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Hastings v. Berghuis

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

November 21, 2016

MARY BERGHUIS, Respondent.


          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON, United States District Judge

         Petitioner Williams James Hastings, a state court prisoner confined at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility, was convicted of first-degree murder following a jury trial in the Jackson County Circuit Court, and was sentenced as a fourth habitual offender to life imprisonment without parole. On May 20, 2014 Petitioner, through counsel, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, asserting that he is being held in violation of his constitutional rights. In support of this assertion, Petitioner argues that he is actually innocent of the murder conviction, that the prosecutor engaged in various forms of misconduct, and that his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective. Respondent has filed an answer to the petition, arguing that Petitioner's claims lack merit. Because Respondent is correct, Petitioner Hastings' petition will be denied.


         The following relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals 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).

This case arose out of the killing of Vicki Cook, whose body was discovered in a state of advanced decomposition in an undeveloped marshland area on August 2, 2002. The date of her death was estimated to have been July 27, 2002. In late July 2002, defendant and an associate picked Cook up as a prostitute for sex in exchange for drugs and, in fact, smoked crack cocaine with her at another friend's house. Cocaine was found in Cook's body. Defendant and Cook left together, at which time Cook was wearing clothes, including a denim long-sleeved shirt depicting a Looney Tunes character, that belonged to Teresa Merrifield, defendant's girlfriend. Among other things, defendant testified that he told Merrifield that he had killed Cook.[1] Merrifield also testified at trial that defendant had told her that he killed Cook.

People v. Hastings, No. 262698, 2006 WL 3333094, *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 16, 2006). The Court of Appeals further noted that the cause of Ms. Cook's death was manual strangulation. Id. at * 3.


         Following his conviction, Petitioner Hastings filed a motion for a new trial with the trial court based upon newly-discovered evidence that another man, Thomas Mowrer, had confessed to the crime. The trial court denied the motion. Petitioner then filed an appeal as of right with the Michigan Court of Appeals, arguing that the trial court erred in rejecting his motion for a new trial based on the newly discovered evidence. He also argued that the prosecutor had engaged in misconduct in three ways: (1) by failing to disclose “the extent of a deal” with a key prosecution witness; (2) by eliciting improper character evidence; and (3) by making an improper self-bolstering argument.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Hasting's conviction, finding that any prosecutorial misconduct was harmless, and agreeing with the trial court that Thomas Mowrer's “confession” was a false confession, as evidenced by glaring inconsistencies between his statements and the actual facts of the case. See Hastings, 2006 WL 3333094 at *1-*3. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, which was denied, with two justices dissenting. See People v. Hastings, 478 Mich. 914; 733 N.W.2d 19 (2007). Petitioner moved for reconsideration, which was denied. People v. Hastings, 480 Mich. 864; 737 N.W.2d 705 (2007).


         Petitioner filed his first petition for habeas corpus relief on August 7, 2008. See Hastings v. Berghuis, No. 1:08-CV-13478, ECF No. 1, (E.D. Mich. Aug. 7, 2008). Because the petition contained unexhausted claims, the Court dismissed the petition without prejudice so as to allow Petitioner to exhaust his claims in state court. Id. at ECF No. 22.

         After his petition was dismissed, on December 18, 2009, Petitioner filed a motion for relief from judgment with the state court, which was subsequently denied. People v. Hastings, No. 04-000690-FH (Jackson County Cir. Ct. August 11, 2010). Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Court of Appeals granted the application and issued an unpublished opinion affirming the conviction. People v. Hastings, No. 299960, 2011 WL 5965782 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2011). The Michigan Supreme Court ultimately denied the petitioner leave to appeal. See People v. Hastings, 495 Mich. 946; 843 N.W.2d 527 (2014).

         Having exhausted his claims in state court, Petitioner Hastings filed the current petition for habeas corpus on May 20, 2014. See ECF No. 1. Through the Petition, Hastings seeks habeas corpus relief based on the following claims: (1) actual innocence, as both a “gateway claim” and as a “factual consideration within the context of evaluating whether he was prejudiced by violations of federal law;” (2) prosecutorial misconduct for failing to disclose exculpatory evidence as required by Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1950) and Brady v. Maryland, 371 U.S. 83 (1963); (3) Ineffective assistance of trial counsel; and (4) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel on direct appeal.


         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), imposes the following standard of review for habeas cases: An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-

(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.


         A state court adjudication is contrary to Supreme Court precedent under § 2254(d)(1) if (1) “the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases” or (2) “ the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision [of the Supreme Court] and nevertheless arrives at a [different result].” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 73 (2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). A state court adjudication involves an unreasonable application of federal law under § 2254(d)(1) 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.” Harris v. Haeberlin, 526 F.3d 903, 909 (6th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         “In order for a federal court to find a state court's application of [Supreme Court] precedent unreasonable, the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous, ” but rather “must have been objectively unreasonable.” Wiggins v. ...

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