Pearl v. Cason, CIV.A.01-CV-73051-DT.
|219 F.Supp.2d 820
|13 August 2002
|Sylvester PEARL, Petitioner, v. John CASON, Respondent.
|United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
Petitioner Sylvester Pearl, a state prisoner presently confined at the Mound Correctional Facility in Detroit, Michigan, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder and felony firearm following a jury trial in the Jackson County Circuit Court in 1997. He was sentenced to 40 to 80 years imprisonment on the murder conviction and a consecutive term of two years imprisonment on the firearm conviction. In his pleadings, Petitioner raises claims concerning the failure to disclose a promise of leniency, the admission of other acts evidence, the effectiveness of trial counsel, the admission of a photograph of the victim, prosecutorial misconduct, the jury instructions, and the use of shackles in the courtroom. For the reasons stated below, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.
Petitioner's convictions stem from the shooting death of 19-year-old Juan de la Rosa at Petitioner's place of business in Jackson, Michigan on February 12, 1997. De la Rosa's body was found in a wooded area on February 13, 1997. Petitioner was charged with one count of open murder and felony firearm. The prosecution's theory of the case was that Petitioner killed de la Rosa because de la Rosa owed him $85.00 for marijuana and because he suspected that de la Rosa burglarized his garbage collection business. The defense theory was that key prosecution witness Anthony Clay shot de la Rosa several times and then ordered Petitioner to do so. Petitioner then helped dispose of the body because the shooting took place in his shop.
Prior to trial, defense counsel moved to have Petitioner's leg shackles removed, but the trial court denied the request.
The prosecution presented several witnesses who testified that Petitioner dealt
marijuana and that de la Rosa owed him money. De la Rosa's girlfriend, Lisa Rodriguez, testified that de la Rosa owed Petitioner $85.00 for marijuana and that de la Rosa told her that he had broken into Petitioner's shop to steal marijuana. De la Rosa's friend, Michael Johns, also testified that Petitioner had told him about breaking into the shop. Lucas Rodriguez testified that Petitioner had given him and de la Rosa marijuana on credit. He further admitted that he and de la Rosa broke into Petitioner's shop and stole marijuana and a scale. Petitioner subsequently confronted them about repayment, but did not threaten or harm either of them.
Police testimony established that de la Rosa's body was found in a wooded area wrapped in plastic bags, secured with duct tape, rope, and electrical cord, tied into the fetal position, and placed in a large cardboard barrel. An autopsy revealed that de la Rosa died from seven gunshot wounds. A photograph of the body was admitted into evidence over defense objection.
Police officers testified about their search of Petitioner's home and business, stating that they recovered marijuana, drug paraphernalia, three rifles, and .22 caliber ammunition. Expert testimony established that bullet fragments recovered from de la Rosa's body were consistent with the ammunition found in Petitioner's home.
William Henry Wolf, a prison inmate incarcerated with Petitioner, testified that Petitioner told him that he killed de la Rosa because de la Rosa owed him money, had broken into his shop, and had not properly performed mechanical work. Wolf gave conflicting testimony about whether Petitioner or Clay was the initial shooter. Wolf admitted that he went to police with this information in order to obtain leniency in his pending criminal proceedings.
Anthony Clay testified that on the morning of the shooting, he, Petitioner, and David Neelis were driving in Defendant's van when they saw de la Rosa shoveling snow. Petitioner said that de la Rosa owed him money, that he had been told that de la Rosa broke into his shop, and that he wanted to kill de la Rosa. They went to Petitioner's home, retrieved a gun, returned to get de la Rosa, and drove to Petitioner's shop. Once inside, Petitioner confronted de la Rosa about the burglary, and a fight ensued. Clay stated that he went outside, then heard a bump and then about four gunshots. When he re-entered the shop, he saw de la Rosa on the floor, bleeding and gasping and then not breathing. Petitioner and Neelis were standing over him. Petitioner offered Clay the gun, but he refused to take it. Petitioner then threw him some gloves and told him to take the gun. Clay took the gun, turned his head, and fired two shots. He gave the gun back to Petitioner who gave it to Neelis, and Neelis took it upstairs. They then wrapped the body in garbage bags and rope. Petitioner told Clay and Neelis to clean up the blood and left. Petitioner returned wearing different clothes. They then put more bags around the body and tied it into the fetal position. The left the body in the shop and went out to collect garbage. They returned to the shop one and one-half to two hours later. They put the body in Petitioner's van and disposed of the body in a wooded area on Blue Ridge Road. Clay got dropped off at his home and then returned to the county jail because he was on work release. Clay also admitted that he had participated in drug deals with Petitioner. During questioning, the prosecution asked Clay if he had been given any consideration in exchange for his testimony, and Clay replied that he had not.
Jackson Police Detective Richard Allen testified that Petitioner voluntarily appeared
for questioning in this matter. Although Petitioner initially denied any involvement in the killing, he eventually admitted being present when Clay shot de la Rosa and helping him dispose of the body. Michigan State Police Sergeant Harris Edwards testified that he also interviewed Petitioner. Petitioner first told him that Clay was the shooter and denied touching the gun. He then admitted that he touched the gun, but claimed that he never fired it. Upon further questioning, Petitioner finally admitted firing the gun at de la Rosa, but claimed that he did so because he feared that Clay would shoot him. Petitioner eventually informed Harris that David Neelis was also present when the shooting occurred.
Detective Robert Cole testified that he questioned Anthony Clay about the incident. Although Clay initially denied knowing anything about de la Rosa's death, he subsequently admitted being outside the shop when Petitioner did the shooting. Clay said that a third person was present, but did not identify that person. He also denied firing the gun or assisting in disposing of the body.
Jackson Police Officer Steven Shiley testified that he interviewed William Wolf twice prior to trial. On both occasions, Wolf said that Petitioner had told him that they lured de la Rosa to the shop because he had broken into the shop and owed Petitioner money. Wolf also said that Petitioner told him that Clay was the first shooter.
David Neelis testified that he was on parole at the time of the incident and had worked for Petitioner for a few months. Neelis testified that Clay pushed de la Rosa and shot him. Clay then handed the gun to Petitioner. Neelis went outside and heard two more gunshots. He then fled to his girlfriend's house. Neelis admitted that he and Petitioner had communicated about the incident and their testimony through letters while incarcerated.
Petitioner also testified in his own defense at trial. Petitioner stated that de la Rosa, Clay, and Neelis all worked for him. Petitioner described his garbage collection business and admitted selling marijuana to close friends and family, but stated that he did not deal for profit. He also admitted that de la Rosa owed him $85.00 and that he suspected that de la Rosa had burglarized his shop, stealing marijuana and a scale, but denied ever stating that he wanted to kill de la Rosa. Petitioner claimed that Clay first shot de la Rosa four or five times, killing him. Petitioner then shot at de la Rosa twice, but did not know if he even hit him. Petitioner admitted assisting Clay in disposing of the body.
During closing arguments, the prosecutor stated that Petitioner, Clay, and Neelis all shot de la Rosa and that Petitioner forced the others to shoot. The prosecutor also stated that a firearms expert had testified that the bullet fragments from de la Rosa's body were "conclusive" with bullets found at Petitioner's home.
At the close of trial, defense counsel asked the court to instruct the jury on the lesser included offense of careless, reckless, or negligent use of a firearm and on the defense of accident, but the trial court denied the requests.
Following deliberations, the jury found Petitioner guilty of second-degree murder and felony firearm. The trial court subsequently sentenced him to consecutive terms of 40 to 80 years imprisonment and two years imprisonment on those convictions.
II. Procedural History
Following sentencing, Petitioner filed an appeal as of right with the Michigan Court of Appeals and a motion for remand, essentially
asserting the same claims raised in the present petition. The Michigan Court of Appeals granted the motion to remand on September 10, 1998 and ordered the trial court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the prosecution had an agreement with Anthony Clay prior to trial. The trial court conducted an...
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