United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
GEORGE CARAM STEEH, District Judge.
Petitioner Barry Coleman filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Coleman is a state prisoner in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections pursuant to a second-degree murder conviction. He argues that his conviction was obtained in violation of his constitutional rights because he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel and the prosecutor committed misconduct. Respondent argues that the claims are procedurally defaulted and/or meritless. The Court finds that habeas relief is not warranted and denies the petition.
Coleman's convictions arise from the murder of Tiffany Cody, whose body was discovered in the Price Nature Center in Bridgeport Township, Michigan on September 7, 2008. The Michigan Court of Appeals described the circumstances leading to Coleman's conviction as follows:
Underlying this case is a debt for which death was exacted as payment. The deceased victim was Tiffiny Cody. Cody was known among friends and acquaintances for her drug use. Defendant was known as a drug dealer. Sometime in early September 2008, Cody attempted to sell defendant a car she had previously stolen for several hundred dollars.
However, after receiving the money from defendant Cody was unable to obtain the proper title for the vehicle or find a different buyer, so defendant demanded a refund. Notably, two days before Cody's death, on September 5, 2008, defendant threatened that if he was not repaid, "he would kill [Cody], " and later exclaimed: "[Cody] better not be playing with my money or I'll kill this bitch."
The next day, Cody called two acquaintances. The first, Karen Withers, who was also the stolen vehicle's former owner, testified that Cody sounded fearful on the phone and begged for money or the car's title because she was in trouble and in fear for her life. A man identifying himself only as "Brandon" also spoke to Withers and angrily threatened that "some way or somehow someone was going to pay for it today." Withers, an Indiana resident, told Cody that she would wire $800 to a Kroger in Bridgeport, Michigan, and subsequently called 911 to alert the local authorities. Local police, however, did not find Cody at Kroger. The second witness, Cody's former mother-in-law, testified that Cody requested $300 because she was in a lot of trouble since "they were going to kill her." An unidentified man also spoke on the phone and indicated that this situation had persisted for a couple of days.
On the morning of September 7, 2008, Cody's body was found near the parking lot of the Price Nature Center in Bridgeport Township. The autopsy revealed that Cody had sustained three blows to the head and had died from blunt force trauma inflicted by a "considerable" amount of force. Experts opined that the blows resulted from a fist or alternatively from Cody's head striking concrete pavement - either due to a fall or by force.
Apparently following up on their investigation, police located defendant on October 10, 2008. Following a brief chase, officers subdued defendant with a taser and arrested him. During his subsequent police interview, defendant claimed he had purchased a vehicle from Cody, but upon learning the vehicle was stolen, had required Cody to call friends and relatives to get his money. When Cody came up empty-handed, defendant claimed that he drove her to the nature center where a fight ensued. Defendant admitted punching Cody's head three times and kicking her, but claimed she injured her head when falling. According to defendant, he did not intend to kill Cody.
People v. Coleman, No. 296756, 2011 WL 2423814, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. June 16, 2011).
Coleman filed a direct appeal of his conviction, raising these claims through counsel: (i) Coleman should not have been sentenced as a habitual fourth offender because he had only two prior felony convictions; and (ii) insufficient evidence was presented to establish second-degree murder. Coleman filed a pro-per supplemental brief, raising the following additional claims: (i) ineffective assistance of counsel; and (ii) prosecutorial misconduct. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentences. Id.
Coleman filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Coleman, 490 Mich. 972 (Mich. 2011).
Coleman then filed the pending habeas petition. He raises these claims:
I. Petitioner was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel in the following ways: (1) trial counsel did not object to the prosecutor's improper statements about forensic expert witness Dr. Spitz being paid to testify; and (2) trial counsel failed to object to the prosecutor's misstatement of the evidence when he stated that the Petitioner by his own admission sold Ms. Clements some drugs in order to finance getting away to Chicago.
II. Prosecutorial misconduct denied the Petitioner due process of law in the following ways: (1) the prosecutor made improper statements during rebuttal closing argument about forensic expert witness Dr. Spitz being paid to testify; and (2) the prosecutor misstated the evidence when he stated in closing and rebuttal closing argument that "defendant by ...