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Edwards v. Woods

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

November 6, 2017

JULIAN LEIGH EDWARDS, #504232, Petitioner,
JEFFREY WOODS, Respondent.



         I. Introduction

         This is a habeas case under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Michigan prisoner Julian Leigh Edwards (“Petitioner”) was convicted of first-degree murder, assault with intent to commit murder, felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony following a jury trial in the Wayne County Circuit Court. He was sentenced to life in prison without parole on the murder conviction, a concurrent term of 15 to 60 years in prison on the assault conviction, time served on the felon in possession conviction, and a consecutive term of two years in prison on the felony firearm conviction in 2010. In his pro se pleadings, Petitioner raises claims concerning the jury instructions, the sufficiency of the evidence, the admission of alleged hearsay and trial counsel's failure to object, and the effectiveness of trial counsel as to a plea offer. For the reasons set forth, the Court denies habeas relief. The Court also denies a certificate of appealability and denies Petitioner leave to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal.

         II. Facts and Procedural History

          Petitioner's convictions arise from a a shooting incident at an apartment in Detroit, Michigan on May 28, 2009. The Michigan Court of Appeals described the underlying facts, which are presumed correct on habeas review, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009), as follows:

This case arises from the shooting death of Antoine Brown and gunshot injuries suffered by Babe Franklin that occurred on May 28, 2009. On that date, defendant was living in a one-bedroom apartment with his girlfriend, Jenae Willis, who had a young daughter fathered by Brown during a prior relationship. Franklin testified that Brown had been informed by Willis's sister that defendant was allegedly abusing Brown's child and that Child Protective Services (CPS) had become involved in the matter. Brown communicated this information to Franklin, and Brown indicated that he wanted to talk to defendant. In numerous phone calls between Willis and Brown on the day of the shootings, Willis told Brown that the accusations of child abuse made against defendant were fabrications. As reflected in the testimony by Willis and Franklin, Brown initially did not know Willis's address, and he kept calling Willis demanding the address. Eventually, Willis's sister gave Brown the address, and Brown asked Franklin to accompany him to the apartment. Franklin claimed that he suggested to Brown that, if defendant was present at the apartment, they simply talk to defendant to discover the truth before doing anything rash. Brown was described by police as being a heavyset man, weighing between 270 and 300 pounds.
At around 9:00 p.m. on May 28, 2009, defendant returned to his apartment with his brother Christopher Edwards (hereafter Edwards) after the two had spent the afternoon together. Edwards indicated that defendant was acting normal and did not appear upset about anything. Willis and her friend Ashley Scott were at the apartment when the brothers arrived, and about five to ten minutes later there were loud knocks on the door. According to Edwards, defendant opened the door just slightly after first peering through the peephole, at which point Brown or Franklin shoved the door wide open and they both barged into the apartment. Edwards testified that defendant was not carrying any weapons when he answered the door, nor did Edwards have knowledge of any weapons being kept in the apartment. Willis testified that she kept a 20-gauge shotgun behind her bedroom door, which belonged to her. Edwards claimed that, upon gaining entry to the apartment, Franklin and Brown physically attacked defendant and that the tussle carried into the apartment's sole bedroom. Edwards did not observe Franklin or Brown carrying any weapons, and Edwards, fearing for his own life, immediately left the apartment. On fleeing, Edwards heard gunshots coming from the apartment building, and he called 911 out of concern for defendant. Edwards never witnessed the shootings inside the apartment. Willis also testified that she did not witness the shootings. She had been in the bedroom sleeping at the time that Franklin and Brown burst into the apartment. Defendant and Franklin came running into the bedroom and were fighting, and Willis immediately got up and locked herself in a bathroom. In a statement to police, Willis indicated that she heard defendant exclaim, “I told you all not to come up in here.” At trial, she denied that defendant made the statement. Willis testified that she had not informed defendant about the phone calls between her and Brown. Willis claimed that she did not observe anyone carrying a weapon that evening, and she denied that defendant kept any weapons in the apartment.
Defendant did not testify at trial and the only eyewitness testimony concerning the actual shootings came from Franklin, the surviving victim. Franklin testified that when he and Brown arrived at defendant's apartment complex, another man was leaving the complex, which allowed them to make entry without “buzzing” in. Franklin stated that he and Brown were not carrying any weapons, as they only wanted to speak to defendant; Brown was calm and not irate. Once they reached defendant's and Willis's apartment unit, Brown stood behind Franklin as Franklin knocked on the door. When defendant started to open the door, Franklin asked for Willis and defendant asked “who the f* * * are you?” Brown and Franklin then entered the apartment. According to Franklin, defendant proceeded to run toward the bedroom, carrying a shotgun. Franklin had testified at the preliminary examination that he noticed defendant carrying the shotgun when defendant first opened the apartment door. Brown chased defendant into the bedroom and Franklin followed close behind. Upon entering the bedroom, Franklin observed Brown and defendant wrestling over control of the shotgun that defendant had been carrying. Defendant's hands were on the trigger and the barrel of the gun, while Brown's hands were grasping the middle of the shotgun. Just moments after Franklin entered the bedroom, the shotgun discharged, striking Franklin in the left hand and chest. Franklin fell to the floor and then heard the shotgun discharge again, followed by a yell from Brown. Franklin saw defendant push Brown to the floor, and then defendant proceeded to leave the bedroom. Brown had been shot but was still alive.
Defendant, however, soon reentered the bedroom, pointed the shotgun at Brown, and then shot him for the second time. According to Franklin, defendant pulled the trigger again while pointing the gun at Brown, but the gun just clicked and did not fire. Defendant then turned the shotgun on Franklin and pulled the trigger, but the gun did not fire. Defendant instead struck Franklin a couple of times with the barrel of the gun. Franklin was able to stand up, and he started running toward the front door of the apartment. Franklin, however, was then shot in the back with what he believed was a handgun based on the sound of the weapon. He slumped against a wall in the living room and ended up on the ground next to a closet. Franklin observed defendant return to the bedroom, and he then heard the handgun being fired. The forensic pathologist who conducted Brown's autopsy testified that Brown had been shot three times-a shotgun wound to the chest, a shotgun wound to the abdomen, and a handgun wound to the right flank. Franklin testified that defendant then came out of the bedroom and began pacing around the apartment and ranting. Franklin heard defendant yell, “I told you. I told you on the phone if you came over here I was killing somebody.” Defendant then made a phone call, telling the person on the other end of the line, “I just shot these two n* * * * *s. Get over here.” Franklin testified that defendant proceeded to leave the premises, taking a handgun with him but not a shotgun. Franklin then called 911. He had to step outside the apartment in order to identify the address for the 911 operator, at which point the police had already arrived in light of Edwards' earlier 911 call.
Willis testified that she came out of the bathroom when the gunshots ended, and she saw defendant in the hallway and a man lying in the living room bleeding from the chest. Willis told police in a statement that she observed defendant holding a shotgun after she emerged from the bathroom, but at trial she denied ever seeing defendant holding a gun. Franklin testified that he saw Willis leave the apartment and that he believed that Willis should have recognized Franklin, given that they had met numerous times in the past. Willis had denied recognizing Franklin in the apartment.
The police discovered Brown in a hallway in the apartment, bleeding from his chest but still alive. No weapons were found on Brown, who later perished after being taken by EMS to the hospital. Police testimony indicated that there was blood everywhere in the apartment and that the place looked like a scuffle had occurred. The police did not find any weapons on Franklin, and he informed police that he had been shot by “Moochie, ” which was defendant's nickname.
Nearly three months after the shooting, the police pulled over a car driven by defendant. He was placed into custody for not having a license, and the police later discovered that there was an outstanding homicide warrant for defendant's arrest. Defendant gave police several incorrect names.
At trial, the jury, as to the issue of homicide, was instructed on the offenses of first-degree and second-degree murder, but the court declined the prosecutor's request for a manslaughter instruction. The trial court opined that a voluntary manslaughter instruction would be so similar to the second-degree murder instruction that it would cause juror confusion. The jury was instructed on self-defense, as requested by defendant.

People v. Edwards, No. 296127, 2011 WL 1446074, *1-3 (Mich. Ct. App. April 14, 2011) (unpublished) (footnotes omitted).

         Following his convictions and sentencing, Petitioner filed an appeal of right with the Michigan Court of Appeals raising claims concerning the jury instructions, the admission of alleged hearsay, and trial counsel's failure to object to that alleged hearsay. The court denied relief on those claims and affirmed Petitioner's convictions. Id. at *3-8. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Supreme Court, which was denied in a standard order. People v. Edwards, 490 Mich. 874, 803 N.W.2d 338 (2011).

         Petitioner then filed an initial Habeas Petition with this Court raising the same claims presented on direct appeal, as well as additional claims concerning the sufficiency of the evidence and ineffective assistance of trial counsel relative to a plea offer. The Court determined that the new claims were unexhausted and stayed and administratively closed the case so that Petitioner could return to the state courts and fully exhaust his remedies.

         Petitioner returned to the state trial court and filed a motion for relief from judgment raising his unexhausted claims. The trial court denied relief in part based upon Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D)(2) and on the merits. People v. Edwards, No. 90-21356 (Wayne Co. Cir. Ct. Jan. 7, 2014). Petitioner filed a delayed application for leave to appeal with the Michigan Court of Appeals raising the same claims. The Michigan Court of Appeals denied relief pursuant to Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D)(3) because Petitioner alleged grounds for relief which could have been raised on direct appeal and failed to establish good cause for failing to previously raise the issues. People v. Edwards, No. 321132 (Mich. Ct. App. May 6, 2014). Petitioner then filed an application for leave to appeal which the Michigan Supreme Court, which was denied pursuant to Michigan Court Rule 6.508(D). People v. Edwards, 497 Mich. 981, 861 N.W.2d 26 (2015).

         Petitioner thereafter moved to reopen this case and proceed on his habeas claims. The court granted his request and reopened this case. Respondent filed an Answer to the Habeas Petition contending that it should be denied because the claims are procedurally defaulted and/or lack merit. Petitioner filed a Reply to that Answer.

         III. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2241 et seq., sets forth the standard of review that federal courts must use when considering habeas petitions brought by prisoners challenging their state court convictions. The AEDPA provides in relevant part:

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 proceeding.

28 U.S.C. §2254(d) (1996).

         “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 [that] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)); see also Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002).

         “[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 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); see also Bell, 535 U.S. at 694. However, “[i]n order for a federal court to find a state court's application of [Supreme Court] precedent ‘unreasonable, ' the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous. The state court's application must have been ‘objectively unreasonable.'” Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 520-21 (citations omitted); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 409. “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, ' and ‘demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.'” Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (quoting Lindh, 521 U.S. at 333, n. 7; Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)).

         The United States Supreme Court has held that “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) (citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). The Supreme Court has emphasized “that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). A habeas court “must determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision” of the Supreme Court. Id. Thus, in order to obtain federal habeas relief, a state prisoner must show that the state court's rejection of a claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Id.; see also White v. Woodall, __ U.S.__, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014). 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.” Woods v. Donald, __ U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 1372');">135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015). A habeas petitioner cannot prevail as long as it is within the “realm of possibility” that fairminded jurists could find the state court decision to be reasonable. Woods v. Etherton, __ U.S.__, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).

         Section 2254(d)(1) limits a federal court's review to a determination of whether the state court's decision comports with clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412; see also Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S. 111, 122 (2009) (noting that the Supreme Court “has held on numerous occasions that it is not ‘an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law' for a state court to decline to apply a specific legal rule that has not been squarely established by this Court”) (quoting Wright v. Van Patten, 552 U.S. 120, 125-26 (2008) (per curiam)); Lockyer, 538 U.S. at 71-72. Section 2254(d) “does not require a state court to give reasons before its decision can be deemed to have been ‘adjudicated on the merits.'” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 100. Furthermore, it “does not require citation of [Supreme Court] ...

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