner had been dating Watson's daughter Michelle, who also suffered from mild mental retardation. During their relationship, the Watson family, including James Watson's wife Annette and their other daughter Kelly, befriended the petitioner. Annette knew that the petitioner was not close to his own family, so she included him in family events and treated him as part of her family. After the petitioner stopped dating Michelle, the two remained roommates in a house the Watsons owned and the Watson family maintained its relationship with him. The petitioner's and Michelle's house was not far from Mr. and Mrs. Watson's home in Huntington Woods. The petitioner did chores for the Watsons in lieu of paying rent.

During the time leading up to the murder, the petitioner's relationship with the Watson family began to deteriorate. He became jealous when he thought Michelle had a boyfriend and asked Kelly to intervene with Michelle on his behalf. The petitioner also began to behave inappropriately with Annette when he misinterpreted her kindness as sexual interest. The petitioner made harassing telephone calls to Kelly after she excluded him from participating in giving a Valentine's Day card and gift to Mr. and Mrs. Watson in February 2003. From February 22 through 24, 2003, the petitioner left dozens of messages on Kelly's answering machine. This behavior caused both Annette and Kelly Watson to speak harshly with the petitioner the morning of February 24, 2003, in an effort to get him to stop his offensive conduct. They told the petitioner that they would call the police if he did not stop harassing Kelly. They testified that they never had spoken to him in this manner before this occasion.

During the same time frame, the petitioner visited Shirley Martin, who worked at a local market and with whom he had spoken daily about his relationship with his ex-girlfriend's family in the months prior to February 2003. The petitioner told Martin that Michelle's father had "old- timer's disease." Martin testified that over the course of several weeks, the petitioner asked her the same question thirty to fifty times: if a person with "old-timer's disease" got hurt, would he remember how he got hurt and who hurt him? The petitioner talked to Martin a few days before the murder and he asked her the same question.

On the day of the murder, Annette Watson left home for work and left James at home still sleeping. In addition to short-term memory loss, James Watson also suffered from emphysema, which made him unable to engage in strenuous physical activity. James had a habit of placing the newspaper on the living room floor and reading it while sitting in his chair, leaning over the paper. Annette Watson testified that James had a good relationship with the petitioner and would have let him into the house. When Annette returned from work, she found her husband on the living room floor on his stomach with a knife sticking out of his back. She recognized the knife as one from her butcher block in the kitchen. In the kitchen, she saw a large butcher knife on the floor. There was no evidence of forced entry or looting. A photograph of the petitioner, Michelle, and the Watson grandchildren was discovered on the fireplace mantel cut in half, with Michelle separated from the petitioner.

Watson was pronounced dead on the scene. The county medical examiner testified that the stab wound to the back damaged the left lung and punctured the left main pulmonary artery, causing death. The knife was plunged seven inches into Watson's back. The knife had a single steel edge blade measuring eight inches in length and slightly less than one inch in width. The medical examiner testified that the direction of the stab wound was consistent with Watson sitting in a chair, leaning over, and an assailant stabbing him in the back from behind.

Police Lieutenant Nicholas Armold of the Huntington Woods Public Safety Department arrested the petitioner shortly before 9:00 p.m. on February 24, 2003 after Annette and Kelly named him as a person of interest. He interviewed the petitioner along with a Huntington Woods detective Livingston and Hazel Park police officer Ray Donofrio beginning at approximately 10:15 p.m. that evening. Armold testified at a pretrial hearing challenging the confession that the petitioner seemed coherent, responsive, and did not appear to be under the influence of any drugs or alcohol. Livingston read the petitioner his Miranda rights from an advice of rights form. Armold testified that the petitioner agreed to waive those rights in response to specific questions as to each right he was agreeing to waive. Livingston confirmed the waiver by asking: "Okay. I wanna make sure of this. This is waiving your rights. You're waiving these rights and you're going to talk to us, correct?" Hrg. Tr., Nov. 26, 2003, at 54. Livingston also said: "Okay, you're waiving your right to talk to a lawyer before talking to us, correct? So we can talk?" Ibid. Armold testified that the petitioner answered in the affirmative and initialed an advice of rights form for each right he waived. However, the petitioner's signed form was lost and never made part of the record. The interview was videotaped, but the parties subsequently learned that the recording device worked only intermittently due to a faulty motion detector.

When asked about his activities on that day, the petitioner initially stated that he had spent the day submitting job applications. He later admitted going to the Watson's house, shoveling the driveway, and then returning home. The petitioner also described his encounters with Annette and Kelly and expressed his concern that he would no longer be accepted as part of the Watson family because of his behavior. He then confessed to "hurting Jim" and explained that he had "stuck" him with a knife. Trial Tr., vol. II, Dec. 9, 2003, at 67. He said that he was inside the Watson's home talking with James Watson; at some point, went into the kitchen, grabbed a knife from the butcher block, walked back into the living room where Watson was seated in a chair leaning over the newspaper, and stuck the knife into his back. The petitioner told the officers that he had done this to get back at Annette, Kelly, and Michelle. The petitioner wore gloves during the stabbing and was wearing gloves when he was arrested.

The police officers asked the petitioner whether he had thought about killing Mr. Watson prior to stabbing him, and the petitioner answered, "Nope." Trial Tr., vol. II, Dec. 9, 2003, at 100. The petitioner consistently denied having thought about killing Watson before the stabbing. Detective Armold testified that he could not tell whether the petitioner was being truthful on this point or not. When asked to write out a statement summarizing his confession, the petitioner asserted his rights to remain silent and asked for a lawyer; the interview ended.

At the pretrial hearing on the petitioner's motion to suppress the confession, David Niedermeier, Chief of the Hazel Park Police Department, testified about a 1995 encounter he had with the petitioner during which the petitioner waived his Miranda rights before confessing to another stabbing. Armold also testified about interviewing the petitioner regarding the Watson murder. The court denied the suppression motion.

Before trial, the state prosecutor moved to introduce evidence of the 1995 incident Niedermeier had described, in which the petitioner stabbed an acquaintance in the back with a small knife. The prosecutor sought to use the evidence to prove the petitioner's intent to kill Watson by arguing that the petitioner chose a larger knife in 2003 because his victim in the 1995 incident was able to struggle and escape when he used a small, dull knife. The prosecutor also wanted to offer evidence that the 1995 stabbing occurred shortly after the victim, with whom the petitioner had been romantically involved, said that he wanted to cool things down in their relationship. The trial court granted the motion but limited the use of the evidence, instructing the jury that it could only consider it on the question of the petitioner's motive and intent to kill.

At trial, Leonard Dale Benyas, the victim of the 1995 stabbing incident, testified that after he told the petitioner he was no longer interested in him, the petitioner offered to give Benyas a back rub. During the back rub, the petitioner stabbed Benyas in the back three times. The petitioner and Benyas struggled and the petitioner attempted to slit Benyas' throat with the knife. Benyas testified that the attempt failed because the knife was dull. Benyas spent three days in the hospital due to these injuries.

Chief Niedermeier testified at trial about his interrogation of the petitioner in relation to the 1995 stabbing of Benyas. After being advised of his rights, Officer Niedermeier testified that the petitioner indicated his understanding of each right by initialing the form by that right before waiving his Miranda rights. He then admitted that he stabbed Benyas. Niedermeier also testified to his conclusion that the 1995 incident was probably a spontaneous act on the petitioner's part.

At the close of the state's case, defense counsel moved to dismiss the first-degree murder charge for want of evidence on the elements of premeditation and deliberation. The court denied the motion. The jury convicted the petitioner of first-degree premeditated murder, and the trial court sentenced him to life in prison without parole. The state court of appeals affirmed the conviction on direct appeal, No. 260187, 2006 WL 1626650 (Mich. Ct. App. Jun. 13, 2006), and the state supreme court denied leave to appeal, People v. MacIntosh, 477 Mich. 917 (2006).

The petitioner timely filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus raising the following issues, all of which had been raised in the state appellate courts:

I. Was it in error for the trial court to rule that the statement to police made by the defendant-appellant while he was in police custody and without the benefit of counsel was voluntarily given, and therefore admissible at trial

II. Was it error for the trial court to grant the [State]'s motion to admit evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts pursuant to [Michigan Rule of Evidence] 404(b) where the proffered evidence was factually distinct in nature from the facts of this ...

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