United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, (2) DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND
(3) GRANTING PERMISSION TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS
Denise Page Hood, Judge
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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