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Dixon v. Burt

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

September 26, 2017

SHERRY BURT, Respondent.

          Patricia T. Morris, Magistrate Judge.



         In 2010, Gregory Ingram, Jr. was shot and killed. Three individuals were charged with his death, including Dequeze Dixon. A Michigan jury convicted Dixon of several crimes stemming from Ingram's death, including second-degree murder. Dixon is currently serving a sentence of 179 years in prison. (R. 12, PID 97.)

         Dixon has filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (R. 1.) Dixon raises a Confrontation Clause challenge, multiple allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel, a due process claim, and a Sixth Amendment violation stemming from a partial courtroom closure. The Court has reviewed the petition, the Warden's response, the state-court record, and Dixon's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court will DENY habeas corpus relief.


         Although the following recitation of the facts is taken primarily from the Michigan Court of Appeals' opinion, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), it is supplemented by portions of the trial transcript. See McMullan v. Booker, 761 F.3d 662, 670 (6th Cir. 2014) (recognizing that it is unsettled whether the deference owed to state-court factual findings under § 2554(e)(1) applies when the state court adjudicates a claim on the merits such that § 2254(d)(2) applies); Hawkins v. Woods, 651 F. App'x 305, 309 n.2 (6th Cir. 2016).[1]

         The prosecution's primary witness was Jason Sutton, who was “present during the murder but uninvolved.” Id. Sutton testified that in the early morning hours of February 26, 2010, he encountered Gary Lee Robinson, Calvin LeSears, and Dixon while walking home from a friend's house. (R. 13-15, PID 887.) Dixon was driving his girlfriend's car at the time, Dixon, 2013 Mich.App. LEXIS 1498, at *1, and Sutton asked for a ride home (R. 13-15, PID 890.) Once he got in the car, either Dixon or Robinson said, “If we didn't know who you was, we were going to get you.” (R. 13-15, PID 893.) Sutton also saw that LeSears, sitting in the backseat, had a .40 caliber handgun. (Id. at PID 903.)

         On the way home, the group drove past Gregory Ingram, at which point Dixon said, “There's Greg . . . Let's get on him.” (Id. at PID 896.) Dixon parked the car on the shoulder and Dixon, Robinson, and LeSears exited the vehicle. Dixon, 2013 Mich.App. LEXIS 1498, at *1.

         Sutton, who had stayed in the car on his phone, then heard “a lot of gunfire.” (R. 13-15, PID 907.) When Sutton looked out of the car window, he saw the group shooting Ingram and he saw Ingram's body on the ground. (R. 13-15, PID 909.) When the group returned to the vehicle, Sutton observed that Robinson had an assault rifle, Dixon had a shotgun, and LeSears had a handgun. (Id. at PID 910.) Later, a medical examination of Ingram would reveal that he died of multiple gunshot wounds from at least three different types of guns. Dixon, 2013 Mich.App. LEXIS 1498, at *1. Sutton testified, “[Dixon] told me that if I said anything about this, that I will get kill't and, basically, we won't all go to jail at the same time, so one of us will get you.” (Id. at PID 924.) Robinson expressed agreement with Dixon. (Id.)

         Sutton “continued to associate with defendants out of fear that they would believe he had told authorities about the shooting.” Dixon, 2013 Mich.App. LEXIS 1498, at *2-3. A few weeks after the shooting, Sutton was riding in the same vehicle with his cousin and Dixon when police attempted to pull the vehicle over “for unrelated reasons.” Id. By the time Sutton realized what was happening, everyone else had jumped out of the moving vehicle. (R. 13-15, PID 934.) Sutton also jumped out, but was apprehended. Dixon, 2013 Mich.App. LEXIS 1498, at *3.

         While Sutton remained in custody for fleeing and alluding the police (R. 13-15, PID 936), he asked to talk to police about Ingram's murder. Dixon, 2013 Mich.App. LEXIS 1498, at *3. Dixon was arrested the same day Sutton told police about the murder, and Robinson was arrested two days later. Id. Sutton then picked LeSears out of a photographic lineup, stating that he was 80 percent certain that LeSears was the third individual involved. Id. Sutton later identified LeSears with certainty out of a physical lineup. Id. Robinson was interviewed and “ultimately provided the police with an inculpatory statement regarding his involvement in the homicide.” Id.

         Robinson, LeSears, and Dixon were tried together (but before separate juries). Dixon's jury convicted him of the following offenses: second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, felon in possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f, carrying a concealed weapon, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. (R. 13-1, PID 156.)

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Dixon's convictions. Dixon, 2013 Mich.App. LEXIS 1498, at *1. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal because it was not persuaded to review the questions presented. People v. Dixon, 843 N.W.2d 193 (Mich. 2014).

         On June 16, 2014, Dixon filed his Petition in this Court. (R. 1.) On December 11, 2014, he filed an Amended Petition. (R. 11.)


         The standard of review this Court applies to each of Dixon's claims depends on whether the claim was “adjudicated on the merits in state court[.]” 28 U.S.C. § 2554(d); see also Johnson v. Williams, 568 U.S. 289, 302 (2013). Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), habeas corpus relief may be granted on claims that were adjudicated “on the merits” in state court only if the state-court adjudication of the claim resulted in a decision that (1) “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) “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.” 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).

         A state-court decision is an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court law when it “applies [Supreme Court] precedents to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner.” Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005) (citations omitted); see Davis v. Lafler, 658 F.3d 525, 531 (6th Cir. 2011) (“[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable.” (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411 (2000)). This is a “difficult to meet . . . and highly deferential standard . . . demand[ing] that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).


         Dixon seeks habeas corpus relief on the following grounds:

[I] Defendant was denied his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation and a fair trial by the introduction of a statement by a non-testifying co-defendant which served to incriminate defendant-appellant.
[II] The trial court erred and violated defendant-appellant's right to due process when it denied his request to enforce a trial court order to produce discovery material.
[III] The trial court violated defendant-appellant's due process right to present a defense by excluding a witness who would have testified how the police attempted to recruit him to testify and filled in the details of the crime.
[IV] The trial court's exclusion of the public during the testimony of the state's key witness, violate[d] defendant's constitutional right to a public trial, where closure was based exclusively on an unidentified phone that had rung during trial.
[V] Defendant was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to object to an unjustifiable closure of the courtroom to the public during the testimony of the state's key witness.

         (R. 11, PID 42.) The Court considers these claims in turn.


         Dixon first asserts a Confrontation Clause violation. The trial court allowed two law enforcement witnesses to testify that when they showed Robinson's witness statement to Dixon (without telling Dixon what Robinson had said), Dixon ...

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