Horn v. Haas, CASE NO. 2:17-cv-10181

Decision Date31 October 2019
Docket NumberCASE NO. 2:17-cv-10181
PartiesJAMES LEE HORN, Petitioner, v. RANDALL HAAS, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan



Petitioner James Lee Horn ("Horn") seeks a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The habeas petition challenges Horn's convictions for second-degree murder, carjacking, and two weapon offenses. Horn claims that (1) the evidence at his trial was insufficient to support his murder and carjacking convictions, (2) he was sentenced on inaccurate information and incorrectly scored sentencing guidelines, and (3) judicial fact-finding increased the floor of the permissible sentence. The State argues in an answer to the petition that the state court's adjudication of Horn's first claim was objectively reasonable, and Horn's second claim lacks merit because his sentences were not based on misinformation of constitutional magnitude. The State maintains that Horn has already obtained some relief on his third claim and that the claim is not based on clearly established federal law. Having reviewed the pleadings and record, the Court denies the petition because Horn's claims do not warrant habeas corpus relief.


Horn was charged with two counts of first-degree murder, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.316,1 one count of carjacking, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.529a, one count of carrying a concealed weapon, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750.227, and one count of possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony, Mich. Comp. Laws § 750. 227b. The charges arose from allegations that Horn aided and abetted co-defendants Matthew Riselay ("Riselay") and Nancy Johnson ("Johnson") in carjacking and murdering a woman at a gas station in Flint Township on March 4, 2012. Horn was tried jointly with Riselay and Johnson in Genesee County Circuit Court, but before a separate jury. A fourth defendant, Phillip Eason, pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact and then testified against the other three defendants at their joint trial.

The evidence at trial established that, on the night of the crime, someone drove Eason and Horn to the Economy Motel in Flint Township where Johnson had rented a room. Riselay arrived later. Horn had a gun at the motel, and when he stated that he needed a ride somewhere, Riselay said he could steal a car if he had a screwdriver. Horn responded that he did not have a screwdriver, but that he did have a gun and that he needed a clean car. Riselay unloaded and re-loaded the gun. Johnson took the gun from Riselay, and the two of them left the motel to acquire a car for Horn in return for drugs or money.

The victim stopped at a gas station near the Economy Motel on her way home from work that night. At approximately 9:00 p.m., the gas station attendant noticed a commotion in a car at the station. After waiting on another customer, the attendant went back outside and saw the victim lying on the ground by the propane tanks. The victim was bleeding, and the car was gone. The police were called, and when they arrived at the gas station, the victim told them that a white woman shot her, that the shooter was accompanied by a man, and that the two individuals took the car which she had been driving.

Johnson, meanwhile, returned to the Economy Motel in the victim's car. Horn entered the car on the passenger side and took the gun from Johnson. Horn then handed the gun to Eason, who threw the gun several feet away from the motel. Hornand Johnson parked the car on the opposite side of the motel and entered Johnson's motel room. Johnson was covered with blood, and she said more than once, "I had to kill her."

With the help of a device installed in the victim's car, the police located the car at the motel and watched it for any additional activity. During the surveillance, an officer observed Horn wipe the door handle of the stolen car on the passenger side. A minivan then approached Horn, and as Horn walked from the victim's car to the van, the officer who had been watching the stolen car stopped Horn and ordered everyone, including Eason and Johnson, to get out of the van. Riselay was detained at a later time because he lived near the motel and was not present in the van.

The victim had been shot four times and died shortly after the shooting. During the continuing investigation of the crimes, an officer interviewed Horn who admitted that he brought a loaded gun to the motel and that the gun belonged to him. He claimed that Riselay picked up the gun from the bed and said that he would use the gun to scare someone when stealing a car. Horn denied handing the gun to anyone, telling Riselay or Johnson to rob or kill anyone, or promising to forgive Johnson's drug debt in return for her help in getting a car for him.

The police also interviewed Eason, who ultimately pleaded guilty to being an accessory after the fact for tossing the gun used in the carjacking and murder. Eason explained his plea bargain at Horn's trial. Although he had not been sentenced at the time, he testified that he was promised probation and release from custody following his sentencing if he testified truthfully at proceedings involving the other defendants. Eason also admitted at the trial that he initially lied to the police and that he finally told the truth when the police informed him that they had found the gun.

An expert witness in firearms testified that the gun was used to fire one of the bullets in evidence. Another expert witness testified that the victim's blood was present inside the motel, on the gun, and on Johnson's clothing.

Horn, Riselay, and Johnson did not testify at trial or present any witnesses. Horn's defense was that Eason was a liar, thief, and drug dealer and that Horn was not guilty of any of the charges because he did not hand the gun to Riselay, nor instruct Riselay or Johnson to kill anyone.

On May 3, 2013, Horn's jury found him guilty of two counts of second-degree murder, as a lesser offense of first-degree murder, and guilty as charged of carjacking, carrying a concealed weapon, and felony-firearm. The trial court sentenced Horn on May 23, 2013, to life imprisonment for the murder, twenty toforty years in prison for the carjacking, two to five years for carrying a concealed weapon, and two years for possessing a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Petitioner raised his habeas claims in an appeal of right. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed his convictions in an unpublished, per curiam opinion. See People v. Horn, No. 316757, 2014 WL 6804518 (Mich. Ct. App. Dec. 2, 2014).

The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Michigan Court of Appeals in part and remanded the case to the trial court for a determination of whether the court would have imposed a materially different sentence for Horn's murder conviction if the sentencing guidelines had not been mandatory when Horn was sentenced. The State Supreme Court denied leave to appeal in all other respects because it was not persuaded to review the other issues. See People v. Horn, 498 Mich. 903; 870 N.W.2d 896 (2015).

On remand, the trial court declined to re-sentence Horn. Horn did not appeal the trial court's decision. On January 19, 2017, he filed his habeas petition.


The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") requires habeas petitioners who challenge "a matter 'adjudicated on the merits in State court' to show that the relevant state court 'decision' (1) 'was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law,' or (2) 'wasbased on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceedings.' " Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S. Ct. 1188, 1192 (2018) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)). "[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 411 (2000). "AEDPA thus imposes a 'highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings,' Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333, n. 7 (1997), and 'demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt,' Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002) (per curiam)." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010).

"A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as 'fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)). To obtain a writ of habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on his or her claim "was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Id. at 103. Thus, "[o]nly an 'objectively unreasonable' mistake,[White v. Woodall, 572 U.S. 415, 419 (2014)], one 'so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement,' slips through the needle's eye of § 2254." Saulsberry v. Lee, ___ F.3d ___, ___, No. 17-6157, 2019 WL 4126667, at *2 (6th Cir. Aug. 30, 2019) (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 103). A state-court's factual determinations, moreover, are presumed correct on federal habeas review, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), and review is "limited to the record that was before the state court." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011).

A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

Horn alleges that there was insufficient evidence at trial to support...

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