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Daniels v. Gidley

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

July 22, 2019

AARON DANIELS, Petitioner,
LORI GIDLEY, Respondent.



         Aaron Daniels (“Petitioner”), a Michigan prisoner, filed this action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner was convicted after a jury trial in the Wayne Circuit Court of first-degree premeditated murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(a), first-degree felony murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(b), armed robbery, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.529, assault with intent to rob while armed, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.89, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b. Petitioner was sentenced to mandatory life imprisonment for the murder convictions and lesser terms for the other offenses.

         The amended petition raises eleven claims: (1) the trial court erroneously denied Petitioner's motion for substitute counsel made three weeks prior to trial, (2) the trial court erred in failing to instruct the jury on the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter, (3) Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of appellate counsel when his appellate attorney failed to seek a remand hearing to expand the record in support of his first claim, (4) Petitioner's right to a public trial was violated when the courtroom was closed during jury selection, (5) Petitioner's trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the closure of the courtroom, (6) the trial court engaged in prohibited ex parte communication with the jury, (7) Petitioner was abandoned by his trial and appellate counsel, (8) Petitioner was deprived of his right to appeal by the loss of transcripts, (9) the trial court erred in instructing the jury, (10) Petitioner was denied his right to present a defense by his counsel's failure to call rebuttal witnesses, and (11) Petitioner's appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise his state post-conviction review proceeding claims on direct appeal.

         The Court will deny the petition because Petitioner's claims are without merit or barred by his state court procedural default. The Court will also deny Petitioner a certificate of appealability and deny permission to appeal in forma pauperis.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Petitioner's convictions stem from the shooting death of Allen Jenkins that occurred outside a Coney Island Restaurant in Detroit on January 10, 2010.

         On that date Jenkins, Rod Wilson, and Kevin Estell drove together to the MGM Grand Hotel. On their way back from the casino, Estelle received a call from Lakisha Crowley. Crowley asked to be driven home from a party. The men picked up Crowley and another young woman, Jazmine Young. Jenkins dropped Estell at his home, and then the four remaining individuals - Jenkins, Wilson, Crowley, and Young - proceeded to drive to the Coney Island Restaurant at the request of Crowley. Crowley wanted Jenkins to pick up a third young woman who said she had been sexually assaulted at the party.

         Witnesses testified that the incident occurred soon after Jenkins parked his vehicle behind a green Taurus and a white Mercedes Benz near the Coney Island. 7/27/2010 Tr., Ex. 11 to Rule 5 Filing, at 190-191, 218-220 (Dkt. 28-11); 7/28/2010 Tr., Ex. 12 to Rule 5 Filing, at 9-14; 8/2/2010 Tr., Ex. 14 to Rule 5 Filing, at 29-32 (Dkt. 28-14). Young and Crowley got out of Jenkins' vehicle, and a group of men got out of the Mercedes and approached Jenkins' vehicle. 7/28/2010 Tr. at 15-16. According to Wilson, Petitioner's co-defendant Martez Bickham opened the door and pointed a gun at Wilson's stomach. Id. at 15-19, 22. Bickham demanded Wilson and Jenkins' belongings. Petitioner came to the other side of Jenkins' vehicle. Wilson saw Petitioner hit Jenkins on the head with a pistol. Id. at 21. Jenkins tried to drive away, but Petitioner hit him in the head a couple of more times with his gun, and then Petitioner started shooting. Id. at 24-27.

         Wilson jumped out and ran behind the restaurant. Id. at 27; 8/2/2010 Tr. at 38-39. After he saw the Mercedes drive away with the men, Wilson went into the restaurant and found Jenkins on the floor bleeding from gunshot wounds to his abdomen. Jenkins later died. 7/28/2010 Tr. at 27-28; 7/27/2010 Tr. at 65.

         The girls at the scene referred to the men from the Mercedes as the “Brick Boys.” Based on this information, Wilson's cousin showed him photographs from her Facebook account, and Wilson identified the two assailants. 7/28/2010 Tr. at 31-36. At a subsequent photographic identification procedure at the police station, Wilson indicated that he was 60-70% sure that Petitioner was the shooter. Id. at 36-46, 8/2/2010 Tr. at 115-120.

         Alexis Tyson testified that she was in the Taurus when the incident occurred. She had been at the party at a hotel with the Brick Boys earlier on that date, and she identified the people on surveillance videos taken from both the hotel and the Coney Island. She identified Petitioner, whom she knew, as the man who shot Jenkins. 7/28/2010 Tr. at 171-187. The videos from the surveillance systems were played for the jury.

         Lakisha Crowley likewise testified regarding knowing the Brick Boys and attending the party. She testified to riding in Jenkins' vehicle to the Coney Island. She described the altercation in the parking lot, and she also identified Petitioner as the shooter. 8/2/2010 Tr. at 34-39.

         Based on this evidence, Petitioner and his co-defendant were found guilty of the charged offenses by separate juries.

         Following sentencing, Petitioner was appointed appellate counsel who filed a claim of appeal. Petitioner's brief on appeal raised two claims:

         I. Defendant-Appellant is entitled to a new trial where the trial court denied him his request for new appointed counsel.

         II. Defendant-Appellant is entitled to a new trial where the trial court denied the requested jury instruction as to the lesser offense of voluntary manslaughter.

         The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's convictions in an unpublished opinion. People v. Daniels, No. 300354, 2012 WL 4840675 (Mich. Ct. App. Oct. 11, 2012).

         Petitioner then filed an application for leave to Appeal in the Michigan Supreme Court that raised the same two claims. Petitioner also included a new third claim:

III. Appellant counsel was ineffective for failing to seek a remand for a Ginther hearing to support Argument I of his appellate brief.

         The Michigan Supreme Court denied the application for leave to appeal by standard form order. People v. Daniels, 830 N.W.2d 771 (Mich. 2013).

         Petitioner then commenced the present action by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus raising the three claims that he presented to the state courts on direct appeal. He also filed a motion to stay the case so that he could return to the state courts and exhaust his remedies with respect to an additional set of claims. The Court granted the motion to stay, and it ordered Petitioner to file a motion for relief from judgment in the trial court within thirty days and then to file a motion to reopen the case within thirty days of exhausting his state court remedies.

         Petitioner timely filed a motion for relief from judgment in the trial court, raising eight claims:

I. Defendant was deprived of his state and federal constitutional rights to a public trial by excluding the public from the courtroom during jury voir dire and not taking reasonable measures to accommodate public attendance.
II. Defense counsel was constitutionally ineffective when he failed to object to the closure of the courtroom to the public.
III. Defendant was deprived of his state and federal due process rights where the trial judge engaged in ex parte communications with the trier of facts without the presence of defense counsel or Defendant at a critical stage.
IV. Defendant was deprived of his state and federal constitutional rights of a defense to confront the charge of first-degree murder where trial counsel completely abandoned his client before trial and at trial because the relationship between client and counsel had ...

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