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Washington v. Chapman

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

November 18, 2019

JOMIAH WASHINGTON, Petitioner,
v.
WILLIS CHAPMAN, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER (1) DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS (ECF NO. 1), (2) DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY, AND (3) GRANTING LEAVE TO APPEAL IN FORMA PAUPERIS

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Petitioner Jomiah Washington is a state prisoner currently confined at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer, Michigan. On July 9, 2018, Washington filed a pro se petition in this Court seeking a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the “Petition”) (See ECF No. 1.) In the Petition, Washington challenges his state-court convictions for first-degree premeditated murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316; assault of a pregnant individual intentionally causing miscarriage, stillbirth, or death, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.90b(a); mutilation of a dead body, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.160; and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227b.

         The Court has carefully reviewed Washington's claims and concludes that he is not entitled to federal habeas relief. Accordingly, for the reasons stated below, the Court DENIES the Petition.

         I

         The facts underlying Washington's convictions are as follows.

         In May 2011, the burned body of a woman named Daborah Young was found in a field. Young had been fatally shot in the head. At the time of Young's death, she was approximately 20 weeks pregnant.

         Washington became a prime suspect in Young's murder. He was the father of Young's unborn child, and several witnesses said that Washington had threatened to kill Young if she did not have an abortion. Another witness said that Washington had also choked Young on a prior occasion.

         The only witness to directly link Washington to Young's murder and the burning of her body was a woman named Amanda Baer. Baer is the mother of Washington's two children. On June 23, 2011, before the State filed charges against Washington, Baer appeared at an investigative subpoena hearing. During that hearing, Baer testified under oath that Washington had told her that he shot and killed Young, but the shooting was an accident. Baer further testified at the investigative subpoena hearing that Washington had admitted to disposing of Young's body.

         Not long after Baer testified at the investigative subpoena hearing, Washington was arrested and charged with Young's death. His preliminary examination was held over four days in December 2011 and May and June 2012.

         Baer testified at the preliminary examination. By that time, she had a change of heart and no longer wanted to implicate Washington in Young's death. During her testimony, she repudiated most, if not all, of her testimony from the investigative subpoena hearing that incriminated Washington. More specifically, Baer testified that prior to the investigate subpoena hearing, a detective investigating Young's murder, Brian Bowser, had her (Baer) arrested. Baer said that Bowser told her that if she did not implicate Washington in Young's death, Bowser would take Baer's children away from her and force Baer, who was pregnant at the time, to give birth in custody.

         The prosecution then confronted Baer with her testimony from the investigative subpoena hearing that Washington had admitted to shooting Young and disposing of her body. Baer confirmed that she gave that testimony, but she said that it was not true and that she made it up in order to placate Bowser:

Q: The next question I [the prosecutor] asked you [at the investigative subpoena hearing] was “What was the very first version of the story that [Washington] told you?” And your answer was “He was playing with his gun in the backyard. His gun went off, and he went in the front yard and there was a girl shot.” Is that true that he -
A: I said that but I only said that because they told me if I didn't come up with some type of story they were going to take my kids, put me in jail for accessory to murder that I didn't do. So I said what I had to say to get out of my situation.
Q: Okay. You said that but it wasn't true?
A: Right.
[….]
A: Because me and Detective Bowser - he already went over so many things with me for those two, three days I was in jail. I was sitting on hard cement all day. We went over all that already. That's how I came with my answers because to get out of my situation, this is what I had to do. I had to go on a report and I had to say [Washington] did this, that, and other to get out of it. That's basically what [Bowser] explained to me, that, “If you say that [Washington] did that, I don't care if you did it or not, if you say that [Washington] did it then you're free.” So I was gone.”

(Prelim. Exam. Tr., ECF No. 8-3, PageID.443, 454; see also Id. at PageID.455.) At the conclusion of the preliminary examination, the state court was faced with both (1) Baer's confirmation that she incriminated Washington at the investigative subpoena hearing and (2) Bear's insistence that that incriminating testimony was not true. The state court then considered the entirety of Baer's testimony and all of the other evidence presented at the preliminary examination, and it concluded that there was enough evidence to bind Washington over for trial.

         At trial, Baer was called as a witness. However, she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and did not testify. Instead, the prosecution read Baer's testimony from the preliminary examination into the record. Importantly, as quoted above, that preliminary examination testimony included the prosecution reading back to Baer portions of her testimony from the investigative subpoena hearing in which she implicated Washington in Young's death. Therefore, the jury heard both (1) Baer's statements from the investigative subpoena hearing implicating Washington and (2) Baer's assertion at the preliminary examination that those incriminating statements were false and coerced by Bowser.

         On April 18, 2013, a jury convicted Washington of all charges. The state trial court subsequently sentenced him to life in prison for the murder conviction, time served on the mutilation of a dead body conviction, eight-to-fifteen years for the assault conviction, and a consecutive two-year sentence for felony firearm.

         Washington appealed his convictions to the Michigan Court of Appeals, and that court affirmed. See People v. Washington, 2014 WL 4628883 (Mich. Ct. App. Sept. 16, 2014. The Michigan Supreme Court thereafter denied leave to appeal. See People v. Washington, 863 N.W.2d 58 (Mich. 2015).

         Washington then filed a post-conviction motion for relief from judgment in the state trial court. That court denied the motion on May 25, 2016. See People v. Washington, Wayne Cir. Ct. No. 12-006201-FC (Wayne Cir. Ct. May 25, 2016). The Michigan appellate courts then denied Washington leave to appeal that decision. See People v. Washington, Mich. Ct. of Appeal No. 334514 (Mich.Ct.App. Nov. 23, 2016); lv. den. 908 N.W.2d 886 (Mich. 2018), reconsideration denied, 913 N.W.2d 313 (Mich. 2018).

         II

         Washington, appearing pro se, filed the Petition in this Court on July 9, 2018. (See Pet., ECF No. 1.) Washington described his claims, and the standards he believes that the Court should apply to those claims, as follows:

I. Where [Washington] was denied his constitutional right to a public pre-trial hearing, habeas relief is appropriate because the state court's decision was both contrary to clearly established federal law and involved an unreasonable determination of the facts.
II. Trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for (a) failing to obtain copies of the interviews by police officers with Amanda Baer so that he could properly cross-examine her at the preliminary examination, and (b) failing to object to the pretrial courtroom closure.
III. [Washington's] conviction was predicated on coerced testimony police-induced, by threats made upon the prosecutor's key witness in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment right to due process of law, which rendered the entire trial proceedings fundamentally unfair. Because the state courts did not reach the merits of this claim, review on habeas is de novo and the deference standard of 2254(d) does not apply.
IV. [Washington] is entitled to habeas relief where the prosecutor knowingly presented false testimony in violation of due process of law. Because the state courts did not reach merits of this claim, the deference standard of AEDPA does not apply, hence this Court should apply de novo review.
V. Where the prosecution presented testimony that the shooting was accidental, the state court's finding that there was sufficient evidence of premeditation involved [was] an objectively unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent, thus habeas relief is warranted.
VI. [Washington] is entitled to habeas where he was denied counsel [at his district court arraignment] in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment[s] ...

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