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Brown v. Woods

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

August 30, 2019

PHILLIP BROWN, Petitioner,
v.
JEFFREY WOODS, Respondent.

         OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION TO VACATE ORDER, [133], DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION FOR EVIDENTIARY HEARING, [134], AND DENYING PETITIONER'S MOTION TO RE-OPEN HABEAS PROCEEDING, 135], AND GRANTING RESPONDENT'S MOTION FOR EXTENSION, [139]

          STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Philip Brown ("Petitioner") was convicted after a jury trial in the Oakland Circuit Court of first-degree murder and felonious assault, and he was sentenced to a mandatory term of life imprisonment. ECF 23-18, PgID 1546-47. After protracted appellate and post-conviction review proceedings in the state courts, Petitioner's federal habeas petition was denied by the Court on June 12, 2014. ECF 109. Petitioner appealed, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed. Brown v. Curtin, 661 Fed.Appx. 398 (6th Cir. Nov. 4, 2016).

         Before the Court are several motions filed by Petitioner that essentially ask the Court to reopen this case so he can relitigate and better support claims already rejected by the Court and the Sixth Circuit. ECF 133, 134, 135. Respondent was ordered to file a Response, but did so untimely. ECF 140. Respondent also filed a motion for extension of time to file a response brief. ECF 139. For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Respondent's motion to file its late response, and it will deny all of Petitioner's motions.

         BACKGROUND

         Underneath the myriad of legal arguments presented by Petitioner in his motions rests the substantial weight of the evidence presented at trial demonstrating his guilt.

         A more thorough account of the evidence presented at trial appears in the Sixth Circuit's amended opinion affirming the denial of the habeas petition. See Brown, 661 Fed.Appx. at 400-04. In brief summary, Petitioner's conviction arises from his stabbing and shooting of Randy Pardy. Petitioner did not contest at trial that he killed Pardy, but he testified that he acted in self-defense. Id. at 401. The evidence presented at trial persuasively undermined that defense.

         Brian Weigold, Petitioner's roommate, was an eyewitness to the homicide. Weigold testified that on the day of the incident Pardy entered the apartment he shared with Petitioner without knocking. Pardy and Weigold then went into Weigold's room. Id. at 401

         Seconds after Purdy left Weigold's room on his way out of the apartment, Weigold heard him scream that he had been shot. Weigold went out to investigate, and he saw Pardy leaning against a wall with an arrow sticking out of his arm. Wiegold then saw Petitioner run up to Pardy and jab at him with a knife, and noticed that Petitioner had a trigger release for his bow around his wrist. Id.

         Pardy ran back through the kitchen towards the bathroom. As Petitioner pursued him past Weigold, Weigold tried to stop him, but he swung the knife at Weigold. At no time did Weigold see Pardy armed with a knife or other weapon. Id. Weigold ran outside and called 9-1-1. Id. Petitioner followed a short time late and told Wiegold not to say anything. Petitioner took off in his car and fled the state. Id.

         When emergency responders arrived, they found Pardy lying on his back on the bathroom floor. Id. at 402. Pardy had two stab wounds to his abdomen, including one that pierced his heart, killing him. Id. A deputy found a bow, arrows, a quiver, and the trigger release outside near the apartment. One piece of the arrow that wounded Pardy was found in the garbage can in the bathroom, and the other broken part was found discarded outside. Id.

         Petitioner testified that he acted in self-defense. Id. at 401. He confirmed the fact that he and Pardy got into an altercation when Pardy arrived at the apartment. But contrary to Weigold's testimony, he claimed that Pardy grabbed a knife off a shelf, causing him to fear for his life. Id. at 402-03. Petitioner testified that he ran into the utility room, grabbed his bow, and, without using the trigger release, shot Pardy as he advanced towards him with the knife. Id. at 403.

         Petitioner testified that Pardy dropped the knife after being shot with the arrow. He claimed that when he saw Pardy reach down to retrieve the knife, Petitioner picked it up first and stabbed Pardy in the side. Id. While still armed with the knife, Petitioner pursued an unarmed Pardy into the bathroom. He then admitted to kicking open the door, but he denied stabbing Pardy again. Id.

         Petitioner conceded that he had no justification for stabbing Pardy a second time, nor for chasing him into the bathroom. Once in the bathroom, Petitioner said he tried to pull the arrow out of Pardy's arm, but it broke in half. Id. at 403. He admitted to then grabbing the bow, the trigger release he denied using, and arrows, and then threw them over a fence on the way to his car. Id. The evidence proving Petitioner's guilt and disproving self-defense was extremely strong.

         The numerous legal claims Petitioner raised in his state court appeals, his federal habeas petition, the appeal of its denial, and in the present motions are all based on three factual predicates. First, the jury sent a note to the court during its deliberations asking whether fingerprints were found on the knife. Ultimately, the court instructed the jury: "There were no fingerprints found on the knife." ECF 135, PgID 4204. The record indicates that the prosecutor and defense counsel stipulated to the answer given by the trial court, though no fingerprint evidence regarding the knife was admitted at trial. Brown, 661 Fed.Appx. at 409.

         Petitioner raises a number of legal claims related to the jury note. He claims that he was denied his right to be present during a critical stage. ECF 135, PgID 4227. He argues he was denied his right to confrontation regarding the information in the response. Id. at 4207. He asserts that he was denied his right to a public trial because the answer to the note was not given in open court. Id. at 4212. He asserts that his counsel was ineffective for entering into the stipulation and that his failure to object constituted the complete denial of counsel. Id. at 4222-23. It is difficult to tell if Petitioner attached additional legal theories in relation to the note based on his briefing.

         The second factual predicate for Petitioner's claims involves the fact that Weigold had a pending felony at the time of trial. ECF 134, PgID 4141. Petitioner argues that he was unable to cross-examine Wigold about these felonies to show motive and bias, which deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses. Id; ECF 1, PgID 3.

         The final factual predicate is a relatively brief exchange during Petitioner's cross-examination when the prosecutor asked Petitioner whether he told a detective in jail that he "acted in a violent manner." See ECF 135, 4220-22. Defense counsel objected, Petitioner denied he made the statement, and no extrinsic evidence was offered to show that he made such a statement. ECF 23-14, PgID 1376-1384. Petitioner claims that his right against self-incrimination was denied by the exchange. ECF 135, 4220.

         In his motion for relief from judgment Petitioner takes these three factual predicates and the legal claims surrounding them, and in overlapping and rather abstruse arguments, asserts that there were seven "defects" in the manner the Court and the Sixth Circuit adjudicated his claims: (1) the courts failed to apply current Supreme Court law with respect to his claim that the response to the jury note violated his confrontation rights, looked to the wrong state court decision to adjudicate the claim, failed to address whether Petitioner waived the claim, failed to order an evidentiary hearing on trial counsel's affidavit claiming that he did not stipulate to the response to the note, and failed to address the prejudicial impact of the answer to the jury; (2) the Sixth Circuit erred in failing to order a mandatory evidentiary hearing to determine the prejudicial impact of the response to the note; (3) the courts failed to adjudicate the merits of his claim regarding his alleged statement about acting in a violent manner; (4) the courts failed to adjudicate his denial of counsel claims at a critical stage and/or Strickland claims with a complete trial record; (5) ...


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