United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
M. LAWSON United States District Judge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,