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Dinwiddie v. Woods

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

April 28, 2017

JEFFREY WOODS, Respondent.



         Chester Dinwiddie, (“Petitioner”), a Michigan Department of Corrections prisoner serving a life sentence, filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The petition challenges Petitioner's 1987 Recorder's Court for the City of Detroit jury trial convictions of one count of first-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316, three counts of assault with intent to commit murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750227b. As a result of these convictions, Petitioner is serving a controlling sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. The petition raises four claims: (1) Petitioner is entitled to a new trial in light of new reliable evidence proving that he is actually innocent, (2) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of trial counsel, (3) Petitioner's jury was erroneously informed that two prosecution witnesses would be charged with perjury if they did not testify truthfully, and (4) the prosecutor committed misconduct by appealing to the religious beliefs of the jurors.

         This matter is before the Court on Respondent's motion to dismiss the petition as untimely filed. Petitioner has filed a response to the motion asserting that the untimeliness of his petition should be excused because he can demonstrate that he is actually innocent. Petitioner supports his contention with an affidavit from another prisoner who claims that Petitioner was not with him when he committed the crime.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Respondent's motion and dismiss the case because Petitioner failed to comply with the one-year limitations period under 28 U.S.C. §2244(d), and Petitioner has failed to demonstrate grounds for equitable tolling based on his claim of actual innocence. The Court will, however, grant a certificate of appealability and grant permission to proceed on appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. Background

         Petitioner and his co-defendant, Samuel Green, were charged with crimes related to an August 10, 1986, drive-by shooting occurring on a Detroit residential street which resulted in the death of an eight-year-old girl, Tanisha Baldwin. Three other children who were playing in the house with the deceased victim suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds.

         The evidence presented at trial indicated that two drug gangs, one led by Charles Giles and the other by Gary Harris, were involved in a territorial dispute.[1] On the day of the shooting, Darryl Bell, who was in Giles's gang, fired a shot at a member of Harris's gang. Later that day, Giles called the apartment of Pamela Foster, and spoke to her boyfriend, Robert Thomas to ask him to gather a group of men to retaliate.

         Pamela Foster testified that after the call Thomas went into the stairwell of her apartment building to gather gang members. Petitioner accompanied Thomas back into her apartment from the stairwell to retrieve weapons, and then Foster saw a brown van pull in the front of the building. Several of the men got into the van, but Foster could not identify which ones did so. The van then drove away.

         Tonya Hall testified that the van arrived at Giles's location about half an hour after he called Thomas. Two men exited the van with weapons in their hands. They were dressed with hooded sweat suits, so Hall was unable to identify them. Hall testified that Darryl Bell got into the van to give directions to Harris's house. The van then drove away. As it turned out, Bell was mistaken about the location of Harris's house and directed the van to the house occupied by the four children.

         Moments later a number of shots were fired at the house and struck the young victims, killing one and injuring three others. Bell testified under a grant of immunity that Petitioner was among the men in the van, and he was armed with a long gun. Bell also testified that Petitioner got out of the van and was one of the men who fired shots at the house. Bell testified that he fired a single shot at the house.

         Foster testified that she saw the van return to her apartment building. Thomas and Petitioner were the only men who Foster identified as coming back into her apartment with guns. Foster testified that Thomas gave Petitioner clothes that he had on, including a hooded sweatshirt. Foster asked Thomas why he did this, and Thomas explained that Petitioner was going to “take the rap” for being caught with some cocaine. Thomas instructed Foster to get together some clothes because they were leaving immediately for Atlanta.

         The day after the shooting, police officers received an anonymous tip and arrested Bell. Bell made statements to the police under a grant of immunity. He led police officer's to Foster's apartment. Police searched the apartment on August 13th, where they found Petitioner and his co-defendant Green present with the weapons that were used in the shooting. A police officer testified that he questioned Petitioner on August 14th about the shooting. Petitioner said that he did not know anything about the incident other than what he heard on the news.

         Based on this evidence, Petitioner was convicted of the offenses indicated above, and he was sentenced to a non-parolable life term as well as lesser terms.

         Petitioner filed an appeal of right with the Michigan Court of Appeals. On September 7, 1989, the Michigan Court of Appeals issued an unpublished opinion affirming his convictions. People v. Dinwiddie, No. 105190 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 7, 1989). Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court. The Michigan Supreme Court denied ...

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