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McConnell v. Haas

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

April 23, 2019

Jackie Dale McConell, Petitioner,
v.
Randall Haas, Respondent.

          Honorable Gordon J. Quist Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PHILLIP J. GREEN United States Magistrate Judge.

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner Jackie Dale McConell is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at Saginaw County Correctional Facility Freeland, Michigan. Following a jury trial in the Calhoun County Circuit Court, Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317. On September 12, 2014, the court sentenced Petitioner to a prison term of sixty to ninety years.

         On June 26, 2017, Petitioner filed his habeas corpus petition. Under Sixth Circuit precedent, the application is deemed filed when handed to prison authorities for mailing to the federal court. Cook v. Stegall, 295 F.3d 517, 521 (6th Cir. 2002). Petitioner placed his petition in the prison mailing system on June 26, 2017. (Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.102.)

         The petition raises four grounds for relief, as follows:

I. DUE PROCESS REQUIRES VACATING DEFENDANT'S CONVICTION AND SENTENCE WHERE THERE WAS LEGALLY INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE TO CONVICT OF SECOND DEGREE MURDER.
II. DEFENDANT'S INCULPATORY STATEMENTS WERE INADMISSIBLE UNDER THE CORPUS DELICTI RULE.
III. DEFENDANT WAS DEPRIVED OF THE RIGHT TO PRESENT A DEFENSE WHEN THE TRIAL COURT REFUSED FUNDS TO HIRE AN EXPERT REGARDING THE CAUSE OF DEATH.
IV. DUE PROCESS REQUIRES VACATING DEFENDANT[']S CONVICTION AND SENTENCE WHERE THE DEFENDANT[']S 4TH AND 14TH AMENDMENT RIGHTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION W[ERE] VIOLATED DUE TO THE WARRANTLESS AND NON-CONSENSUAL ENTRY INTO THE HOME OF THE DEFENDANT ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS BY LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS.

(Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.93, 110.) Respondent has filed an answer to the petition (ECF No. 8), stating that the grounds should be denied because they are noncognizable, procedurally defaulted, and without merit. Upon review and applying the standards of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub. L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (AEDPA), I find that the grounds are either noncognizable or without merit. Accordingly, I recommend that the petition be denied.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Factual allegations

         Petitioner's conviction arose out of the death of Donna Frost, Petitioner's then-girlfriend. The following summary of the trial testimony is taken from the decision of the Michigan Court of Appeals:

Defendant and the victim in this case, Donna Frost, dated for several months and lived together in a house in Albion that defendant rented. Frost's daughter, Renee Farrier, testified that Frost had numerous medical conditions, including “ulcers in her stomach, ” “something wrong with her blood pressure, ” and anemia. Defendant admitted that Frost was small and frail.
There was testimony that defendant and the victim drank heavily, leading at times to verbal and physical altercations. At some point before her demise, Frost's family and friends gathered to conduct what they classified as an “intervention” to try and coax Frost into leaving defendant. This proved unsuccessful despite the fact that the victim confided to her sister, Deborah McConnell, that defendant had physically abused her in the past.
Deborah testified that she became concerned about Frost in January 2014 “[b]ecause [she] was told that Jackie [defendant] was-hasn't been seen and that the people that were living with him said that Donna wasn't there for over a week.” Deborah told her husband about her concerns and he contacted the Albion police.
Albion Department of Public Safety Officer Richard Decker testified that he did a “welfare check” on defendant's house on January 20, 2014, after Frost's family members “had not heard from her for several days . . . [and] requested that [he] accompany them to the house to see if she was there, and if so, to check on her condition.” They found no one there but a dog. Albion Department of Public Safety Detective Luis Tejada testified that after talking with members of Frost's family, he “determined that there was too many red flags going on, ” explaining that he “realized that [Frost] did not have the physical means to just get up and walk away from that residence.” This led to a second “welfare check” on the home where again, police were unable to find defendant and no evidence was gleaned from their entry.
Eventually, police surmised that defendant had been in North Carolina visiting his nephew, Brandon Russell. Tejada and the other officers “decided to-at least three or four of [them] needed to go down there and interview Brandon Russell and his live-in partner Mr. Henry to find out what happened to Jackie.” When they arrived in North Carolina, Tejada called defendant and defendant agreed to come to a local police station to meet with them. Tejada testified that he advised defendant of his Miranda2 rights and that defendant signed a waiver form and agreed to talk with him. The interview, which took place on January 26, 2014, was videotaped, and a portion of the video was played at trial. In the video, defendant initially denied knowing Frost's whereabouts, but upon further questioning said: “Let's cut the bullshit.” Defendant then told Tejada that Frost was “[a]t Blake's Tree Farm in a hole.”3 Defendant explained that he and Frost were both naked because they had just finished having sex and they then got into “a bad fight” and he “hit her too hard” with his fist. Defendant said that after he hit her, he dressed her, put her in bed, and lay with her for a couple hours. He said that he then put her in the trunk of his car and drove to his sister's house, and when she was not home defendant admitted that he then dumped Donna Frost in the pit.
Tejada also testified about defendant's statements that were not on the video played to the jury. He testified that defendant said that he had “hit [Frost] really hard on the face/head area with his hands . . . .” Tejada also testified that defendant “said that there was a little bit of blood . . . [and] some injuries here on this side of the face.” Tejada testified that defendant said that after he hit Frost, she was not breathing and did not have a pulse, but chose not to call 9-1-1 because defendant thought Frost to be dead. However, Tejada added that defendant “mentioned during the interview that he was hoping that [Frost] was knocked out, that she-it was just all a nightmare, but he realized that she was dead, she was gone.” Tejada testified that according to his conversation with defendant, the time of Frost's death was January 14, 2014[, ] between midnight and 2:00 a.m. or 3:00 a.m.
Based on the information provided to police, Frost's body was discovered and an autopsy was performed. Dr. Brandi Shattuck, a forensic pathologist, who was qualified at trial as an expert in that field testified that she performed the autopsy on Frost.
Shattuck testified that there was “a laceration on the right forehead, ” a “contusion, which is a bruise, adjacent to that area, ” and “ecchymosis, which is discoloration or a bruise around the eyes.” She also testified that there were abrasions on Frost's torso and back. Regarding the lacerations on Frost, Shattuck testified that “[t]here was no pattern” and that she “couldn't tell you if it was anything other than something blunt.” She also testified that there were no defensive wounds on Frost's hands.
Shattuck testified that her internal examination revealed “two areas of healing fracture and one area of perimortem fracture” on the left and right ribs, explaining that a “perimortem” fracture “happens on or around the-the time of death.” She testified that there were also “multiple areas of hemorrhage in the soft tissue of the scalp.”
Shattuck determined that the cause of death was “blunt injury to the head” and classified it as a homicide. As the “cause of death” on the death certificate, Shattuck stated, “Blunt force injuries of head with or without associated hypothermia”4. Shattuck concluded that she arrived at the cause of death because of the injuries, defendant's confession, and the fact that she had “no other competing mechanism for that trauma.”

         1 Testimony revealed that the victim's sister was married to defendant's brother.

         2 Miranda v Arizona, 384 U.S. 436; 86 S.Ct. 1602; 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966).

         3 Tejada described the hole as follows: “It's more of a pit, 30 feet wide, 20 feet long, and about 10 feet deep that they use to burn tree trunks, boards, debris, mattresses, anything that they throw in there, they burn it up. It's just a burning pit.”

         4 Tejada testified that the weather during that time had been “in the single digits, really cold, ” and there was “at least a foot of snow on the ground and continual falling ...


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