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Landers v. Romanowski

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

December 29, 2014

TIM LANDERS, Petitioner,


BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN, Senior District Judge.

This matter is presently before the Court on petitioner's amended application for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his state convictions for first-degree (premeditated) murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(a), conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 750.157a and 750.316, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony firearm), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. Petitioner raises several evidentiary and constitutional issues in his habeas petition. He also alleges that the combined effect of the errors deprived him of due process and a fair trial. Respondent argues through counsel that some of petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted and that none of the claims merit habeas relief. Having reviewed the record, the Court agrees that petitioner's claims lack merit and that the state-court rulings on his claims were objectively reasonable. Accordingly, the amended petition will be denied.

I. Background

A. The Trial, Sentence, and Direct Appeal

Petitioner was charged in Wayne County, Michigan, with two counts of premeditated murder as a principal or aider and abettor, two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and one count of felony firearm. The charges arose from the fatal shootings of Kevin Garland and Garland's friend, Mary Ann Simmons. Garland was shot and killed in Southfield, Michigan, about 12:15 a.m. on October 16, 1998. Simmons was shot and killed in a similar fashion about three hours later at her home in Detroit, Michigan.

Petitioner's first trial ended with a mistrial because the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict. Petitioner was tried a second time with co-defendant Christine Jackson before a single jury. The evidence at the second trial established that,

[o]n October 7, 1998, ... Landers... agreed to sell three kilograms of cocaine to Michael McConico. Rather than purchase the drugs, McConico robbed Landers and shot him in the leg. Landers blamed [Kevin] Garland for this incident because Garland introduced McConico to him, and Landers sought revenge. Landers, accompanied by [Christine] Jackson, Eric Willis, and Ronney Johnson, tracked down and killed Garland and then Garland's girlfriend, [Mary Ann] Simmons. After these murders, Landers, Jackson, Willis, and Johnson left Michigan and drove to California. Facing the need to move some furniture in Michigan, Jackson and Johnson returned to Michigan in November 1998 and while there, police pulled over Johnson's van and found a concealed weapon. Johnson was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, but the prosecutor later dropped the charges in exchange for Johnson's testimony at Jackson's and Landers'[] homicide trial.
At trial, among the prosecution's witnesses were Johnson, McConico, and Angela Wallace. Johnson provided eyewitness testimony of Garland's shooting as well as Landers'[] order to Willis and Jackson to "take care" of Simmons. McConico testified as to the motive, admitting that he robbed and shot Landers in the leg. Wallace, a California attorney, testified as to her role in representing Johnson on his concealed-weapon charge.

Jackson v. Stovall, 467 F.Appx. 440, 440-41 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 133 S.Ct. 316 (2012).[1]

Ronney Johnson was the main witness against petitioner. He testified that, after petitioner had surgery on his wounded leg and was released from the hospital, petitioner and others attempted to locate Mike McConico because petitioner wanted revenge for being shot and having his cocaine stolen. Johnson explained that, on the night in question, he, petitioner, Christine Jackson, and Eric Wills[2] picked up Kevin Garland in their van and demanded to know where Mike McConico lived. Garland gave them directions to a large apartment complex, but when they reached the housing complex, Garland exited the van and started running. Although petitioner had been released from the hospital within the past 24 hours, he slid out of his seat in the van and fired several gunshots at Garland through the window of the van.

According to Johnson, petitioner subsequently told Eric Wills to "make sure the job [was] finished." Wills then went to the apartment building where Garland had gone and fired a few shots.

The group subsequently left the complex and went to a motel where petitioner asked Ronney Johnson to go and take care of Mary Ann Simmons. Johnson replied that it was not his war. Petitioner then made the same request of Eric Wills, who left the motel with Jackson. When Wills and Jackson returned to the motel, Wills informed petitioner that he had handled the matter, and Simmons stated that she saw Wills go to the door and take care of business. The next day, the shootings were in the news and either petitioner or Jackson said that they had to get out of there. Immediately afterward, they left the state.

Johnson explained at trial that, initially, he did not tell the police about the shootings. However, after his arrest on the weapons charge, he implicated petitioner in the murders because he wanted protection for his family and because he thought that the defendants had mistreated him. He provided the police with information about the shootings before he was promised leniency for his cooperation, but he did not tell the complete truth because petitioner, Jackson, and Wills were not in custody at the time, and he feared them.

Neither petitioner nor Jackson testified at trial. Petitioner's only witness was Dr. David Schleif, the emergency physician who treated petitioner for his gunshot wound on October 7, 1998. Dr. Schleif testified that, although petitioner's surgery would not have prevented him from placing weight on both legs after his discharge from the hospital, it would have been dangerous and painful to do so, and the weight could have displaced the rod that was inserted in petitioner's leg. In Dr. Schleif's opinion, petitioner's injury would have precluded any motion or weight-bearing on the day after his discharge.

Petitioner's defense was that Ronney Johnson was not a credible witness, that Johnson was responsible for the shootings, that petitioner had no motive for shooting Kevin Garland, and that the acts attributed to petitioner were physically impossible due to his leg injury and recent surgery.

The trial court instructed the jury on second-degree murder as a lesser-included offense of first-degree murder, but, on April 20, 2001, the jury found petitioner guilty, as charged, of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and one count of felony firearm. The trial court sentenced petitioner to two years in prison for the felony firearm conviction, followed by four concurrent terms of life imprisonment for the murder and conspiracy convictions.

In an appeal as of right, petitioner argued that (1) the trial court deprived him of due process and a fair trial by refusing to sever his trial from his co-defendant's trial, (2) the prosecutor committed misconduct, and (3) the trial court violated his right of confrontation by suppressing evidence of Ronney Johnson's character. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed petitioner's conviction in an unpublished, per curiam opinion. See People v. Landers, No. 235919, 2004 WL 1089500 (Mich. Ct. App. May 13, 2004). Petitioner raised the same issues in the Michigan Supreme Court, which denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues. See People v. Landers, 471 Mich. 949; 690 N.W.2d 111 (2004) (table).

B. The Habeas Petition, Post-Conviction Proceedings, and Amended Petition

On March 15, 2006, petitioner commenced this action by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A month later, he moved to stay the federal proceedings so that he could pursue additional remedies in state court. On May 10, 2006, the Court granted petitioner's motion and closed this case for administrative purposes. See Order Granting Motion to Stay, docket entry 4.

On July 6, 2006, petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment in the state trial court. He argued that the trial court erred by (1) admitting in evidence a video transcript of Ronney Johnson's arraignment, (2) permitting the prosecutor to read Angela Wallace's prior testimony, (3) refusing to admit impeachment evidence offered by the defendant, (4) admitting hearsay testimony, and (5) allowing Kelvin Garland to testify as to what his brother Kevin told him. Petitioner also argued that the prosecutor committed perjury and a fraud on the court and that trial counsel was ineffective. The trial court rejected all these claims on the merits and denied petitioner's motion. Petitioner appealed the trial court's decision without success. Both the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal on the basis that petitioner had failed to establish entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). See People v. Landers, No. 280800 (Mich. Ct. App. Apr. 16, 2008); People v. Landers, 482 Mich. 1031; 769 N.W.2d 200 (2008) (table).

On December 2, 2008, petitioner filed an amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus in this Court. The amended petition asserts the following grounds for relief: (1) the trial court deprived him of his constitutional rights by refusing to sever his trial from his co-defendant's trial; (2) the prosecutor engaged in misconduct; (3) the trial court suppressed evidence relating to Johnson's character for untruthfulness; (4) the trial court erred in admitting the transcript of Johnson's arraignment; (5) the trial court erred by allowing the prosecutor to read Wallace's prior testimony to the jury; (6) the trial court violated his rights by refusing to admit impeachment evidence offered by the defendants; (7) the trial court erred by admitting hearsay testimony; (8) the prosecutor committed perjury; (9) trial counsel was ineffective; (10) the combined effect of errors deprived him of due process and a fair trial; (11) the trial court violated his right of confrontation by allowing Kelvin Garland to testify about what the deceased victims said to him; and (12) there is newly discovered evidence that the prosecutor committed a fraud on the state court.

The Court initially failed to notice that petitioner was attempting to re-open his case. On March 15, 2012, however, the Court re-opened this case, and on September 14, 2012, respondent filed his answer to the amended petition.

II. Standard of Review

"The statutory authority of federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA)." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, ___, 131 S.Ct. 770, 783 (2011). Pursuant to § 2254, the Court may not grant a state prisoner's application for the writ of habeas corpus unless the state court's adjudication of the prisoner's claims on the merits

(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 on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

Under the "contrary to" clause [of § 2254(d)(1)], a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause [of § 2254(d)(1)], a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000) (O'Connor, J., opinion of the Court for Part II). "[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Id. at 411.

"AEDPA thus imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ' Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt, ' Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) ( per curiam )." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010). "A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Richter, 131 S.Ct. at 786 (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). "[E]ven a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable." Id. (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). To obtain a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on his or her claim "was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Id. at 786-87. "If a state court has not decided a particular claim on the merits, and if that claim is not procedurally defaulted, AEDPA deference does not apply, and this court [will] review[ ] questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact de novo.'" Scott v. Houk, 760 F.3d 497, 504 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting Maples v. Stegall, 340 F.3d 433, 436 (6th Cir. 2003)).

III. Analysis

A. Angela Wallace's Prior Testimony (habeas claims I, V, and VII.B.1)

1. Background

Petitioner alleges that the trial court deprived him of a fair trial and his right to confront the witnesses against him by refusing to sever his case from Christine Jackson's case when the trial court ruled that Angela Wallace's prior testimony could be read to the jury. Petitioner further alleges that Ms. Wallace's prior testimony was inadmissible hearsay.

During petitioner's trial, the prosecutor asked Wallace when she first met Christine Jackson. Wallace responded that she did not meet Jackson until February of 1999, which was after Ronney Johnson's nephew informed her that Johnson had been arrested in Detroit on a gun charge. Wallace explained that she arranged for a local attorney (Clarence Tucker) to represent Johnson and that she subsequently represented Jackson in the early stages of Jackson's homicide case. Wallace saw no conflict of interest in representing both Jackson and Johnson because they were charged in separate cases and because she represented Johnson months before she represented Jackson. She claimed that she did not personally talk with Johnson, that her representation of him had nothing to do with Jackson, and that Jackson never asked her to represent Johnson. (Trial Tr. Vol. IV, 109-33, Apr. 12, 2001.)

The trial court released Wallace as a witness and permitted her to return to her home in California after she testified. The following day the prosecutor asked the trial court for permission to add a federal law enforcement official to his witness list. The prosecutor explained that, after Wallace testified, he contacted an assistant United States attorney in the Northern District of California where Christine Jackson had been indicted on a federal drug charge. The prosecutor learned during his conversation with the federal attorney that Wallace had testified in the California case that she knew Jackson as early as March of 1998. The prosecutor wanted to bring in the federal law enforcement official in the California case to testify that Wallace became acquainted with Jackson in 1998. The prosecutor also wanted to admit in evidence a transcript of the California hearing. (Trial Tr. Vol. V, 28, Apr. 13, 2001.)

Petitioner's attorney objected to the prosecutor's motion on the ground that the prosecutor was trying to impeach Wallace with her prior testimony, but without having confronted her with the testimony. The trial court ruled that the prosecutor could add the federal law enforcement official to his witness list to testify about Wallace's prior testimony and that the prosecutor could bring Wallace back to Michigan to testify if he paid for her transportation. ( Id. at 28-32, 54-59.)

On the next day of trial, which was after a weekend recess in the case, the prosecutor reported that he had contacted Wallace and advised her that she must return to Michigan and that he would be providing her with a travel itinerary within 24 hours. The prosecutor stated that Wallace agreed to return to Detroit to testify, but when he tried calling her a second time with details of the travel arrangements, he reached her sister. The sister informed him that Wallace had gone to visit her father in Texas and that she did not know the Texas address or telephone number for Wallace or even the city where she was staying. Additionally, Wallace's cell phone had been turned off. (Trial Tr. Vol. VI, 6-8, Apr. 16, 2001.)

Because Wallace could not be located, the prosecutor asked the trial court for permission to use the transcript of her testimony in the California hearing. He wanted to show that, contrary to her trial testimony, Wallace knew Christine Jackson as a client in March of 1998. The prosecutor speculated that Jackson had tried to hire Wallace to represent Ronney Johnson in Johnson's criminal case for carrying a concealed weapon to control what Johnson said to the police about the murders of Kevin Garland and Mary Ann Simmons.

The trial court ruled that the transcript of Wallace's testimony in the California case was not hearsay and that it could be read to the jury as impeachment evidence in Jackson's case, but that the transcript itself could not be admitted as a exhibit. Defense counsel objected to the admission of the evidence and requested "a severance of this additional evidence." The trial court denied defense counsel's request (Trial Tr. Vol VII, 7-21, 235, Apr. 17, 2001), but read ...

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