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Pearison v. Carlton

September 29, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harry S. Mattice, Jr. United States District Judge



Harrison Melvin X. Pearison, Jr., ("Pearison" or "Petitioner") has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Court File No. 4). Petitioner was convicted by a jury of one count of aggravated arson in 1997. The trial court sentenced him to 20 years in the Tennessee Department of Correction. He now seeks review of that conviction.

Respondent has filed a document entitled Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Court File No. 17). The Answer contains most of the elements required by Rule 5 of the Habeas Corpus Rules: it states whether the Petitioner has exhausted state remedies; identifies what transcripts or other records of state proceedings are in existence; and supplies the transcripts and other portions of the record, including the Petitioner's briefs on appeal and state court opinions. But the Answer goes farther (Court File No. 17).

A large component of the Answer was seemingly designed to function as a motion for summary judgment or motion to dismiss. The Answer was filed by the Respondent's attorney, a Tennessee assistant attorney general, by means of the Court's electronic case filing system. It was designated by the filer as a "Response" on the Court's electronic case filing system docket sheet.

Motions for summary judgment and motions to dismiss have been filed in other Section 2254 cases by the Attorney General after the Respondent was ordered to "file an answer or other pleading." These earlier motions for summary judgment and motions to dismiss, however, were not incorporated into the answer. The Court does not approve of the practice whereby a motion for summary judgment or a motion to dismiss is engrafted onto an answer or other pleading. Nevertheless, as Petitioner has treated the Answer as a motion to dismiss*fn2 , the Court will treat it as such. Petitioner simultaneously filed a motion for an extension of time in which to respond to the Respondent's motion to dismiss (Court File No. 23) and his response (Court File No. 22). The Court will DENY as MOOT Petitioner's motion for an extension of time, as Petitioner has filed a response (Court File No. 22).

After reviewing the record and applicable law, the Court concludes the Petitioner's § 2254 petition is without merit, and it will be DISMISSED.


Petitioner may obtain habeas relief if he can demonstrate he is in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under Rule 8 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts, the Court is to determine, after a review of the response, the transcript, record of state court proceedings, and the expanded record, whether an evidentiary hearing is required. If a hearing is not required, the district judge is to dispose of the case as justice dictates. The Court finds it is unnecessary to hold an evidentiary hearing in the instant case.

The decision of the state courts is reviewed by this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), which is a part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). This statute delimits the scope of a federal district court's jurisdiction to review habeas claims. In particular, a court considering a habeas claim must defer to any decision by a state court concerning that claim unless the state court's judgment (1) "resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or (2) "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) and (2). Credibility findings made by state courts are entitled to a presumption of correctness. Smith v. Jago, 888 F.2d 399, 407 (6th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 961 (1990).


Petitioner was originally charged with four counts of attempted first degree murder and one count of aggravated arson. On November 3, 1997, he was acquitted of the four counts of attempted first degree murder, but convicted of aggravated arson. Petitioner received a twenty year sentence on that conviction. Petitioner filed a motion for new trial on December 12, 1997 [Addendum No. 1, Vol. 1, at 39]. The trial court denied the motion on February 16, 1998 [Addendum No. 1, Vol. 1, at 40]. On August 31, 1999, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed defendant's conviction [Addendum No. 2, Vol. 3], and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied his application for permission to appeal on March 13, 2000 [Addendum No. 2, Vol. 5]. Petitioner filed a state post-conviction petition and, after he was appointed counsel, a hearing was held on March 7, 2003.

Although during the hearing the trial court expressed a desire to find a way to grant Petitioner a new trial,*fn3 the trial court subsequently denied post-conviction relief. On appeal Petitioner raised three claims. The post-conviction appellate court affirmed the trial court's denial of post-conviction relief [Addendum No. 4, Vol. 3]. Petitioner's application for permission to appeal was denied by the Tennessee Supreme Court on December 20, 2004 [Addendum No. 4, Vol. 4]. The instant habeas petition was filed in this Court on May 6, 2005 (Court File No. 4).


On the evening of March 1 and 2, 1996, Petitioner visited with a friend, Mr. Floyd Polk ("Mr. Polk"), on two separate occasions. Petitioner first visited with Mr. Polk at his home at 1117 Belmeade Avenue at approximately 9:30 p.m. They drank whiskey and talked for about an hour. At first Petitioner was distraught about his pending divorce, but after the two talked about the situation, Petitioner's demeanor changed and he began laughing and joking. Petitioner left Mr. Polk's house, but returned between midnight and 12:30 a.m. Mr. Polk testified that on Petitioner's second visit, he observed a gallon jug containing a liquid in his yard and detected a gasoline odor on Petitioner. When he inquired about Petitioner smelling of gasoline, Petitioner explained that he had obtained the gasoline to help Tommy Ramsey's son, whose car had run out of gas. Petitioner left Mr. Polk's home, walking in the direction of 1005 Belmeade Avenue, where the fire occurred.

Petitioner's wife, Paulette Pearson,*fn5 testified she and Petitioner were in the process of a divorce and Petitioner had permanently moved out of their house at 1005 Belmeade Avenue two weeks prior to the fire. Mrs. Pearson testified that Petitioner, who she described as high, came to the residence on March 1, 1996, at approximately 5:00 p.m. The two had a conversation about whether to repair the house or sell the house and split the proceeds [Addendum No. 1, Vol. 2, at 79]. Petitioner departed, only to return later at approximately 11:30 p.m. Mrs. Pearson testified Petitioner was drunk when he returned to the residence and she drove him to his mother's house and had to force him out of the vehicle. When Mrs. Pearson arrived back at her residence, Petitioner was on the phone requesting to speak with her. She refused to talk to Petitioner and went to bed at approximately 11:40 p.m. She was awakened at approximately 1:00 a.m. by her daughter, Yolonda Pearson, who was screaming that the house was on fire. Mrs. Pearson, her daughter, and two other occupants (Paula and Denzel Mason) were able to escape from the burning house [Addendum No. 1, Vol. 2, at 77-133].

Yolonda Pearson testified she discovered the fire during the early morning hours of March 2, 1996. She and Mrs. Pearson discovered two separate fires burning, one at the back door and one at the front door. They heard someone knocking on one of the doors and they both testified they thought the Petitioner was the person knocking on the door. As it turned out, however, it was their neighbor, Joseph Turner, who was knocking.

He eventually kicked the front door open so the occupants of the residence could run out of the burning house [Addendum No.1, Vol. III, at 153-155]. Although neither Mrs. Pearson nor her daughter saw Petitioner set the fire, they both believed he set it because the Petitioner had threatened to do so in the past and because their dog, who always stayed close to their house, was found at Petitioner's mother house, which is where Petitioner was residing at the time [Addendum No. 1, Vol. 2, at 77-149].

Sheila Earvin, a friend of Petitioner's, testified she saw him walking toward the Conoco station at approximately 12:15 a.m. with a plastic jug, which appeared to be empty, in his hand. Although Ms. Earvin did not speak with Petitioner at the time, she knew it was him by his distinctive walk; "he has a little limp" and on occasion wears a brace [Addendum No. 1, Vol. 3, at 161-164]. Ms. Earvin recalled that Petitioner was wearing blue jeans and a blue jean shirt or jacket [Addendum No. 1, Vol. 3, at 161]. Ms. Earvin did not know whether Petitioner burned the house [Addendum No. 1, Vol. 3, at 172].

As summarized by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on direct appeal, Alec Connor, an investigator with the Chattanooga Police Department's arson division testified as follows:

[Investigator Connor] was called to the scene of the fire on March 2, 1996. Conner noticed a splash pattern and an oily film on the front of the house. He collected samples of fire debris for testing. As he was collecting the samples, he smelled a distinct accelerant odor. Sample three, pink insulation at the base of the wall inside the back of the house, smelled strongly of gasoline. Conner testified that the irregular burn patterns were caused by a liquid accelerant. Paulette Pearson told Conner that the defendant had threatened to burn the house. Conner asked an officer to bring the defendant to the Fire Administration Building to talk to him. When the defendant arrived, Conner advised him of his rights. Conner detected a strong odor of alcohol, and the defendant's hands smelled strongly of bleach. Conner terminated the interview because he believed the defendant was intoxicated. The Monday after the fire, Conner talked to several neighbors near the fire. Conner concluded that the defendant was a suspect, and the defendant was arrested on March 7, 1996. On this date, the defendant signed a waiver of rights form. The defendant wrote two statements after waiving his rights, one at Conner's office and one at the county jail. The defendant denied involvement in the fire in both statements.

Conner identified his report on the fire. An unidentified person in the crowd surrounding the house after the fire told Conner that a black male, who was five feet nine inches tall, weighing 160 pounds, wearing dark clothes, was seen running from the fire. This information was written in the suspect section of Conner's report. The defendant's name was not listed in the suspect section of this report.

State v. Pearson, 1999 WL 692877, at *2 (Tenn. Crim. App. 1999), perm. app. denied (Tenn. 2000).

The defendant presented Betty Watkins with Century 21 Time Realty. She testified that a week to ten days prior to March 8th Petitioner had requested a market analysis on the subject residence. Ms. Watkins drove by the residence initially on the day Petitioner called her and later went back to perform her market analysis. She and Petitioner discussed her market analysis and scheduled a meeting for March 8th. Ms. Watkins arrived for the scheduled appointment and found the house charred [Addendum No. I, Vol. IV, at 301-307].

James Crutcher, Petitioner's nephew, testified he saw Petitioner on March 1st between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m. when Petitioner arrived at his (Petitioner's) mother's house and asked for fifty cents to wash light blue paint off his hands. Mr. Crutcher testified his cousin and others came back to the house at approximately 2:00 a.m. asking for Petitioner. They went upstairs and he heard a lot of bumping noise [Addendum No. I, Vol. IV, at 315-319].

Petitioner testified his wife filed for divorce in January and he agreed to the divorce and signed the papers which provided for the sale of the house and equal division of the proceeds [Addendum No. 1, Vol. IV, at 353-54]. As summarized by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on direct appeal, Petitioner testified:

[T]hat he was not involved in setting the fire at 1005 Belmeade Avenue. Although the divorce settlement stated that the house would be sold and the proceeds split evenly, the defendant acquired estimates for remodeling the house because Paulette Pearson wanted to keep the house. On March 1, 1996, the defendant went to Tommy Ramsey's house around 4:30 p.m. where he helped Ramsey paint a box surrounding a flower bed. At some point, the defendant saw a suspicious white male in a maroon truck sitting at the corner of the fence near 1005 Belmeade Avenue. The defendant was concerned that there was drug activity in which his step-sons were involved with the man in the truck. The defendant went to Floyd Polk's house around 9:30 p.m. and left there around 11:00 p.m. At this time, the defendant walked to 1005 Belmeade Avenue and asked Paulette Pearson to drive him to his mother's house. She drove him to his mother's house, and he exited the car.

At his mother's house, the defendant realized he had paint on his hands. He asked his mother for 50 cents to buy gasoline to wash the paint off his hands. On his way to the Conoco station, the defendant encountered a man who was having trouble starting his car because the man thought he was out of gas. The defendant offered to help, and he bought gas at the Conoco station. The defendant helped the man start his car, and then walked to Polk's house. He stayed at Polk's house for ten to fifteen minutes, then he walked to his mother's house where he changed clothes and fell asleep. The defendant was awakened by someone saying his house was on fire. When he awoke, he was bleeding because, as he was told, Tim Fossis [Mrs. Pearson's son] and others had knocked him unconscious and beat him. The police arrived soon thereafter, and he changed into his work clothes. His work clothes were not clean and his rubber boots were "contaminated" with chlorine from his job at Olin Chemical. He made a short statement to the police, and they released him. The defendant denied any drug use, but admitted he had been drinking alcohol since he was seven years old. The defendant testified that he received medical treatment for the beating he received the night of the fire.

State v. Pearson, 1999 WL 692877, at *3 (Tenn. Crim. App. 2000).


Respondent claims three of the five claims presented by Petitioner have been procedurally defaulted because they were not raised in previous state court proceedings.*fn6 Because Petitioner identified his claims in his habeas petition in a rambling and nearly indecipherable manner, the Court will address the claims in the order in which Petitioner addressed them in his brief in support of his habeas petition. The Court has divided the claims into two groups: (A) claims adjudicated in state court on the merits and (B) procedurally defaulted claims.

A. Claims Adjudicated in State Court

Two of the five claims petitioner raises in this habeas petition were adjudicated in state court, and the Court will address them in turn.*fn7

1. Exculpatory Evidence

Petitioner claims the state prosecutor withheld exculpatory evidence. Specifically, Petitioner contends the prosecutor withheld the pre-trial taped statements of Mr. Polk and other witnesses until after the cross-examination of Mr. Polk. Petitioner argues the withholding of exculpatory evidence resulted in prejudice to him as he was prevented from knowing all the evidence against him and thus denied the opportunity to prepare a proper defense and to make an informed decision as to how to proceed with his case.*fn8

Although it appears petitioner has attempted to intertwine several claims regarding the exculpatory evidence into this one claim, the Court will not address those portions of the claim as to which petitioner failed to seek available discretionary state appellate review and which are in fact, procedurally defaulted. Rather, the Court will only address the portion of the claim which Petitioner raised on appeal in state court.

The portion of this claim which was raised in the state appellate court on direct review and which is properly before this Court is taken from ...

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