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Milton v. Stewart

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

June 11, 2018

MARGO MILTON, Petitioner,
v.
ANTHONY STEWART, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          DAVID M. LAWSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Margo Milton was convicted by an Oakland County, Michigan jury of armed robbery and conspiracy to commit armed robbery. She has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging those convictions and her prison sentences on the grounds of ineffective assistance of trial counsel for the failure to assert a duress defense, and because trial counsel failed to call two witnesses in her defense. The respondent urges the Court to deny the petition because the petitioner did not exhaust her state remedies by presenting her claims to the Michigan Supreme Court. The warden also argues that the claims lack merit. Because Milton was not denied the effective assistance of counsel, the Court will deny her petition.

         I.

         The charges against Milton stem from a February 22, 2011 robbery of a CVS drugstore in Southfield, Michigan. Milton was a supervisor at the store. The prosecutor's theory was that Milton helped plan and facilitate the robbery with Treymayne Thompson, Maharayah “Roger” Brown, and Roosevelt Tolber.

         Venus Rogers testified at trial that she worked as a cashier at the CVS drugstore. Approximately ten minutes before closing on the date of the robbery, a man walked into the store and pointed a gun at her. Rogers identified the man as Thompson. Thompson directed the other cashier, Rizwana Jaffri, to stand near Rogers. Thompson then led the two cashiers to the back office, and told them to call out for their supervisor.

         Rogers testified that Milton (the supervisor) cracked the office door open and looked out. Thompson then pushed the door open and told Milton to open the safe. Milton emptied the money from the safe and gave it to Thompson. Thompson ordered the three women to lay on the floor. After it appeared on the security monitor that Thompson was gone, Jaffri called 9-1-1. Milton called the store manager.

         Jaffri testified that she was working at a register next to Rogers when Thompson entered the store. After he pointed the gun at Rogers, Thompson told them to take him to the office. Jaffri testified that Milton was in and out of the store an unusual No. of times on the date of the robbery. She also testified that Milton normally would have been in the front of the store before closing to help with the closing tasks, but she was not there at closing on the date of the robbery.

         Fred Cahill, the regional manager for CVS, testified that he investigated the robbery. He said that the surveillance video of the incident (which was played for the jury) showed a couple noteworthy things about Milton's behavior. For one, it was unusual for Milton to pull the cash out of the front registers and put it in the safe prior to the store closing, as shown in the video. Also, it appeared from the video that Milton watched the security monitors while Thompson pointed the gun at the cashiers and led them to the office, without taking any action. Cahill also noted that Milton had done a lot of texting on her telephone immediately before the robbery.

         Co-defendant Tremayne Thompson testified that he knew Milton from the neighborhood. About two days before the robbery, Thompson had a conversation with Roger Brown, Milton's boyfriend. Brown told Thompson that he and his step-father had talked with Milton about robbing the drugstore. Thompson agreed to participate in the robbery.

         On the day of the robbery, Brown picked up Thompson and drove him to Brown's house. Brown indicated that Milton had told him that it was a good day to commit the robbery. Brown told Thompson that he did not want to be the one to go inside the store because he had identifiable dreadlocks. At about 9:00 p.m., Thompson, Brown, and Tolbert drove to the drugstore. Milton came out of the store and got into the car. Milton told the men about a parking spot that was out of the view of the security cameras, and she described the placement of cameras near the front counter and the office.

         After the discussion, Milton went back into the store and the three men returned to Brown's house. The men decided that Thompson would go into the store. Thompson testified that Brown gave him a .45 caliber handgun. The men returned to the store. Thompson went inside and saw a few customers, so he walked around for a couple minutes. He saw Milton at a register, and he waited for her to take the cash drawer to the back office. Thompson then approached the two cashiers with the handgun.

         Thompson directed the cashiers to the back office, and after going inside, he told Milton to open the safe. Milton opened the safe and put what amounted to approximately $37, 000 into a plastic bag. The three men went back to Brown's house and counted the money. Milton called and told Brown what happened after the police came. Thompson spent the night at Brown's house. Milton came over the next morning and received her share of about $10, 000.

         Thompson testified that he was arrested a few months later, and he ultimately pled guilty to armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. On cross-examination, Thompson admitted that at some point during his case he decided to cut a deal, and he wrote a letter to the prosecution. He described his understanding of his potential sentencing exposure, told the jury that he was given a sentence that was substantially shorter, and acknowledged that he would not have received the reduction in sentence without volunteering to testify against Milton. Thompson also admitted on cross-examination that he wrote letters to Milton from prison calling her names, and stating that he used her to get time off of his sentence.

         Following closing arguments and deliberations, the jury found Milton guilty of armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery, and commission of a felony with a firearm. She was sentenced to concurrent eight-to-twenty year prison terms on the robbery convictions.

         At the sentencing hearing, Milton stated that at the time of the offense, “I was in fear for my life, for my parents' lives and the safety of my co-workers.” Sent. Tr [dkt. 5-6] at 14 (Pg ID 396). When she was interviewed for the presentence report, Milton contended that she participated in the crime because she had been threatened by Thompson. Milton stated that her father owed Thompson money for drugs. The trial court responded to these allegation before imposing sentence:

I know that her proffered excuse was that she was threatened. The court's view is that that's without merit. The record suggests she got a cut on this recovery, that her cut was ten grand. And that's not a person that as she's alleging in advance was coerced into all of this. It just simply isn't. And her conduct on the night of viewed on the videotape suggests and corroborates not what Ms. Milton advances but what her co-defendant and ...

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