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Howard v. Mackie

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

May 17, 2017

DEONTE HOWARD, Petitioner,
THOMAS MACKIE, Respondent,



         Deonte Howard, (“Petitioner”), confined at the Oaks Correctional Facility in Manistee, Michigan, filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he challenges his conviction for first-degree premeditated murder, M.C.L.A. 750.316; assault with intent to do great bodily harm less than murder, M.C.L.A. 750.84; and felony-firearm, M.C.L.A. 750.227b. For the reasons stated below, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was convicted in the Wayne County Circuit Court.[1] 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. 2009):

Defendant was charged with first degree premeditated murder, assault with intent to murder and felony firearm in connection with the shooting death of 19-year-old Tyrone Simpson on April 10, 2010. The shooting occurred in front of a combination convenience store/barbecue restaurant on the 1600 block of Tireman Street in the city of Detroit shortly after 4:00 p.m. An argument broke out between defendant, who was 16 years old at the time, and Simpson when Simpson accused defendant of taking his Cartier sunglasses. Defendant denied taking them and a verbal argument ensued. Simpson then punched defendant in the face several times, at which point defendant drew a weapon and fired at Simpson, injuring him and one of Simpson's friends, Aundrey Allen. Simpson attempted to run away from defendant, but defendant chased Simpson around a vehicle, shooting at and striking him with several shots until Simpson collapsed in the street. An SUV driven by an unidentified friend of defendant's then pulled up and defendant jumped into the back seat. The vehicle started to leave, and then abruptly slammed on its breaks. Defendant got back out of the vehicle and shot Simpson in the head. Defendant then got back into the vehicle and it sped away. Simpson was dead when police arrived on the scene a short time later. The medical examiner noted that Simpson had a total of nine gunshot wounds, including one to his head.
People v. Howard

         Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal, although the case was remanded for re-sentencing. Id., lv. den. 498 Mich. 852 (2015).[2]

         Petitioner seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds:

I. Howard's conviction for first-degree murder must be vacated where the prosecution failed to present legally sufficient evidence that he is who committed the offense and no evidence that he acted with premeditation and deliberation.
II. Howard was denied his state and federal right to effective assistance of counsel where defense counsel failed to call a police officer as a defense witness, failed to submit a critical stipulation at the first trial, and failed to cross-examine the prosecutor's key witness.
III. Howard is entitled to a new trial where he was denied his state and federal due process rights where his conviction was obtained through use of false and perjured testimony.

         II. Standard of Review

         28 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; or
(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.

         A 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, 664 (2004)). Therefore, in order to obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner is required to show that the state court's rejection of his claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Id. at 103. A habeas petitioner should be denied relief as long as it is within the “realm of possibility” that fairminded jurists could find the state court decision to be reasonable. See Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).

         III. Discussion

         A. Claim # 1. The sufficiency of evidence claim.

         Petitioner claims that there was insufficient evidence to convict him.

         It is beyond question that “the Due Process Clause protects the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.” In Re Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). But the critical inquiry on review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction is, “whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 318 (1979). This inquiry, however, does not require a court to “ask itself whether it believes that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Instead, the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 318-19 (internal citation and footnote omitted)(emphasis in the original).

         More importantly, a federal habeas court may not overturn a state court decision that rejects a sufficiency of the evidence claim simply because the federal court disagrees with the state court's resolution of that claim. Instead, a federal court may grant habeas relief only if the state court decision was an objectively unreasonable application of the Jackson standard. See Cavazos v. Smith, 565 U.S. 1, 2 (2011). “Because rational people can sometimes disagree, the inevitable consequence of this settled law is that judges will sometimes encounter convictions that they believe to be mistaken, but that they must nonetheless uphold.” Id. Indeed, for a federal habeas court reviewing a state court conviction, “the only question under Jackson is whether that finding was so insupportable as to fall below the threshold of bare rationality.” Coleman v. Johnson, 132 S.Ct. 2060, 2065 (2012).

         Finally, on habeas review, a federal court does not reweigh the evidence or redetermine the credibility of the witnesses whose demeanor was observed at trial. Marshall v. Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422, 434 (1983). It is the province of the factfinder to weigh the probative value of the evidence and resolve any conflicts in testimony. Neal v. Morris, 972 F.2d 675, 679 (6th Cir. 1992). A habeas court therefore must defer to the fact finder for its assessment of the credibility of witnesses. Matthews v. Abramajtys, 319 F.3d 780, 788 (6th Cir. 2003).

         Petitioner first claims that there was insufficient evidence to establish his identity as the shooter. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected petitioner's claim:

In this case, defendant was identified by no less than four eyewitnesses to the shooting. Frederick McFadden testified that he had an unobstructed view of the scene from approximately 20 feet away, and saw defendant shoot Simpson several times. His testimony was unequivocal that defendant was the only person with a gun and that defendant shot Simpson several times, including once in the head. As pointed out by defendant, McFadden testified at trial that he picked out defendant and the driver of a car from a photo array, which was different from his testimony in a prior trial that he picked out the shooter and two drivers. McFadden also described the shooter to the police as 20 to 24 years of age and 5”11 to 6” tall when defendant was 16 at the time of the shooting and is less than 5'6”. However, the credibility of identification testimony is a question for the trier of fact.
Marcario Harris and Kimberly Thompson, who live across the street from the store/restaurant where the shooting occurred, also identified defendant as the shooter. Both testified that they had a clear view of the shooting through their front living room window, which faced the store and they could clearly see defendant in the broad daylight. Both testified that defendant was only person they saw with a gun during the incident. Neither was asked to view a photo array or participate in a live lineup, but identified defendant for the first time at trial. Both Harris and Thompson described the shooter to the police immediately after the event as around 5”9 or 5'10”, thin, and in his mid-20's. This description is not so far off as to be a misidentification and moreover, the jury is responsible for both credibility and evidentiary weight determinations.
Aundrey Allen also identified defendant as the shooter. He had been standing with Simpson while Simpson was arguing with defendant about his glasses and when Simpson punched defendant in the face. Allen testified that he was also standing behind and somewhat to the side of Simpson when defendant pulled a gun out of his pocket and started shooting at Simpson. Allen was shot in the leg as he tried to run. Allen described the shooter to the police as being around 5'7” or 5'8” and around 17 or 18 years old. Allen also told the police that several people at the incident called the shooter “Tay, ” which others witnesses confirmed was defendant's nickname. At the hospital after his surgery, Allen did view a photo array and identify another person as the shooter. Allen explained, however, that he was under the influence of morphine at the time of that identification. Allen thereafter participated in a live line up and identified defendant out of the lineup as the shooter.
The above was sufficient for a reasonable jury to find beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant was identified as the shooter.
People v. Howard, 2014 WL 5305997, at * 2 (internal citations omitted).

         Under Michigan law, “[T]he identity of a defendant as the perpetrator of the crimes charged is an element of the offense and must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.” Byrd v. Tessmer, 82 F. App'x. 147, 150 (6th Cir. 2003)(citing People v. Turrell, 25 Mich.App. 646, 181 N.W.2d 655, 656 (1970)).

         In the present case, four eyewitnesses, including the surviving shooting victim, positively identified petitioner at trial as the shooter. The Court notes that “the testimony of a single, uncorroborated prosecuting witness or other eyewitness is generally sufficient to support a conviction.“ Brown v. Davis, 752 F.2d 1142, 1144 (6th Cir. 1985)(internal citations omitted). Four eyewitnesses unequivocally identified petitioner at trial as being the shooter based on their personal observations. This evidence was sufficient to support petitioner's convictions. See Thomas v. Perry, 553 F. App'x. 485, 487-88 (6th Cir. 2014).

         A federal court reviewing a state court conviction on habeas review that is “faced with a record of historical facts that supports conflicting inferences must presume-even if it does not affirmatively appear in the record-that the trier of fact resolved any such conflicts in favor of the prosecution, and must defer to that resolution.” Cavazos, 565 U.S. at 7 (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. at 326). Although there may have been conflicts between the witnesses concerning their descriptions of the ...

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