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Blaylock v. Rewerts

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

May 24, 2019

JAMES L. BLAYLOCK, Petitioner,
v.
RANDEE REWERTS, Respondent,

          OPINION & ORDER (1) DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, (2) DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND (3) GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          HONORABLE MARK A. GOLDSMITH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         James L. Blaylock, (“Petitioner”), confined at the St. Louis Correctional Facility in St. Louis, Michigan, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In his pro se application, Petitioner challenges his convictions for first-degree premeditated murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(a); and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. For the reasons stated below, the petition for writ of habeas corpus is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner was convicted following a jury trial in the Wayne County Circuit Court. This Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied upon by the Michigan Court of Appeals, which are presumed correct on habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009):

         Defendant fatally shot the victim, Kevin Wheeler, in front of several witnesses.

According to eyewitness Shayla Pickens, Luther Woortham, and Greay Perry, defendant walked over to the victim's house, knocked on the door, and shot the victim. Defendant's decision to kill the victim was not spur-of-the-moment. Defendant had previously told Timothy Landrum that he wanted to use the victim's house to sell drugs and wanted to get the victim “out of there.” On appeal, defendant concedes that he told Landrum he wanted to rob and shoot the victim. After defendant shot and killed the victim, he called Landrum. Landrum asked defendant what he did, and defendant replied that he could not take it anymore and that he did what he had to do.

People v. Blaylock, No. 319302, 2015 WL 1227581, at * 1 (Mich. Ct. App. Mar. 17, 2015). Petitioner's conviction was affirmed on appeal. Id., lv. den 869 N.W.2d 858 (Mich. 2015).

         Petitioner filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment, which the trial court denied. People v. Blaylock, No. 13-00116-FC (Third Jud. Cir. Ct., May 17, 2016). The Michigan appellate courts denied Petitioner leave to appeal. People v. Blaylock, No. 335747 (Mich. Ct. App. Feb. 23, 2017); lv. den. 907 N.W.2d 551 (Mich. 2018).

         Petitioner seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the following grounds:

I. Insufficient evidence where the prosecution failed to establish cause of death;
II. Ineffective assistance of counsel where: (1) trial counsel failed to (a) investigate cell phone records, (b) move to suppress two in-court eyewitness identifications of Blaylock, and (c) utilize an investigator to interview Pickens (an eyewitness); and (2) appellate counsel failed to raise cause of death issue on appeal;
III. Abuse of discretion where the trial court denied Blaylock's motion for directed verdict;
IV. Prosecutorial misconduct where the prosecutor: (1) solicited false testimony; (2) allowed false testimony to go uncorrected; and (3) argued facts not in evidence in her closing argument;
V. Juror misconduct where Blaylock's brother observed the victim's sister speaking with a juror.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) imposes the following standard of review for habeas cases:

An 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; or
(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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)

         A 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, 405-406 (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 410-411.

         “[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, 664 (2004)). The Supreme Court has emphasized “that even a strong case for relief does not mean the state court's contrary conclusion was unreasonable.” Id. at 102 (citing Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003)). Furthermore, pursuant to § 2254(d), “a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or . . . could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision” of the Supreme Court. Id. To obtain habeas relief in federal court, a state prisoner is required to show that the state court's rejection of his or her claim “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Id. at 103.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Claims # 4 and # 5: the procedurally ...


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