United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Mona K. Majzoub
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
J. MICHELSON U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Mother's Day weekend 2004, Clarissa Vaughn hosted a small
party at her home. The party went smoothly until Tahari
Briggs got into a verbal argument with Vaughn's sister
and a few other women. Vaughn kicked Briggs out. Tempers then
briefly cooled. But the next day, Briggs paid two women to
attack Vaughn. Andrew Scott, Vaughn's friend, witnessed
the assault and helped break it up. The next morning, after
an altercation, Scott killed Briggs.
Scott claimed self-defense at trial, a jury convicted him of
first-degree murder. He received a mandatory life sentence.
The Michigan Court of Appeals found no reason to upset the
conviction and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to
appeal. Scott now petitions this Court for a writ of habeas
corpus. Scott raises three claims that cannot overcome AEDPA.
So the Court will deny Scott's petition.
Briggs argued with Clarissa Vaughn's sister at a party
Vaughn hosted. (R. 6, PID 237.) Vaughn told Briggs to
leave. (Id.) Not long after, Briggs paid two women
to beat Vaughn up. (R. 6, PID 172.) Andrew Scott saw the
women emerge from Briggs' van and start assaulting
Vaughn. (R. 6, PID 315-16.) Scott broke up the attack and
immediately contacted Louie Howard, Vaughn's boyfriend at
the time. (R. 6, PID 316.)
arrived and, along with Scott, exchanged threats with one of
Briggs's friends. (R. 6, PID 316.) (Id.) But
nothing came of the verbal exchange and Scott and Howard
next day, Scott and Howard were driving in Scott's van
when they saw Briggs' van coming toward them. (R. 6, PID
247.) Scott pulled alongside Briggs' van. And Scott says
Briggs crouched forward, appearing to reach for a gun, so
Scott, armed with a .38 caliber handgun, shot Briggs twice.
(R. 6, PID 257, 320.) Briggs died the same day.
Rapids Police initially suspected that Scott and Howard shot
Briggs. (R. 6, PID 171, 270.) But both men denied any
involvement in the shooting. (R. 6, PID 257, 321.) And
because investigators could not accumulate enough evidence to
contradict their claims of innocence, the case went cold. (R.
6, PID 170.)
years later, detectives unearthed new DNA evidence
implicating Scott and issued an investigative subpoena for
Howard. (R. 6, PID 270, 274.) Although Howard stood by his
earlier statement, it contradicted the new evidence and so
the Grand Rapids police charged him with perjury. (R. 6, PID
257.) After the police arrested Howard on the
perjury charge, he implicated Scott in Briggs' murder.
(R. 6, PID 274.) Howard's new statement, combined with
the DNA evidence, led to first-degree murder charges against
Scott. (R. 6, PID 275.)
opted for trial over a plea bargain. (R. 6, PID 365.) At
trial, Scott testified he shot Briggs in self-defense. (R. 6,
PID 320.) But the jury convicted him of first-degree murder.
(R. 6, PID 361.) Scott received a mandatory life sentence
without eligibility for parole. (R. 6, PID 365.) He appealed
to the Michigan Court of Appeals which affirmed his
conviction over a partial dissent. See People v.
Scott, No. 311955, 2014 Mich.App. LEXIS 780, at *1-7
(Mich. App. Apr. 24, 2014). The Michigan Supreme Court denied
leave to appeal. People v. Scott, 854 N.W.2d 882
now seeks a writ of habeas corpus from this Court. (R. 1.)
Scott raises three challenges to the constitutionality of his
incarceration: prosecutorial misconduct, ineffective
assistance of counsel, and cumulative error. (R. 1, PID 3-4.)
The state responded and Scott filed a reply. (R. 5, 7.)
Though Scott's prosecutorial misconduct claim highlights
some troubling conduct, ultimately the petition does not
warrant habeas corpus relief. The Court will address all of
Scott's arguments, though not in the order he presents
corpus petitions do not afford federal courts an opportunity
to conduct “ordinary error correction” of state
criminal convictions. Harrington v. Richter, 562
U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011). Rather, the Anti-Terrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act instructs federal courts to give
state courts “the benefit of the doubt.”
Stewart v. Trierweiler, 867 F.3d 633, 636 (6th Cir.
2017). According to AEDPA, a federal court must defer to a
state court's decision on the merits unless the decision
(1) “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) “was based on an unreasonable determination of
the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State
court proceeding.” See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d). But “[w]hen a state court does not address a
claim on the merits, . . . ‘AEDPA deference' does
not apply and [this Court] will review the claim de
novo.” Bies v. Sheldon, 775 F.3d 386, 395 (6th
contends that multiple instances of prosecutorial misconduct
violated his due process and fair trial rights. Scott points to
portions of the prosecutor's opening and closing
statements along with a reference to his tattoo during
cross-examination. (R. 1, PID 8-14.) The state responds that
Scott procedurally defaulted all of these claims when his
trial lawyer did not object to them. (R. 5, PID 52.)
habeas corpus petitioner raises a claim that the state
believes is procedurally defaulted, federal courts may take
the path of least resistance. See Lambrix v.
Singletary, 520 U.S. 518, 525 (1997); Hudson v.
Jones, 351 F.3d 212, 215 (6th Cir. 2003). So to ease the
analysis, the Court will address the merits of Scott's
prosecutorial misconduct claims.
strongest claims of prosecutorial misconduct occurred during
the opening and closing statements. During her opening
statement, the prosecutor told the jury “[w]e [the
prosecution] do not come to you and would not come to you
unless the evidence would prove beyond a reasonable doubt,
that [Scott] . . . killed Tahari Braggs without any lawful
justification.” (R. 6, PID 170). Then in closing, the
prosecutor attacked the merit of Scott's ...