United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
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
PAGE HOOD, CHIEF JUDGE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
James Lee Horn (“Horn”) seeks a writ of habeas
corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The habeas petition
challenges Horn's convictions for second-degree murder,
carjacking, and two weapon offenses. Horn claims that (1) the
evidence at his trial was insufficient to support his murder
and carjacking convictions, (2) he was sentenced on
inaccurate information and incorrectly scored sentencing
guidelines, and (3) judicial fact-finding increased the floor
of the permissible sentence. The State argues in an answer to
the petition that the state court's adjudication of
Horn's first claim was objectively reasonable, and
Horn's second claim lacks merit because his sentences
were not based on misinformation of constitutional magnitude.
The State maintains that Horn has already obtained some
relief on his third claim and that the claim is not based on
clearly established federal law. Having reviewed the
pleadings and record, the Court denies the petition because
Horn's claims do not warrant habeas corpus relief.
was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Mich.
Comp. Laws § 750.316,  one count of carjacking, Mich.
Comp. Laws § 750.529a, one count of carrying a concealed
weapon, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227, and one count of
possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, Mich.
Comp. Laws § 750. 227b. The charges arose from
allegations that Horn aided and abetted co-defendants Matthew
Riselay (“Riselay”) and Nancy Johnson
(“Johnson”) in carjacking and murdering a woman
at a gas station in Flint Township on March 4, 2012. Horn was
tried jointly with Riselay and Johnson in Genesee County
Circuit Court, but before a separate jury. A fourth
defendant, Phillip Eason, pleaded guilty to being an
accessory after the fact and then testified against the other
three defendants at their joint trial.
evidence at trial established that, on the night of the
crime, someone drove Eason and Horn to the Economy Motel in
Flint Township where Johnson had rented a room. Riselay
arrived later. Horn had a gun at the motel, and when he
stated that he needed a ride somewhere, Riselay said he could
steal a car if he had a screwdriver. Horn responded that he
did not have a screwdriver, but that he did have a gun and
that he needed a clean car. Riselay unloaded and re-loaded
the gun. Johnson took the gun from Riselay, and the two of
them left the motel to acquire a car for Horn in return for
drugs or money.
victim stopped at a gas station near the Economy Motel on her
way home from work that night. At approximately 9:00 p.m.,
the gas station attendant noticed a commotion in a car at the
station. After waiting on another customer, the attendant
went back outside and saw the victim lying on the ground by
the propane tanks. The victim was bleeding, and the car was
gone. The police were called, and when they arrived at the
gas station, the victim told them that a white woman shot
her, that the shooter was accompanied by a man, and that the
two individuals took the car which she had been driving.
meanwhile, returned to the Economy Motel in the victim's
car. Horn entered the car on the passenger side and took the
gun from Johnson. Horn then handed the gun to Eason, who
threw the gun several feet away from the motel. Horn and
Johnson parked the car on the opposite side of the motel and
entered Johnson's motel room. Johnson was covered with
blood, and she said more than once, “I had to kill
the help of a device installed in the victim's car, the
police located the car at the motel and watched it for any
additional activity. During the surveillance, an officer
observed Horn wipe the door handle of the stolen car on the
passenger side. A minivan then approached Horn, and as Horn
walked from the victim's car to the van, the officer who
had been watching the stolen car stopped Horn and ordered
everyone, including Eason and Johnson, to get out of the van.
Riselay was detained at a later time because he lived near
the motel and was not present in the van.
victim had been shot four times and died shortly after the
shooting. During the continuing investigation of the crimes,
an officer interviewed Horn who admitted that he brought a
loaded gun to the motel and that the gun belonged to him. He
claimed that Riselay picked up the gun from the bed and said
that he would use the gun to scare someone when stealing a
car. Horn denied handing the gun to anyone, telling Riselay
or Johnson to rob or kill anyone, or promising to forgive
Johnson's drug debt in return for her help in getting a
car for him.
police also interviewed Eason, who ultimately pleaded guilty
to being an accessory after the fact for tossing the gun used
in the carjacking and murder. Eason explained his plea
bargain at Horn's trial. Although he had not been
sentenced at the time, he testified that he was promised
probation and release from custody following his sentencing
if he testified truthfully at proceedings involving the other
defendants. Eason also admitted at the trial that he
initially lied to the police and that he finally told the
truth when the police informed him that they had found the
expert witness in firearms testified that the gun was used to
fire one of the bullets in evidence. Another expert witness
testified that the victim's blood was present inside the
motel, on the gun, and on Johnson's clothing.
Riselay, and Johnson did not testify at trial or present any
witnesses. Horn's defense was that Eason was a liar,
thief, and drug dealer and that Horn was not guilty of any of
the charges because he did not hand the gun to Riselay, nor
instruct Riselay or Johnson to kill anyone.
3, 2013, Horn's jury found him guilty of two counts of
second-degree murder, as a lesser offense of first-degree
murder, and guilty as charged of carjacking, carrying a
concealed weapon, and felony-firearm. The trial court
sentenced Horn on May 23, 2013, to life imprisonment for the
murder, twenty to forty years in prison for the carjacking,
two to five years for carrying a concealed weapon, and two
years for possessing a firearm during the commission of a
raised his habeas claims in an appeal of right. The Michigan
Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions in an unpublished,
per curiam opinion. See People v. Horn, No.
316757, 2014 WL 6804518 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 2, 2014).
Michigan Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Michigan
Court of Appeals in part and remanded the case to the trial
court for a determination of whether the court would have
imposed a materially different sentence for Horn's murder
conviction if the sentencing guidelines had not been
mandatory when Horn was sentenced. The State Supreme Court
denied leave to appeal in all other respects because it was
not persuaded to review the other issues. See People v.
Horn, 498 Mich. 903; 870 N.W.2d 896 (2015).
remand, the trial court declined to re-sentence Horn. Horn
did not appeal the trial court's decision. On January 19,
2017, he filed his habeas petition.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(“AEDPA”) requires 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 proceedings.' ” Wilson v.
Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018) (quoting 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(d)). “[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. Rather, that application must also be
unreasonable.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S.
362, 411 (2000). “AEDPA thus imposes a ‘highly
deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings,'
Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and
‘demands that state-court decisions be given the
benefit of the doubt,' Woodford v. Visciotti,
537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam).”
Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010).
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) (quoting Yarborough v.
Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). To obtain a writ of
habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must
show that the state court's ruling on 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. Thus, “[o]nly an
‘objectively unreasonable' mistake, [White v.
Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 419 (2014)], one ‘so
lacking in justification that there was an error well
understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any
possibility for fairminded disagreement,' slips through
the needle's eye of § 2254.” Saulsberry v.
Lee, __ F.3d __, __, No. 17-6157, 2019 WL 4126667, at *2
(6th Cir. Aug. 30, 2019) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S.
at 103). A state-court's factual determinations,
moreover, are presumed correct on federal habeas review, 28
U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), and review is “limited to the
record that was before the state court.” Cullen v.
Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).
Sufficiency of the Evidence
alleges that there was insufficient evidence at trial to
support his murder and carjacking convictions. The
prosecution's theory was that Horn aided and abetted
Riselay and Johnson in committing the crimes, but Horn
contends that the record is devoid of any evidence of aiding
and abetting the murder and carjacking. Horn asserts that the
prosecution's aiding-and-abetting theory ...