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Williams v. Palmer

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

January 30, 2017

DUANE LAMAR WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
CARMEN PALMER, Respondent.

          OPINION

          Honorable Janet T. Neff, Judge

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must be dismissed because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.

         Factual Allegations

         Petitioner is incarcerated in the Michigan Reformatory. Following a jury trial, Petitioner was convicted in the Wayne County Circuit Court of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, felony murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(b), and first-degree arson, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.72(1)(b). The Michigan Court of Appeals provided the following summary of the evidence presented at trial:

This case arises from two arson-related deaths occurring on August 20, 2012, at a home in Detroit. Bobby Cross lived at the home with girlfriend Janet Smith and his stepson, Darryl Simms. Defendant is Janet's son. Defendant and his wife also lived at Bobby's home. Bobby's daughter, Jacqueline Cross, lived at the home immediately next door with her daughter Shameka Cross.
Around 11:00 p.m. on August 19, 2012, Jacqueline visited Bobby's home and saw Bobby and defendant engaged in an argument. Bobby wanted defendant to pay rent, but defendant refused. Later that night, Shameka woke to the sound of Janet arguing with defendant. Janet told Shameka that Bobby was trying to shoot defendant. Around 5:00 a.m. on the morning of August 20, 2012, Shameka again heard yelling. She looked out a window and saw fire in the front porch area of her grandfather's house. She called 9-1-1. Bobby and Darryl died in the fire.
When Janet arrived at the scene she told police, “I can't believe this. I think my son set the house on fire.” At trial, Bobby's friend Lawrence Ingram testified that defendant once threatened to “burn this b---h out, ” referring to Bobby's house. Darryl's sister Deborah Simms also testified that defendant threatened to “f-k up” the house. Gary Jennings, a friend of defendant's and an inmate at the Wayne County Jail, informed police that defendant confessed to setting the fire during a conversation with Jennings.
Medical Examiner Dr. Allecia Wilson testified about the autopsies she performed on Bobby and Darryl. The victims died of smoke and soot inhalation and she initially concluded that their deaths were accidental. However, after the police informed her that the fire had been intentionally set, Wilson changed the manner of death in her autopsy reports to homicide. Another doctor, Dr. Lokman Sung, signed separate “Supplemental Report[s] for a Pending Certificate of Death, ” also changing the manner of death for each victim. Wilson's original reports were admitted into evidence with Sung's supplemental reports attached as amendments. Sung did not testify at trial.
People v. Williams, No. 318856, 2015 WL 558307, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 10, 2015). On direct appeal, Petitioner claimed that his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation and his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated when Dr. Wilson was permitted to testify regarding Dr. Sung signing supplemental death certificates changing the cause of death to homicide. He further claimed that Defense counsel was ineffective for failing to object to Wilson's testimony concerning Dr. Sung. In an unpublished opinion issued on February 10, 2015, the Michigan Court of Appeals rejected Petitioner's claims of error and affirmed his conviction. The Michigan Supreme Court subsequently denied Petitioner's application for leave to appeal on September 29, 2015.

         In his application for habeas corpus relief, Petitioner raises only his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, as follows:

INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL FOR FAILURE TO OBJECT TO TESTIMONIAL EVIDENCE WITHOUT AN OPPORTUNITY FOR CROSS-EXAMINATION OF DR. WILSON WHO TESTIFIED TO DR. SUNG'S DEATH CERTIFICATES. DR. SUNG DID NOT TESTIFY.

(Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.3.)[1]

         Standard of Review

         The AEDPA “prevents federal habeas ‘retrials'” and ensures that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under the law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693-94 (2002). The AEDPA has “drastically changed” the nature of habeas review. Bailey v. Mitchell, 271 F.3d 652, 655 (6th Cir. 2001). An application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person who is incarcerated pursuant to a state conviction cannot be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication: “(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 upon an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence ...


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