United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS
CORPUS AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
F. Cox U.S. District Judge
Christian Bell, through counsel, seeks habeas corpus relief
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner is a state prisoner
in the custody of the Michigan Department of Corrections
pursuant to convictions for second-degree murder and
possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. He
raises two claims for habeas relief. Respondent argues that
the claims are meritless. The Court denies the petition.
convictions arise from the shooting death of Nathaniel Webb.
The Michigan Court of Appeals provided this overview of the
Early on a February morning, defendant's 18-year-old
sister, Chesica Bell, collapsed and died in the bathroom of
her home. Eventually, an autopsy revealed that Chesica had an
enlarged heart and abnormal coronary vasculature, and had
suffered an acute heart attack. Before the pathologist could
explain Chesica's tragic and unexpected death, defendant
concluded that Chesica's boyfriend, Nathaniel Webb, had
killed his sister. Hours after Chesica's death, defendant
texted his father: “daddy, my sista is really gone
because of him. I'm gonna kill him.” That same day,
mourners including Webb and defendant gathered at
Chesica's family home. Defendant's mother described
defendant as “devastated” over Chesica's
death, the cause of which would remain unknown to the family
for a few more days. Defendant obtained a handgun from inside
the home and confronted Webb. In his trial testimony,
defendant described the events preceding the shooting as
I walked outside, I seen [sic] Nate and I said can I talk to
you. He was getting into his car; I ran up to his car; put my
door [sic] in his-between his door before he closed it and I
asked him can I talk to you. He wanted me to move my arm and
I just kept asking him can you please talk to me; and then I
got emotional, I start crying. I said can you at least come
in the house and talk to my mama. He just-he said [f* * *]
you and your mama.
Defendant admitted that he “just lost it, ” his
“emotion[s] took over, ” and he started shooting.
He explained, “I wasn't thinking. My head
wasn't straight, I just blanked out.” After firing
three times, defendant disposed of the gun in a dumpster,
threw his cell phone on the ground, and fled to Kentucky.
Webb died at a nearby hospital. While defendant remained on
the lam, the police obtained a warrant to search
defendant's cell phone history and text messages. The
police eventually apprehended defendant and he stood trial in
the Wayne Circuit Court. He now appeals his second-degree
murder conviction and his sentence.
People v. Bell, No. 315196, 2014 WL 3887196, *1
(Mich. Ct. App. Aug. 7, 2014).
was convicted by a jury in Wayne County Circuit Court of
second-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.317, and
possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony,
Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. On January 16, 2013, he was
sentenced to 18 to forty years for the second-degree murder
conviction, and 2 years for the felony-firearm conviction.
filed an appeal of right in the Michigan Court of Appeals
arguing that the prosecutor improperly exercised two
peremptory challenges to exclude two African-American members
from the jury pool, the police search of Petitioner's
phone violated the Fourth Amendment, the trial court
improperly denied request for manslaughter jury instruction,
and offense variables 3, 6, and 19 were improperly scored.
The Michigan Court of Appeals denied Petitioner's claims
with the exception of the Batson claim.
Bell, No. 315196, 2014 WL 3887196, at *12-*13. The
court of appeals held that the trial court failed to properly
evaluate Petitioner's objection to the prosecutor's
peremptory challenges during jury selection and remanded to
the trial court to conduct a hearing pursuant to Batson
v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). Id. at *8-*9,
*12-*13. The State appealed the Michigan Court of
Appeals' decision remanding the case, but the Michigan
Supreme Court denied the State's application for leave to
appeal. People v. Bell, 497 Mich. 856 (Mich. Sept.
remand and after holding a hearing and taking testimony from
the prosecutor, the trial court held that the peremptory
challenges had not been motivated by purposeful racial
discrimination. See 12/12/2014 Tr. at 68-74. The
Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's
denial of the Batson claim, People v. Bell,
No. 315196, 2015 WL 1314122 (Mich. Ct. App. March 24, 2015),
and denied Petitioner's motion for reconsideration.
People v. Bell, No. 315196 (Mich. Ct. App. May 6,
2015). The Michigan Supreme Court denied Petitioner's
application for leave to appeal. People v. Bell, 498
Mich. 907 (Mich. Oct. 28, 2015).
then filed this habeas corpus petition. He raises these
I. The prosecutor's exercise of peremptory challenges to
exclude two African-American members from a jury pool that
was severely underrepresented with African American jurors
violated [Bell's] constitution[al] right to equal
protection of the law.
II. The trial court improperly denied [Bell's] requested
jury instruction on manslaughter, which deprived him of his
constitutional rights to a properly instructed jury and to
present a defense, because it negated his sworn testimony and
theory of the case regarding the only disputed issue at
trial: his intent.
of this case is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective
Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”). Under the
AEDPA, a state prisoner is entitled to a writ of habeas
corpus only if he can show that the state court's
adjudication of his claims -
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the ...