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Thomas v. Balcarcel

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

April 19, 2019

WILLIAM D. THOMAS, Petitioner,
v.
ERICK BALCARCEL, Warden, Respondent.

          Elizabeth A. Stafford Magistrate Judge.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS [1]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In March 2012, a woman was raped by a man who was, for most of the encounter, masked. At one point during their investigation into the crime, the police called the victim to the station. There, a police captain informed the victim that an arrest warrant was out for someone whose DNA matched DNA found on clothing worn by her assailant and recovered from the crime scene. Then, when the captain had to leave to take a phone call, the victim saw a photo on the captain's computer screen. The photo was of William Deshiree Thomas. Later, at Thomas' preliminary examination and at trial, the victim identified Thomas as her attacker. At trial, Thomas put on an alibi defense. Consistent with Michigan law, Thomas disclosed to the prosecution his list of alibi witnesses. Although the same Michigan statute required the prosecution to reciprocate, i.e., tell Thomas its rebuttal alibi witnesses, the prosecution did not provide Thomas with any such list. But, at trial, the prosecution was allowed to call in its case-and-chief a witness who testified contrary to Thomas' alibi.

         Thomas believes that these two issues-the hint given to the victim at the police station and the surprise rebuttal alibi witness-warrant a writ of habeas corpus from this Court. For the reasons that follow, the Court will not grant the writ.

         I.

         A.

         On March 17, 2012 (St. Patrick's Day), a woman “heard a noise in her home and discovered a man in her kitchen.” People v. Thomas, No. 321822, 2015 WL 6955182, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 10, 2015). The intruder “wore a white mask over his mouth and a white ‘do-rag' on his head and was armed with a knife.” Id. After a struggle, the intruder forced the woman into the shower and compelled her to wash. Id. He then ordered her to remove her clothing and raped her. Id. The intruder then “sprayed her with bleach and ordered her into the shower.” Id. “The victim waited a few moments and peeked around the shower curtain. She testified that she saw the man-without his mask on-frantically searching through the contents of a wastebasket he had overturned. He looked up and ordered her back into the shower. She waited several more minutes and then crept from the shower and called the police department.” Id. Later, police recovered the intruder's do-rag. Id.

         The State of Michigan charged Thomas with the crimes. The evidence at Thomas' criminal trial included the victim's identification of Thomas, expert testimony indicating that Thomas' cellphone (or one he was using) was in the general vicinity of the victim's house around the time of the attack, and evidence that Thomas' DNA was found on the do-rag recovered from the victim's house. Thomas' defense was that whoever the intruder was, it was not him. While his DNA was on the do-rag, it also contained the DNA of two others. And Thomas presented an alibi. In particular, Thomas' girlfriend testified that she and Thomas were dropping off her infant daughter at a babysitter's house at the time of the attack. Having heard the evidence, the jury convicted Thomas of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b(1)(e), and first-degree home invasion, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.110a(2).

         B.

         Thomas appealed without success. See People v. Thomas, No. 321822, 2015 WL 6955182 (Mich. Ct. App. Nov. 10, 2015). And the Michigan Supreme Court was not “persuaded” to hear Thomas' case. See People v. Thomas, 878 N.W.2d 875 (Mich. 2016).

         Thomas now seeks a writ of habeas corpus from this Court.

         II.

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)-28 U.S.C. § 2254 in particular-“confirm[s] that state courts are the principal forum for asserting constitutional challenges to state convictions.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011); see also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011). Thus, if a claim was “adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings, ” this Court cannot grant habeas corpus relief on the basis of that claim “unless the adjudication of the claim . . . resulted in a decision” (1) “that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States” or (2) “that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). But if the state courts did not adjudicate a claim “on the merits, ” this “‘AEDPA deference' does not apply and [this Court] will review the claim de novo.” Bies v. Sheldon, 775 F.3d 386, 395 (6th Cir. 2014).

         III.

         Thomas has two grounds for habeas corpus relief. He asserts that the victim was able to identify him as her attacker because of the suggestion given by police when she came to the station and because she saw him on the news. He also asserts that the introduction of testimony that rebutted his alibi was fundamentally unfair.

         A.

         Thomas' first claim is that the victim was only able to identify him because she was given a strong hint (or ...


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