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Mathis v. Stewart

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

November 30, 2017



          Hon. Denise Page Hood, Judge

         This is a habeas case brought by a Michigan prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Tonya Lynn Mathis, (“Petitioner”), was convicted after a jury trial in the Oakland Circuit Court of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b; and two counts of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520c. Petitioner was sentenced to three concurrent terms, the longest of which is 225 months to 99 years for her first-degree criminal sexual conduct conviction.

         The petition asserts six grounds for relief: (1) insufficient evidence was presented to sustain Petitioner's convictions, (2) the trial court erred in allowing testimony regarding the statistical likelihood of false allegations of sexual abuse, (3) the trial court erred in allowing testimony regarding Petitioner's conduct with one of her other children, (4) the prosecutor committed misconduct during closing argument, (5) the trial court incorrectly scored the sentencing guidelines, and (6) Petitioner's sentence to life-time electronic monitoring violates the Ex Post Facto Clause.

         The Court finds that Petitioner's claims are without merit. Therefore, the petition will be denied. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability, but it will grant permission to appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. Background

         The victim, Benjamin Mathis, Jr., testified that he was eighteen years old at the time of trial. Benjamin had three siblings: an older sister named Tiffany, and two younger siblings named Austin and Brennan. Benjamin testified that he and Austin lived with their father in Tennessee, he did not know where his older sister lived, and Brennan lived with her father in Michigan. Benjamin testified that when he was younger he used to live in an apartment in Michigan with Petitioner, his mother.

         Benjamin's earliest memories were from his first day of Kindergarten, when Petitioner hit him in the nose and pushed him down steps. Petitioner was physically abusive toward Benjamin when they lived together, and she often told him that she hated him.

         Benjamin testified that Petitioner would have him bathe with her, and she directed him to wash her body including her breasts and vagina until she told him to stop.

         Other times, Petitioner would direct Benjamin into her bedroom. Petitioner would lie down on her bed with her underwear removed. Petitioner would use an aggressive tone and direct Benjamin to insert his fingers inside her vagina while she moved her body. This happened on more than one occasion.

         Benjamin testified that he did not talk about any of these incidents because he was too young to understand what was going on. He explained that Petitioner never touched him, and that it was always Petitioner directing him to touch her.

         Benjamin's father, Benjamin Mathis Sr., “Mathis, ” testified that Benjamin was diagnosed with “oppositional defiant disorder and severe manic depressive, ” and Austin suffered from developmental disabilities. Dkt. 9-7, at 284, 309-10. Benjamin did not start treatment for his mental health problems until he was six or seven years old.

         Mathis and Petitioner were married in 1996, when Benjamin was an infant. They divorced in 1999. After the divorce, Mathis and Petitioner had joint custody of Benjamin. When Benjamin started school, they alternated weeks having custody. On January 1, 2005, Mathis obtained full physical custody of the boys by agreement with Petitioner. Mathis and his sons moved to Tennessee in 2009.

         Years before Benjamin disclosed the sexual abuse, Mathis and several of his family members made complaints to Child Protective Services (CPS) regarding Petitioner's conduct with the boys. When CPS interviewed Benjamin, he told them about physical abuse but not about any sexual abuse, and Mathis was advised to file for sole custody. Benjamin did not see Petitioner from February 2009, when the family moved to Tennessee until he first testified in court in 2013.

         When the family moved to Tennessee, Benjamin received counseling. Mathis testified that on May 31, 2013, he was driving Benjamin to a therapy appointment when Benjamin told him that he had been sexually abused. Mathis asked Benjamin if Petitioner had ever touched him, and Benjamin responded that she made him touch her. That night, Benjamin told Mathis he decided to tell him about what happened because he was dating a girl, which started to bring back memories.

         Mathis testified that Benjamin fell apart after making his disclosure. He put on weight, was put on anti-depressants, and began additional counseling for sexual abuse victims. He could no longer maintain relationships with girlfriends. Prior to Benjamin's disclosure, Mathis suspected that Petitioner had physically abused the boys, but he did not suspect that any sexual abuse occurred.

         Detective Jody Kendrick of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office testified that she began her investigation into the allegations in early Summer of 2013. A forensic interview was scheduled at a facility in Tennessee. Kendrick did not attend the interview, but she received recordings of it. During the interview, Benjamin made disclosures of sexual assault. Kendrick also received files on the CPS history involving Petitioner and Benjamin.

         Paul Goffar testified that he was Brennan Elliott's father, a daughter from the brief relationship with Petitioner. Petitioner had full physical and legal custody of Brennan until January of 2013. On several occasions, Goffar made complaints to CPS about Petitioner. When the charges relating to Benjamin were made, CPS transferred custody of Brennan from Petitioner to Goffar. Brennan did not see Petitioner after that.

         After Brennan starting living with him and his wife, they observed Brennan masturbating and trying to place their son's hand down her pants. Goffar also saw Brennan straddling his son's back and looking down his pants with a flashlight. On another occasion, Goffar and his family went to a family barbecue where there were a lot of other children. Brennan came out of a bedroom where she and the other children had been playing, and her dress was tucked into the top of her tights. She was disheveled, and all the other children appeared to be shaken up. After these incidents, Goffar spoke with Brennan, and she described engaging in sexual activities with Petitioner. Goffar then contacted CPS. Brennan went to see her counselor and disclosed the abuse to the counselor as well. She was later interviewed at Care House.

         Brennan testified that she was seven years old at the time of trial. She testified that she lived with her father and step-mother, and that Petitioner was her mother. When she used to live with her mother, Petitioner would tell her that she hated her. Brennan testified that she used to see Petitioner rub her own “private part” while laying naked in bed. Petitioner told Brennan that she should try to do it. Petitioner then took Brennan's arm and forced Brennan to rub her own private area with her hand. After these incidents, Brennan would sometimes join Petitioner in bed and they would both rub their own private areas at the same time.

         Brennan went to a place called Care House twice. Brennan did not tell the woman what happened with Petitioner until her second visit because she was too embarrassed. Brennan's father and stepmother did not talk about Petitioner at all before Brennan told them what happened. No one had ever told Brennan that Petitioner had done something to Benjamin.

         Sarah Visker-Killips testified that she was a private consultant who does trainings and consultations on child abuse. She worked as a forensic interviewer at Care House. She reviewed police reports, CPS reports, transcripts, and the Tennessee interview regarding Benjamin's allegations of sexual abuse. Visker-Killips explained the purpose and protocols for forensic interviews. Because Benjamin was older there was less of a requirement to ensure he understood the difference between ...

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