United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
CORPUS , DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING
PERMISSION TO FILE APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III United States District Judge
in the Wayne County Circuit Court found Petitioner Willie
James Carter guilty of first-degree murder in violation of
Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316. As a result of his
conviction, Carter is currently serving a sentence of life
imprisonment without possibility of parole. Carter filed a
petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §
2254. For the reasons stated below, the Court will deny the
petition, deny a certificate of appealability, and deny
Carter permission to file an appeal in forma pauperis.
case began with a fist fight occurring in front of his
residence in the City of River Rouge. The fight turned deadly
when Carter produced a knife and stabbed Tarrance Talley to
death. Carter was charged with first-degree murder.
jury selection, the prosecutor offered Carter a plea deal to
the lesser offense of second-degree murder with a sentence
agreement of 15 to 30 years. The trial judge cleared the
courtroom and allowed defense counsel to meet with Carter and
his mother to discuss the plea offer. After the meeting,
Carter confirmed on the record that he was thirty years old
and had graduated from high school, that he understood the
charge against him, and that he had discussed the
prosecutor's plea offer with his attorney and his mother.
ECF 5-4, PgID 504-05. Carter stated that he decided to reject
the plea offer and proceed to trial, that no one forced him
to do so, that no one promised him anything, that no one
threatened him, and that he was making the decision to
proceed to trial voluntarily and knowingly. Id. at
trial, multiple eyewitnesses-Dominique Walker, Leobardo
Yanez, Jenna West, Alexis Moorehead, Adrian Collins, and
Kenneth Herman-all described roughly the same event. Carter
and his girlfriend, Walker, returned in their vehicle to
Carter's residence after a shopping trip. When the two
got out of their vehicle, Carter was confronted by the
victim, Tarrance Talley, who was accompanied by another man,
Kyle "Smiley" Browen. The confrontation quickly
escalated into a fist fight between Talley and Carter. Talley
was the initial aggressor. Carter was about 5'6"
tall and weighed around 130 pounds. Talley was a much larger
man, standing 6'0" tall and weighing 225 pounds.
Nevertheless, witnesses described the two men exchanging
blows, with the consensus being that Talley was getting the
better of Carter, who suffered a broken nose.
exchanging blows for several minutes, Carter was backed into
his vehicle where he ended up lying on his back on the seat
with Talley on top of him. Talley then sprang from the
vehicle holding his mid-section. He stumbled into the street
and fell. Carter followed him into the street holding a knife
in his hand. Carter then stabbed a prone Talley multiple
times. Talley tried to crawl away, but Carter kicked him in
the head. Browen attempted to intervene, but Carter shrugged
him off and then stabbed and kicked Talley additional times.
Browen ran away. Eyewitnesses called 9-1-1 and police quickly
arrived at the scene.
Officer Craig Waple of the River Rouge Police Department
arrived at the scene he found an exhausted, beaten, and
bloodied Carter holding a bloody knife in his hand. Waple
told Carter to drop the knife, and then placed him in
custody. Waple found Talley lying unconscious in the street
in a pool of blood. A subsequent autopsy revealed that Talley
had been stabbed ten times and had multiple other contusions
and abrasions. Carter was taken to a hospital, where it was
determined that he had a broken nose, and a cut on his thumb.
The police attempted-unsuccessfully-to locate Browen up until
the eve of trial. ECF 5-5, PgID 913-17.
defense presented two witnesses. Stacey Wiedyke, a nurse at
Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital, testified that she treated
Carter in the emergency room. According to hospital records,
Carter was 30 years old, 167 centimeters tall, and weighed
59.9 kilograms (which converts to about 5'6", 132
lbs). Carter was treated for facial bruising, a nasal
fracture, pain in the eyes, head, and abdomen, a foot
contusion, and a thumb laceration. His face was swollen and
bruised. The trial court admitted medical records which
included a statement made by Carter at the hospital about how
he was injured. ECF 5-6, PgID 1014. John Gifford, an
investigator hired by the defense, testified regarding
measurements he made at the scene of the incident used to
determine the relative position of the eyewitnesses to the
location of the incident.
the defense rested, it was revealed that Browen was found
housed at the Wayne County Jail on another case. Carter's
trial counsel asked to be given an opportunity to interview
Browen, but Browen refused to speak with him. Defense counsel
was then given an opportunity to speak with Carter, and
defense counsel then indicated that he did not wish to call
Browen as a defense witness. The prosecutor responded that
she intended to call Browen as a rebuttal witness. Defense
counsel objected that the prosecutor was impermissibly
re-opening their proofs. The trial court overruled the
objection, stating that Browen's testimony could be used
to rebut the testimony of the defense witnesses, including
Carter's statements to nurse Wiedyke about how he was
injured. ECF 5-6, PgID 1012-14.
testified that Talley confronted Carter as he exited his
vehicle. Talley started swinging at Carter and a fist fight
ensued. Carter got knocked into his car, and about two
minutes later, Browen saw Talley lunge backward out of the
car, holding his stomach. Browen saw that Carter was holding
a knife. Talley then fell in the street, his "legs were
like gone, " and he was unable to get away from Carter.
When Browen tried to stop Carter, Carter said "get the
fuck out of the way; I'm about to kill this nigger."
Id. at 1026-31. Browen tried to shield Talley,
pleading with Carter that Talley was hurt, that
"it's over with . . . you going to kill him."
Id. at 1032. But Carter kept repeating "get the
fuck out of the way, " yelling "Fenkell for life,
" and then he continued to stab Talley. Talley asked
Browen to call an ambulance, and Browen was screaming for
someone to call the paramedics. Carter flipped Talley over,
kicked him a couple more times, and then went through
Talley's pockets. Id. at 1034-35. Browen left
because he knew the police were coming, and he had a warrant
out for his arrest. After Browen testified, Carter again
waived his right to testify in his own defense. Id.
counsel argued in closing that the evidence showed that
Carter was attacked by the much larger victim, and that he
acted in self-defense. The prosecutor asserted that even
assuming the victim initiated the fight, Carter's actions
after he first stabbed the victim indicated that he was no
longer acting in self-defense and that he killed Talley with
premeditation and deliberation. The jury found Carter guilty
of first-degree murder, and he was sentenced to life
imprisonment without possibility of parole.
his conviction and sentence, Carter filed a claim of appeal
in the Michigan Court of Appeals. Carter's brief on
appeal filed by his appellate counsel raised two claims, and
a supplemental pro se brief raised a third claim:
I. The trial court abused its discretion and denied defendant
his state and federal constitutional rights to a fair trial
by admitting improper rebuttal testimony that could have been
presented in its case-in-chief.
II. Defendant's conviction for first-degree murder must
be reversed where there was insufficient evidence of