United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
CURTIS R. LEACHMAN, Petitioner,
THOMAS WINN, Respondent,
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF
APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA
BERNARD A. FRIEDMAN, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
R. Leachman, (“Petitioner”), confined at the
Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland, Michigan, filed a
petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. In his application, filed pro se,
petitioner challenges his convictions for second-degree
murder, M.C.L.A. 750.317; and carrying a weapon with unlawful
intent, M.C.L.A. 750.226. For the reasons that follow, the
petition for writ of habeas corpus is DENIED.
was originally charged with first-degree murder and carrying
a weapon with unlawful intent. Following a jury trial in the
Isabella County Circuit Court, petitioner was convicted of
the lesser included offense of second-degree murder and
guilty as charged of the weapons offense.
Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the
Michigan Court of Appeals, which are presumed correct on
habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir.
STATEMENT OF FACTS
November 9, 2012, Leachman, then 25 years old, moved into a
two-bedroom apartment in Isabella County that was leased by
Valerie Sprague. The building that housed the apartment had
retail space on the first floor and two apartments on the
second floor. The apartments were labeled apartment A and
apartment B;Leachman lived in apartment
Leachman was permitted to rent the spare bedroom in that
apartment because Sprague was injured and was temporarily
unable to live there. Sprague instructed Leachman to keep the
apartment clean, not to have any parties, and to stay out of
her bedroom. Leachman, however, allowed his then-close
friend, Brandon Harner, to live in the apartment with him and
sleep in Sprague's bedroom.
NOVEMBER 23-24, 2012
November 23, 2012, Harner arrived home in the early evening
after spending time with a woman who he had been dating.
Harner encountered Leachman outside, near the apartment. The
two men returned to the apartment together and talked for
about 25 minutes. Leachman told Harner about his plans for
the evening, which included seeing a woman who Leachman had
been dating. After they finished talking, Leachman left the
apartment and did not return for several hours.
Leachman returned home, he and Harner remained in the
apartment for some time. At approximately 10:00 p.m.,
Leachman and Harner heard a bang on the wall outside of his
apartment. When Leachman checked to see what caused the
noise, the hallway was empty, but a hole had been made in the
wall to the left of the apartment's front door. Leachman
grabbed a bucket of drywall from his apartment, walked down
to apartment B, and asked its occupant, Reyes Hinojosa Jr.,
who was going to fix the hole. Hinojosa appeared intoxicated.
The conversation between Leachman and Hinojosa started off
calm, but then escalated. There was an exchange of words,
which included obscenities, and Leachman threw down the
bucket of drywall. Leachman then picked up the bucket, and
returned to his apartment. The interaction with Hinojosa
lasted about two minutes.
after midnight on November 24, 2012, someone pounded on the
door of Leachman's apartment. Leachman answered the door,
seemingly upset about the banging. Hinojosa, Tyrone Stanley,
and Chino Alaniz were in the hallway. Taylor Gepford and Alsina
Waboose were behind them. Harner remained inside of the
apartment, a couple of feet from the door. The conversation
between Leachman and the three men started off calm. Leachman
and Stanley then began arguing. Stanley threatened to beat up
Leachman, and the two men discussed where Harner's
loyalty would lie if Leachman and Stanley fought. It was
Harner's impression that because Leachman allowed Harner
to live in the apartment, Leachman wanted Harner to side with
him. Harner, however, told Stanley and Leachman that he would
not choose sides because he was friends with both of them.
Gepford encouraged Leachman and Stanley to
fight. The conversation lasted less than five
minutes and ended without a physical altercation. After
Leachman closed the door, he purportedly overheard Hinojosa,
Stanley, and Alaniz discussing the need to get additional
people to come to the building. Leachman told Harner that he was
not a good friend because he would not fight for him. At that
time, it was obvious to Harner that Leachman wanted to fight.
15 minutes later, Leachman told Harner that he wanted to go
to Michael and Jacob Partie's house to see Leachman's
brothers, Ethan and Andrew. Leachman and Harner walked to the
Parties's house, which was five minutes away, but Ethan
and Andrew were not there. Leachman then attempted to recruit
people to come back to his apartment because he believed that
he was going to get “jumped”. Joe Babosh agreed
to return to Leachman's apartment, so Leachman, Harner,
and Babosh walked back.
wanted to remove himself and Babosh from the situation and
discourage Leachman from pursuing a fight. As such, once they
returned to the apartment, Harner lied to Babosh and told him
that there were eight people interested in fighting
Leachman. Around 4:00 a.m., Babosh heard yelling
and banging on the walls outside of Leachman's apartment.
As a result, Babosh called Caleb Donley to pick him and
Harner up. Donley arrived at Leachman's apartment shortly
thereafter with Nicole Coan, Karena Tucker, and Stephanie
Alwood. Donley and Alwood entered apartment A, and greeted
Leachman, Harner, and Babosh. Alwood then went and spoke with
Stanley who was standing outside of the door to apartment B.
Donley stayed in apartment A and teased Leachman, Harner, and
Babosh for hiding in the apartment. Donley then joined Coan,
Tucker, and Alwood, outside of apartment B and spoke with
Stanley. Donley had been concerned that Leachman was going to
get “jumped, ” but Stanley told him that he
intended to fight Leachman one-on-one.
the course of the evening, people became aware of the
possibility that Stanley and Leachman may fight, so there
were many people congregating in the hallway between
apartments A and B. Leachman eventually exited his apartment
and he and Stanley began exchanging words from opposite ends
of the hall. The situation began to escalate, so Harner
briefly went to speak with Stanley, who was near apartment B,
in an effort to alleviate the tension. The exchange of
negative words continued between Leachman and Stanley;
Stanley being more verbal than Leachman. According to
Leachman, Stanley then removed a gun that he had in his
waistband and handed it to Hinojosa, who pointed it at
Leachman. Stanley joked with Alaniz that he needed
a belt to use on Leachman, so Alaniz handed Stanley his
belt.Leachman then went inside of apartment A,
purportedly to retrieve a knife for his protection. It was
the impression of several witnesses that the confrontation
was over at that time.
a minute, Leachman exited apartment A, passed the stairwell,
and headed toward Stanley, who was by the door of apartment
B. Leachman stopped approximately eight feet from Stanley and
continued arguing with him. Stanley then approached Leachman
and they continued to exchange words. Then Stanley (with a
belt in hand), and Leachman (holding a knife) simultaneously
advanced toward each other. Leachman then stabbed Stanley in
his left armpit region, and also inflicted minor knife wounds
to Stanley's left shoulder and left cheek. Leachman
reported to law enforcement that he only used light force
when he stabbed Stanley in the armpit and believed that he
penetrated Stanley's skin an inch to an inch and a
quarter. However, the forensic pathologist who performed the
autopsy testified that the wound to Stanley's armpit was
over four inches deep.
the stabbing, Leachman returned to apartment A with the
bloody knife in hand. Stanley returned to apartment B and
collapsed outside of the bathroom. Waboose called 911 at
approximately 4:21 a.m. about 10 minutes after the
stabbing. Alaniz and Gepford applied pressure to
Stanley's wound until Stanley stopped breathing, which
was shortly before the ambulance arrived at 4:38
a.m. The knife that killed Stanley was
identified as a decorative knife belonging to Sprague that
was one of a pair of knives that fit together and were kept
on a stand in Sprague's bedroom.
Babosh, Alwood, Coan, Tucker, and Donley immediately left the
building, and Donley drove them all to the Parties's
house. Leachman arrived at the Parties's house shortly
thereafter looking for Harner. Many of those at the
Parties's house had become aware of the stabbing, and
Leachman was told that Harner did not want to speak with him.
Tucker overheard Leachman say “Where are the witnesses
at? I'm going to stab them.” Tucker responded by
shouting to no particular person that Leachman was going to
kill them. Leachman was escorted out of the house, at which
time he told Jacob Partie that Stanley was hitting him with a
belt, and he did not know what else to do.
leaving the Parties's house, Leachman returned to his
apartment building. The police were present. Leachman was
detained without incident in a patrol car for questioning,
and was transported to the police department. Leachman did
not identify himself as the person who stabbed Stanley, but
rather was detained because he lived in the building. While
being questioned regarding what happened that evening,
Leachman recommended to Officers Nathan Koutz and Dale Hawks,
two of the investigating officers, that they look for a gun
in apartment B. Police recovered parts of a plastic air soft
gun from inside and around the building where Leachman lived.
The gun had been separated into four parts and did not have
an orange tip, which would alert the public that it was not a
real firearm. After the incident, law enforcement also
recovered a pair of gloves in front of 510 Main Street, which
is situated between Leachman's apartment and the
v. Leachman, No. 317508, 2015 WL 159942, at *1-3 (Mich.
Ct. App. Jan. 13, 2015).
conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id., lv. Den.
Mich. 855, 864 N.W.2d 579 (2015).
seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds:
I. Whether [Leachman's] convictions should be overturned
because there was insufficient evidence at trial to prove
[Leachman] guilty of the crimes?
II. Whether [Leachman's] convictions must be reversed
because they are against the great weight of the evidence and
involve a miscarriage of justice?
III. The trial court denied [Leachman] a fair trial and his
due process rights by: not properly instructing the jury
regarding the issue of curtilage; his ruling to allow opinion
testimony into evidence on the aggressive nature of
[Leachman] under certain circumstances; his refusal to allow
funds for a psychological expert and an engineer; and failing
to grant [Leachman's] motions for a directed verdict and
a new trial?
IV. Whether the prosecutor's actions denied [Leachman] a
fair trial and his due process rights under the Michigan and
V. Whether [Leachman] received ineffective assistance of
VI. Whether the prosecutor's actions denied [Leachman] a
fair trial and his due process rights under the Michigan and
VII. Whether [Leachman] received ineffective assistance of
Standard of Review
U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by The Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), imposes the
following standard of review for habeas cases:
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;
(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.
decision of a state court is “contrary to”
clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at
a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on
a question of law or if the state court decides a case
differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially
indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). An “unreasonable
application” occurs when “a state court decision
unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the
facts of a prisoner's case.” Id. at 409. 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.” Id.
at 410-11. “[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)). Therefore, in order to obtain habeas relief in
federal court, a state prisoner is required to show that the
state court's rejection of his or her claim “was so
lacking in justification that there was an error well
understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any
possibility for fairminded disagreement.”
Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103. A habeas petitioner
should be denied relief as long as it is within the
“realm of possibility” that fairminded jurists
could find the state court decision to be reasonable. See
Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).
Claims # 1, 2, and 3. The insufficiency of evidence/great
weight of evidence claims.
Court discusses petitioner's first and second and a
portion of his third claims together for judicial clarity. In
his first claim, petitioner contends that the evidence was
insufficient to convict him. In his second claim, petitioner
argues that the verdict went against the great weight of the
evidence. As part of his third claim, petitioner alleges that
the judge erred in denying his motion for directed verdict.
petitioner's second claim first, petitioner is not
entitled to relief because the claim is non-cognizable on
habeas review. A federal habeas court cannot grant habeas
relief because a state conviction is against the great weight
of the evidence. Cukaj v. Warren, 305 F.Supp.2d 789,
796 (E.D. Mich. 2004); Dell v. Straub, 194 F.Supp.2d
629, 648 (E.D. Mich. 2002); See also Nash v.
Eberlin, 258 F. App'x. 761, 764, n. 4 (6th Cir.
2007)(“a manifest-weight-of-the-evidence argument is a
state-law argument”); Artis v. Collins, 14 F.
App'x. 387 (6th Cir. 2001)(declining to grant certificate
of appealability to habeas petitioner on claim that
jury's verdict was against the manifest weight of the
evidence). The test for habeas relief is not whether the
verdict was against the great weight of the evidence, but
whether there was any evidence to support it. Dell,
194 F.Supp.2d at 648. As long as there is sufficient evidence
to convict the petitioner, the fact that the verdict went
against the great weight of the evidence does not entitle him
to habeas relief. Id. Petitioner is not entitled to
relief on his second claim.
first claim, petitioner argues that there was insufficient
evidence to convict him of second-degree murder because there
was insufficient evidence that he acted with malice
aforethought and because the prosecutor failed to disprove
his self-defense claim.
beyond question that “the Due Process Clause protects
the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a
reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the
crime with which he is charged.” In Re
Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). But the critical
inquiry on review of the sufficiency of the evidence to
support a criminal conviction is, “whether the record
evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a
reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443
U.S. 307, 318 (1979). This inquiry, however, does not require
a court to “ask itself whether it believes
that the evidence at the trial established guilt beyond a
reasonable doubt.” Instead, the relevant question is
whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most
favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of
fact could have found the essential elements of the crime
beyond a reasonable doubt. Id. at 318-19 (internal
citation and footnote omitted)(emphasis in the original).
importantly, a federal habeas court may not overturn a state
court decision that rejects a sufficiency of the evidence
claim simply because the federal court disagrees with the
state court's resolution of that claim. Instead, a
federal court may grant habeas relief only if the state court
decision was an objectively unreasonable application of the
Jackson standard. See Cavazos v. Smith, 565
U.S. 1, 2 (2011). “Because rational people can
sometimes disagree, the inevitable consequence of this
settled law is that judges will sometimes encounter
convictions that they believe to be mistaken, but that they
must nonetheless uphold.” Id. Indeed, for a
federal habeas court reviewing a state court conviction,
“the only question under Jackson is whether
that finding was so insupportable as to fall below the
threshold of bare rationality.” Coleman v.
Johnson, 132 S.Ct. 2060, 2065 (2012).
on habeas review, a federal court does not reweigh the
evidence or redetermine the credibility of the witnesses
whose demeanor was observed at trial. Marshall v.
Lonberger, 459 U.S. 422, 434 (1983). It is the province
of the factfinder to weigh the probative value of the
evidence and resolve any conflicts in testimony. Neal v.
Morris, 972 F.2d 675, 679 (6th Cir. 1992). A habeas
court therefore must defer to the fact finder for its
assessment of the credibility of witnesses. Matthews v.
Abramajtys, 319 F.3d 780, 788 (6th Cir. 2003).
initially contends that there was insufficient evidence of
malice to support his second-degree murder conviction. The
Michigan Court of Appeals rejected the claim, finding that
the evidence that the victim had been killed by petitioner
“after being purposefully stabbed with a knife”
was sufficient to establish that petitioner acted with malice
so as to support his second-degree murder conviction.
Leachman, 2015 WL 159942, at * 4.
Michigan law, the elements of second-degree murder are: (1) a
death, (2) caused by an act of the defendant, (3) with
malice, and (4) without justification or excuse. See
Stewart v. Wolfenbarger, 595 F.3d 647, 654 (6th Cir.
2010)(citing People v. Goecke, 457 Mich. 442 463-64;
579 N.W.2d 868 (1998)). “[M]alice is defined as the
intent to kill, the intent to cause great bodily harm, or the
intent to do an act in wanton and wilful disregard of the
likelihood that the natural tendency of such behavior is to
cause death or great bodily harm.” Id. (citing
People v. Aaron, 409 Mich. 672, 728; 299 N.W.2d 304
(1980)). Additionally, “[t]he offense of second-degree
murder ‘does not require an actual intent to harm or
kill, but only the intent to do an act that is in obvious
disregard of life-endangering consequences.'”
Stewart, 595 F.3d at 658 (quoting People v.
Aldrich, 246 Mich.App. 101, 123; 631 N.W.2d 67 (2001)).
“Malice may be inferred from defendant's use of a
knife.” People v. Roper, 286 Mich.App. 77, 85,
777 N.W.2d 483 (2009). Petitioner's intentional use of a
knife to stab the victim was sufficient evidence from which
the jury could have inferred that petitioner acted with
malice. The Michigan Court of Appeals' rejection of his
claim was reasonable.
primary contention is that the prosecutor failed to disprove
his claim of self-defense.
claim is non-cognizable on habeas review. Under Michigan law,
self-defense is an affirmative defense. See People v.
Dupree, 486 Mich. 693, 704, 712; 788 N.W.2d 399 (2010).
“An affirmative defense, like self-defense,
‘admits the crime but seeks to excuse or justify its
commission. It does not negate specific elements of the
crime.'” People v. Reese, 491 Mich. 127,
155, n. 76; 815 N.W.2d 85 (2012)(quoting Dupree, 486
Mich. at 704, n. 11). Although under Michigan law the
prosecutor is required to disprove a claim of self-defense,
See People v. Watts, 61 Mich.App. 309, 311, 232
N.W.2d 396, 398 (1975), “[p]roof of the nonexistence of
all affirmative defenses has never been constitutionally
required....” See Smith v. United States, 133
S.Ct. 714, 719 (2013)(quoting Patterson v. New York,
432 U.S. 197, 210 (1977)). The Supreme Court and the Court of
Appeals for the Sixth Circuit have rejected the argument that
the Constitution requires the prosecution to disprove
self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. See
Gilmore v. Taylor, 508 U.S. 333, 359
(1993)(Blackmun, J., dissenting)(“In those States in
which self-defense is an affirmative defense to murder, the
Constitution does not require that the prosecution disprove
self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt”); Martin v.
Ohio, 480 U.S. 228, 233-36 (1987); see also Allen v.
Redman, 858 F.2d 1194, 1197 (6th Cir.1988)(explaining
that habeas review of sufficiency-of-the-evidence claims is
limited to elements of the crimes as defined by state law and
citing Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107 (1982), and
Duffy v. Foltz, 804 F.2d 50 (6th Cir. 1986)).
Therefore, “the due process ‘sufficient
evidence' guarantee does not implicate affirmative
defenses, because proof supportive of an affirmative defense
cannot detract from proof beyond a reasonable doubt that the
accused had committed the requisite elements of the
crime.” Caldwell v. Russell, 181 F.3d 731, 740
(6th Cir. 1999). Petitioner's claim that the prosecutor
failed to disprove his affirmative defense is non-cognizable
on habeas review. Id.; Allen v. Redman, 858 F.2d at
even if this Court were to determine that petitioner's
claim was cognizable, he would not be entitled to habeas
relief. The Michigan ...