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Young v. Palmer

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

April 12, 2019

STEPHEN YOUNG, Petitioner,
CARMEN PALMER, Respondent.



         Stephen Young, (“Petitioner”), a Michigan prisoner, filed this action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. After a bench trial in the Wayne Circuit Court, Petitioner was convicted of felonious assault, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.82, being a felon in possession of a firearm, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. Petitioner was sentenced as a third-time habitual felony offender to two months' probation for the assault and felon-in-possession convictions and ten years' imprisonment for the felony-firearm conviction.

         In the instant petition, Petitioner raises four claims: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel, (2) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, (3) illegality of Petitioner's ten-year sentence, and (4) sufficiency of the evidence. For the reasons explained below, the court will deny the petition because Petitioner's claims are without merit or barred by state court procedural default. The court will also decline to issue a certificate of appealability.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual History

         Petitioner's convictions stem from an incident that occurred in a hotel parking lot. A bench trial was held at which several individuals present at the hotel incident testified. The court summarizes the relevant witness testimony below.

         Jamie Santti, the victim, testified that sometime after midnight on October 13, 2012, she and her husband, Joshua Santti, were with Petitioner at the hotel for a birthday party. Petitioner was a life-long family friend of Jamie. The party occurred in a hotel room, but the attendees were asked to leave after arguments broke out. The attendees moved to the hotel parking lot, where the arguments continued. One attendee, Jimmy Rapp, began to argue with Joshua Santti. Jamie testified that she tried to calm Rapp and that while she attempted to do so, Petitioner exited his car, pointed a gun at her, and then fired a shot into the air. After the shot, Petitioner and Rapp got into the same car and left. Jamie and Joshua drove off and called the police. A tape of the 9-1-1 call was played for the trial court. Jamie made a written statement at the Farmington Hills Police Department later that day. She admitted that after the incident, Petitioner's mother approached Jamie and asked her to sign a statement recanting her earlier testimony to police. Jamie admitted to signing the recanting statement but claimed she did so to get Petitioner's mother to leave her alone and not because her statement to police was false.

         Joshua Santti, the victim's husband, offered testimony that largely corroborated Jamie's testimony. He testified that he left the hotel on the night in question with Jamie. Joshua described how Petitioner and Jimmy Rapp drove up to him in the parking lot, and how he began to argue with Rapp. Joshua stated that Petitioner got out of the car, pointed a pistol at Jamie, then aimed the gun over Jamie's head and fired. Afterward, Petitioner and Rapp got back into their car and drove away. Joshua testified that Petitioner was standing between five and ten feet away from Jamie when he fired the shot. Joshua was certain that Petitioner fired the gun. Joshua also spoke with police officers the next day and made a written statement. Like Jamie, Joshua admitted that he later signed a statement recanting his earlier testimony at the request of Petitioner's mother. He explained, however, that the recanting statement was false and that he only signed it because he was pestered to change his earlier testimony.

         Livonia Police Officer Justin Thompson testified that he took the statements from Jamie and Joshua Santti. Both individuals were “nervous, ” “scared, ” and “shooken up” (sic) (ECF No. 9-3, PageID 1039-41) when he spoke with them, and they identified Petitioner as the shooter. Officer Thompson also spoke with Candace Polka who stated that she was in the parking lot when the incident occurred. Polka stated that she heard the argument, heard the shot fired, and saw Petitioner drive away in his car, but that she did not see who fired the shot.

         Petitioner's trial counsel called a number of witnesses. First, Lauren James testified. She was friends with Petitioner and was Rapp's girlfriend at the time. James arrived at the party with Rapp, Petitioner, and Petitioner's girlfriend, Tiffany Groves, in a car driven by Groves. While in the hotel, an argument erupted that spilled into the parking lot. James got into the backseat of Groves's car to leave and saw Petitioner standing outside a few feet away. She heard a loud sound but did not see anyone with a gun. When Petitioner entered the car, James did not see him with a gun, nor did she see Rapp with a gun. James never made a statement to the police regarding the incident.

         Misty Herren-Wilder, Jamie Santti's sister, testified that she was present at the hotel during the incident. She described the arguments inside the hotel and how they spilled into the parking lot and testified that she discussed the incident with her sister. Herren-Wilder testified that Jamie told her that she was extremely intoxicated at the time of the incident and that she could not recall exactly what happened. Herren-Wilder also testified that Jamie told her on at least ten to fifteen occasions that she did not see Petitioner with a gun. Herren-Wilder also described preexisting tensions between the Santtis and Petitioner.

         Petitioner's girlfriend at the time, Tiffany Groves, also testified for the defense. She described leaving the hotel room and getting into her car along with Petitioner, who sat in the passenger seat. As Groves began to drive out of the parking lot, Groves saw a crowd of about a dozen people arguing outside the hotel. Petitioner got out of the car to ask what was happening, and then Groves heard a shot. Groves testified that she was looking at Petitioner at the time she heard the shot, but she did not see him with a gun. After the shot, Petitioner jumped in the car and told Groves to drive away. Groves drove away with Rapp, Petitioner, and James. Groves gave a statement to police consistent with her testimony.

         Petitioner testified in his own defense. He described the events inside and outside of the hotel and the preexisting tensions between himself and the Santtis. Petitioner estimated that there were about fifteen people arguing in the parking lot when he left the hotel. He entered Groves's car and began to leave when he saw Rapp fighting with Joshua. Petitioner testified that he got out of the car to help break up the fight. He then heard a loud noise so he got back into the car and Groves drove away.

         Petitioner denied possessing or firing a gun.

         Following closing arguments, the trial court made the following findings:

[T]he testimony of the two complaining witnesses, Jamie Santti and Joshua Santti was very definitive and very definite that they saw the defendant point the gun at Jamie Santti, and then pull the gun up in the air and shoot in the air, above her head.
The witnesses presented by the Defense, the first one being Lauren James, said that she was in the back seat of the car at the time that his incident happened. And she did not see who shot the gun.
She said she didn't see the defendant with a gun. But it was not clear that she could actually see the defendant.
She also was a friend of the defendant's. And they exchanged phone numbers on the day they met, which I found interesting.
I didn't find her testimony very credible, and it didn't seem that she had a good vantage point from inside the car. Whereas Jamie and Joshua Santti were right outside, in front of the defendant.
The next witness that testified was Misty Herren-Wilder. And she wasn't even at this incident.
And while she did testify that her sister told her, and her sister being Jamie Santti, told her that she didn't remember the incident, and that Stephen didn't have a gun, I don't find her testimony to be credible.
She admitted she has had an incident with her sister where her sister had her locked up. And she admitted that she is still ...

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