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Gregory v. Balcarcel

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

July 8, 2019

EARL LAMAR GREGORY, Petitioner,
v.
ERICK BALCARCEL, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING THE PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS, DECLINING TO ISSUE A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          LINDA V. PARKER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Earl Lamar Gregory (“Petitioner”) was convicted of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.520b(1)(a), and now seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The sole ground for relief is that the evidence at trial was insufficient to support the jury's verdict. Respondent urges the Court to deny relief because the state appellate court's decision was objectively reasonable. The Court agrees. Accordingly, the Court is denying the petition.

         I. Background

         Petitioner was charged with sexually penetrating a six-year-old girl, referred to as “WR.” WR was seven years old when she testified at Petitioner's trial in Oakland County Circuit Court. As described by the state court:

The events that gave rise to defendant's conviction occurred in June of 2013, when defendant accompanied his caregiver, AR, and another person[1] on an overnight trip from Ohio, where defendant resided, to Michigan pursuant to their involvement in a stage play put on by AR. The party stopped on the way home to see AR's cousin, YW, at YW's house. Also present were several other people, including YW's daughter, who was six years old at the time, WR. AR testified that defendant was only out of his eyesight when defendant went to the bathroom. At some point, YW noticed that WR was acting uncharacteristically quiet and standoffish, and she reacted with apparent disgust to defendant saying “there's my girl” to her. YW asked WR what was wrong, and she replied that “that man is trying to get me to do nasty things, ” pointing to defendant. YW took [WR] aside and [WR] explained that defendant had kissed her and touched her buttocks. Later that evening, WR also told YW that defendant had made her perform oral sex on him. At trial, WR specified that the events took place in the bathroom. The next day, YW took WR to the police to report the incident, and she was directed to take WR to the hospital for a pediatric forensic examination; she was subsequently also referred to Care House for an interview and counseling. A few days before defendant's preliminary examination, WR further disclosed that defendant had also licked her vagina.

People v. Gregory, No. 326567, 2016 WL 3030878, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. May 26, 2016) (footnote in original).

         There was additional evidence introduced at trial that Petitioner was a high-functioning developmentally disabled individual, but he could read and communicate. He resided in an assisted living home with 24-hour supervision. He wrote and recited rap music, and he performed several times in AR's play.

         At Petitioner's trial, an Ohio detective, David Williams, testified that he and another detective interviewed Petitioner on July 29, 2013. At first, Petitioner denied being in the bathroom with WR on the day in question, and when the detectives informed him of WR's allegations, he denied the accusation or stated that he did not remember anything like that happening.

         According to Detective Williams, about halfway through the interview, Petitioner stated that WR had followed him into the bathroom, given him a hug, kissed him on the lips, and that he returned the kiss. Detective Williams told Petitioner that WR was saying she licked and sucked Petitioner's private. Detective Williams then asked Petitioner, “Is that correct” or “Is that accurate?” Petitioner answered “Yes, ” and also stated that he had not ejaculated. Petitioner, however, never described the conduct that he was charged with doing and, at one point, said, “Let me tell you like this, I didn't do it.” During the interview, Petitioner volunteered information that he had a mother and sister. Further, Petitioner stated that he felt badly about the incident and did not know why he does what he does. He also told the detectives that, if given a chance to talk to his relatives, he would tell them he was sorry.

         Petitioner did not testify at trial or produce any witnesses. His defense was that he was innocent of the charged offense and that, at most, he was guilty of inappropriately kissing WR.

         The trial court instructed the jury on first-degree criminal sexual conduct and on the lesser charge of second-degree criminal sexual conduct. On November 18, 2014, the jury found Petitioner guilty, as charged, of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. On January 15, 2015, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to prison for twenty-five to forty years, with credit for 511 days.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's conviction. Gregory, 2016 WL 3030878, at *1. On December 28, 2016, the Michigan Supreme Court denied Petitioner's application for leave to appeal. People v. Gregory, 888 N.W.2d 82 (Mich. 2016). Petitioner filed the instant pro se federal habeas corpus petition on November 6, 2017.

         II. Standard of Review

         The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) requires federal habeas petitioners who challenge

a matter “adjudicated on the merits in State court” to show that the relevant state court “decision” (1) “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, ” or (2) “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). Deciding whether a state court's decision “involved” an unreasonable application of federal law or “was based on” an unreasonable determination of fact requires the federal habeas court to “train its attention on the particular reasons-both legal and factual- why state courts rejected a state prisoner's federal claims, ” Hittson v. Chatman, 576 U.S.___, ___, 135 S.Ct. 2126, 2126, 192 ...

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