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Prince v. Jackson

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

August 30, 2017

SHANE JACKSON, Respondent.



         I. Introduction

         This is a habeas corpus case under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Timothy Kyle, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, challenges his convictions for first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, and burning personal property. Petitioner was tried before a jury on charges that he kidnapped, robbed, and stabbed or slashed to death an 87-year-old woman on March 7, 2009, and then burned her truck. He raises ten (10) claims for relief. Respondent says Petitioner's claims are time barred, procedurally defaulted or lack merit. The Court agrees. Accordingly, the petition will be denied. The reasons follow. Because of the number and complexity of the claims, a detailed discussion of the evidence at trial and applicable law is necessary.

         II. Background

         A. Evidence at Trial

         The Michigan Court of Appeals accurately summarized the evidence at trial as follows:

Defendant first met the victim about two weeks before her death, was seen at the victim's house on the day of her disappearance, and lived directly across the street from the victim. When the victim and her daughter, Dorothy Wonsey, initially met defendant sometime between February 18, 2009, and March 1, 2009, defendant asked the victim for a ride to the drug store. But as Wonsey recollected, the victim asked Wonsey to drive defendant because the victim “was scared.” The victim later told Wonsey that she felt “very uncomfortable” about defendant and, “I'm not going to let him in the house. I don't want him at my house.” In the victim's last contact with her other daughter, Joanne Pagan, who met defendant for the first time on March 7, 2009, the victim voiced concern about defendant's “nosey” nature and his comment about the victim having been left “well off.” The victim's two daughters and son-in-law all testified that after having met defendant shortly before the victim's disappearance, they repeatedly urged the victim to keep her doors locked and to call one of them for assistance if defendant appeared at her home asking for anything. According to the victim's relatives, the victim agreed to this method of operation. On two occasions during the week or so before the victim's disappearance, she did call either Joanne Pagan or Everett Pagan to advise them that defendant had come to her house seeking a ride.
Other evidence connected defendant to the victim's house, like the presence of a couch armrest cover in the portion of the victim's driveway where she always parked her pickup truck, an armrest cover identical to the one on a couch in defendant's residence across the street, which was missing one of its armrest covers when the police searched the house on March 9, 2009. Dog tracking testimony confirmed that a police dog had followed a scent trail from the victim's porch, to the armrest cover in her driveway, to cut telephone wires at the rear of the victim's house, and back across the street to defendant's front porch. The aforementioned evidence all combined to give rise to reasonable inferences that defendant had cut the victim's telephone wires before she could call for help, entered her house, gagged the victim with the armrest cover, and transported the victim away from her house while driving her pickup truck. The evidence further substantiated that defendant drove the victim in her pickup truck to the Orchard Trail, where he eventually threw the victim's body into a creek or ditch.
The record concerning the scene inside the victim's house lent further circumstantial support to the jury's finding that the victim accompanied defendant out of her house against her will. The testimony of the victim's daughters and son-in-law confirmed as highly uncharacteristic the condition in which the Pagans and the police discovered the victim's house on March 8, 2009. The victim had left a pan of cooked hamburger on the stove; her kitchen and living room lights and a television and coffee pot were all left on. The victim had also left the house without her purse or either of two hats that she habitually wore.

People v. Prince, No. 296922, 2011 WL 4375109, at *3-4 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 20, 2011).

         Additional evidence was presented at trial came from Gregory and Brenda Rushlow. They testified that they dropped off Rushlow's sister, Cathy Manty, at Manty's home about 10:30 p.m. on March 7, 2009. On their way out of Manty's driveway, they saw a man, who hurried back to an old truck when he saw them and then drove away. Three days later, they viewed a photographic array and identified Petitioner as the man they had seen on the night of March 7, 2009.

         Deanna Gordy and Charles McClure each testified that they saw a burning truck on 32 Mile Road[1] after 10:00 p.m. on March 7, 2009. They also saw a man, or possibly a large woman, walking alongside the road not far from the burning truck. Gordy said that the person was wearing dark clothing. McClure described the man's clothes as “army-style fatigues.”

         Deputy Sheriff Jonathan Ramlow testified that he responded to the truck fire about 10:50 p.m. that night. The truck was about a quarter mile from the victim's home. The Macomb County Sheriff's Department determined the owner of the truck, but the dispatcher was unable to reach the owner by telephone after the truck was discovered.

         The jury also heard the following timeline as to the events leading up to Petitioner's arrest. The victim's son-in-law Everett Pagan reported the victim missing on Sunday, March 8, 2009. Upon receipt of this information, employees of the Macomb County Sheriff's Department compared information that they had received about the burning truck to information about the missing victim and determined that the missing victim was the owner of the burned truck. Later that day, Macomb County Deputy Sheriff Timothy Davis met Pagan at the victim's home where Pagan pointed out things that seemed odd or out of place, such as a tire track alongside the driveway, lights and appliances that had been left on, and a rag or armrest cover where the victim normally parked. The canine search leading from the armrest cover on the victim's property to Petitioner's home occurred on the same day.

         On Monday, March 9, 2009, Michael Jarosz noticed the victim's body in a ditch as he was biking on the Macomb Orchard Trail. Macomb County Sergeant David Kennedy estimated that the body was two and half to three miles from the victim's home. There was a cocked and loaded flare gun underneath the victim's body and a beer can nearby; the beer can did not appear to be related to the crime.

         On March 9 or 10, 2009, Deputy Sheriff Christopher Land found a flare gun shell and a small folding pocket knife in a sports coat pocket in Petitioner's home. The flare was unusual because it had white packing on the tip. Detective Sergeant David Willis compared the flare gun shell found near the victim's body with the one found in Petitioner's house and determined that they had been altered in similar ways.

         On March 10, 2010, Macomb County Deputy Sheriff Sharon Furno found a camouflage jacket and two matching boots in a ditch not far from Petitioner's home on 32 Mile Road. On March 11, 2009, a search team found a filet knife about twenty-five feet from where the victim's body was found.

         Regarding the victim's manner of death, Dr. Daniel Spitz performed the autopsy on the victim and testified that the victim's most significant injury was an incised wound that cut through her jugular vein. He testified that the victim also suffered from multiple stab wounds of the chest and abdomen, and she had defensive knife wounds on her hands and forearms. The cause of death was stab wounds of the abdomen and the incised wound of the neck; the manner of death was homicide. Dr. Spitz opined that a basic filet knife could have made the victim's wounds.

         Additional evidence linking Petitioner to the crime came from the testimony of Eric Shuman. He testified that he knew Petitioner from having worked with him in 2007. He claimed that Petitioner once showed him a flare gun like the one in evidence. Petitioner told him at the time that he modified the flare gun shells by putting BB's from shot gun shells into the flares to make it a shotgun/flare mixture.

         Shuman further testified that he met Petitioner again in jail in 2009 where Petitioner told him about the murder case. Petitioner informed him that the prosecution's case was fake and that the lady who lived with him committed the crime with the victim's son or son-in-law and then threw his clothes in a ditch. Shuman admitted that, in return for his cooperation with the prosecution, he was released from jail two or three days early and was given an extra ninety days to pay a fine.

         Finally, Sandra Berry testified that she rented a house across the street from the victim's home and that Petitioner and his son were leasing rooms from her in March of 2009. She testified that on Saturday, March 7, 2009, about 9:10 p.m., Petitioner left the house wearing a camouflaged hat, jacket, and boots. She could not recall whether his pants also were camouflaged or whether they were blue jeans. Petitioner stated that he was going to the nearby party store, but he returned about 10:30 or 10:45 p.m.

         Berry also identified the jacket, boots, flare gun, knife, and armrest cover in evidence as items that belonged to Petitioner or that she had seen in the house which she shared with Petitioner. Berry also denied dating or conspiring with Everett Pagan to kill the victim. She also denied conspiring with anyone to remove Petitioner from the house.

         The defense presented several witnesses and argued to the jury that there were plenty of things that should cause the jury to have reasonable doubt in the case.

         B. Procedural History

         On January 22, 2010, the jury found Petitioner guilty, as charged, of premeditated murder, M.C.L. § 750.316(1)(a), felony murder, M.C.L. § 750.316(1)(b), kidnapping, M.C.L. § 750.349, armed robbery, M.C.L. § 750.529, and arson of personal property valued at $1, 000 to $20, 000, M.C.L. § 750.75(1)(a)(i). The trial court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender to concurrent terms of life imprisonment without any possibility of parole for the two murder convictions, twenty-five to sixty years in prison for the kidnapping and armed robbery convictions, and three years, four months to seven and a half years for the arson conviction.

         On direct appeal, Petitioner argued through counsel that (1) his double jeopardy rights were violated when he was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder for the death of one victim, (2) there was insufficient evidence of kidnapping, and (3) the trial court erred by failing to give the standard jury instruction on dog tracking, and defense counsel was ineffective for failing to object. In a pro se supplemental brief, Petitioner raised issues about in-court identifications of him, the prosecutor's conduct, the admission of certain evidence, and his absence from a suppression hearing. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions, but remanded the case so that Petitioner's judgment of sentence could be amended to reflect a single conviction and sentence for first-degree murder, supported by two different theories. See Prince, 2011 WL 4375109, at *1 and *12.

         In a pro se application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, Petitioner raised claims about the in-court identifications, the lack of counsel at the photographic show-ups, and the prosecutor's conduct. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the issues. See People v. Prince, 809 N.W.2d 591 (Mich. 2012).

         Petitioner filed this action on April 9, 2013, Doc. 1, but later moved to hold the petition in abeyance while he pursued additional state remedies. See Doc. 7. The Court granted the motion and closed this case for administrative purposes. See Doc. 10.

         Petitioner subsequently moved to reinstate his habeas corpus petition and to have the Court adjudicate the claims listed in his habeas petition. See Doc. 16. The Court granted Petitioner's motion and directed Respondent to answer the petition. See Doc. 17. Before Respondent's answer was due, Petitioner moved for a second stay so that he could pursue state remedies. See Doc. 19. The Court granted the motion. See Doc. 20.

         Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment in the trial court. He argued that the trial court deprived him of his right to present a defense, that the prosecutor committed misconduct, that the investigating officers mishandled evidence, and that his trial and appellate attorneys were ineffective. The trial court rejected Petitioner's claims. See People v. Prince, No. 2009-002294-FC, Op. and Order (Macomb Cty. Cir. Ct. Sept. 1, 2015). The Michigan Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal the trial court's decision “for lack of merit in the grounds presented.” See People v. Prince, No. 331823 (Mich. Ct. App. May 20, 2016). The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because Petitioner failed to establish entitlement to relief under Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). See People v. Prince, 888 N.W.2d 81 (Mich. 2016).

         Petitioner returned to this Court on February 15, 2017, with an amended habeas petition containing ten grounds for relief (Doc. 22) and a motion to re-open this case (Doc. 21).

         III. Standard of Review

         28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), provides:

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 proceedings.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         “A state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [this] precedent.' ” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). “[T]he ‘unreasonable application' prong of § 2254(d)(1) permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413).

         “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) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). Accordingly,

[w]hen reviewing state criminal convictions on collateral review, federal judges are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong. Federal habeas review thus exists as “a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Harrington, supra, at 102-103, 131 S.Ct. 770 (internal quotation marks omitted).

Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (per curiam). “As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.

         In simple terms, the Supreme Court has said that the standard of review is “difficult to meet” and is a “highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 102, and Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)). The Supreme Court has further said that a federal court must guard against “using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the reasonable decisions of state courts.” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 779 (2010).

         Finally, a federal habeas court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence. Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998).

         IV. Statute of Limitations

         As an initial matter, Respondent argues that Petitioner's first three claims are barred by the statute of limitations. The statute of limitations defense is not jurisdictional, because “[i]t does not set forth ‘an inflexible rule requiring dismissal whenever' its ‘clock has run.' ” Holland v. Florida, 560 U.S. 631, 645 (2010) (quoting Day v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 198, 205, 208 (2006)). “[A] procedural default, that is, a critical failure to comply with state procedural law, [also] is not a jurisdictional matter.” Trest v. Cain, 522 U.S. 87, 89 (1997). In the interest of efficiency, therefore, the Court goes directly to the merits of Petitioner's claims.

         V. Petitioner's Claims

         A. Double Jeopardy

         In his first ground for relief, Petitioner says that his constitutional right not to be placed in double jeopardy was violated when he was convicted and sentenced for two homicides involving one victim. Petitioner raised this claim in his appeal of right. The Michigan Court of Appeals resolved the problem by remanding Petitioner's case for correction of the judgment of sentence to reflect one conviction and sentence for first-degree murder, supported by two different theories. See Prince, 2011 WL 4375109, at *1 and *12. Because Petitioner was granted the relief he seeks, his claim is moot, and he concedes this in his reply brief. See Doc. 26, page 6. Thus, there is no basis for granting relief on his claim.

         B. Insufficient Evidence

         Petitioner claims next that there was insufficient evidence at trial to support his kidnapping conviction. Petitioner contends that there was no evidence that the victim did not go willingly to the truck with him, and he argues that there may have been an intervening cause of death, such as a dispute in the truck. The Michigan Court of Appeals adjudicated this claim on the merits on direct appeal and concluded that the elements of the offense were satisfied.

         1. Federal Law

         The Supreme Court has held “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). Following Winship, the critical inquiry on review of a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting a criminal conviction is

whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. But this inquiry 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. This familiar standard gives full play to the responsibility of the trier of ...

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