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Miller v. Howerton

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Chattanooga

February 25, 2015

FREDERICK MILLER, Petitioner,
v.
TONY HOWERTON, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

HARRY S. MATTICE, Jr., District Judge.

Acting pro se, Frederick Miller ("Petitioner"), an inmate confined in the Morgan County Correctional Complex, brings this petition and amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the legality of his confinement under a 2004 Hamilton County, Tennessee judgment (Docs. 1 and 20). A jury convicted Petitioner of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and especially aggravated robbery-offenses for which he is now serving a prison sentence of life and a consecutive sixty years.

Warden Tony Howerton has submitted answers to both petitions, which are supported by copies of the state court record (Docs. 8, 8-1, Notice of Filing of State Court Record, Addenda 1-4, and 21). Petitioner has replied to the Warden's initial answer, and thus the case is ripe for disposition (Docs. 13 and 15 [supplement]).

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Petitioner's judgment was affirmed on direct appeal by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ("TCCA") and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied him further direct appeal. State v. Miller, No. E2005-01583-CCA-R3-CD, 2006 WL 2633211 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 14, 2006), perm. to app. denied, (Tenn. 2007). Petitioner applied for state post-conviction relief, but the trial court declined relief as did both of the state appellate courts. Miller v. State, No. E2009-00232-CCA-R3-PC, 2011 Tenn. Crim. App. LEXIS 445 (May 20, 2011), perm. to app. denied, No. E2009-00232-SC-R11-PC, 2011 Tenn. LEXIS 932 (Tenn. Sept. 21, 2011). There followed this timely habeas corpus application.

II. BACKGROUND

The factual recitation is taken from the TCCA's opinion on direct review.

On September 27, 1995, the victims, Thomas "Butch" Cripps and Christopher Galloway, were working at the Kwik-E Liquor Store on Rossville Boulevard in Chattanooga. The victim Cripps provided the following account of what transpired on this evening:
At about ten minutes till eleven, this young black male came in, walked around the building. I asked if I could help him, he said he was looking, walked back to the cooler at the rear of the store, walked around, looked around, looking more at the cabinets and counter and purchased a small miniature or one-ounce bottle of Canadian Mist, and then walked out and walked back to the right of the store. And that's when I told Chris you know, That was just a little strange.'
And about a minute and a half, two minutes later, another black male come [sic] in with a gun in his hand and a ski mask on and put his gun to the back of Chris's head, told-took him to the end of the counter-excuse me, took him to the end of the counter, made me walk backwards to him, brought us back up to the cash register, turned us both facing away from him, keeping his gun on us, took my gun from my waistband, demanded money. I gave him the money bag we kept under the register.
He then walked us back to the end of the counter and around and told us both to lay down on the floor face down, which we did. He asked where the camera was, or where the recorder was. I told him it was in another room, and at which time he backed up and shot Chris in the back of the head. And I jumped up, and trying to defend myself, and he shot me twice while we fought out the front door, and then he ran off and I came back inside and called the police.
Meanwhile, Officers Scott Taylor and Joseph Brooks of the Chattanooga Police Department were on patrol on Rossville Boulevard in the area of Kwik-E Liquor Store. They observed a black male in the alley between "Walter A. Woods and the liquor store." Officer Taylor was suspicious because all businesses in the area were closed except the liquor store. The officers turned in between "Walter A. Woods and the little barber shop building." As they did so, "there was another car that came out of the bushes with its headlights on as soon as we turned in." The Officers activated their blue lights, and the vehicle, which was driven by Kevin Hinton, stopped. Hinton told the officers he was having problems with his lights.
While the officers were questioning Hinton, shots "rang out" from the liquor store. At this time, Officer Brooks placed Hinton in the back of the patrol car. After surveying the area and following the arrival of "backup[, ]" Officer Taylor went inside the liquor store and discovered that the perpetrator had already fled the scene.
The victim Calloway died as a result of his wounds. The victim Cripps was hospitalized for three days, and it took him several months to recover from his injuries.
Following interviews with the police, Hinton implicated the Defendant in the crimes. On February 12, 2003, a Hamilton County grand jury returned a six-count indictment against the Defendant, charging him with first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, attempted first degree murder, aggravated assault, and two counts of especially aggravated robbery. Pursuant to an agreement with the State, Hinton testified against the Defendant at trial and provided the following version of events. Hinton testified that "a few weeks before" September 27th, he was staying with Mr. Gary Fitch and Ms. Yarshaunajania Threatt at a residence on Taylor Street. Hinton introduced the Defendant, as Darius Jones, to Mr. Fitch and Ms. Threatt. According to Hinton, on September 27th, he, Mr. Fitch, and the Defendant were in the front yard of the residence on Taylor Street. The men discussed that they "need to go get some cheese, " meaning they needed money and were going to rob someone. Mr. Fitch chose not join Hinton and the Defendant. Hinton testified that he and the Defendant left the residence in Hinton's white Bonneville, looking for a place to rob. The Defendant decided on the Kwik-E Liquor Store. Hinton went into the liquor store first to see how many individuals were inside the store and, while inside, he purchased a bottle of Canadian Mist. He then returned to the vehicle and reported to the Defendant. The Defendant, who was armed and wearing a ski-mask and a "blue-and-black or a blue-and-purple coat[, ]" got out of the car and went inside the liquor store.
Hinton testified that the Defendant phoned him "two or three hours later" and told him "to stay right there, he would be over there in a minute." Upon his arrival, the Defendant asked "what happened... do they know who did it, and [Hinton] told him no." The Defendant told Hinton not to worry because there was only "circumstantial evidence." Hinton stated that the Defendant then went out of town for about three weeks.
The State called several witnesses to corroborate Hinton's testimony. The victim Cripps identified Hinton as the first man to enter the liquor store who purchased the bottle of Canadian Mist. He was unable to identify the shooter; however, he described the assailant as "approximately five-foot-ten, five-eleven, roughly 135, 145 pounds, had on a blue ski mask, more turquoise blue, dark pants and a shirt....
African American." Officer Taylor testified regarding his detention of Hinton in the nearby parking lot and his observations upon entering the liquor store following the robbery and murder.
Ms. Threatt testified that Hinton began staying at her house in the summer of 1995 and, at some point, the Defendant began staying there too. On the day of the robbery and murder, Ms. Threatt overheard Hinton and the Defendant talking about "they need some money." According to Ms. Threatt, the Defendant and Hinton left the residence in Hinton's car. She stated that after that evening, she did not see the Defendant again for "a couple of weeks or a month later." In the presence of the jury, Ms. Threatt viewed the video surveillance tape that had recorded the robbery and murder. She testified that she recognized the Defendant's voice from the videotape. Ms. Threatt could not identify the jacket worn by the assailant on the videotape, but she opined that the jacket "looked like the jacket [the Defendant] had."
Mr. Fitch testified that he lived with Ms. Threatt on Taylor Street in 1995. According to Mr. Fitch, the Defendant and Hinton "would come around every other day, every couple of days.... They both would stay off and on a couple nights a week maybe." He also recounted the conversation between him, the Defendant, and Hinton about going to "get some cheese." Mr. Fitch stated that following the evening in question, the Defendant "stopped coming by" for "a couple of weeks [.]" When the Defendant returned, he said "he'd been out of town with his family." The Defendant also told Mr. Fitch that "[w]henever Kevin was drinking, he would talk too much." In December of 1995, Mr. Fitch overhead the Defendant state that he was going to kill Hinton. Mr. Fitch also overheard a conversation between the Defendant and Hinton about burning a jacket.
Officer Charles Russell of the Chattanooga Police Department testified concerning several statements made by the Defendant, who was transferred in January of 1996 from the Hamilton County Jail to the Police Services Center and asked to give a statement. The Defendant declined to give a statement, but several statements made by him during the initial phase of the interview were admitted into evidence. On cross-examination, Officer Russell testified that during the search for the perpetrator immediately following the robbery and murder, officers apprehended a man named "James Burkes" in a nearby area of town, and he was initially a suspect in these crimes. According to Officer Russell, James had on dark pants and brown boots, which matched the description given by Officer Taylor of the individual he observed in the alleyway by Kwik-E Liquor Store prior to the robbery and murder.
The Defendant did not testify on his own behalf. He did offer an expert witness who testified to the poor quality of the surveillance videotape. The Defendant also called Officer Brooks. Officer Brooks testified that after taking Hinton to the Police Services Center for questioning following the robbery and murder, Hinton asked "if James was here also[.]"

State v. Miller, 2006 WL 2633211, at *1-4. On these facts, Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, and especially aggravated robbery.

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under the review standards set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), codified in 28 U.S.C. §§ 2241, et seq., a court considering a habeas claim must defer to any decision by a state court concerning the 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.A. § 2254(d)(1)-(2).

A state court's decision is "contrary to" federal law when it arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law or resolves a case differently on a set of facts which cannot be distinguished materially from those upon which the precedent was decided. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). Under the "unreasonable application" prong of § 2254(d)(1), the relevant inquiry is whether the state court decision identifies the legal rule in Supreme Court cases which governs the issue but unreasonably applies the principle to the particular facts of the case . Id. at 407. The habeas court is to determine only whether the state court's decision is objectively reasonable, not whether, in the habeas court's view, it is incorrect or wrong. Id. at 411.

This is a high standard to satisfy. Montgomery v. Bobby, 654 F.3d 668, 676 (6th Cir. 2011) (noting that "§ 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, is a purposefully demanding standard... because it was meant to be'") (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 131 S.Ct. 770, 786 (2011)). Further, findings of fact which are sustained by the record are entitled to a presumption of correctness-a presumption which may be rebutted only by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

IV. DISCUSSION

The § 2254 petition asserts four grounds for relief. Three of those grounds involve ineffective assistance of counsel and one alleges prosecutorial misconduct based on an alleged Brady violation. The amended § 2254 petition contains additional grounds of ineffective assistance of counsel. The Warden argues, in his answer, that Petitioner is not entitled to relief with regard to the claims in the petition because the state court rejected those claims on the merits and because the deferential standards of review set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254 counsel against such relief. With respect to the claims presented in the amended petition, the Warden suggests that all three claims are procedurally barred from habeas corpus review and that two are not cognizable federal claims in the first place.

Petitioner takes a contrary position, maintaining, in his reply to the Warden's answer to the first petition, that deference is unwarranted because the state court decisions fail one or more of the tests in § 2254(d). Petitioner also finds fault with the composition of the answer, suggesting that the Warden quoted extensively from the state court decisions, but failed to follow those quotations with a complete and proper factual and legal analysis of his claims.

The Court agrees with respondent Warden concerning the suitability of habeas corpus relief and, for the reasons which follow, will DENY the petition and DISMISS this case. Petitioner's claim of prosecutorial misconduct will be discussed first and the remaining grounds of ...


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