Davis v. Johnson

Decision Date22 February 2019
Docket NumberCase No. 15-cv-05760-HSG
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California
Parties Shemeeka C. DAVIS, Petitioner, v. Deborah K. JOHNSON, Respondent.

Marc Jonathan Zilversmit, Attorney at Law, San Francisco, CA, for Petitioner.

Jill Marietta Thayer, California State Attorney General's Office, John H. Deist, Deputy Attorney General, San Francisco, CA, for Respondent.


Re: Dkt. No. 20

HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR., United States District Judge

Pending before the Court is Petitioner Shemeeka C. Davis's second amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging the validity of a conviction obtained against her in state court. Dkt. No. 20 ("Pet."). Respondent Deborah K. Johnson, Warden, filed an answer, Dkt. No. 23 ("Ans."), and Petitioner filed a traverse, Dkt. No. 31 ("Trav."). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES the petition.


On July 6, 2010, the Contra Costa County District Attorney charged Petitioner by information with one count of murder ( Cal. Penal Code § 187 ); two counts of torture ( Cal. Penal Code § 206 ); and two counts of felony child abuse ( Cal. Penal Code § 270a(a) ). Pet. at 2. Petitioner pled not guilty on July 19, 2010, and pled not guilty by reason of insanity on March 4, 2011. Id.

On June 7, 2011, a jury returned a verdict of guilty on all counts and found the murder to be of the first degree. Id. Following the sanity phase of the trial, the jury found Petitioner sane. Id.

On January 6, 2012, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to 32 years to life in prison. Id.

Petitioner appealed her conviction to the California Court of Appeal, First District. On July 9, 2014, the court affirmed Petitioner's convictions in an unpublished opinion. See Pet. Exh. A. Petitioner sought review from the Supreme Court, but her petition was denied without comment on October 1, 2014. See Ans. Exhs. 9 (petition), 10 (denial of review).

On August 18, 2014, proceeding pro se , Petitioner filed in this Court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See Dkt. No. 1. On May 17, 2016, the Court appointed an attorney to represent Petitioner in her federal habeas challenge. See Dkt. No. 14. Counsel filed a first amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of Petitioner on July 26. See Dkt. No. 17.

Following the Supreme Court's decisions in Johnson v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 135 S.Ct. 2551, 192 L.Ed.2d 569 (2015) and Welch v. United States , ––– U.S. ––––, 136 S.Ct. 1257, 194 L.Ed.2d 387 (2016), Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court on July 13, 2016, asserting that she was entitled to relief under those decisions. See Pet. Exh. C. The California Supreme Court denied the petition without comment on September 14, 2016. See id.

On September 15, 2016, Petitioner moved for leave to file a second amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See Dkt. Nos. 20, 21. The Court granted Petitioner's motion on October 14. See Dkt. No. 22.


The following background facts describing the evidence presented at trial are from the opinion of the California Court of Appeal:1

Prosecution Case
Shortly after 3:15 p.m. on September 2, 2008, Antioch Police Officer Trevor Schnitzius was dispatched to a medical emergency at a residence in Antioch. Family members, including appellant, directed the officer to a room upstairs, where he found the body of 15–year–old Jazzmin D. [FN 2] Her naked body was extremely emaciated and covered with open sores and scars. The body was also cold, and rigor mortis had begun in the extremities.
[FN 2] The other part of the wooden dowel or closet rod was found in the upstairs hall closet.
That same day, police officers obtained a search warrant and, over several days, executed it at appellant's house. The rooms on the second floor of the house included a bathroom; a bedroom Jazzmin shared with her brother J.D.; the bedroom of appellant's young daughter J.T.; and the master bedroom, where appellant slept. Between Jazzmin's and J.T.'s rooms, there was also a small linen closet.
The entire second floor had a very strong putrid odor, consistent with the smell of blood, urine, and cleaning products. Jazzmin's bedroom had minimal furniture in it, including a bunk bed, a crate-type item that contained only boys' clothes, a TV stand and small television, and a fan. Jazzmin's body had many fresh, open wounds

on it. No blood was dripping from the wounds, although there was a bandage made from a piece of a bed sheet wrapped around her knee. There was no blood on the carpet around her, but the carpet was wet, smelled like a cleaning product, and appeared to have been recently shampooed. The carpet under Jazzmin's body was wet and scented and, except for one small stain, appeared clean. When the carpet was pulled up, however, there was blood on the bottom that had soaked through from the top of the carpet. There were dripping lines of clear liquid running down the walls, and it appeared that the walls had been wiped down. But there were still hundreds of very small blood spots all over the walls, ceiling, and furniture, including the bed. There was powder sprinkled on the carpet in the hallway, near the wall and doorway into the bedroom. Police also found empty containers of carpet cleaner and a bottle of Spic 'n Span cleaner in the upstairs hallway. There were holes and patched holes in most of the upstairs rooms, along the stairway leading upstairs, and in the living room and laundry room on the first floor.

The smell of blood, urine, and cleaning products, as well as feces, was particularly strong in a small closet in Jazzmin's room. The closet contained nothing except for a shelf on a wall and a loose piece of carpet on the floor. The clothes rod had been removed from the closet. The closet's doorknob had been removed but, from marks on the door, it looked like, in addition to a deadbolt, some kind of securing device had previously been attached. Over 400 small bloodstains were found in the closet. Some were diluted, as if cleanup had been attempted. There were pieces of hair or biological matter in a few of the stains. There were also apparent bloodstains on the wood floor under the carpet. The bloodstains in the bedroom and the carpet appeared to have been deposited "over some course of time."

In the master bedroom, police found several crumpled plastic bags with wadded up clear packing tape stuck to them. The tape had what appeared to be blood and hair on it. Forensic testing subsequently matched the blood and hair to Jazzmin and a fingerprint on one of the bags to appellant. The hair had long, thick roots, which indicated that it had not fallen out naturally, but that some sort of force had been used.

Also in the master bedroom, police found a large trash bag that contained a blood and urine soaked mattress cover, blue jeans with blood on them, and bloody baby wipes. They also found a container with more bloody wipes in them, a deadbolt lock, an iron, part of a wooden dowel with the words "B ASS Stick" written on it in black marker; [FN 3] two pieces of stained carpet tack strip with clumps of hair on them, and several belts, including one with a bloody padlock tied to it, and another that appeared to have been configured into handcuff-type restraints.

[FN 3] The other part of the wooden dowel or closet rod was found in the upstairs hall closet.

The master bedroom was filled with "massive amounts" of clothing, overflowing from the closet or neatly stacked, much of it new. There were hundreds of bottles of lotion from Bath & Body Works all over the room and 20 or more bottles of perfume. There was also an abundance of hair accessories and makeup. Finally, there was food and cases of soda throughout the master bedroom.

On the first floor, the kitchen pantry and refrigerator were well-stocked with food. The living room, dining room, and

family room carpets were covered with sheets of plastic.
The pathologist who performed an autopsy on Jazzmin testified that the cause of death was severe malnutrition

compounded by chronic injury. She was extremely underweight, her thymus and thyroid glands were abnormally small in size due to malnutrition, and her large intestine was smaller than her small intestine, which was very unusual and reflected that she had eaten little for weeks or months. She was 5 feet, 7–1/2 inches tall and weighed 78 pounds.

Jazzmin's body had hundreds of scars and open sores, in various stages of healing, all over her body, "pretty much from head to foot, front and back, arms and legs." The most profuse number of recent injuries were located on the top and left side of her head. The scars and injuries were of so many distinct stages of healing and irregular shapes that it appeared that Jazzmin had been struck by various objects over an extended period of months or years. A few of the injuries could have been inflicted within 12 hours of her death. Some wounds could have been pressure sores, caused by Jazzmin lying on her back and in other unusual positions for long periods. Several scars on Jazzmin's lower chest and abdomen appeared to have been burns from a clothes iron. Puncture holes on her scalp were consistent with her having been struck with a hard object with tacks protruding from it.

Based on the first responder's description of the state of Jazzmin's body, the pathologist believed she had been dead for about two hours when police first arrived at the house.

J.D., who was 18 years old at the time of trial, testified that, although appellant was his aunt, he only learned that she was not his real mother when he was close to 10 years old, and he still considered her his mother after that. He and his twin sister Jazzmin had always lived with appellant, who was their foster mother until she sought legal guardianship, shortly before Jazzmin's death. Other children, including appellant's two older sons and younger...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT