Miller v. Stovall

Decision Date27 August 2008
Docket NumberNo. 05-73447.,05-73447.
Citation573 F.Supp.2d 964
PartiesSharee MILLER, Petitioner, v. Clarice STOVALL, Warden, Robert Scott Correctional Facility, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Michigan

Bridget M. McCormack, Kimberly A. Thomas, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, for Petitioner.

Brenda E. Turner, Janet Van Cleve, B. Eric Restuccia, Debra M. Gagliardi, Michigan Department of Attorney General, Lansing, MI, for Respondent.


VICTORIA A. ROBERTS, District Judge.


Before the Court is Sharee Paulette Miller's ("Petitioner")" Objections to Magistrate's Report and Recommendation and Request for Oral Argument. The Court held oral argument on August 8, 2008.

For the reasons stated below, the Court:

(1) GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Objections;

(2) ADOPTS in part and REJECTS in part the reasoning of the Report and Recommendation;

(3) REJECTS the recommendation of the Report and Recommendation; and

(4) CONDITIONALLY GRANTS the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus.


Following a jury trial in Genesee County Circuit Court on January 29, 2001, Petitioner was convicted of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and second-degree murder, as an aider and abettor. Bruce Miller was the victim's husband. Petitioner allegedly conspired to have him killed by her lover, Jerry Cassaday. The state court judge sentenced Petitioner to life in prison on the conspiracy conviction, and a concurrent term of 54-81 in prison on the second degree murder conviction.

Petitioner appealed as a matter of right to the Michigan Court of Appeals on the following grounds:

(1) The trial court violated the Michigan Rules of Evidence and Petitioner's Confrontation Clause rights by admitting, over objection, hearsay testimony from a suicide note, AOL instant messages, and emails between Petitioner and her alleged coconspirator;

(2) The prosecutor and the trial court violated Petitioner's due process right to a fair trial by permitting over objection, emails including semi-nude and erotic photographs and videotape of Petitioner, which the Court opined in the presence of the jury was pornographic; and

(3) The trial court violated Petitioner's due process right to a fair trial by permitting over objection, the admission of gruesome photographs of her alleged coconspirator depicting a bullet hole in his head while sitting in a recliner with an open bible in his lap.

The Michigan Court of Appeals found no merit to these claims and denied Petitioner's appeal on June 24, 2003. People v. Miller, No. 233018, 2003 WL 21465338 (Mich.Ct.App. June 24, 2003) (per curiam).

On March 8, 2004, the United States Supreme Court decided Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004), which significantly altered Supreme Court Confrontation Clause jurisprudence. On April 1, 2004, the Supreme Court of Michigan denied Petitioner's request for leave to appeal. People v. Miller, 469 Mich. 1029, 679 N.W.2d 66 (Mich.2004). Petitioner filed a motion for rehearing in light of Crawford, which was denied on June 30, 2004. People v. Miller, 469 Mich. 1029, 682 N.W.2d 93 (2004).

Petitioner applied for a writ of habeas corpus on September 7, 2005. The Petition argues:

(1) She was denied her Sixth Amendment right to Confrontation when the state court decided her case contrary to and unreasonably applied clearly established federal law;

(2) The state court made an unreasonable determination of facts when it admitted hearsay evidence; and

(3) The state court violated Petitioner's due process rights by permitting the introduction of prejudicial and irrelevant evidence, which cumulatively had the effect of violating her right to a fair trial.

The R & R incorporates the Michigan Court of Appeal's statement of facts:

On November 9, 1999, [Petitioner's] husband, [Bruce Miller] was shot and killed at [B & D Auto, his auto shop business]. Three months later, [Petitioner's] lover, [Jerry] Cassaday, committed suicide. Cassaday left a suicide note that described how [Petitioner] and Cassaday had planned to kill [Bruce Miller], and it also described how Cassaday followed through with the plan and killed [Bruce Miller]. Cassaday also left a copy of America On Line ("AOL") "instant messages" he exchanged with [Petitioner] on November 7, 1999, and November 8, 1999, which detailed their scheme to kill [Petitioner's] husband. Also, numerous e-mail communications between [Petitioner] and Cassaday were recovered from Cassaday's computer hard drive. Cassaday and [Petitioner] wrote the emails between August and November 1999 and they reveal the extent of their relationship, their future plans to marry, [Petitioner's] false claim that she was pregnant, and her desire to kill her husband.

At trial, [Petitioner] denied any involvement in her husband's murder. However, based on the above evidence, prosecutors argued that [Petitioner] manipulated Cassaday into killing her husband by claiming that her husband abused her. Prosecutors also presented evidence that, on two occasions, [Petitioner] falsely told Cassaday that she was pregnant with his children, but that the unborn babies died from her husband's abuse. The jury convicted Miller of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and second-degree murder [as an aider and abettor].

R & R at 4-5; Miller, 2003 WL 21465338, at *1.

This summary omits reference to an important circumstance detailed in 3 Petitioner's statement of facts:

Within 24 hours of Bruce Miller's death the police had a suspect: John Hutchinson. Both Hutchinson and Bruce Miller were the targets of an ongoing criminal investigation by the Genesee County Auto Investigation Network for tampering with Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN). Though Hutchinson denied any involvement with the VIN switching, he was ultimately charged with two felony counts before pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge. Harold Hutchinson, John Hutchinson's brother and an employee at B & D, testified that prior to the murder, John Hutchinson had threatened to "dispose of Bruce Miller because of both the criminal investigation and a dispute over a loan. Harold Hutchinson also testified that around 7:00 p.m. on the night of the murder, John Hutchinson told Harold Hutchinson on the phone that he had "disposed of Bruce Miller." Harold Hutchinson understood John to mean that John had killed Bruce Miller.

The morning after the murder, before learning of Bruce Miller's death, John Hutchinson's step-son Anthony Birch told police that, on the night of the murder, John Hutchinson was not home between 5:30 and 7:30, and that when John Hutchinson returned home he was acting "strange."

The prosecution successfully barred Mrs. Miller from introducing into evidence results of a polygraph test that indicates that John Hutchinson was "deceptive" when denying his involvement in Bruce Miller's murder.

Petition at 9-10 (internal citations omitted).

The Magistrate recommends the Court deny the Petition. Although he found that Petitioner's Confrontation Clause rights were violated by the admission of Cassaday's suicide note, and that the Michigan Court of Appeals unreasonably applied the clearly established law of Crawford, he determined this error was harmless. The Magistrate found the Petition otherwise lacked merit.

Petitioner objects to the Magistrate's Report and Recommendation ("R & R") on several grounds:

(1) In addition to being an "unreasonable application of clearly established federal law as found by the Magistrate, the admission of the suicide note was "contrary to" clearly established law;

(2) Respondent waived any objection that the constitutional violation of admitting the suicide note was harmless (3) The Magistrate erred in finding that admission of the suicide note was harmless;

(4) The Magistrate erred in finding the instant messages were not testimonial;

(5) The Magistrate erred in finding Cassaday's instruction to his brother did not implicate the Confrontation Clause; and

(6) The Magistrate erred in concluding that the admission of inflammatory evidence did not violate Petitioner's right to a fair trial.

A. Generally

Because she filed her petition after the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEPA"), its provisions govern. Stewart v. Erwin, 503 F.3d 488, 493 (6th Cir.2007).

B. § 2254(d)

Under AEDPA, § 2254(d) governs the Court's habeas corpus review of state court decisions:

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.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (emphasis added). The "contrary to" and "unreasonable application of prongs are independent. A state court decision can be both "contrary to" and "an unreasonable application of "clearly established" law. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 385, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). The arguments underlying Petitioner's Objections implicate only subsection (1) of § 2254(d).

1. Clearly Established Law

"Clearly established Federal law" includes law that qualifies as an "old rule" under Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288, 109 S.Ct. 1060, 103 L.Ed.2d 334 (1989), with the additional limitation that it is...

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