Marshall v. Winn

Docket Number20-13178
Decision Date07 November 2023
PartiesAURELIAS MARSHALL, Petitioner, v. THOMAS WINN, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan


Aurelias Marshall was convicted of first-degree felony murder following a jury trial in Kent County Circuit Court. He is serving a life sentence at the Saginaw Correctional Facility in Freeland, Michigan. His conviction was affirmed on direct appeal and remained in-tact after post-conviction proceedings. He has now filed a pro se petition in federal court for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C § 2254. Marshall's petition raises various more than a dozen claims challenging his conviction.

For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the state courts reasonably concluded that Marshall's claims were without merit or procedurally defaulted. Accordingly, the Court DENIES Marshall's petition.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

State court factual findings are presumed correct on habeas review. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Wagner v Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 413 (6th Cir. 2009). Thus, this Court recites verbatim the relevant facts relied on by the Michigan Court of Appeals on Marshall's direct appeal:

This appeal arises out of the conviction of defendant for the murder of Joel Battaglia in front of 1065 Lake Drive in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in the early morning hours of June 11, 1990. Battaglia was last seen by friends at a bar in Grand Rapids. Following the discovery of his body, the Grand Rapids police began an investigation, however, despite the fact that defendant's brother Acey Marshall told detectives that defendant hit Battaglia on the day of his death, no charges were filed against defendant.
The investigation of Battaglia's death was reopened in 2014, and investigative subpoenas were used in the investigation to Acey and Sheila Reed, who lived in the downstairs apartment at 1060 Lake Drive in 1990. Both testified pursuant to investigative subpoenas. Then, after they were charged with perjury, Acey and Sheila gave statements that placed defendant on Lake Drive when Battaglia was killed. Additional evidence was obtained from other individuals who testified that defendant told them that he had robbed and beaten a “white boy” in Grand Rapids. Following deliberations, the jury convicted defendant of felony murder.

People v. Marshall, No. 329362, 2017 WL 1337498, at *1 (Mich. Ct. App. Apr. 11, 2017). The trial court sentenced Marshall to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Id. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction, id., and the Michigan Supreme Court denied leave to appeal, People v. Marshall, 903 N.W.2d 578 (Mich. 2017).

Marshall eventually filed a federal petition for writ of habeas corpus, which was held in abeyance so he could return to the state court to exhaust additional claims, Marshall v. Winn, No. 18-01367 (W.D. Mich. Jan. 7, 2019) (unpublished order available on that docket at ECF No. 5 and on this docket at ECF No. 4 (W.D. Mich. docket sheet)). The state trial court denied Marshall's post-conviction motion for relief from judgment (see ECF No. 15-16 (People v. Marshall, No. 15-00706 (Mich. 17th Cir. Ct., June 12, 2019))), and the Michigan appellate courts denied Marshall leave to appeal (see ECF Nos. 15-18, 15-19 (People v. Marshall, No. 351587 (Mich. Ct. App. Mar. 31, 2020), appeal denied, 949 N.W.2d 687 (Mich. 2020) (mem.))).

The Western District of Michigan subsequently granted Marshall's motions to reopen his habeas case, amend his petition, and transfer the case to this district, where he intended to file his original petition. (ECF No. 3 (Marshall v. Winn, No. 1801367 (W.D. Mich. Dec. 20, 2020)).) Marshall seeks a writ of habeas corpus on thirteen grounds. (ECF No. 2.) In his own words and organized loosely by the actor on which he focuses, Marshall alleges he was deprived of due process of law because (see id. (cleaned up)):

“There is insufficient evidence of malice and robbery . . . to sustain a conviction for first-degree felony murder” (id. at PageID.230 (ground I));
The prosecution “present[ed] prejudicial evidence of other bad acts” (id. at PageID.233 (ground II)), “intimidat[ed] witnesses favorable to the [Petitioner] into changing their testimony in favor of the prosecution (id. at PageID.241 (ground V)) and “by charging these witnesses with the life offense of perjury 24 years after decedent's death” (id. at PageID.243 (ground VI)), “improperly bolstered and vouched for the credibility of witnesses by suggesting to the jury that the prosecution and detectives were privy to special knowledge regarding the witnesses' truthfulness” (id. at PageID.245 (ground VII)), and “withheld exculpatory evidence” in violation of Marshall's “constitutional rights under Brady (id. at PageID.250 (ground XI));
The trial court “substantiall[y] depart[ed] [from the] standard deadlocked jury instructions” (id. at PageID.236 (ground III)), “abused [its] discretion . . . by failing to grant petitioner a new trial, or at least an evidentiary hearing, based upon newly discovered evidence, witness intimidation, and testimony known to by perjured by the prosecution (id. at PageID.247 (ground VIII)) and “by allowing the prosecutor to be spared the scrutiny of claims of prosecutorial misconduct” (id. at PageID.248 (ground IX));
Marshall “receiv[ed] ineffective assistance of counsel at trial” (id. at PageID.239 (ground IV)) and “receiv[ed] ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, where counsel failed to investigate evidence in his possession, raise issues of prosecutorial misconduct,” or “present stronger issues that were apparently meritorious” (id. at PageID.249 (ground X)).
II. Standard of Review

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), which governs this case, “circumscribe[s] the standard of review that federal courts apply when considering an application for a writ of habeas corpus raising constitutional claims. See Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003); see generally 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under the statute, a federal court may not grant habeas relief to a state prisoner with respect to any claim that has been “adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings” unless the state court adjudication (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).

A state court's decision is “contrary to” clearly established federal law “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by [the Supreme] Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than [the Supreme] Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.” Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 413 (2000). A decision is contrary to federal law where the “state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases.” Id. at 405.

A state court decision unreasonably applies federal law “if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from the Supreme Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts.” Slaughter v. Parker, 450 F.3d 224, 232 (6th Cir. 2006) (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 407-08). The Supreme Court has emphasized that “an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 410). Therefore, [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.” Id. (quoting Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004)).

III. Claims Not Considered on the Merits
A. Procedurally Defaulted Claims

A state prisoner seeking federal habeas relief must first exhaust his available state court remedies before raising a claim in federal court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b) and (c); Picard v. Connor, 404 U.S. 270, 275-78 (1971). A prisoner confined pursuant to a Michigan state court conviction must raise each habeas issue in both the Michigan Court of Appeals and the Michigan Supreme Court before seeking federal habeas corpus relief. See Wagner v. Smith, 581 F.3d 410, 414 (6th Cir. 2009). The exhaustion doctrine, in the context of habeas cases, turns on whether there are available state court procedures for a habeas petitioner to exhaust his claims. See Adams v. Holland, 330 F.3d 398, 401 (6th Cir. 2003).

Additionally, [w]hen a petitioner has failed to present a legal issue to the state courts and no state remedy remains available, the issue is procedurally defaulted.” Jones v. Bagley, 696 F.3d 475, 483-84 (6th Cir. 2012). It cannot be raised in federal court unless the petitioner can show cause to excuse his failure to present the claims in the state courts and actual prejudice to his defense at trial or on appeal. Hannah v. Conley, 49 F.3d 1193, 1195-96 (6th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); see Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 87-91 (1977).

A claim of actual innocence, though, will excuse this “cause and prejudice” requirement. Id. at 1196 n.3 (citing Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 496 (1986)). The innocence exception requires a showing that a constitutional violation probably resulted in the conviction of one who is actually innocent, meaning that a fundamental miscarriage of justice has occurred and must be remedied. Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S....

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