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Parker v. Berghuis

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

August 2, 2018

MATTHEW WILLIAM PARKER, Petitioner,
v.
MARY BERGHUIS, Respondent,

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS

          DAVID M. LAWSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Matthew William Parker was charged with three counts of sexually assaulting his step-niece between March 1999, when she was eight years old, and September 2003. An Oakland County, Michigan jury convicted him of two of those counts, which Parker challenges in a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Parker's main contention is that neither the trial judge nor his defense attorney properly responded to a potentially deadlocked jury. He also believes that the trial judge misinstructed the jury on a key element of the crimes - first-degree criminal sexual conduct. However, the record does not show that Parker's convictions violate clearly established federal law or that the state courts misapplied controlling precedent. Therefore, the Court will deny the petition.

         I.

         Parker was charged with performing three acts of cunnilingus with his step-niece, Chelsea Hawley, beginning when she was eight years old. She testified that the abuse by Parker occurred “almost every day” over a four-year period of time, but she could not remember any specific dates for any of the incidents. She did not reveal her allegations until after she turned eighteen years old.

         Chelsea lived with her father, Matthew Hawley, her mother, and her older sister, Brooke, in their home in Troy, Michigan until 1996, when her mother passed away. Shortly thereafter, Matthew met Maureen Parker, the petitioner's twin sister, and they began dating. Maureen moved into Matthew's home eventually and they were married. Maureen and the petitioner were very close, and, beginning in 1999, the petitioner began spending much of his time at the Hawley home, even living there occasionally for short periods of time.

         The petitioner was charged with three discrete incidents of criminal sexual conduct. However, Chelsea testified that she did not remember dates or specific details about the separate incidents. She acknowledged that she had to discuss with her father the dates that the petitioner was in the area before she went to the police to give her statements. Chelsea also admitted that much of what she told the detectives about these charges were just answers and guesses, and were not actual memories. She testified that the petitioner never asked her to perform any sex acts on him and he never had sexual intercourse with her. Chelsea also acknowledged that the petitioner never put any part of his body inside of her body.

         The State alleged in count one that the first incident occurred when Chelsea was around eight years old. She was playing with her toys in the middle of the day in a hallway that was visible from the front door of her home. The petitioner approached her and took off her pants. Chelsea testified “my clothes were off and his mouth touched my private part.” The petitioner told her that she “was supposed to like this” and that it was “supposed to feel good.”

         The second charged act - count two - happen when Chelsea was 8 or 9 years old. She testified: “I recall a time when it was at night, I was in my bedroom, and he came into my bedroom and performed oral sex, and my sister walked in and witnessed it.” Chelsea testified that the petitioner's mouth touched her skin on her private part “where I pee out of.” Chelsea's sister, Brooke, testified that she entered Chelsea's room and witnessed the petitioner “with his head under the covers in her bedroom.” Brooke testified that she “knew he [the petitioner] was licking her private parts” even though the petitioner's head was not visible. Chelsea said that her sister screamed when she came into the room, and then the petitioner followed Brooke out into the hallway where Chelsea heard them arguing. Chelsea's father (Matthew) and Maureen Parker were in their bedroom only a few feet away, but did not hear or see anything.

         Brooke did not discuss the assault with Chelsea until some 10 years later. Brooke did not report this incident to her stepmother, aunts, grandparents, school counselors, or the therapists she was seeing. Brooke never told those people about the sexual abuse because she was afraid that Maureen would leave the family. Brooke acknowledged, however, that she hated Maureen, and that the two of them had been involved in many physical fights and verbal arguments. Brooke informed her father in 2004 that the petitioner was sexually abusing Chelsea, but he did not believe her and did nothing.

         Chelsea testified that the third charged act (count three) occurred when she was 11 or 12 years old. Chelsea and the petitioner were in the basement where the petitioner was helping her make a musical instrument for a school project. Chelsea testified that the petitioner said “I know that you and your dad go to classes.” Chelsea told him that she did not know what the petitioner was talking about. The petitioner replied “that he [Matthew] knew that I knew what was going on, but it was okay because that's - it feels good and it's okay for you to do this.” When Chelsea told him she still did not know what he was talking about, the petitioner told her to go put on her pajamas. She testified “I went and got my pajamas on and he performed oral sex, his mouth touched my private part. My skin.” She said that she could not remember the part of the house where that incident occurred.

         Chelsea did not report the sexual abuse to anyone until September of 2008 when she was eighteen years old, after she watched a television show about a young girl who had been sexually abused by her father. After watching the show, Chelsea told her friend, Allison Jackson, that the petitioner touched her inappropriately years earlier. Jackson testified that Chelsea did not appear to be upset and that she laughed it off; she did not provide any details about the incident.

         A few weeks later, Chelsea told another friend, Kimberly Key, that something inappropriate had happened between her and the petitioner, but did not provide any details.

         It was not until Marianne Carniak, Kimberly Key's mother, took Chelsea to the Troy, Michigan police department that Chelsea reported the abuse to the police. That occurred on February 18, 2009. Carniak had dated the petitioner on and off for about 10 years.

         Chelsea admitted that much of what she told the detective in her interview was simply answers and guesses, and not the product of actual memories. She admitted discussing the details of her testimony with others. Chelsea had asked her father about the dates that the petitioner lived with them in the home. She asked Kim if she remembered when the petitioner had lived with her mother. It was with Carniak, however, that Chelsea discussed most of the details of her story. Chelsea testified that she and Carniak met “almost every day . . . so many times . . . really can't give you a number.”

         Each side called expert witnesses to give opinions on the behavior of children who are the victims of sexual abuse. The prosecution presented Sara Killips, who testified that delayed disclosure by such children is the norm, and that there is no typical length of time expected for disclosure. The defense presented Dr. Ira Schaer, a licensed psychologist, who testified that, by the age of four or five, children generally understand the difference between a good touch and a bad touch. He said that an eight-year-old girl who encountered the behavior Chelsea attributed to her uncle would know that the conduct was inappropriate. He also testified that, as research had shown, because traumatic events are burned into a person's consciousness, he would expect that most 17-year-olds could report earlier sexual abuse in detail, as though it happened an hour earlier. Dr. Schaer also listed a catalog of behaviors typically displayed by sex abuse victims, none of which, according to several witnesses, Chelsea exhibited. Dr. Schaer described other inconsistencies between Chelsea's seemingly well-adjusted persona and that of the typical sex abuse victim. And he explained the concepts of suggestibility and false memory.

         After the defense rested, and counsel presented their arguments, the court instructed the jury, which began its deliberations at 4:43 p.m. on February 24, 2010. Apparently the jury at some point reached an impasse, as the trial court file contains two notes from the jury. In one of them, the jury asked, “What do we do if we cannot agree on one or more of the counts?” Under that question, the trial judge scrawled this answer: “Please continue deliberations.” Another communication from the trial judge on the same day says “Please continue your deliberations.” It is unclear whether that note was responding to a different question by the jury, or was simply a reminder to the jurors to continue deliberating. The transcripts do not contain any reference to those notes at the time they occurred, and the notes were not read into the record in open court. On February 26, 2010, they were filed in the clerk's office.

          ORDER

         On February 25, 2010, at 3:57 p.m., the jury indicated that they had reached a verdict. The jury foreperson announced a verdict of not guilty on count one and guilty on counts two and three. However, when the jury ...


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