United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, AND (2) DENYING CERTIFICATE OF
John Corbett O'Meara Judge
a habeas case filed by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. Petitioner Jonathan Belton was convicted after a
jury trial in the Oakland Circuit Court of one count of
first-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(a),
murder of a police officer, Mich. Comp. Laws §
750.316(1)(c), and two counts of possession of a firearm
during the commission of a felony. Mich. Comp. Laws §
750.227b. As a result of his convictions Petitioner is
currently serving a sentence of life
imprisonment. The petition raises a single claim:
Petitioner was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a jury
trial and his Fourteenth Amendment right to present a defense
when the trial court refused to instruct the jury on the
defense of accident and the lesser offense of involuntary
manslaughter. 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
was charged in connection with the December 28, 2008, fatal
shooting of Oak Park Police Officer Mason Samborski. The
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.
Eyewitness Kendiesha Jackson testified that defendant tried
to deceive Officer Samborski by pretending to live in Ms.
Jackson's apartment complex. She further testified that
defendant tried to get an adult female to impersonate his
mother after Officer Samborski stopped defendant for a
traffic violation. When Officer Samborski became suspicious
and indicated that he would take defendant to jail, defendant
ran from the officer. Officer Samborski's attempts to
restrain defendant were met with physical resistance from
defendant, who also ignored the officer's verbal
instructions to “stop.” Defense counsel suggests
that defendant's verbal requests that Samborski
“get off of him” implies a struggle resulting in
the accidental discharge of the weapon, but the actual
testimony provided by Ms. Jackson belies that position. Ms.
Jackson saw Officer Samborski and defendant struggling on the
stairway when defendant uttered these remarks and no evidence
indicates that Officer Samborski's gun was out of its
holster at that time. Ms. Jackson saw defendant and Officer
Samborski fall down a stairway in the apartment building and
testified that she never saw Officer Samborski draw a weapon
or have one in his hand. Defendant was positioned on top of
Officer Samborski following the fall. Though Ms. Jackson did
not see the shot fired, immediately after hearing the shot
she saw defendant holding a gun and standing over Officer
Samborski. Ms. Jackson also testified that she received a
call from defendant using a “517 number, ” later
identified as Officer Samborski's cellular telephone.
According to Ms. Jackson, “he told me he was sorry what
he - for what he did and he had wanted me to tell his sister
that he was at home.” Officer Samborski's service
revolver and cellular telephone were never recovered.
The medical examiner, Dr. Patrick Cho, testified about the
results of the autopsy he conducted on Officer Samborski. Dr.
Cho testified that, based on the location of the wound, its
trajectory, stippling at the wound site, and the presence of
an impact wound from the gun barrel, Officer Samborski was
shot at close range and at an angle inconsistent with a
self-inflicted wound. Dr. Cho also discounted a theory of
accident, noting the absence of any defensive wounds or
abrasions on Officer Samborski's hands and the presence
of evidence of independent head wounds indicative of a
pre-death head trauma, which could have served to impair or
incapacitate Officer Samborski. Dr. Cho specifically noted
the absence of a “slide injury” from the recoil
of the handgun, which would be expected if Samborski had been
holding the gun when it discharged.
During trial, defense counsel repeatedly questioned witnesses
about whether they had obtained or uncovered any evidence
that this event was the result of an accident or that Officer
Samborski was holding the gun when it discharged. Oak Park
police officer Walter Duncan responded by denying receipt of
any such information. Similar queries were made to Oak Park
police officer Troy Taylor. Over the prosecution's
hearsay objection, Officer Taylor responded: “Some of
the people I did interview indicated that Mr. Belton . . .
stated . . . that something happened other than . . . what
has been stated in court.” Defense counsel also
questioned Oak Park police detective Jason Ginopolis
regarding evidence that Samborski was holding the gun when it
discharged. Detective Ginopolis testified that
defendant's friends made contradictory statements, but
that some reported that defendant indicated the shooting was
People v. Belton, No. 302107, 2013 WL 5763031, at
*1-2 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 24, 2013) (footnote omitted).
his conviction and sentence, Petitioner filed a claim of
appeal in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Petitioner's
brief on appeal raised four claims, three of which are not
being raised in his habeas petition. Petitioner's lead
Mr. Belton's Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, and
Fourteenth Amendment due process right to present a defense,
was denied by the trial judge's refusal to instruct the
jury on the defense theory of accident, as well as on the
lesser-included charge of involuntary manslaughter, where
those rulings were factual conclusions that usurped the
jury's exclusive role to arrive at a determination of Mr.
Belton's guilt or innocence.
Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's
convictions, but remanded the case for resentencing in light
of Miller v. Alabama, 132 S.Ct. 2455 (2012), holding
that automatic sentences of life imprisonment without
possibility of parole for juvenile offenders violate the
Eighth Amendment. Belton, 2013 WL 5763031, at *14.
then filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan
Supreme Court, raising the three claims rejected by the
Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied
the application because it was not persuaded that the
questions presented should be reviewed. People v.
Belton, 846 N.W.2d 548 (Mich. 2014) (Table).
Standard of Review
U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) curtails a federal court's
review of constitutional claims raised by a state prisoner in
a habeas action if the claims were adjudicated on the merits
by the state courts. Relief is barred under this section
unless the state court adjudication was “contrary
to” or resulted in an “unreasonable application
of” clearly established Supreme Court law.
state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . .
clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that
contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court
cases]' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are
materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme]
Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from
[this] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza,
540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003), quoting Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000).
‘unreasonable application' prong of the statute
permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if
the state court identifies the correct governing legal
principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies
that principle to the facts' of petitioner's