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McGaha v. McAllister

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville Division

May 18, 2015

GERALD McALLISTER, WARDEN, Northeast Correctional Complex, Respondent.


J. RONNIE GREER, District Judge.

Charles Wade McGaha ("Petitioner"), a Tennessee inmate acting pro se, brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the legality of his confinement under a 2006 Cocke County, Tennessee Criminal Court judgment [Doc. 2]. A jury convicted Petitioner of first degree felony murder and aggravated assault, for which he is serving a life sentence. Respondent has filed an answer to the petition, which is supported by copies of the state record [Docs. 6-7]. Respondent subsequently filed a motion to construe the answer as a motion for summary judgment [Doc. 10], which the Court denied [Doc. 13]. Petitioner has failed to respond to Respondent's answer, and the time for doing so has passed.


Petitioner's convictions were affirmed on direct appeal by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals ("TCCA"), see State v. McGaha, No. E2006-01984-CCA-R3-CD, 2008 WL 148943 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 16, 2008), and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal. Petitioner's subsequent application for post-conviction relief was denied by the trial court, and affirmed on appeal by the TCCA. McGaha v. State, No. E2010-01926-CCA-R3-PC, WL 2162987 (Tenn. Crim. App. May 26, 2011). The Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal. Petitioner next filed this timely petition for habeas relief.


The following summary of the factual background is taken from the TCCA's opinion on direct appeal of Petitioner's conviction.

On May 31, 2004, James Quinton Cox (the victim) was shot to death at the home of Lisa Mathis in Cocke County. Subsequently, the [Petitioner] was indicted for the first degree murder of Cox and one count of aggravated assault against Mathis. The [Petitioner's] nephew, James Wesley Daniels, was also indicted for offenses arising out of the same incident. The two men were tried jointly.
At trial, the Cocke County Director of 9-1-1, Kathy Cody, testified that on May 31, 2004, two emergency calls were made regarding the shooting, one from the residence of Lisa Mathis and another from a neighboring home. Audiotapes of the calls were admitted in evidence.
Lisa Mathis testified that she lived in a mobile home located at 115 Horn Way in Newport. Prior to the events of May 31, 2004, she did not know either the [Petitioner] or co-defendant Daniels. However, that evening while Mathis was at her house with the homicide victim and Charles Adams, Daniels arrived uninvited, came in the front door, looked at the homicide victim and said, "We have a problem." After picking up a baseball bat, Mathis told Daniels to leave. As Daniels backed out the front door, he said, "I'll be back with something more than a stick."
At approximately 10:15 p.m. that night, Daniels returned to Mathis's house, and the [Petitioner] was with him. At that time, there were five people in the two-bedroom mobile home: Mathis was in the kitchen and Charles Adams was in the living room, while the victim was in a back bedroom with Michael Benson and David Shults. Mathis saw that Daniels had a handgun when he got out of his car, and she called 9-1-1 as he entered and walked past her through the living room toward the back of the mobile home.
The [Petitioner]-who was armed with a rifle-followed Daniels inside, pointed the rifle at Mathis's head and said, "Drop the phone." The [Petitioner] then asked her "where the son of a bitch was, " and she assumed he meant the victim. At that point, Mathis became "hysterical": she dropped the telephone, threw up her hands, got on her knees and started screaming. The [Petitioner] did not shoot at her, but he held the rifle "in her face" so close that she "could have grabbed the barrel from where she was standing." They heard a gunshot from the rear of the house, and the [Petitioner] ran to the bedroom where the victim was located. Mathis then ran out of the house. As she fled to her closest neighbor's home, she heard a second gunshot, and testified that it was "a different type shot." When she arrived at her neighbor's she was still "hysterical" and screaming that there were "people in [her] house with guns." Her neighbor called 9-1-1.
The audiotape of Mathis's initial 9-1-1 telephone call (placed from her residence) was played for the jury. While listening the recording, Mathis identified her own voice and the voice of Michael Benson saying, "I just want to leave." She also identified the [Petitioner's] voice demanding, "[W]here's the son of a bitch at?" On cross-examination, Mathis stated that she thought the four men in her house that day had been drinking, but that she was "not sure"; however, she did not see anyone at her house using cocaine that day.
Michael Benson testified that he was at Mathis's house on May 31, 2004. He arrived there "between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. with David Shults. At some point, Shults and the victim took Mathis to a store where she purchased beer. After bringing her back to the house, the two men again went out and purchased drugs. After they returned, Benson went into a back bedroom with the victim, David Shults and Charles Adams. Benson said they "were getting ready to use drugs, " when Daniels entered the bedroom "with a pistol and pointed it at the victim." While Daniels was "waiving" the pistol at the victim and yelling, Benson "hit the door a flying" and ran outside. Benson passed the [Petitioner] in the living room on his way out and said the [Petitioner] was holding a rifle. While hiding behind a tree, Benson heard two gunshots. He then saw two cars leave and confirmed that one car belonged to David Shults. The second car was a Subaru, but Benson did not know to whom it belonged.
Charles Adams testified that he knew the victim and that he had known the [Petitioner] and Daniels most of his life. On May 31, 2004, Adams went to Mathis's house with the victim. While they were at the mobile home that evening, Daniels arrived, came inside and told the victim that "they had a problem." Mathis picked up a baseball bat and told him to leave, and as he was leaving, Daniels said "he'd be back with more than a baseball bat."

According to Adams, after Daniels left he and Mathis watched television in the living room and the victim went into a back bedroom with two men Adams did not know. "A little later, " Daniels came back to the house and the [Petitioner] was with him. When he saw Daniels and the [Petitioner] "on the steps, " Adams went into the back bedroom to warn the victim that "they had come back." Daniels came inside the bedroom first, and he was armed with a pistol. "He shot it and when he shot it him and the victim got into a quarrel and started wrestling." The [Petitioner] then came into the bedroom armed with an "assault rifle" outfitted with "two banana clips taped together." Adams testified that while in a "wrestling hold" with the victim, Daniels "said shoot this S.O.B. and the [Petitioner] shot him" with the rifle from a distance of approximately four feet.

Daniels then pointed his pistol at Adams and "acted like he pulled the trigger, " then he told the [Petitioner] to shoot Adams. The [Petitioner] responded that he would not shoot Adams because they were friends. As Daniels and the [Petitioner] left the bedroom, Daniels said, "Say it was self defense." Adams watched the [Petitioner] and Daniels drive away in a Subaru. Asked whether there was any doubt in his mind that [Petitioner] shot the victim, Adams answered: "No, sir."
Eryn Wilds testified that she was working at a "BP" gas station in Newport on the day of the incident. Daniels came to the gas station twice that day. On the second occasion, he arrived at approximately 10:15 p.m. driving a Subaru and was acting "sort of hyper." There was another white male in the car with Daniels whom Wilds could not identify.
Detective Derrick Woods of the Cocke County Sheriff's Department testified that he led the investigation of the homicide. He arrived at Mathis's home at approximately 11:00 p.m. on May 31, 2004, and saw that the victim was dead on the floor in a back bedroom with a single bullet exit wound on the upper-right-side of his chest and blood splatter on his face. The bullet entry wound was on the lower-left-side of the victim's back. Based on where the body was and the location of a bullet hole in the bedroom wall, Detective Woods opined that the "shooter" would have been standing in the doorway coming into the bedroom. There was also a bullet hole that went "through the mattress, through a pillow, " and through the side of the trailer.
Detective Woods informed that one cartridge casing from a rifle bullet was found on the floor beside a night stand, and a handgun cartridge was discovered on the bed. Detective Woods submitted both cartridges to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Crime Laboratory for analysis. The crime laboratory report confirmed that the cartridge casing recovered from the bedroom floor was a "7.62 by 39 mm caliber rifle cartridge" casing and that the cartridge casing recovered from the bed was from a "40 caliber" Smith and Wesson cartridge. No fingerprints were recovered from either cartridge casing. Because both bullets fired in the bedroom exited the trailer, neither was recovered. No firearms were discovered at the crime scene, and the murder weapon was never found. According to Detective Woods, the [Petitioner] and Daniels turned themselves in to authorities the day after the shooting.
The parties stipulated that the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's examination of items removed from a 1985 Subaru "failed to indicate the presence of blood." Further, they stipulated that analysis of a vitreous sample taken from the victim, as well as an analysis of his blood and urine revealed that he had a blood alcohol content between.19 and.25 percent when he died. Additionally, the victim had marijuana and cocaine in his system.

Kim Fine testified that she was the victim's girlfriend. Approximately two and a half to three years ago before she dated the victim, Fine had been Daniels's girlfriend. She lived with Daniels for eight months and explained that on "several occasions, " Daniels would speak of the victim and say that if he ever "ran into him one of the two of them would die." The victim had informed Fine as to the nature of the dispute between him and Daniels, but this information was not disclosed during her testimony.

Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan testified that she was a forensic pathologist, an Assistant Professor of Pathology at the University of Tennessee Medical Center and an Assistant Chief Medical Examiner for Knox County. Testifying as an expert in forensic pathology, she stated that she conducted an autopsy on the victim and opined that his cause of death was "a single gunshot wound to the back which perforated the left lung and tore the heart and exited the body on the front. It was a through and through gunshot wound of the back that involved the chest organs that caused internal bleeding." Dr. Mileusnic-Polchan also deduced that the victim was shot from a close range while he was "standing up and potentially slightly bent over."
Neither the [Petitioner] nor Daniels testified, and no witnesses were called by the defense.
After deliberations, the jury convicted the [Petitioner] of the first degree murder of the victim and the aggravated assault of Mathis. The trial court imposed a life sentence for his first degree murder conviction because the State did not seek a sentence of life without parole or the death penalty. Following a separate sentencing hearing, the trial court sentenced the [Petitioner] as a Range II, multiple offender to ten years for the aggravated assault conviction and ordered the sentence to be served concurrently.

McGaha, 2008 WL 148943, at *1-4 (footnotes omitted).


Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"), codified in 28 U.S.C. § 2254, 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. § 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 the Supreme Court cases which govern 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.

The § 2254(d) standard is a hard 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 ...

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