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Johnson v. O'neill

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

August 12, 2019

ROBERT EARL JOHNSON, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
SEAN O'NEILL, et al., Defendants.

          FRENSLEY JUDGE

          MEMORANDUM

          William L. Campbell, JR United States District Judge

         Robert Earl Johnson, Jr., an inmate of the Turney Center Industrial Complex in Only, Tennessee, filed this pro se action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Sean O'Neill, Dan Hamm, William Cohen, Karl Dean, Wendy Rucker, and Jodie Bell. (Doc. No. 1).

         The complaint is before the Court for an initial review pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A.

         I. PLRA Screening Standard

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the court must dismiss any portion of a civil complaint filed in forma pauperis that fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, is frivolous, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Section 1915A similarly requires initial review of any “complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, ” id. § 1915A(a), and summary dismissal of the complaint on the same grounds as those articulated in Section 1915(e)(2)(B). Id. § 1915A(b).

         The court must construe a pro se complaint liberally, United States v. Smotherman, 838 F.3d 736, 739 (6th Cir. 2016) (citing Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)), and accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true unless they are entirely without credibility. See Thomas v. Eby, 481 F.3d 434, 437 (6th Cir. 2007) (citing Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33 (1992)). Although pro se pleadings are to be held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th Cir. 1991), the courts' “duty to be ‘less stringent' with pro se complaints does not require us to conjure up [unpleaded] allegations.” McDonald v. Hall, 610 F.2d 16, 19 (1st Cir. 1979) (citation omitted).

         II. Section 1983 Standard

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 creates a cause of action against any person who, acting under color of state law, abridges “rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws . . . .” To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege and show two elements: (1) that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States; and (2) that the deprivation was caused by a person acting under color of state law. Dominguez v. Corr. Med. Servs., 555 F.3d 543, 549 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Sigley v. City of Panama Heights, 437 F.3d 527, 533 (6th Cir. 2006)); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         III. Relevant Background

         Plaintiff and his brother, Roderick Johnson, were both indicted by a Davidson County grand jury on one count of first-degree premeditated murder in connection with the killing of William Edwin Binkley on October 24, 1997. The two brothers were tried together before a jury in the Davidson County Criminal Court. On November 20, 1998, the jury found Roderick Johnson guilty of second degree murder, but found Plaintiff guilty of first-degree murder. After a sentencing hearing, the jury unanimously found the presence of an aggravating circumstance- that is, that “the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel in that it involved torture or serious physical abuse beyond that necessary to produce death, ” Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-13-204(i)(5)-as a result of which Plaintiff was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. On direct appeal, Plaintiff's judgment and sentence were affirmed by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals on October 8, 2001. Plaintiff filed a petition for post-conviction relief in the trial court. Counsel was appointed, an evidentiary hearing was conducted, and the trial court denied relief on July 19, 2006. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the denial of the petition for post-conviction relief on July 18, 2007. The Tennessee Supreme Court denied the application for further review by order entered December 16, 2007. Robert E. Johnson, Jr. v. Tony Parker, No. 3:08-cv-00806 (M.D. Tenn. filed 7/16/2008) (Trauger, J.) (Doc. No. 30).

         Plaintiff filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus on July 16, 2008, asserting twenty-two separate claims for relief: the trial court erred in admitting the photographic line-up arrays at trial (Ground one); the evidence was insufficient to support the petitioner's conviction for first-degree murder (Ground one); the trial court erred in admitting the victim's hearsay statements (Ground two); the trial court erred when it allowed the victim's mother, Frances Hampton, to testify in violation of Rule 615 of the Tennessee Rules of Evidence (Ground three); the trial court erred by allowing the prosecutor to make improper and prejudicial remarks during closing argument (Ground four); the trial court erred in not instructing the jury regarding the minimum mandatory length of a sentence for life imprisonment (Ground five); the trial court's jury instructions were confusing and misleading (Ground five); law enforcement did not adequately investigate the case (Ground six); the state failed to prove the statutory aggravating circumstance beyond a reasonable doubt (Ground seven); the state improperly suppressed medical records (Ground seven); the state's introduction of testimony from William S. Greenup violated the Confrontation Clause (Ground seven); trial counsel was ineffective for failing to cross-examine witnesses properly (Ground eight); trial counsel was ineffective for failing to file a motion to suppress the photographic lineup arrays (Ground eight); trial counsel was ineffective for failing to create reasonable doubt by presenting sufficient evidence to show that Baso Felder was the actual perpetrator of the murder (Ground eight); trial counsel was ineffective for failing to conduct an individual voir dire of the jurors (Ground eight); the petitioner's due-process right to a fair trial was violated by the presentation of the perjured testimony of his brother, Roderick Johnson (Ground nine); the petitioner's due-process right to a fair trial was violated by the state's suppression of the victim's toxicology and autopsy report, which showed that the victim used drugs (Ground ten); the petitioner's due-process right to a fair trial was violated by the prosecutor's improper remarks during closing argument (Ground ten); the petitioner's due process right to a fair trial was violated when the state, in its brief to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals, presented an altered version of the prosecutor's closing argument (Ground eleven); the petitioner's due process right to a fair trial was violated by the photo line-up arrays because they did not contain a photo of Baso Felder (Ground twelve); and the petitioner was denied the opportunity to the trial court erred by illegally enhancing the petitioner's sentence by factors not decided by a jury in violation of Cunningham v. California, 549 U.S. 270 (2007) (Ground fourteen). (3:08-cv-00806, Doc. No. 30 at 2-3).

         The Court found that Johnson's habeas petition did not present any meritorious claims and denied the petition. (Id., Doc. No. 30 at 39). The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Johnson a Certificate of Appealability. (Id., Doc. No. 41). The United States Supreme Court denied Johnson's petition for a writ of certiorari. (Id., Doc. No. 47).

         IV. Alleged Facts ...


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