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Jones v. Winn

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

October 31, 2016

THOMAS WINN, Respondent.



         This is a habeas case brought by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Christopher M. Jones was convicted after a jury trial in the Wayne Circuit Court of first-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws §750.316, and arson of a dwelling house. Mich. Comp. Laws §750.72. He was sentenced as a third-time habitual felony offender to concurrent terms of life for the murder conviction and 162 months to forty years for the arson conviction.

         The petition raises four claims: (1) the police failed to exercise due diligence in securing the attendance of a key witness which resulted in the erroneous admission of the witness's prior testimony, (2) insufficient evidence was presented at trial to sustain Petitioner's convictions, (3) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel for failing to object to the admission of the prior testimony, and (4) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate challenges to the credibility of the missing witness.

         The Court will deny the petition because the state court adjudication of Petitioner's claims did not involve an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court law. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and permission to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. Background

         This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which are presumed correct on habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009):

Defendant's convictions arise out of the August 5, 2011, stabbing death of Stephen Brinkley and the burning of Brinkley's home the same day. During the months preceding the crimes, defendant lived with Brinkley. In the early morning hours of August 5, 2011, the victim's neighbor, Troy Dunomes, who resided directly across the street from the victim, observed a man he identified as defendant exit the front door of the victim's home and walk away, without screaming, yelling, or saying anything. Dunomes noticed smoke coming from the back of the victim's house and grabbed his cell phone and called “911, ” while defendant walked to the corner of the street and disappeared. Firefighters responded immediately and, after containing the fire, discovered the victim's body inside the home. The victim had sustained multiple stab wounds, including wounds to his chest, abdomen, and eyeball, and had numerous incised wounds on his face and extremities. The medical examiner opined that the victim died from the stab wounds and found no evidence that he was alive at the time of the fire. Investigators did not find any evidence of a forced entry into the home and concluded that the fire was intentionally set. Testing by a forensic biologist revealed that blood collected from the interior of the front door of the victim's home and from a pair of boy's underwear found on the floor near the door matched defendant's DNA. Three days after the fire, defendant appeared at the home of Yolette Bass. Bass testified that defendant did not look good and had wounds on his hands. The medical examiner reviewed photographs of defendant's hands taken at the time of his arrest and testified that the wounds were “relatively fresh” or “days old.” Defendant told Bass that he was in a fight and that there was a fire at his home. Police arrested defendant at Bass' home. Dunomes identified defendant in a live lineup as the man he observed leaving the victim's home on the morning of the fire.

People v. Jones, No. 312113, 2014 WL 2040009, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. May 15, 2014).

         Following his conviction and sentence, Petitioner's appellate counsel filed a claim of appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Counsel filed an appellate brief which raised the following claim:

I. Did the Trial Court abused [sic] its discretion in finding that due diligence had been exercised to secure the missing, key prosecution witness, where, as a result of the Court's erroneous conclusion the jury was ultimately denied the missing-witness instruction, and, in turn, Mr. Jones was denied his state and federal constitutional rights to a fair trial by a properly instructed jury, Sixth Amendment right of confrontation, and Fourteenth Amendment due process right to defend against the charges?

         Petitioner also filed a supplemental pro se brief, raising the following additional claims:

I. Did the trial court violate Defendant's due process rights where insufficient evidence was presented at trial to sustain his conviction?
II. Was defense counsel constitutionally ineffective by failing to object or conducting a proper investigation?

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Jones's conviction in an unpublished opinion. Jones, 2014 WL 2040009, at *5.

         Petitioner subsequently filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, which raised the same claims as in the Michigan Court of Appeals, and an additional claim not presented to the court of appeals:

I. The statement and testimony against Defendant which was testimonial and admitted by the court was not evident of any reliable and admissible evidence supporting the credibility of the declarant and was not challenged by defense counsel which effectively denied Defendant the right to present a defense.

         The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application because it was not persuaded that the questions presented should be reviewed by the Court. People v. Jones, 853 N.W.2d 362 (Mich. 2014) (unpublished table decision).

         II. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) curtails a federal court's review of constitutional claims raised by a state prisoner in a habeas corpus action if the claims were rejected on the merits by the state courts. Relief is barred under this section unless the state court adjudication was “contrary to” or resulted in an “unreasonable application of” clearly established Supreme Court law.

         “A state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [this] precedent.'” Mitchell ...

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