United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
CORPUS, DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND GRANTING
PERMISSION TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
J. MICHELSON U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Rolando Flores and an accomplice invaded John Ledbetter's
home at night in an attempt to rob him. One of the two masked
assailants stabbed Ledbetter several times, and he died
months later. An Oakland County Circuit Court jury convicted
Flores of first-degree felony murder, and the trial court
imposed a life sentence. Before the Court is Flores's
pro se habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254,
which raises two claims: (1) the evidence at trial was
insufficient to prove that he caused Ledbetter's death,
and (2) the prosecutor improperly vouched for the credibility
of prosecution witnesses. For the reasons that follow, the
Court will deny the petition.
hours before his vicious stabbing, John Ledbetter and his
soon-to-be assailant enjoyed a cookout together. (R. 6-3, PID
199.) Ledbetter eventually told his cookout companions to
leave so that he could go to sleep, and he went to sleep in a
living room chair. (Id., PID 199-
200.) The soon-to-be assailant, Petitioner
Rolando Flores, did not leave for long.
point, Ledbetter heard someone say “hey” at the
door. (Id., PID 200.) When he went to the peephole,
the door “came down on top of [him], ” and two
people demanded his money and guns and threatened to kill
him. (Id.) Though the two assailants were masked or
hooded, Ledbetter recognized Flores's voice and testified
that he had no doubt that it was him. (Id., PID
200-01, 203.) A neighbor also overheard part of the struggle
and recognized Flores's distinctive voice. (R. 6-3, PID
194, 198.) The assailants proceeded to beat Ledbetter
mercilessly. One of the men also stabbed him multiple times,
breaking the knife's blade off in his thigh.
(Id., PID 203.) After tearing through
Ledbetter's home, the assailants fled empty-handed.
(Id., PID 201, 203.) For a time, Ledbetter survived
not take long for the police to zero in on Flores. Ledbetter
told police after the incident that “Rally
Flores” was one of the assailants. (R. 6-3, PID 212.)
Ledbetter's neighbor and an anonymous tipper also
implicated Flores. (R. 6-3, PID 213.) And in a post-arrest
interview, Flores admitted that he was involved, identified
his accomplice as Carlos Ramirez, and said that they
discarded their clothes and the knife after the incident.
(Id., PID 213-14.) Flores maintained that while he
kicked down Ledbetter's door, Ramirez was the one who
stabbed Ledbetter. (Id., PID 214, 218.)
died months later, on January 2, 2011. The primary issue
disputed at trial was whether the stab wounds killed him. A
unanimous jury thought so, finding Flores guilty of
first-degree felony murder.
his conviction, Flores appealed to the Michigan Court of
Appeals, raising claims that the prosecutor improperly
vouched for the credibility of certain State witnesses and
that the evidence was insufficient to prove that he caused
Ledbetter's death. (R. 6-6, PID 300.) The Michigan Court
of Appeals affirmed Flores's conviction in an explained
decision. People v. Flores, No. 309262, 2013 WL
1490618, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Apr. 11, 2013) (per curiam).
Flores raised the same claims in an application for leave to
appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court. (R. 6-7, PID 382-84.)
But the Michigan Supreme Court denied the application in a
summary order because it was “not persuaded that the
questions presented should be reviewed.” People v.
Flores, 836 N.W.2d 158 (Mich. 2013) (unpublished table
decision). Flores filed his federal habeas petition in August
2014, raising essentially the same claims as his direct
 The prosecutor violated [his] state and federal
constitutional right of Due Process of the Fourteen[th]
 Insufficient evidence . . . to prove that [he] was the
primary cause of death of the decedent.
PID 6-7.) Flores has not sought state-court post-conviction
standard of review this Court applies to each of Flores's
claims depends on whether the claim was “adjudicated on
the merits in State court[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d);
see also Johnson v. Williams, 586 U.S. 289 (2013).
If the Michigan Court of Appeals decided a claim “on
the merits, ” the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996 prohibits this Court from granting habeas
corpus relief unless the adjudication “(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.” See 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(d). But “[w]hen a state court does not
address a claim on the merits, . . . ‘AEDPA
deference' does not apply and [this Court] will review
the claim de novo.” Bies v. Sheldon,
775 F.3d 386, 395 (6th Cir. 2014).
Court will first address Flores's claim that the
prosecution presented insufficient evidence at trial to prove
beyond a reasonable doubt ...