United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Honorable Gordon J. Quist Judge.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
PHILLIP J. GREEN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28
U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner James Traxler is incarcerated
with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Muskegon
Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan. On October 2,
2012, a Newaygo County Circuit Court jury found Petitioner
guilty of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws §
750.317, and felony firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws §
750.227b. On November 5, 2012, the court sentenced Petitioner
to a term of imprisonment of twenty to eighty years for the
second-degree murder conviction, consecutive to a term of two
years for the felony firearm conviction.
March 30, 2017, Petitioner filed his amended habeas corpus
petition raising three grounds for relief, as follows:
I. [PETITIONER] WAS DEPRIVED OF THE RIGHT TO PRESENT A
DEFENSE AND EFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL FOR FAILING TO
PROPERLY RAISE SELF DEFENSE.
II. INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL FOR FAILING TO MOVE TO
EXCLUDE EXPERT TESTIMONY.
III. INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF APPELLATE COUNSEL.
(Am. Pet., ECF No. 11, PageID.154-157.) Respondent has filed
an answer to the petition (ECF No. 15), stating that the
grounds should be denied because issue I is procedurally
defaulted and meritless, and issues II and III are simply
meritless. Upon review and applying the standards of the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.
L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA), I find that the grounds
are meritless. Accordingly, I recommend that the petition be
25, 2011, Petitioner shot his neighbor three doors down,
Michael Boynton, point blank in the head, killing him. That
is undisputed. Petitioner claims he suffered from
post-traumatic stress disorder from his military service and
a prior beating at the hands of Mr. Boynton, and that his
perception of the events because of that disorder turned his
action in pulling the trigger into self-defense. The jury did
presented the testimony of Psychologist James VanTreese in
support of his claims that: (a) he was not criminally
responsible for shooting his neighbor; and (b) the shooting
was justified. (Trial Tr. V, ECF No. 16-13,
PageID.1043-1149.) The prosecutor presented the testimony of
Psychologist Margo Gilbert in support of his claim that
Petitioner was criminally responsible and the shooting was
not justified. (Trial Tr. VI, ECF No. 16-14,
testified that Michael Boynton was coming at him and, so
fresh on the heels of a brutal beating by Mr. Boynton,
Petitioner feared for his life when he pulled the trigger.
(Trial Tr. VI, ECF No. 16-14, PageID.1189-1193.) That may
have been what was going on in Petitioner's head, but
there was an eyewitness to the incident who told a different
Carrier, the boyfriend of a Maria Fifield who lived in a
house between Mr. Boynton and Petitioner's homes, was in
Ms. Fifield's backyard at the time of the shooting, only
thirty to forty yards away. (Trial Tr. I, ECF No. 16-9,
PageID.650-670.) He saw Petitioner next to and slightly
behind Mr. Boynton, as Mr. Boynton sat on his riding mower on
his property. (Id.) According to Mr. Carrier,
as Mr. Boynton sat on his mower, Petitioner raised up a gun
and shot him in the head. (Id.)
Carrier and Ms. Fifield immediately left the scene in their
vehicle to report the incident at the state Police Post.
(Id.) Petitioner called 911 to report the incident
as well. (Id., PageID.644-648; Trial Tr. VI, ECF No.
16-14, PageID.1236-1240.) When police and emergency medical
personnel arrived, Mr. Boynton was dead. (See, e.g.,
Trial Tr. II, ECF No. 16-10, PageID.703-706; 711, 714, 761,
763-764, 770.) The position of his body on the mower,
however, seemed more consistent with Mr. Carrier's
version of events than Petitioner's version.
(Id.) That is why the expert testimony was so
trial court instructed the jury that for Petitioner to act in
self-defense, he “must have honestly and reasonably
believed that he was in danger of being killed or seriously
injured.” (Trial Tr. VII, ECF No. 16-15, PageID.1428.)
It would be difficult to conclude that Petitioner honestly
and reasonably believed himself to be in danger based on Mr.
Carrier's disinterested description of the shooting.
Petitioner's description of the events-that Mr. Boynton
lunged at him causing Petitioner to fear for his life-only
appears “reasonable” if what he perceived was
understandably different than what Mr. Carrier perceived.
Petitioner's expert's explanation that Petitioner was
in a trauma-induced disassociative state (Trial Tr. V, ECF
No. 16-13, PageID.1071-1077), provided the foundation
necessary for ...