United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
ANTHONY P. PATTI MAGISTRATE JUDGE
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR A WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS AND DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF
PAGE HOOD CHIEF JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
a habeas corpus case brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
2254. Michigan prisoner Maryann Castorena
(“Petitioner”) was convicted of first-degree
premeditated murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(a),
conspiracy to commit first-degree premeditated murder, Mich.
Comp. Laws §§ 750.157a and 750.316(1)(a),
solicitation of first-degree premeditated murder, Mich. Comp.
Laws § 750.157b(2), and lying to a peace officer, Mich.
Comp. Laws § 750.479c(2)(d), following a jury trial in
Ottawa County Circuit Court. Petitioner alleges as a ground
for relief that evidence admitted at trial relating to a
prior conspiracy to commit arson was wrongfully admitted
under Michigan Rule of Evidence (“MRE”) 404(b).
Petitioner also alleges that the evidence violated her right
to a fair trial under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to
the United States Constitution.
State argues in an answer to the habeas petition that
Petitioner abandoned her claim by presenting it in a
one-sentence statement with no supporting argument. The State
also maintains that Petitioner's claim is not cognizable
on habeas review because there is no federal prohibition on
the evidence in question in the habeas context.
was charged with first-degree premeditated murder, conspiracy
to commit first-degree premeditated murder, solicitation of
first-degree premeditated murder, and lying to a peace
officer. She was tried before a jury in Ottawa County Circuit
Court. The state appellate court summarized the facts at
Petitioner's trial as follows:
This case arises out of the murder of Jose Hernandez in
January 2014. At the time, defendant was a beneficiary of
Hernandez's life insurance policies as well as the 401k
account, stock option plan, and life insurance policy that
Hernandez received through his job. In total, defendant was
in a position to receive over $1.2 million upon
In 2005, defendant and Hernandez began dating, and they later
lived together along with other family members. In June 2012,
Hernandez applied for a $750, 000 20-year term life insurance
policy through a Farm Bureau Insurance agency where defendant
worked. He named his niece as the sole beneficiary of the
policy, but he asked the insurance agent about the
possibility of changing the beneficiary at a later date to
his future wife and children. This insurance policy went into
effect on July 20, 2012.
Later, in November 2012, defendant, Hernandez, and
defendant's sons, Jamie Hinojosa and Gabriel Delarosa,
were living in an apartment on Ambertrace Lane in Holland,
Michigan (“the Ambertrace
apartment”). At that time, defendant was introduced to
one of Hinojosa's friends, Anthony Delagarza, who was an
initiated member of the Latin Kings, a local gang. Delagarza
was living with his brother, but he wanted to move out
because he was “hanging around with a lot of gang
members” at his brother's apartment and hoped to
“turn [his] life around.” Learning of this,
defendant invited Delagarza to live with her, Hernandez, and
her sons at the Ambertrace apartment. Delagarza moved into
the unit shortly thereafter, and he was “jumped
out” of the Latin Kings, meaning that he was assaulted
in order to be allowed to leave the gang, in December 2012.
In February 2013, Hernandez listed defendant as the only
beneficiary of his employee stock options plan, his 401k
plan, and his life insurance policy issued through his
employer. A month later, in March 2013, defendant asked
Delagarza if he knew of anyone who could “total out the
[2012 Nissan Maxima] so the insurance would pay out”
because they were having trouble paying for the insurance on
the vehicle each month. Hernandez was with defendant when she
discussed this matter with Delagarza, but defendant was the
one who spoke while Hernandez stood nearby. Delagarza told
defendant that he did not know anyone who would do that, but
he could do it. Defendant then told him, “I'll pay
you about $1, 000 for this job.” Delagarza testified
that the “cover story” that defendant developed
for the arson involved defendant staying at her sister's
house-as her sister was in the midst of a custody dispute
with her ex-husband-and making it appear that the ex-husband
committed the arson. At trial, Delagarza confirmed that he
did, in fact, blow up the vehicle using Molotov cocktail
bombs while it was parked outside the home of defendant's
sister. He also explained in detail the way in which the
arson plot was executed, including defendant's presence
at her sister's home during the commission of the crime.
In addition, documentation regarding the insurance claim
filed on the vehicle, testimony from a police officer who
responded to the scene of the arson, and a video of the
burning vehicle were admitted at trial. After the incident,
defendant paid Delagarza for his involvement in the crime.
In April 2013, approximately $40, 000 was paid to Hernandez
for the total loss of the 2012 Nissan Maxima. Later in April,
Hernandez changed the designated beneficiary on his Farm
Bureau life insurance policy so that his niece would receive
60% of the proceeds and defendant would receive 40%.
In July 2013, Delagarza moved out of the Ambertrace
apartment. That month, he also traveled to California. While
he was visiting his godparents during the trip, he
accidentally videotaped himself on his cellular telephone
while discussing the fact that defendant hired him to burn
the Maxima, and he described the way he did the crime. Around
the same time, defendant also moved to California. At the end
of July 2013, she married another man in Nevada, which she
never disclosed to Hernandez.
A few days after the marriage, defendant temporarily returned
to Michigan to help Delarosa move in with one of
defendant's sisters.During her visit, she reconnected with
Delagarza, requesting that he meet with her the following
weekend. During the meeting, defendant told Delagarza that
she had a new “job” for him to do and that it
would pay out “really, really good.” Delagarza
testified at trial that defendant explained that she would
“have [Hernandez] take out a $75, 000 life insurance
policy, ” and that Delagarza would be paid $50, 000 for
murdering him. They then discussed how the murder would be
accomplished, and Delagarza agreed to complete the homicide.
Subsequently, defendant returned to California.
The murder did not occur until several months
later. In the meantime, Hernandez applied for a
second 20-year term life insurance policy in the amount of
$750, 000 through Farm Bureau, under which defendant was the
sole beneficiary. Additionally, during this period of time,
Hernandez continued to refer to defendant as his girlfriend.
In November 2013, defendant moved back to Holland, Michigan,
with her new husband. Upon their arrival, defendant and her
husband lived in her sister's home. Hinojosa continued to
live with Hernandez in the Ambertrace apartment despite his
mother's return to Michigan. Defendant met with Delagarza
multiple times in November and December 2013 to discuss the
murder plan. Then, around Christmas, while Hinojosa was still
living with Hernandez, defendant began ...