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Lee v. Rewerts

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

June 20, 2018

WILLIAM ROY LEE, Petitioner,
v.
RANDEE REWERTS, Respondent.

          OPINION

          PAUL L. MALONEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must be dismissed because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.

         Discussion

         I. Procedural History

         Petitioner William Roy Lee presently is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the Carson City Correctional Facility (DRF) in Carson City, Montcalm County, Michigan. Following a 15-day jury trial in the Wayne County Circuit Court, Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316a. On February 6, 2015, the court sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment without parole.

         Petitioner appealed his conviction to the Michigan Court of Appeals, raising a single issue:

[PETITIONER] IS ENTITLED TO A NEW TRIAL WHERE THE TRIAL COURT ERRED IN THE ADMISSION OF THE ALLEGED STATEMENT BY A NON-TESTIFYING DEFENDANT.

(Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.3.) His two co-defendants also appealed their convictions and the court of appeals consolidated the cases into a single appeal. In a lengthy, unpublished opinion issued on August 9, 2016, the court of appeals denied Petitioner's appeal and affirmed his conviction. See People v. Thompkins et al., Nos. 326028, 326094, 326095, 2016 WL 4212142 (Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 9, 2016). Petitioner sought leave to appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court, raising the same ground. The supreme court denied leave to appeal on March 7, 2017.

         On June 11, 2018, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition. Under Sixth Circuit precedent, the application is deemed filed when handed to prison authorities for mailing to the federal court. Cook v. Stegall, 295 F.3d 517, 521 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner placed his petition in the prison mailing system on June 25, 2018. (Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.15.) The petition raises the single ground presented to the state appellate courts. (Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.7.)

         II. Factual Background

         Petitioner's conviction arises out of a shooting death that occurred in Detroit on July 31, 2013. Petitioner makes no challenge to the underlying facts as recited by the Michigan Court of Appeals. As a consequence, this Court relies on the factual summary of the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The twenty-five year old victim in this case, Jonathon Michael Stokes (a/k/a “Slim”), was found shot to death near a bus stop in the City of Detroit on July 31, 2013. The victim's identification was found next to his body. His front pockets were turned inside out as though someone had rummaged through his pockets and his Cartier glasses were nowhere to be found. The victim had been shot five times - four times in the legs and once in his head; all shots were from behind. The four bullets recovered from the victim's body revealed that all bullets came from the same barrel of a .38 caliber weapon.
Defendants were charged in the victim's murder and were tried together. Deseanta and Leander are cousins. Deseanta was also known as “D, ” “De” or “Day.” Leander was sometimes referred to as “Le Le.” Although tried together, there were two juries - one for Leander and another for Deseanta and Lee. At trial, it was the prosecutor's theory that defendants were upset with the victim and thought he was a “snitch.” In contrast, defendants argued that this was a case of mistaken identity and that the shooter was actually Leander's cousin, Dejuan Griffin (Griffin), whose street name was similar to Deseanta's - “Da Da.”
Jeffrey Pursey testified that on the night of the murder he was on his way to a liquor store on Seven Mile between Grand River and Telegraph to meet a friend and go to the casino. Pursey was unable to pull into the driveway of the liquor store because there were three individuals in the way. One individual had on dark pants and a black hoody. Another had on dark pants and a white shirt. Pursey was not entirely sure what the third individual was wearing, but knew he was wearing dark clothing. At trial, Pursey identified Lee as the one in the white t-shirt and Deseanta as the one in the hoody. Pursey testified that Lee actually waved Pursey into the parking lot. Pursey's friend arrived within a couple of minutes. Pursey put his phone and charger on his friend's front seat and was planning to go into the liquor store to grab a drink when he heard five gunshots.
Pursey went up to Seven Mile and saw the same three individuals running toward him. Pursey grabbed his phone from his friend's car and dialed 911 while driving to the area. He saw a body lying on the ground. Pursey called 911 and later gave Detective Detrick Mott a written statement and identified Lee from a photo array as the individual who waved him into the parking lot and the one he later saw running towards him. Pursey identified Deseanta from another array as the individual in the black hoody.
All three defendants attacked the credibility of Pursey's testimony because the victim's family had given Pursey $12, 000 before trial as a reward for his cooperation. The victim's mother, Dorothy Strong-Stokes, testified that she and her husband had originally put up a $27, 500 reward with Crime Stoppers, hoping to apprehend their son's killers. Although Pursey provided critical information in the case and had testified at several preliminary examinations, Crime Stoppers informed Strong-Stokes that Pursey did not qualify to receive the reward because he had not made a tip directly to them. Crime Stoppers told Strong-Stokes that if she wanted Pursey to have the money, she would have to do it herself. They returned the Stokes' money. Strong-Stokes testified that she felt $12, 000 was a fair reward. She did not intend the payment as a bribe for Pursey's testimony. Pursey denied that the $12, 000 influenced his testimony at a later preliminary examination or at trial. In fact, when Pursey gave his statement to police and positively identified Lee and Deseanta, he was unaware that there was a reward through Crime Stoppers.
The only witness at the bus stop the night of the murder was Castro Pettway. Pettway saw three individuals approaching from the east. One had on a black hoody and another was wearing a white t-shirt. They stopped about 40 feet before the bus stop and were talking amongst themselves. They continued to approach the bus stop when the individual wearing the hoody mentioned something to the victim about a bus and pulled out a gun. Pettway heard and saw the first shot fired and then ran. He heard three or four more shots. Pettway waited approximately five minutes and then went back to retrieve his bag. Pettway could not identify the shooters at trial.
Walter Williams was doing some maintenance in the area where the murder occurred. He heard four gunshots in the distance. From a window, Williams could see that there was a man on the ground and four others around him. Three of the men were kneeling down and appeared to be going through the man's ...

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