United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF
HABEAS CORPUS, DENYING THE MOTIONS TO APPOINT COUNSEL AND FOR
AN EVIDENTIARY HEARING, AND DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE
OF APPEALABILITY OR LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA
HONORABLE SEAN F. COX UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
James Webster, (“petitioner”), confined at the
Chippewa Correctional Facility in Kincheloe, Michigan, filed
a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254, in which he challenges his conviction for two
counts of first-degree premeditated murder, Mich.
Laws § 750.316(1)(a); felon in possession of a firearm,
Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.224f; and possession of a firearm
in the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws §
750.227b. For the reasons that follow, the petition for writ
of habeas corpus is DENIED.
was convicted following a jury trial in the Genesee County
Circuit Court. This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts
regarding petitioner's conviction from the Michigan Court
of Appeals's opinion, which are presumed correct on
habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
See e.g., Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th
On January 19, 2012, Flint Police Officers discovered the
bodies of Amyre Aikins and Oscar Knuckles, Jr. in an unlit
parking lot. In addition to the bodies, the police also
discovered a burning Oldsmobile Alero. Aikins's body was
found approximately 25 feet north of the Alero. She was lying
on her back with her arms above her head. Her shirt was
pulled up, exposing her breasts. There was blood around her
neck and mouth. An autopsy showed that she had been shot six
times and had gunshot wounds on her abdomen, chest, forearm,
upper back, middle back, and shoulder. The police recovered
some bullet fragments and seven spent shell casings from the
scene. A firearm examiner testified that several shell
casings recovered from the scene were fired by a .380-caliber
semiautomatic pistol. The gun was recovered several days
later, when defendant fired it at the police while trying to
avoid being detained. Defendant admitted that the gun
recovered by the police was the same gun he discharged seven
or eight times into the passenger door of a vehicle Aikins
was apparently sitting inside of.
Knuckles, Jr.'s body was found approximately 40 feet
north of the Alero. His pants and underwear were missing, and
he had a very large wound on his left temple. There was
shotgun wadding around his body. An autopsy of Knuckles, Jr.
established that he had been shot three times by a shotgun.
He had shotgun wounds on his chest, abdomen, and head. The
shotgun that fired the slugs that killed Knuckles, Jr. was
recovered from codefendant William Evans's home, and DNA
testing established that codefendant was a major donor of the
DNA on the shotgun. Further, a firearm examiner testified
that the shells recovered from the scene were fired from
After waiving his Miranda rights, defendant gave a
statement to the police. In the statement, defendant
indicated that he was in the parking lot where Knuckles, Jr.
and Aikins's bodies were discovered. He explained that he
saw a blue Avalanche truck that appeared to be the same
vehicle someone had shot at him from in November of 2011. He
said that he “thought the person who shot [him] was
there on the passenger side, so [he] shot in there.” He
also said that the first person he came across was the
driver. Defendant then candidly admitted to using a .380
caliber pistol to fire seven or eight shots into the
passenger side of the Avalanche. He said that afterward he
ran back to his girlfriend's house. Defendant also
admitted that he wrote codefendant a letter from jail,
advising codefendant to hide the shotgun that codefendant was
holding the night of the shooting. At trial, defendant
conceded that he was responsible for the shooting, but argued
that the evidence only supported convictions for voluntary
People v. Webster, No. 319731, 2014 WL 6679524, at *
1 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 25, 2014)(internal footnotes omitted).
conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id., lv. den. 498
Mich. 853, 865 N.W.2d 13 (2015).
filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment
pursuant to M.C.R. 6.500, et. seq., which the trial
court denied. People v. Webster, No. 12-03062-FC
(Genesee Cty.Cir. Ct. July 11, 2016). The Michigan appellate
courts denied petitioner leave to appeal. People v.
Webster, No. 336484 (Mich.Ct.App. May 12, 2017); lv.
den. 501 Mich. 1036, 908 N.W.2d 903 (2018).
seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds:
I. Did the trial court err in reversing its order granting a
new trial where the jury heard inadmissible evidence that Mr.
Webster wanted to have a police officer murdered?
II. The trial court erred in admitting evidence that Mr.
Webster shot at the police in a separate incident.
III. Defendant was denied due process and should be granted a
new trial where critical evidence related to intent was based
on a recorded statement that was mischaracterized by the
Sergeant Herfert. In the alternative, the prosecution
committed prosecutorial misconduct by eliciting and failing
to correct the testimony.
IV. Defendant's conviction for first-degree murder should
be reversed due to the prosecution's presentation of
constitutionally insufficient evidence of the requisite
premeditation and deliberation.
V. The trial court's errors resulted in cumulative error
VI. Ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failure to
cross-examine Oscar Knuckles, Sr., regarding his visual
VII. Ineffective assistance of trial counsel for failing to
move to strike Officer Terry Lewis' hearsay statement.
VIII. The trial court erred in denying defendant's motion
for a new trial without conducting an evidentiary hearing IX.
The circuit court abused its discretion in admitting the
prejudicial testimony of Officer Rodney Hall, in violation of
the defendant's due process.
Standard of Review
U.S.C. § 2254(d), as amended by The Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), imposes the
following standard of review for habeas cases:
application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person
in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall
not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated
on the merits in State court proceedings unless the
adjudication of the claim-
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.
decision of a state court is “contrary to”
clearly established federal law if the state court arrives at
a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on
a question of law or if the state court decides a case
differently than the Supreme Court has on a set of materially
indistinguishable facts. Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). An “unreasonable
application” occurs when “a state court decision
unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the
facts of a prisoner's case.” Id. at 409. A
federal habeas court may not “issue the writ simply
because that court concludes in its independent judgment that
the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established
federal law erroneously or incorrectly.” Id.
at 410-11. “[A] state court's determination that a
claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as
‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the
correctness of the state court's decision.”
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101
(2011)(citing Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652,
in order to obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state
prisoner is required to show that the state court's
rejection of his claim “was so lacking in justification
that there was an error well understood and comprehended in
existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded
disagreement.” Harrington, 562 U.S. at 103. A
habeas petitioner should be denied relief as long as it is
within the “realm of possibility” that fairminded
jurists could find the state court decision to be reasonable.
See Woods v. Etherton, 136 S.Ct. 1149, 1152 (2016).
Claim # 1. The ...