United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
JOHNNY L. WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
SHANE JACKSON, Respondent,
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND
GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
HONORABLE ARTHUR J. TARNOW UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
L. Williams, (“Petitioner”), incarcerated at the
Brooks Correctional Facility in Muskegon Heights, Michigan,
filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his convictions for
second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317; and
felony-firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. For the
reasons that follow, the petition for writ of habeas corpus
was originally charged with first-degree murder and
felony-firearm. Petitioner was convicted by a jury in the
Wayne County Circuit Court of the lesser offense of
second-degree murder and guilty as charged of felony-firearm.
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.
Defendant's convictions arose from the fatal shooting of
Henry Morgan at a motorcycle club in Detroit. Morgan,
defendant, and defendant's fiancée, Tiffany
Pritchett, had gathered with several others for an event at
the club. Testimony indicated that defendant and Morgan were
involved in an altercation, and that club members separated
the two men. Later the same night the men had another
argument, and defendant shot Morgan once in the abdomen.
Following the shooting, defendant left the scene with
Pritchett. Defendant turned himself in to the police 15 days
later. The defense theory at trial was that defendant acted
in self-defense. Defendant testified that immediately before
the shooting, Morgan pursued him and reached for a gun.
Pritchett corroborated defendant's testimony to the
extent that she claimed to observe Morgan reach toward his
back or waist-area before defendant shot him.
Here, there was trial testimony that defendant left the scene
by jumping in Pritchett's van and driving away with her.
When the police arrived soon after the shooting, there was no
gun on the premises and both defendant and Pritchett had
left. Although defendant did not directly flee from police at
the scene, he admittedly left the scene and did not contact
the police for 15 days, even though he was aware that he was
wanted in connection with the shooting.
People v. Williams, No. 299484, 2012 WL 164094, at *
1, 4 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 19, 2012).
conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id.
filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan
Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court granted leave to
appeal limited to the issue whether Offense Variable 19 of
the Michigan Sentencing Guidelines had been misscored.
People v. Williams, 493 Mich. 876, 821 N.W.2d 570
(2012). After oral argument the Supreme Court vacated its
earlier order and denied leave to appeal because it was no
longer persuaded that the questions presented should be
reviewed. People v. Williams, 493 Mich. 965, 828
N.W.2d 684 (2013).
filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment,
which was denied. People v. Williams, No.
09-031564-01-FC (Wayne Cir. Ct. Sept. 22, 2014). The Michigan
appellate courts denied petitioner leave to appeal.
People v. Williams, No. 324906 (Mich. Ct. App. May
19, 2015); lv. den. 499 Mich. 914, 877 N.W.2d 900
seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds:
I. Mr. Williams was denied his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment
rights to a fair trial and due process of law through the
prosecutor's misconduct, including shifting the burden of
proof and improper questioning and argument.
II. The trial court's assessment of five points for PRV 2
[prior low severity conviction] were error resulting in a
higher guidelines' range than was supported by the
record, and the sentence imposed thus was an unreasonable
departure necessitating reversal and re-sentencing.
III. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment
where defense counsel failed to specifically raise the issue
of self-defense under the 2006 Self-Defense Act,
(“SDA”) MCL 780.971 et. seq., relying instead on
the common law which not only deprived defendant [of] the
opportunity to put on a substantial and effective defense,
but so prejudiced him as to deny his right to a fair trial
and the Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of
IV. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment
where defense counsel's failure to call a known favorable
eyewitness to the shooting supporting the defense of
self-defense, denied defendant not only his Sixth Amendment
right to the effective assistance of counsel, and a fair
trial, but also his vested due process rights under the
compulsory process of the Sixth Amendment to present his own
witnesses to establish a meaningful defense.
V. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment
where the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence
to disprove defendant's claim of self-defense.
VI. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment
where the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence
to support defendant's second-degree murder conviction.
VII. Defendant is entitled to relief from judgment where the
prosecutor knowingly used false testimony to obtain a tainted
conviction, and failed to correct the false and misleading
facts known to the jury, all in violation of defendant's
Fourteenth Amendment rights under the federal and state
VIII. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment
where his conviction is against the great weight of the
IX. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment
because his vested right to a fair and impartial trial was
violated where the trial court erroneously instructed the
jury to consider whether defendant could have safely
retreated prior to using deadly force.
X. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment
where the trial court abused its discretion when it denied
defendant's motion for directed verdict on the charge of
first-degree premeditated murder as the prosecution failed to
present sufficient evidence of premeditation.
XI. Defendant Williams is entitled to relief from judgment
where appellate counsel's performance violated his Sixth
Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel on
direct appeal as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
XII. Petitioner was denied his fundamental protections to a
fair trial by and through the cumulative effect of error that
took place at the hands of the trial court, the prosecution,
defense counsel and appellate counsel.
Standard of Review
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;
(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.
decision of a state court is “contrary to”
clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at
a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on
a question of law or if the state court decides a case
differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially
indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). An “unreasonable
application” occurs when “a state court decision
unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the
facts of a prisoner's case.” Id. at 409. A
federal habeas court may not “issue the writ simply
because that court concludes in its independent judgment that
the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established
federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Id.
at 410-11. “[A] state court's determination that a
claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as
‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the
correctness of the state court's decision.”
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101
(2011)(citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652,
Court is aware that petitioner raised his third through
twelfth claims in his post-conviction motion for relief from
judgment. The judge denied these claims in part because
petitioner failed to show cause and prejudice, as required by
M.C.R. 6.508(D)(3), for not raising these claims on his
appeal of right. Although the state judge court judge
mentioned M.C.R. 6.508(D)(3), the AEDPA's deferential
standard of review would nonetheless apply to the judge's
opinion because he alternatively rejected the claims on the
merits. See Moritz v. Lafler, 525 F. App'x. 277,
284 (6th Cir. 2013).
Claim # 1. The prosecutorial misconduct claims.
argues that he was denied a fair trial because of
of prosecutorial misconduct are reviewed deferentially on
habeas review.” Millender v. Adams, 376 F.3d
520, 528 (6th Cir. 2004)(citing Bowling v. Parker,
344 F.3d 487, 512 (6th Cir. 2003)). A prosecutor's
improper comments will be held to violate a criminal
defendant's constitutional rights only if they
“‘so infected the trial with unfairness as to
make the resulting conviction a denial of due
process.'” Darden v. Wainwright, 477 U.S.
168, 181 (1986)(quoting Donnelly v. DeChristoforo,
416 U.S. 637, 643 (1974)). Prosecutorial misconduct will thus
form the basis for habeas relief only if the conduct was so
egregious as to render the entire trial fundamentally unfair
based on the totality of the circumstances. Donnelly v.
DeChristoforo, 416 U.S. at 643-45. In order to obtain
habeas relief on a prosecutorial misconduct claim, a habeas
petitioner must show that the state court's rejection of
his prosecutorial misconduct claim “was so lacking in
justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
fairminded disagreement.” Parker v. Matthews,
132 S.Ct. 2148, 2155 (2012)(quoting Harrington, 562
U.S. at 103).
first contends that the prosecutor committed misconduct by
asking Ms. Pritchett whether petitioner had a “jealous
Michigan Court of Appeals rejected this claim:
“[A] prosecutor's good-faith effort to admit
evidence does not constitute misconduct.” Here,
defendant has not shown that the prosecutor acted in bad
faith. Defendant's demeanor was a matter of concern to
both parties in light of the defense theory that defendant
acted in self-defense. Defense counsel noted during opening
statement that defendant was calm on the evening in question.
Defense counsel asserted that in contrast to defendant's
calm demeanor, Morgan was aggressive, drunk, and furious, and
had a “gun mentality.” Given the parties'
theories, defendant has not demonstrated that the questions
concerning his temper and jealousy on the night in question
were improper. Viewed in context, the challenged questions
were not intended to inject improper character evidence, but
rather sought information that was both relevant and
responsive to the defense theory. Regardless, Pritchett
denied that defendant had a jealous heart or a violent
temper, so reversal is not warranted on this issue.
People v. Williams, No. 299484, 2012 WL 164094, at *
1 (internal citation omitted).
petitioner framed his claim as a prosecutorial-misconduct
challenge, “it amounts in the end to a challenge to the
trial court's decision to allow the introduction of this
evidence.” Webb v. Mitchell, 586 F.3d 383, 397
(6th Cir. 2009). “A prosecutor may rely in good faith
on evidentiary rulings made by the state trial judge and make
arguments in reliance on those rulings.”
Cristini v. McKee, 526 F.3d 888, 900 (6th
Cir. 2008). For a prosecutor's cross-examination of a
witness to rise to the level of prosecutorial misconduct, a
defendant is required to show intentional misconduct or
reckless disregard for the truth on the part of the
prosecutor. See U.S. v. Sexton, 119 F. App'x.
735, 750 (6th Cir. 2005); vacated in part on other
grds, 2005 WL 6011238 (6th Cir. Apr. 4, 2005). The
questions posed by the prosecutor to Ms. Pritchett about
petitioner's temper and possible jealousy were relevant
to challenging the defense theory that petitioner was calm
and passive on the night of the shooting, so as to rebut his
self-defense claim. A prosecutor does not commit misconduct
by asking witnesses relevant questions. See Slagle v.
Bagley, 457 F.3d 501, 518 (6th Cir. 2006).
Petitioner's claim is without merit.
next argues that the prosecutor improperly sought to elicit
irrelevant character evidence that petitioner manipulated
people, when she asked petitioner if he ...