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Davis v. Rivard

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

November 28, 2017

Johnny Lerue Davis, Jr., Petitioner,
Steven Rivard, Respondent.

          Elizabeth A. Stafford Mag. Judge



         Michigan prisoner Johnny Lerue Davis, Jr. (“Petitioner”) filed this habeas corpus petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, two counts of assault with intent to murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.83, discharging a firearm in or at a building, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.234b, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony (felony-firearm), Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b, following a jury trial with co-defendant Andrew Lee Ursery. Petitioner was sentenced to 30 to 50 years imprisonment for second-degree murder, 15 to 30 years imprisonment for each of the assault with intent to murder convictions, two to four years imprisonment for discharging a firearm in or at a building and two years imprisonment for felony-firearm. The petition raises two claims: (1) the trial court improperly admitted autopsy photographs and photographs of a memorial to the victim; and (2) insufficient evidence supported the convictions.

         For the reasons that follow, the Court denies the petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The Court also denies a certificate of appealability.

         I. Background

         Petitioner's convictions arise from a shooting outside a club in Ecorse, Michigan on October 7, 2012. The shooting resulted in the death of one woman and injuries to two men. The Michigan Court of Appeals summarized the evidence adduced at trial leading to Petitioner's convictions as follows:

This appeal arises from the death of Chanel Weddington and gunshot wounds Damond Williams and Billy Parker sustained outside of an after-hours club known as “The Place, ” in the city of Ecorse, during the early morning hours of October 7, 2012. Diamond Pitts brought defendants, Patrice Jackson (“Patrice”), and a man identified at trial only as “Davonte” to The Place, and parked on the grass in a field across the street from the club. Defendants went to the club because they had a “beef” with people there. According to the testimony at trial, defendants had earlier stated that they had guns, and Ursery had shown a silver gun to the group. Regardless, a security guard and the club owner's husband (Patrick Wheeler) both testified that everyone is patted down when they enter and turned away if weapons are found.
Later, the security guard and Wheeler observed an altercation on the dance floor involving both women and men, including defendants. The security guard testified that defendants were escorted outside for five minutes, and then allowed to reenter. Wheeler also testified that, when the same men got into another argument, he closed the club and escorted patrons outside. At that time, the security guard heard people saying that the men involved in the fight were about to start shooting. Shaquetta King saw her cousin, Parker, throw a punch at Davonte, and she also saw Joseph Elias standing in the street with his shirt off and a gun in his hand. The security guard testified that he saw defendants walk across the street toward the field. King testified that Davonte also walked there.
As two patrons, Raphael Reed and Vick Bullard, were leaving and walking to their car parked on a street slightly south of the field, Reed saw Davis and Ursery standing near a white car in the field. Reed testified that, as he started to put his key in his car door, he dropped it, bent over to pick it up, and, at the same time, heard gunshots. Reed recalled that he took cover by a truck, but looked toward the field ten feet away. Reed testified that he saw Davis and Ursery, who he had known before, along with another man, shooting toward the front door of the club. Reed testified that he also saw Ursery fire toward a man running down Francis Street.
Williams testified that he was talking to Weddington outside on the sidewalk in front of the club when he was shot in the stomach. Williams did not see who shot him, but stated that the gunshots came from the field across the street from the club and he saw the flashes from the muzzles of two guns. Williams testified that he watched Weddington suffer the fatal shot to her chest while she was standing right next to him with her back toward the field.
Parker testified that patrons were exiting the club when he arrived at the scene and that he had walked to the middle of 12th Street when the shooting began. Although he ducked behind a car, he was shot in the stomach and hip. Parker testified that he saw more than one shooter, but could not identify them.
Roy Miller, a River Rouge police officer, estimated that 40 gunshots were fired. Dean Molner, a Detective Sergeant with the Michigan State Police Department and a firearms and tool marks expert, identified four different groups of casings found, and concluded that there was a possible maximum of four guns used to fire the bullets, but it was also possible that less than four weapons were used. Bullet fragments were recovered in front of The Place and in a car parked in front of the club, and bullet holes were observed in three vacant homes down the street.

People v. Davis, Jr., No. 316645, 2014 WL 4495219, *1-2 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 11, 2014).

         Petitioner's convictions were affirmed on appeal. Id. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Davis, 497 Mich. 984 (2015).

         Petitioner now seeks a writ of habeas corpus on these grounds:

I. The trial court violated the defendant's due process rights to a fair trial and abused its discretion by its consistent rulings as it regarded the admission of photographs into evidence, which collectively were so unfairly gruesome and damaging that the admission was more prejudicial than probative.
II. The evidence presented by the prosecutor was insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of the crimes ...

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