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Price v. Rivard

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

April 11, 2017

STEVEN RIVARD, Respondent.


          John Corbett O'Meara United States District Judge.

         This is a habeas case filed by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Reginald Price was convicted after he pled guilty in the Wayne Circuit Court to one count of second degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317. Petitioner was sentenced to 32½ to 60 years imprisonment. The petition raises a single claim: Petitioner's plea was involuntarily entered when he expressed confusion at the plea hearing and his trial attorney told him he would receive life in prison if he stood trial. The Court finds that Petitioner's claim is without merit. Therefore, the petition will be denied. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and deny permission to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was charged with first-degree murder in connection with the beating death of Kimani Hicks. The incident was recorded on a gas station's surveillance video system, and it showed Petitioner beating the victim in the head with a baseball bat in the parking lot.

         At Petitioner's preliminary examination, Hakima Hicks testified that she was Kimani's sister. On May 9, 2012, after receiving a call that her brother was hurt, she went to a gas station in Detroit. When she arrived she saw her brother being loaded into an ambulance. She visited him for the three days he was at the hospital until his death, but Kimani was never able to communicate with her. Dkt. 9-2, at 6-8.

         The attendant at the gas station, Sattir Al-Mayali, testified he was working on the date of the incident. Id., at 10. Earlier in the day he saw Petitioner holding a baseball bat, and he was angry. Id., at 10-11. Al-Mayali identified Petitioner as the person holding the bat in the videotape taken from the store's surveillance camera. Id., at 11-12.

         Detroit Police Officer Barron Townsend testified that on the evening in question he was called to a gas station on a reported assault and battery. Id., at 13-14. He found the victim lying in the parking lot. Id., at 15. He was bleeding profusely from the back of his head. Id. The victim was alive, but he was unable to communicate. Id., at 16.

         Detroit Police Officer Brandon Smith testified that he worked for the homicide section. Id., at 18. He interviewed Petitioner on May 23, 2012. Id. Petitioner was advised of his rights prior to the interview, and Petitioner waived them and agreed to make a statement. Id., at 18-19. Petitioner described the incident as follows:

I was inside the gas station and I saw Kato through the window. I went outside to confront him about stealing my bike from me and pulling a gun on me at Palmer Park. I told him what he and Cash did to me was wrong. I said give me my $15 back. He told me to go on somewhere before I get shot in the head. It's going to be later tonight or tomorrow.
Then he put his fist up to fight me. That's when I hit him the first time. He fell down then I kept hitting him in his head. I walked away to Six Mile and Third and dropped the bat.
Then I walked up to Urban Cutts at Six Mile and Second and sat outside the shop. The police in a blue and white car stopped me and talked to me. I told them I got into a fight. They wrote down my name and let me go.

Id., at 21-22.

         Petitioner claimed that the victim had a gun on his hip when the incident occurred. Id., at 22. No weapon was found on the victim's body, however. Id., at 28. Petitioner explained that the victim pulled a gun on him previously, and during the incident “I must have had a flashback of him pulling the gun.” Id., at 23. Petitioner said that he was not trying to kill the victim, and he “should have just hit him in the legs.” Id. Petitioner identified himself in the videotape assaulting the victim in the parking lot. Id.

         The video showed Petitioner hitting the victim in the head with the bat. Id., at 23-24. As described by the prosecutor: “there were first two blows which knocked the decedent to the ground. The defendant then took the bat way over his head and came down on the decedent. Then stepped around the decedent, hit him two more times, then stepped away and came back and hit him one additional time. Id., at 28-29. The state district court bound Petitioner over for trial in the circuit court on the charge of first-degree murder. Id., at 30.

         The day before trial was scheduled to begin, a plea bargain was struck whereby Petitioner agreed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of second-degree murder with a sentencing agreement of 32½ to 60 years, and in exchange the prosecutor dismissed the first-degree murder charge. Dkt. 9-3, at 2. Petitioner was place under oath, and he indicated his desire to accept the plea bargain. Id., at 3. Petitioner was advised that he was charged with first-degree murder which carried a mandatory life term. Id., at 4. Petitioner was then advised of, and agreed to waive, all of his trial rights. Id., at 4-5. Petitioner indicated that he was entering his guilty plea of his own free will. Id., at 5.

         When asked for a factual basis for the crime, Petitioner initially stated that he threw a bottle at the victim, killing him, and he denied hitting him with the baseball bat. Id., at 7. The Court immediately indicated that it would not accept the plea, whereupon defense counsel stated to Petitioner, “You know there's a baseball bat in the video that they're going to play. . . . what do you want me to do?” Id. The Court also asked Petitioner how he wished to proceed, and Petitioner indicated, “I'll plead guilty to it.” Id., at 7-9.

Petitioner then testified to the following factual basis:
Court: Did you hit him with a baseball bat?
Petitioner: (No response)
Court: Yes or no?
Petitioner: Yes.
Court: And as a result of you hitting him with the baseball bat, to his head, he ...

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