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Stewart-Matzen v. Brewer

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

July 30, 2018

CYNTHIA MARIE STEWART-MATZEN, Petitioner,
v.
SHAWN BREWER, Respondent.

          CORRECTED OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          DAVID M. LAWSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Michigan prisoner Cynthia Marie Stewart-Matzen is presently in custody following her convictions that resulted from her attempts to burn down her house. After she was sentenced to prison, and obtained no relief from the Michigan appellate courts, she filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that the trial court should have suppressed certain evidence, including her statements to the police, and that her attorney mishandled the motion to suppress her confession. Finding no merit in any of the issues she has raised, the Court will deny the petition.

         I.

         A fire occurred at the Matzen home in Belding, Michigan on May 13, 2010. After a two-year investigation, the petitioner was charged with intentionally setting the fire so that she could collect proceeds from her homeowner's insurance policy and her husband's life insurance policy.

         The petitioner and her husband, Gerald Matzen, dated for approximately 25 years. When the petitioner lost her employment - and her health insurance - she and Matzen decided to get married so that she could be added to Matzen's health insurance. They entered into a prenuptial agreement; however, the petitioner became the beneficiary of Matzen's 401(k) plan and his life insurance. The house they lived in was insured for $100, 000.

         Matzen was not in good health and spent most of his time in his living room chair, where Stewart cared for him. He could walk short distances, but could not go up or down the stairs. About two months after he married the petitioner, Matzen awoke to smoke coming from the kitchen. He called 911 and called for the petitioner.

         The fire department, fresh from another call nearby, arrived at the petitioner's house within two minutes. Fire Chief Gregg Moore and Captain Matt Smith assisted Gerald Matzen out of the house. When Matzen said that his wife was still in the house, Smith went back in for the petitioner. He found her in the kitchen “staring off into space, ” as if she were under the influence of something. When she did not respond to his calls, he pulled her from the house. Smith observed that the petitioner had significantly more soot on her face, compared to her husband's.

         Once Matzen and the petitioner were out of the house, firefighter Timothy Lubitz and his partner, Captain Donald Eady, entered the house to put out the fire, entering through the side door. They noticed a set of stairs leading to the basement, with a small fire at the top of the stairs. They extinguished the first fire. They then proceeded down the stairs, when they came upon a plastic curtain on fire on the stair landing. They extinguished the second fire. They then came upon a small fire the size of a dinner plate on the basement concrete floor. They extinguished the third fire. Finally, they came upon a flaming box of kitty litter in the back room, which Lubitz extinguished with his boot, putting out the fourth and final fire.

         Eady went back into the basement to inspect the scene. He heard something that sounded like air escaping and discovered a gas leak behind the washer and dryer. He could see that the coupling nut was completely disconnected from the line. Eady immediately radioed instructions to turn the gas off to prevent an explosion. Firefighter Darryl Childs later inspected the gas line and noticed wrench marks on the copper line and no connection nut.

         Michigan State Police technician Greg Stormzand began his investigation the next day and contacted the petitioner. After she signed a consent form, Stormzand entered the home and began his physical investigation of the property. Stormzand concluded that the fires were intentionally set with gasoline in a number of locations in the basement. Stormzand testified that he smelled a petroleum product and noticed burn patterns that indicated that a liquid had spilled down the stairs. A tested sample of charred carpet from the stairs and kitty litter confirmed that what he smelled was gasoline. Agreeing with the prosecutor's hypothetical question, Stormzand acknowledged that he would expect to see a considerable amount of soot on the face of a person who had started multiple fires, used a broom to push the flaming combustibles around the basement, started another fire, poured gasoline on the staircase, and then lit the staircase.

         Before trial, the petitioner filed motions to supress Stormzand's investigation, alleging that his search of the home without a warrant violated the Fourth Amendment. She also filed a motion to supress certain statements she made to the police over the two-year investigation, contending that no Miranda warnings preceded questioning, and at times she was represented by an attorney. The trial court denied those motions, and all this evidence was considered by an Ionia County jury, which convicted the petitioner as charged of arson of a dwelling house, arson of insured property, and preparation to burn property. The petitioner was sentenced to concurrent prison terms totaling six to 20 years.

         After sentencing, the petitioner's request for appointed counsel on appeal was denied. Her direct appeal deadline had expired by the time she was able to hire a lawyer. She filed a delayed application for leave to appeal, which the Michigan Court of Appeals denied in a form order, citing lack of merit in the grounds presented, but not offering any detailed reasons. People v. Stewart-Matzen, No. 321281 (Mich. Ct. App. April 28, 2014). The petitioner filed a late application for leave to appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court, which also was rejected on August 27, 2015 for untimeliness.

         The petitioner then filed a timely petition for a writ of habeas corpus, in which she raised the following issues:

I. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT DENIE[D] PETITIONERS [SIC] MOTION TO SUPRESS [SIC] EVIDENCE OBTAIN [SIC] WITHOUT A WARRANT[.]
II. THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT DENIED PETITIONERS [SIC] MOTION TO SUPRESS [SIC] PETIONERS [SIC] STATEMENTD [SIC] OBTAINED IN VIOLATION OF PETITIONERS [SIC] CONST. RIGHTS[.]
III. RECEIVED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL WHEN HE INCORRECTLY FILED A MOTION TO SUPPRESS UNDER SIXTH AMENDMENT, ...

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