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Hudgins v. Rivard

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

July 20, 2017

STEVEN RIVARD, Respondent.


          DAVID M. LAWSON United States District Judge.

         Dante Lawrence Hudgins, a prisoner in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to challenge his convictions for first-degree felony murder and first-degree child abuse. The petitioner argues that the trial court violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause by admitting the preliminary examination testimony of the medical examiner without a due diligence determination and that counsel was ineffective by failing to object to the admission of that testimony. The respondent argues that a portion of the petitioner's Confrontation Clause claim is procedurally defaulted and that all of the claims lack merit. Because the state courts' decisions on these issues faithfully applied federal constitutional law, the Court will deny the petition.


         The petitioner's convictions arise from the death of six-month old Dante Hudgins, Jr., on March 29, 2011. Dante (known as “D.J.”) is the child of Elec Adams and the petitioner. Elec Adams testified that, after D.J. was born, she, D.J. and the petitioner lived together on Eureka Road in Detroit. Adams attended classes to earn her high school diploma three or four days a week from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The petitioner watched D.J. while Adams attended classes. When D.J. was approximately five months old, Adams and D.J. moved out of the petitioner's house and into her mother's home, which was located a few houses down the street from the petitioner's home.

         On March 28, 2011, Adams needed some relief from taking care of D.J., so she asked the petitioner to take the baby for one night to allow her to get some rest. The petitioner agreed to do so and he took D.J. to his house at approximately 7:00 p.m. Adams testified that, approximately one hour later, she walked to the petitioner's house to check on the baby because he had been sick the night before. D.J. was sleeping and seemed to be fine. She returned to the home to check on D.J. again at about midnight. At that time, he appeared to have a stomach ache. Adams retrieved Pediasure from her mother's home and told the petitioner to give it to D.J. when he woke up.

         Adams saw D.J. again at 11:00 a.m. the next morning, March 29, 2011. D.J. turned six months old on that date. Adams played with D.J. and was not concerned with his well-being. After a little while, she returned home. She again went to the petitioner's home at approximately 1:00 p.m. At that time, D.J. was upstairs napping. Adams stayed in the living room, but could hear D.J. crying from upstairs. She talked with the petitioner about going upstairs to hold D.J. so he would stop crying. The petitioner encouraged her to let D.J. cry himself to sleep. She agreed.

         Eventually she left the house to go to the Secretary of State's office with her mother. While there, she received a text message from the petitioner at 3:22 p.m. stating: “OMG you need to get home. OMG you need to get home. You need to get home. Something's wrong with D.J.?” She and her mother drove to her mother's home because her mother's boyfriend, Antonio Hall, had called and said the baby was there. D.J. was taken to the hospital by ambulance shortly after Adams and her mother arrived home. At the hospital, medical personnel informed Adams that they were unable to revive D.J.

         Adams testified that before that date, she did not have concerns about leaving D.J. with the petitioner. He was a capable caregiver. When she arrived at her mother's home on the day of D.J.'s death, the petitioner seemed very calm and was not crying.

         Antonio Hall testified that on March 29, 2011, he lived with Kinya Adams (Elec Adams' mother) a few houses down the street from the petitioner's home. That afternoon, he heard banging on the front door. When he opened the door, he saw the petitioner holding D.J. in his arms. The petitioner said the baby was not breathing. Hall took the baby into the home and called Kinya's cell phone. Adams answered the phone and Hall told her the baby was not breathing. He then called 911; the operator instructed him to perform CPR. D.J. was taken to the hospital. Later, Hall saw the petitioner at the hospital and testified that the petitioner stayed for only two minutes.

         Kinya Adams testified that when she was at the Secretary of State's office she received a call from Hall telling her that D.J. had stopped breathing. After she was interviewed by police, Kinya went to the hospital to be with her daughter. She testified that the petitioner arrived at the hospital approximately forty-five minutes after she did. He did not appear upset; she observed him earlier laughing with his aunt and father after the ambulance had taken D.J. to the hospital.

         Detroit police officer Ben Biddle, the officer in charge of investigating D.J.'s death, interviewed the petitioner in April 2011. During the interview, the petitioner admitted punching D.J. in the back a couple of times on the day of his death. When D.J. continued crying, the petitioner hit him four or five more times. After the last punch, D.J.'s eyes rolled up, his body froze, and the petitioner panicked. He admitted that the previous month he had hit D.J. in the chest with a closed fist in an attempt to toughen him up.

         Dr. Carl Schmidt, the Chief Medical Examiner for Wayne County (an expert in forensic pathology, did not perform the autopsy of D.J., but testified that the cause of death was commotio cordis and the manner of death was homicide. The preliminary examination testimony of Dr. John S. Somerset, an assistant medical examiner for Wayne County, was read to the jury. Somerset testified that he performed an autopsy of D.J. on March 31, 2011. He identified the cause of death as commotio cordis and the manner of death as homicide.

         The defense presented two witnesses: Wendell Hatten (the petitioner's father) and the petitioner. Hatten testified that the petitioner, D.J., and Adams lived with him for five months after D.J. was born. He never saw the petitioner hit or abuse D.J. Hatten never noticed any injuries to D.J. or saw any indication that D.J. had been hit by anyone.

         The petitioner testified in his own defense. He denied ever hitting or spanking D.J. The petitioner testified that D.J. spent the night of March 28, 2011 at his home. D.J. became fussy at approximately 4:00 a.m. so the petitioner gave him some Pedialite. Eventually the petitioner and D.J. fell asleep. The petitioner and the baby awoke at approximately 9:00 a.m. Adams checked on them at approximately noon. After Adams left to go to the Secretary of State's office, D.J. refused to take a bottle, so the petitioner took him upstairs and placed him on a pallet where he had slept the previous night. D.J. became fussy so the petitioner patted him on the back. While the petitioner was patting D.J., he felt D.J.'s body shut down. The petitioner panicked and sent Adams a text message. He then put the baby's jacket on and ran to Kinya Adams' home. From there, D.J. ultimately was taken to the hospital by ambulance. The petitioner acknowledged talking to Officer Biddle and signing a statement that Officer Biddle had written out, but testified that he did not read the statement before signing it.

         At the conclusion of the trial, the jury convicted the petitioner of first-degree felony murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(b), and first-degree child abuse, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.136b(2). On February 27, 2012, he was sentenced to life in prison for felony-murder and eight to twelve years' imprisonment for first-degree child abuse.

         The petitioner filed a direct appeal, arguing in the Michigan Court of Appeals that: (i) his rights to confrontation and due process were violated when the trial court allowed the preliminary examination testimony of Dr. Somerset to be read into the record; (ii) defense counsel was ineffective by failing to move for a due diligence hearing to assess whether Dr. Somerset was unavailable; (iii) photographs of victim were admitted improperly into evidence; and (iv) the trial court improperly denied the petitioner's request for a second-degree murder jury instruction. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions. People v. Hudgins, No. ...

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