McKenzie v. Sec'y

Decision Date16 September 2016
Docket NumberCase No. 8:15-cv-1531-T-33JSS
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Florida

Petitioner Jamel M. McKenzie, a state of Florida inmate proceeding pro se, initiated this action by filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. 1.) He challenges his convictions entered by the Circuit Court for the Tenth Judicial Circuit in and for Polk County, Florida. Respondent filed a response (Doc. 17), in which it agrees that the habeas petition is timely. McKenzie did not file a reply. Upon review, the petition must be denied.


The State charged McKenzie with second degree murder of Jerret Cole (count one), attempted second degree murder of Edward Turner (count two), and possession of a firearm by a minor (count three). (Doc. 19, Ex. 1, Vol. I, pp. 13-14.) A jury acquitted McKenzie of count one but convicted him of counts two and three. (Id., pp. 96-98.) He was sentenced to concurrent terms of twenty-five years in prison on count one, and one year of incarceration on count two. (Id., pp. 156-62.) The state appellate court per curiam affirmed McKenzie's convictions and sentences. (Doc. 19, Ex. 14.)

McKenzie filed a motion for postconviction relief under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, followed by a supplemental motion. (Doc. 19, Exs. 18, 20.) The state court summarily denied his motions. (Doc. 19, Exs. 21, 23.) The state appellate court per curiam affirmed the denial of postconviction relief. (Doc. 19, Ex. 26.)


McKenzie had a group of acquaintances that included Jerret "J-Rod" Cole and "KG" or "Ken G."2 Other individuals, including Edward Turner, Gabriel Polynice, Lindsy "Calin" Buckner, Antonio "Fat Tony" Buckner, and Josh Murray, were part of a different group sometimes referred to as the "Turner Boys."

Some tension existed between the two groups. Antonio Buckner testified that he and McKenzie had had "run ins." He testified that on October 4, 2008, when he arrived at a football game in which McKenzie was playing, McKenzie was mad and left. That night, hundreds of people attended a birthday party at a recreation center in Winter Haven. Polynice and Lindsy Buckner testified that Lindsy Buckner had a problem with McKenzie's friend KG at the party. Similarly, McKenzie's cousin Derrick Munson testified to friction between the groups at and after the party. He stated that some members of the other group wanted to fight McKenzie and his friends. He further testified that Polynice and Lindsy Buckner angrily approached either McKenzie or his friends, trying to fight, but that the confrontation was broken up.

Antonio Buckner also testified that he had some problems with KG at the party and that KG tried to get him to fight. Antonio Buckner and Lindsy Buckner both testified that, when the party was over, an exchange occurred between KG and Polynice at the window of Polynice's car. When the crowd dispersed, many people moved away from the recreation center down Avenue T towards a convenience store referred to as Crenshaws. Munson testified that as McKenzie, Cole, and KG walked ahead of him towards Crenshaws, some members of the Turner Boys drove by and were harassing and "trash talking" McKenzie and his friends. Munson claimed they said they would "get you all, beat you all up."

The crowd around Crenshaws was estimated at one to two hundred people. Numerous witnesses agreed that a fight was expected there. Edward Turner admitted that people were "fixing to fight" at Crenshaws. Lindsy Buckner stated that Polynice and KG were getting ready to fight each other and further testified that he was "most likely" expecting to get in a fight. Antonio Buckner stated that he "figured" a fight would take place.

Antonio Buckner testified that he and McKenzie "exchanged words" at Crenshaws. He further testified that upon seeing this, Lindsy Buckner became angered and punched McKenzie's friend Jerret Cole, knocking Cole to the ground. Many witnesses agreed that Lindsy Buckner punched Cole without provocation from Cole. According to Polynice, Lindsy Buckner also had words with KG. As Cole got up, witnesses heard gunshots. Numerous witnesses testified that they observed McKenzie shooting a gun; Munson testified that he also saw Josh Murray fire a gun. Cole was struck by a bullet and died as a result. Edward Turner, who was crouching by his car, was shot through the arm,although he initially did not realize he had been injured.

Defense witnesses Jerica Dixon, Lanelle Williams, and Deandre Evans testified that they did not see McKenzie with a gun that night, and Evans testified that McKenzie did not fire a gun. Defense witness Jerkeisha Barton testified that the shots she heard made two distinct sounds, as if two people were shooting. Evans also testified that he believed there might have been two different shootings, although he stated all the shooting sounded similar.


The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") governs this proceeding. Wilcox v. Florida Dep't of Corr., 158 F.3d 1209, 1210 (11th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 531 U.S. 840 (2000). Habeas relief can only be granted if a petitioner is in custody "in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Section 2254(d), which sets forth a highly deferential standard for federal court review of a state court adjudication, states:

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(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.

In Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412-13 (2000), the Supreme Court interpreted this deferential standard:

In sum, § 2254(d)(1) places a new constraint on the power of a federalhabeas court to grant a state prisoner's application for a writ of habeas corpus with respect to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court. Under § 2254(d)(1), the writ may issue only if one of the following two conditions is satisfied-the state-court adjudication resulted in a decision that (1) "was contrary to . . . clearly established Federal Law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" or (2) "involved an unreasonable application of . . . clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." Under the "contrary to" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law or if the state court decides a case differently than this Court has on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Under the "unreasonable application" clause, a federal habeas court may grant the writ if the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle from this Court's decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's case.

"The focus . . . is on whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law is objectively unreasonable . . . an unreasonable application is different from an incorrect one." Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). "As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011). Accord Brown v. Head, 272 F.3d 1308, 1313 (11th Cir. 2001) ("It is the objective reasonableness, not the correctness per se, of the state court decision that [the federal court is] to decide."). The phrase "clearly established Federal law" encompasses only the holdings of the United States Supreme Court "as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412.

The purpose of federal review is not to re-try the case. "The [AEDPA] modified a federal habeas court's role in reviewing state prisoner applications in order to prevent federal habeas 'retrials' and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to theextent possible under law." Cone, 535 U.S. at 693. In other words, "AEDPA prevents defendants-and federal courts-from using federal habeas corpus review as a vehicle to second-guess the reasonable decisions of state courts." Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 779 (2010). See also Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) ("This is a 'difficult to meet,' . . . and 'highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt' . . . .") (citations omitted).

The state appellate court denied relief of McKenzie's claims without discussion. The court's decisions warrant deference under Section 2254(d)(1) because "the summary nature of a state court's decision does not lessen the deference that it is due." Wright v. Moore, 278 F.3d 1245, 1254 (11th Cir.), reh'g and reh'g en banc denied, 278 F.3d 1245 (2002), cert. denied sub nom. Wright v. Crosby, 538 U.S. 906 (2003). See also Richter, 562 U.S. at 99 ("When a federal claim has been presented to a state court and the state court has denied relief, it may be presumed that the state court adjudicated the claim on the merits in the absence of any indication or state-law procedural principles to the contrary.").

Review of the state court decision is limited to the record that was before the...

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