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Oros v. McCullick

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

August 16, 2019

CHRISTOPHER OROS, Petitioner,
v.
MARK MCCULLICK, Respondent.

          OPINION

          Paul L. Maloney United States District Judge

         This is a habeas corpus action brought by a state prisoner under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Promptly after the filing of a petition for habeas corpus, the Court must undertake a preliminary review of the petition to determine whether “it plainly appears from the face of the petition and any exhibits annexed to it that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court.” Rule 4, Rules Governing § 2254 Cases; see 28 U.S.C. § 2243. If so, the petition must be summarily dismissed. Rule 4; see Allen v. Perini, 424 F.2d 134, 141 (6th Cir. 1970) (district court has the duty to “screen out” petitions that lack merit on their face). A dismissal under Rule 4 includes those petitions which raise legally frivolous claims, as well as those containing factual allegations that are palpably incredible or false. Carson v. Burke, 178 F.3d 434, 436-37 (6th Cir. 1999). After undertaking the review required by Rule 4, the Court concludes that the petition must be dismissed because it fails to raise a meritorious federal claim.

         Discussion

         I. Factual allegations

         Petitioner Christopher Oros is incarcerated with the Michigan Department of Corrections at the St. Louis Correctional Facility (SLF) in St. Louis, Michigan.. Following a six-day jury trial in the Kalamazoo County Circuit Court, Petitioner was convicted of first-degree premeditated murder in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(a), first-degree felony murder in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316(1)(b), first-degree arson in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.72, second-degree home invasion in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.110a(3), and escape while awaiting trial in violation of Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.197(2). On August 24, 2015, the court sentenced Petitioner as a habitual offender-second offense, Mich. Comp. Laws § 769.10, to respective prison terms of life without the possibility of parole for the murder convictions, 25 to 40 years for the arson conviction, 10 years to 22 years, 6 months for the home invasion conviction, and 2 to 6 years for the escape conviction.

         On July 3, 2019, Petitioner timely filed his habeas corpus petition raising three grounds for relief, as follows:

I. The prosecution failed to produce legally sufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation and malice.
II. Mitigating circumstances reduced Petitioner's culpability for the victim's death.
III. The felony-murder instruction was erroneous in that it instructed the jury that “false pretenses” could serve as the felony to support a felony murder conviction.

(Pet., ECF No. 1, PageID.5, 7-8.)

         The facts underlying Petitioner's prosecution were summarized by the Michigan Court of Appeals as follows:

On November 22, 2014, emergency personnel responded to a fire at the apartment complex of the victim, Marie McMillan, in Kalamazoo, Michigan. The responders extinguished the fire and discovered the victim's body on a bed in her bedroom. Testimony from first responders indicated that someone had piled items over her body and set them on fire. An autopsy determined that the victim had died before the fire was set as a result of multiple stab wounds.
Police officers learned that a man had been knocking on the apartment doors of the apartments of the victim's neighbors throughout the day of the fire and using a fake story to solicit money. He told the residents that his girlfriend had left with his car, debit card, and cell phone. He then asked to use the person's phone, and, if allowed to do so, he made a call that went unanswered. After the “unsuccessful” call, he would directly or indirectly solicited [sic] money from the resident.

         Officers determined that the number this man called from the residents' phones was associated with defendant. They also learned that a call had been made to that number from the victim's phone. The officers tracked defendant down at the apartment he shared with his girlfriend, Robin Wiley, Battle Creek, Michigan. When officers arrived, defendant unsuccessfully attempted to flee. After defendant was arrested, he was interrogated. During the interrogation, defendant admitted that he had gotten the victim to let him into her apartment and that he used her phone. He claimed that she then attacked him without provocation by hitting him on the head with a coffee mug and that she sat on top of him with a “huge knife in her hand.” He said that he and the victim struggled for control of the knife and he gained control of it. Defendant then began stabbing the victim, first in the stomach, and then, after getting on the victim's back, in the neck and other parts of her body. There were 29 stab wounds in all.

Defendant was charged with both first-degree premeditated murder and felony murder. At trial, defendant argued that he was not guilty of murder because he killed the victim in self-defense. In the alternative, he argued that there were mitigating circumstances that reduced his culpability for her death. The jury rejected his defenses and found him guilty . . . .

People v. Oros, 904 N.W.2d 209, 213 (Mich. Ct. App. 2017).

         Petitioner appealed his convictions and sentences to the Michigan Court of Appeals raising seven issues including each of his habeas issues. The Michigan Court of Appeals agreed with Petitioner that there was insufficient evidence of premeditation and deliberation and, therefore, Petitioner's first-degree premeditated murder conviction was properly reduced to second-degree murder. The Michigan Court of Appeals also agreed with Petitioner regarding the felony murder instruction-false pretenses was not a proper foundation for a felony murder conviction. The appellate court reversed that conviction and remanded for retrial on the felony murder charge. The court's decision afforded Petitioner some relief as to each of the issues he raises in his habeas petition.

         The prosecutor filed an application for leave to appeal the court of appeals' decision in the Michigan Supreme Court. The supreme court heard oral argument on the application and, in lieu of granting leave to appeal, a five-justice majority concluded the court of appeals had erred with regard to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the first-degree premeditated murder conviction. By opinion issued July 5, 2018, the supreme court reversed that part of the court of appeals' opinion and reinstated Petitioner's first-degree premeditated murder conviction. People v. Oros, 917 N.W.2d 229 Mich. (2018). This petition followed.

         H. ...


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