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Williams v. Rivard

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

April 3, 2018

TERRENCE JAMAL WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
STEVEN RIVARD, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND DENYING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          THOMAS L. LUDINGTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner, Terrence Jamal Williams, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. ECF No. 1. Petitioner is incarcerated at the Muskegon Correctional Facility in Muskegon, Michigan. He challenges his convictions for first-degree premeditated murder and assault with intent to murder. Respondent, through the Attorney General's Office, has filed an answer in opposition to the petition. For the reasons set forth below, the petition will be denied, as will a certificate of appealability and leave to appeal in forma pauperis.

         I.

         Petitioner's convictions arise from a May 15, 2007 shooting, which resulted in life-threatening injuries to Jerrance Lewis (“Lewis”) and in the death of Carl Hairston (“Hairston”), outside of the Perfect Beat nightclub on Fort Street in Detroit (“Perfect Beat shooting”). That evening, Hairston drove his mother's Chevy Tahoe to the Perfect Beat Night Club, along with his friends Lewis and Thomas Cook (“Cook”). The Michigan Court of Appeals described the underlying facts, which are presumed to be correct on habeas review, see 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009), as follows:

[Hairston, Lewis, and Cook] left the [Perfect Beat] shortly before closing, reentered their vehicle and traversed Fort Street in front of the club for several minutes while listening to loud music. Williams (then age 20) approached the Tahoe from behind while driving a light blue minivan. Williams pulled parallel to the driver's side of the Tahoe. The rear, passenger-side sliding door of the minivan opened and Green (then age 22) fired more than 20 shots from an AK-47 at the Tahoe. The minivan collided with the Tahoe and the minivan's door was torn off in the fray. Hairston was struck with several bullets and was pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital. Lewis was shot numerous times in the abdomen and side, required three surgeries to repair internal damage, and was hospitalized for a month. Cook escaped unharmed. He fled the scene and was only secured as a trial witness through the significant efforts of the prosecutor and law enforcement officers.
Investigating officers soon received an anonymous tip that “Joe Green” was involved in the shooting, but they were unable to locate any suspects on that information alone. Investigators then discovered a burned minivan, missing its sliding rear door, abandoned in a field. The door recovered on Fort Street perfectly matched the minivan. The officers traced the vehicle's identification number and learned that it was registered to Juanita Williams, the mother of [Petitioner] and defendant “Joe Green.” When Lewis recovered sufficiently to speak to the officers, he specifically identified defendants by name as his attackers. Lewis indicated that he had seen defendants driving the minivan in the past and clearly saw their faces during the shooting. Lewis then confirmed defendants' identities through a photographic line-up.
Green and Williams had a long-standing feud with Hairston and Lewis. Lewis admitted that the two groups fought each time they met, sometimes with weapons. The parties stipulated that Williams had previously shot Lewis in the hand. Cornelius Wade, a jailhouse informant, testified that Williams confessed to the drive-by shooting while housed in the Wayne County Jail. According to Wade, a man name[d] Armond hired Williams and Green to kill Lewis and Hairston to avenge the robbery of Armond's carwash (which served as a front for a drug-dealing and gambling operation). Wade alleged that a man named Aaron Campbell was at the Perfect Beat on the night of the shooting and contacted defendants by telephone to alert them of Hairston's and Lewis's presence. The prosecution also presented evidence that someone threw a firebomb into and fired a barrage of bullets at Lewis's home the night before defendants' preliminary examination.

People v. Williams, No. 286097, 2011 WL 6004067, at *1-2 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 1, 2011). The Detroit Police Crime Lab analyzed the ballistics evidence in the case. At the trial, Detroit Police Officer David Pouch testified as an expert of firearms and tool mark identification. He explained that five of the shell casings found at the scene of the Perfect Beat shooting were fired from the same weapon and two were fired from another weapon. ECF No. 17-31 at 63. Those shell casings were also compared to the shell casings recovered from the firebombing and shooting of Lewis's home. Officer Pouch testified that five of the shell casings were fired from the same weapon as the Perfect Beat shooting.

         Petitioner and Green were tried jointly at ¶ 24-day jury trial in Wayne County in 2008. They both asserted alibi defenses. Additionally, Petitioner “presented evidence from his friends Jamaal and Jameel Croft, who claimed to have been standing outside the Perfect Beat at the time of the shooting, and asserted that the minivan's occupants were heavy-set Mexican or Caucasian men.” Id. at 2. Petitioner and Green also attempted to establish that the minivan had been stolen before the shooting. The jury convicted Petitioner of first-degree premeditated murder and assault with intent to murder (“AWIM”). Thereafter, the Court sentenced Petitioner to life in prison without parole for the murder conviction and 20 to 30 years' imprisonment for AWIM.

         In 2010, Petitioner, through counsel, filed an appeal raising two issues: 1) that he was entitled to a retrial based on newly discovered evidence; and 2) that the trial court violated his rights by closing the courtroom during the testimony of key witnesses. The Michigan Court of Appeals remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing to determine if retrial was necessary due to the newly discovered evidence. Specifically, the Detroit Police Crime Lab was closed in 2008 due to an unacceptable error rate, leading to an audit by the Michigan Department of State Police. Sergeant Reinhard Pope, a firearms and tool marks examiner at the Michigan Department of State Police Forensics Laboratory, testified at the evidentiary hearing. As part of the audit of the Detroit Police Crime Lab, he examined the ballistics evidence from the Perfect Beat shooting and from the shots fired at Lewis's home. Sergeant Pope's analysis revealed that only three of the bullets had been fired from the same firearm at the Perfect Beat shooting. When he compared those bullets to those found at Lewis's home, he concluded that he could not “identify or eliminate them as having been fired from the same firearm, ” as the Perfect Beat shooting, thus contradicting Officer Pauch's testimony at the original trial. ECF No. 17-42 at 33. The trial court denied Petitioner's motion, concluding that the discrepant ballistic evidence would not make a different result probable on retrial.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions. Williams, 2011 WL 6004067 at 14. Petitioner filed an application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same claims raised in the Michigan Court of Appeals. The Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Williams, 491 Mich. 921 (2012). The Michigan Supreme Court later denied a motion for reconsideration. People v. Williams, 492 Mich. 859 (2012). Petitioner then filed a motion for relief from judgment, which was also denied. People v. Williams, No. 07-010617-02-FC, Wayne Cir. Ct. Opinion and Order (July 23, 2013). Thereafter, Petitioner filed the instant petition for habeas relief, and obtained a stay to exhaust additional issues in the state courts. He filed an amended petition on December 15, 2014, raising the following claims:

I. A new trial is warranted due to newly discovered evidence;
II. The trial court violated his Sixth Amendment rights by closing the trial to the public and allowing witnesses to face away from him as they testified;
III. Trial counsel was ineffective;
IV. The trial court lacked jurisdiction; and
V. Appellate counsel was ineffective.

         II.

         The petitioner's claims are reviewed against the standards established by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (“AEDPA”). The AEDPA provides:

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; or
(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 proceedings.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         “A state court's decision is ‘contrary to' . . . clearly established law if it ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court cases]' or if it ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [this] precedent.'” Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003) (per curiam) (quoting Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000)). “[T]he ‘unreasonable application' prong of the statute permits a federal habeas court to ‘grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from [the Supreme] Court but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts' of petitioner's case.” Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 413). However, “[i]n order for a federal court to find a state court's application of [Supreme Court] precedent ‘unreasonable, ' the state court's decision must have been more than incorrect or erroneous. The state court's application must have been ‘objectively unreasonable.'” Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 520-21 (citations omitted). See also Williams, 529 U.S. at 409. “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), quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004).

         Put another way,

Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal . . . . As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Id. at 786-87 (internal quotation omitted).

         Section 2254(d)(1) limits a federal habeas court's review to a determination of whether the state court's decision comports with clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision. See Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. Section 2254(d) “does not require citation of [Supreme Court] cases - indeed, it does not even require awareness of [Supreme Court] cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them.” Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002). “[W]hile the principles of “clearly established law” are to be determined solely by resort to Supreme Court rulings, the decisions of lower federal courts may be instructive in assessing the reasonableness of a state court's resolution of an issue.” Stewart v. Erwin, 503 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir. 2007), citing Williams v. Bowersox, 340 F.3d 667, 671 (8th Cir. 2003); Dickens v. Jones, 203 F.Supp.2d 354, 359 (E.D. Mich. 2002).

         Lastly, a federal habeas court must presume the correctness of state court factual determinations. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). A petitioner may rebut this presumption only with clear and convincing evidence. Warren v. Smith, 161 F.3d 358, 360-61 (6th Cir. 1998).

         III.

         A.

         Petitioner first argues that he is entitled to a new trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence as a result of the Michigan State Police Crime Lab's re-examination of the ballistics evidence. The Michigan Court of Appeals addressed this issue as follows:

We agree with the trial court's conclusion that the reanalysis of the ballistic evidence was newly discovered, noncumulative evidence that could not have been discovered before the first trial. We also agree with the trial court that the new ballistic evidence would not make a different result probable on retrial. Williams inaccurately argues that the debunked ballistics evidence was a cornerstone of the prosecutor's closing argument. In reality, the prosecutor's reference to the shell casings' commonality was a brief portion of her 47-page closing argument. The thrust of the prosecutor's argument was that the witnesses supporting the prosecution theory testified consistently regarding the details of the crime and their testimonies were corroborated by the physical evidence. The physical evidence was not limited to the debunked ballistic analysis; it included the location and number of shell casings found at the scene, the trajectory of the bullets compared to the position of the victims' bodies, the minivan door left in the middle of Fort Street, and defendants' mother's burned minivan found abandoned in a field. The witnesses supporting the defense theory, on the other hand, could not agree on the details surrounding the shooting and gave incredible, fluctuating accounts.
Moreover, the prosecution did not need to conclusively prove that the shell casings found at the Perfect Beat and Lewis's home were fired from a single weapon to make its point. The jury could reasonably infer that the timing of the firebombing was not a coincidence and was orchestrated to prevent Lewis from testifying at the preliminary examination. Given Lewis's consistent identification of defendants as the perpetrators from the moment he awoke after surgery, Ware's testimony regarding Williams' jailhouse confession, [1] defendants' undeniable connection to the van, the timing of the firebombing, and the incredibility of the testimony given by Tracey George and the Croft brothers, a different result on retrial is improbable. Therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Williams' motion.

Williams, 2011 WL 6004067 at 4 (internal citation and quotation omitted).

         Petitioner's argument that he is actually innocent based upon the newly analyzed evidence is not cognizable on federal habeas review. Hence v. Smith, 37 F.Supp.2d 970, 980 (E.D. Mich. 1999). “A claim that a habeas petitioner is entitled to relief based upon the failure of a state trial judge to grant him a trial on the basis of newly discovered evidence is not cognizable in a habeas proceeding.” Monroe v. Smith, 197 F.Supp.2d 753, 763 (E.D. Mich. 2001) (citing J.C. Dickey v. Dutton, 595 F.Supp. 1, 2 (M.D. Tenn. 1983)). Accordingly, Petitioner does not state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         Even if the claim were cognizable, the Michigan Court of Appeals' analysis of this issue was reasonable. Motions for a new trial based upon newly discovered evidence, even on direct appeal, “are disfavored and should be granted with caution.” United States v. Turns, 198 F.3d 584, 586 (6th Cir. 2000). When a defendant moves for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, he or she must show that the evidence: 1) was discovered after the trial; could not have been discovered earlier with due diligence; 3) is material and not merely cumulative or impeaching; and 4) would likely produce an acquittal if the case were retried. United States v. Turns, 198 F.3d 584, 587 (6th Cir. 2000). Here, the trial court reasonably concluded that Petitioner failed to meet the fourth prong of the test because of the ample, non-ballistic evidence against him, including ...


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