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Braggs v. Campbell

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

November 14, 2019

RAYSHON D. BRAGGS, Petitioner,
v.
SHERMAN CAMPBELL, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR HABEAS CORPUS [1], GRANTING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND GRANTING LEAVE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS ON APPEAL

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In September 2010, Jerrell Kent was robbed by Demetrius Bennett and a masked man. Apparently, authorities did not have enough evidence to charge the disguised perpetrator for several years. But in 2014, authorities charged Rayshon Braggs with being Bennett's partner. The evidence against Braggs was not overwhelming, but it was enough to convince a jury that Braggs was the masked man. Braggs appealed, arguing that incriminating text messages should have been excluded from trial and that the evidence was not sufficient to prove-beyond a reasonable doubt-that he was the masked man. The Michigan Court of Appeals rejected these claims and affirmed Braggs' convictions. The Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear Braggs' appeal.

         Braggs has now come to federal court, petitioning for a writ of habeas corpus. Braggs raises the same two issues he presented to the Michigan Court of Appeals. As will be explained below, these claims do not warrant a writ.

         I.

         A.

         This case arises out of the armed robbery of Jerrell Kent. In September 2010, Demetrius Bennett went to Kent's apartment. Kent had known Bennett for over 10 years and let him in. (PageID.98-99.)[1] Once inside, Bennett drew a gun on Kent. People v. Braggs, No. 323274, 2016 WL 232318, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 19, 2016). At about the same time, a masked man working with Bennett entered the apartment. Id. Bennett and the accomplice proceeded to tie up Kent and steal Kent's money and drugs. Id. Kent struggled free and fled into a courtyard. Id. The two assailants caught up to Kent; the masked assailant wrestled Kent to the ground and “Bennett shot the victim in the leg.” Id. The two assailants then fled. Id. A blue Ford Taurus was seen speeding away from the scene. Id.

         B.

         Some years passed. Eventually, authorities believed they had enough evidence to prove that Rayshon Braggs, who is one of Bennett's brothers (PageID.151), was the masked man. So Braggs was charged in early 2014 and tried a few months later. (See PageID.91.) At the time of his trial, Braggs was 22 years old; he had just turned 19 at the time Kent was robbed. (PageID.86.)

         At Braggs' trial, witnesses testified that shortly before the robbery, Bennett went to Dena and Irvin Morrow's house. (Compare PageID.655, 676.) The Morrows were Bennett and Braggs' parents (Bennett had other brothers too). (PageID.671, 668, 669, 699.) At the time of the robbery, Jacqueline Duckett was living at the Morrows' house; Bennett had gone to the house to borrow a blue Ford Taurus from Duckett. (PageID.653-655, 676.) Braggs was living at the Morrows' house at that time too. Indeed, according to both Duckett and Dena Morrow, Braggs was asleep on the couch when Bennett left with the Taurus. (PageID.656-657; PageID.678-679.) Dena Morrow further testified that she was disabled at the time, that Braggs was her appointed “chore provider, ” and that he remained at the house for the day. (PageID.676-677.)

         At trial, the prosecution introduced text messages that Bennett had received prior to the robbery. (PageID.590-598.) Some of the messages were between Bennett and someone that Bennett had labeled “Ray” in his phone. (PageID.617, 619.) And some of the messages were between Bennett and the number (269) 501-5842. (PageID.572, 583, 612.) At trial, a detective testified that when he interviewed Braggs not long after the robbery, Braggs said his phone number was (269) 501-5842. (PageID.612.) The jury was presented with texts from Bennett's phone associated with both “Ray” and the 5842 number. (See PageID.588-589.) Some of the texts from “Ray” suggested a plan. For example, one message from “Ray” said, “You want to do it come get me, ” with Bennett responding, “Yay we about to.” (PageID.591.) Although the prosecutor implied that “Ray” might be short for “Rayshon, ” Dena Morrow testified that her sons did not call Braggs “Ray” but sometimes called him “Park.” (PageID.693, 694) Irvin Morrow also testified that people would call Braggs “Park Park.” (PageID.701.) Further suggesting that the “Ray” texts were not from Braggs, one text stated, “he at the crib solo” and “Solo” was the nickname of one of Bennett's other brothers, Solomon Bennett. (PageID.687.) According to Bragg's counsel, the content, tone, or style of the texts on Bennett's phone from the 5842 number (the number Braggs had provided as his) suggested that the person with that number was not the same person as “Ray.” (PageID.732- 733.)

         The same detective who interviewed Braggs also visited Kent in the hospital after the robbery. The jury learned that when the detective provided Kent with a photographic lineup that included Braggs, Kent could not identify his attacker among the photos. (PageID.576, 628.) And Kent told the jury that he had known Bennett and Braggs for about 10 years (PageID.390, 394) and would have been able to recognize Braggs even with a mask on (PageID.394). Indeed, Kent testified as follows: “Q[uestion:] So, you would have been able to look at the physical characteristics of the guy in the mask and probably say this is Demetrius [Bennett's] little brother, right? A[nswer:] Yes, sir. I've known [Braggs] so long, yes. Q: Yeah. And that didn't occur to you that that person was Rayshon Braggs, right? A: No, sir.” (PageID.395.)

         The jury also heard from a forensic scientist employed by the Michigan State Police. (PageID.533.) From the crime scene, authorities recovered a black hat with two cutouts for eyes and a 4XL sweatshirt (at the time of incarceration, Braggs was only 5'5” tall and 150 pounds). (PageID.436, 441, 443, 817.) The forensic scientist testified that she did not collect DNA from the sweatshirt and hat; she merely received very small samples for testing. (PageID.547.) Because the small samples could have been a swab of the items or a cutout from just one part of the items, the prosecution did not establish that the DNA she tested was the only DNA on the entire sweatshirt or entire hat. (PageID.553-555; see also PageID.547-548, 721-722.) The forensic expert told the jury that the DNA on the samples matched Braggs' DNA. (PageID.538-539, 542.)

         Upon hearing the above and other evidence, the jury convicted Braggs of armed robbery and unlawful imprisonment. (PageID.765.) Braggs was sentenced to 12 to 30 years' imprisonment on the armed robbery count and a concurrent sentence of 5 to 15 years on the unlawful imprisonment count. (PageID.788.)

         C.

         Braggs appealed. In his brief to the Michigan Court of Appeals, Braggs argued that by admitting the incriminating text messages, the trial court abused its discretion and violated his due process rights. (PageID.807.) Braggs also argued that there was not sufficient evidence to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. (Id.) The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed Braggs' convictions. See generally People v. Braggs, No. 323274, 2016 WL 232318 (Mich. Ct. App. Jan. 19, 2016).

         Braggs then sought leave to appeal from the Michigan Supreme Court. The state high court was “not persuaded” that the questions Braggs presented warranted ...


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