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Gibbs v. Crowell

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division

June 26, 2019




         Petitioner Michael Allen Gibbs, a Tennessee state prisoner, has filed a pro se habeas corpus petition (the “Petition”), pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (ECF No. 1.) For the reasons that follow, the Petition is DENIED.[1]


         In 2009, a Haywood County, Tennessee, grand jury charged Gibbs and Michael Batchelor with first degree premeditated murder, first degree felony murder, especially aggravated burglary, and attempted especially aggravated robbery, involving victim Daniel Bradford. (ECF No. 16-1 at 5-6.) The defendants were tried separately. State v. Gibbs, No. W2012-00800-CCCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 3324957, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 26, 2013), perm. appeal denied (Tenn. Nov. 14, 2013).

         At Gibbs's jury trial, Vickie Miller, the Defendant's girlfriend at the time of the incident, testified that she and her friend Angela Sangster were at Miller's house on the night of August 28, 2009, along with Gibbs and Batchelor. (ECF No. 16-4 at 49.) “Miller and Sangster announced to the men that they were leaving to purchase alcohol” from the victim, who was “a relative of Miller's who illegally sold liquor out of his home.” Id. at *1. Both women testified that, after the victim invited them into his home, “two men entered with bandanas covering their faces, instructing the two women to ‘get down' and demanding money and liquor from the victim.” Id. The women, who at that time were “crouched beside the bed, ” heard “one of the men sa[y] that the victim had a gun, and then [they heard] a gunshot.” Id. Without checking on the victim, the women left after the men had exited. Id. They later returned to the victim's home “to check on [him] and found him dead from a gunshot wound.” Id. Miller called the police. Id.

         Brownsville Police Department officers who arrived on the scene discovered that the victim had “a loaded weapon underneath [him], which had not been fired.” Id. According to the testimony of law enforcement officers, “the house was in disarray and liquor bottles were strewn across the bed.” Id. The medical examiner testified that the cause of the victim's death was a gunshot wound to the torso. (ECF No. 16-3 at 86.)

         “In her initial statement to the officers immediately after the shooting, Miller denied being present during the shooting, ” but upon questioning, “admitted to being in the room when the shooting occurred.” Id. at *2. “Although she could not identify either of the two men from their physical appearance, she claimed to recognize the Defendant's voice.” Id. Sangster, who “was interviewed later, ” was not “able to identify either” of the men who had entered the victim's home. Id. “The Defendant, knowing the police considered him the prime suspect in the victim's murder, turned himself in, ” but “denied any involvement in the victim's murder.” Id.

         Jerry Wayne Shaw, who had been “incarcerated with the Defendant while he was awaiting trial, ” testified that Gibbs confessed to being at “the victim's house to rob him, ” “us[ing] the women to get inside.” Id. The defendant also told “Shaw that when the victim reached ‘for his pants,' he shot him.” Id. Kristopher White, who had “also [been] incarcerated with the Defendant, ” testified “that the Defendant admitted to shooting the victim during a robbery.” Id. “The Defendant told White that Miller and Sangster were suppose to ‘handle it' but were unable to go through ‘with getting the money,' so he was ‘called in on the cue' and shot the victim.” Id. “Also while incarcerated, the Defendant wrote [a] letter[] to Miller, ” in which “he asked for Miller's help at the preliminary hearing, noting that Miller and Sangster were the only witnesses against him.” Id.

         The jury acquitted Gibbs on the first degree murder charge, and found him guilty of felony murder, especially aggravated burglary, and attempted especially aggravated robbery. (ECF No. 16-1 at 117-20.) The trial court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole for the felony murder conviction, and ten years each on the remaining convictions. Gibbs, 2013 WL 3324957, at *2. “The court ordered that the ten-year sentences be served concurrently with one another, but consecutively to the life sentence, for a total effective sentence of life plus ten years.” Id.

         On direct appeal, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) held that the especially aggravated burglary conviction was “precluded by statute.” Id. at *5. The court therefore “modified [the conviction] to one for aggravated burglary with imposition of a five-year sentence.” Id. at *1. The judgments were confirmed in all other respects. Id.

         Petitioner subsequently filed a state pro se post-conviction petition (ECF No. 16-12 at 18-32), which was later amended by appointed counsel (id. at 48-55). Following an evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction trial court denied relief. (Id. at 59-62.) The TCCA affirmed, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied permission to appeal. Gibbs v. State, No. W2015-01808-CCA-R3-PC, 2016 WL 3640373, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 30, 2016), perm. appeal denied (Tenn. Oct. 16, 2016).

         On August 22, 2016, Gibbs filed his Petition. He asserts that trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing, at the plea stage, to explain the proofs necessary to convict him of felony murder (Claim 1), and that the trial court erred in failing to give a jury instruction on accomplice testimony (Claim 2). (ECF No. 1 at 4-8.)


         Respondent, Georgia Crowell, filed the state-court record (ECF No. 16) and an answer (ECF No. 17) to the Amended Petition. She argues that the claims are without merit. Petitioner did not file a reply, although allowed to do so. (See ECF No. 8 at 2.)

         I. Legal Standards

         A. Federal Habeas Review

         The statutory authority for federal courts to issue habeas corpus relief for persons in state custody is provided by § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorisim and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under § 2254, habeas relief is available only if the prisoner is “in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         The availability of federal habeas relief is further restricted where the petitioner's claim was “adjudicated on the merits” in the state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). In that circumstance, the federal court may not grant relief unless the state-court decision “‘was contrary to' federal law then clearly established in the holdings of [the Supreme] Court; or that it ‘involved an unreasonable application of' such law; or that it ‘was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts' in light of the ...

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