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Johnson v. Cooper

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

March 31, 2015

ROY COOPER, Respondent.


FRANK D. WHITNEY, Chief District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the Court upon Petitioner Tyrone Johnson's pro se Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 1). Also before the Court is Respondents' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 5).


Petitioner was convicted on May 4, 2011, of first-degree murder after a trial by jury in the Superior Court of Mecklenburg County, and sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. The North Carolina Court of Appeals summarized the facts as follows:

Tyrone Johnson (Defendant) was driving around Charlotte looking for someone to buy cocaine for him in the early morning hours of 29 May 2000. Defendant saw Johnnie Mae Shine (Ms. Shine) and stopped. Defendant asked Ms. Shine if she could get him some cocaine. Ms. Shine said that she could, and invited Defendant to her house. Ms. Shine left Defendant at her house while she went to purchase the cocaine. Defendant was approximately 5' 10" tall and weighed between 195 and 200 pounds. Ms. Shine was about 4' 6" tall and weighed between 70 and 75 pounds.
According to Defendant's testimony, Ms. Shine obtained cocaine with Defendant's money and she and Defendant then shared the cocaine. Defendant suspected that Ms. Shine was hiding some of the cocaine and he confronted her. Ms. Shine became upset and asked Defendant to leave her house. Defendant refused to leave, and Ms. Shine ran out the front door. According to Defendant, Ms. Shine returned with a knife in her hand and attempted to pull Defendant out of her house by his shirt. Defendant testified he feared that Ms. Shine was going to stab him, so he attempted to take the knife away from her. In the ensuing struggle, Defendant managed to take the knife from Ms. Shine and he then began stabbing her multiple times. Defendant fled from the scene of the stabbing.
Two of Ms. Shine's neighbors, who lived together, testified they heard a loud knock on their front door, and someone screamed: "[S]top, I'll give it back." The neighbors found Ms. Shine badly injured on their front porch. The neighbors called 911, and Ms. Shine was taken to the hospital, where she died during emergency surgery.

State v. Johnson, 734 S.E.2d 139, *1 (N.C. Ct. App. 2012) (Table).

Petitioner filed a direct appeal. On November 6, 2012, the North Carolina Court of Appeals filed an unpublished opinion finding no error. Id. at *3. Petitioner filed a petition for discretionary review ("PDR") in the North Carolina Supreme Court, which was denied on March 7, 2013. State v. Johnson, 366 N.C. 576, 738 S.E.2d 387 (2013).

Petitioner filed a pro se motion for appropriate relief ("MAR") dated November 15, 2013 in the Superior Court of Mecklenburg County. (Resp't's Ex. #8. Doc. No. 6-12). It was denied on December 9, 2013. (Order Den. MAR, Resp't's Ex. #9, Doc. No. 7-1). Petitioner filed a pro se petition for writ of certiorari in the North Carolina Court of Appeals, which was denied on January 24, 2014. (Order Den. Cert. Pet., Resp't's Ex. #12, Doc. No. 7-4). The North Carolina Supreme Court dismissed Petitioner's subsequently filed certiorari petition on April 10, 2014. (Order Den. Cert. Pet., Resp't's Ex. #14, Doc. No. 7-6).

Petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, which transferred it to this Court. The petition is dated April 30, 2014. Petitioner raises the following grounds for relief: (1) judicial bias and fraud because the judge deliberately mislead the defense about the contents of two notes sent out by the jury foreman during the trial; (2) ineffective assistance of trial counsel due to his lawyer's withdrawal of a motion for mistrial amidst a conflict of interest, and failure to move to strike two biased jurors; to object to numerous instances of obvious hearsay testimony; to object to testimonial evidence gained via an illegal seizure; to object to irrelevant, prejudicial testimony of the victim's sister, and to obtain a total recordation of the trial; (3) due process violations because the state shifted the burden of proof to him by eliciting testimony from a witness (Steve Furr) suggesting Petitioner could not refute the integrity of the state's evidence, and the voluntary intoxication instruction relieved the state of the burden of proving premeditation and deliberation and failed to sufficiently inform the jury of applicable intoxication defense; (4) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel for not raising the issues raised herein; (5) his conviction was obtained via use of evidence gained in violation of the Fourth Amendment; and (6) the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to a fatally defective indictment. Petitioner also asserts that cumulative errors deprived him of a fundamentally fair trial.

Upon completion of an initial review of the petition and attached documents as required by Rule 4 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases, the Court ordered Respondent to answer the petition. (Doc. No. 3). On June 6, 2014, Respondent filed a Response, Motion for Summary Judgment, and Memorandum in Support. (Doc. Nos. 4-6).

In accordance with Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the Court provided Petitioner notice of Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment and an opportunity to respond. (Doc. No. 8). Petitioner did so on July 10, 2014. (Doc. No. 9).


A. Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate in those cases where there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, and it appears that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2); United States v. Lee, 943 F.2d 366, 368 (4th Cir.1991). Any permissible inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986). Where, however, the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, disposition by summary judgment is appropriate. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49 (1986).

B. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996

Review of Petitioner's claims that were adjudicated on their merits by the state courts is limited by the deferential standard set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as construed by the Supreme Court in Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 374-91 (2000). This Court may grant habeas relief on claims of constitutional error adjudicated on their merits in state court only if that adjudication "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, " § 2254(d)(1), or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding, " § 2254(d)(2).

A state court decision is contrary to clearly established federal law if "the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by th[e United States Supreme] Court on a question of law" or "confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at [an opposite result]." Williams, 529 U.S. at 405; Lewis v. Wheeler, 609 F.3d 291, 300 (4th Cir. 2010) (quoting Williams, 529 U.S. at 405). A state court unreasonably applies federal law when it "identifies the correct governing legal rule from th[e Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular... case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 407.

"[A]n unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law" for § 2254(d)(1) purposes. Williams, 529 U.S. at 410. The former requires a "substantially higher threshold" to obtain relief than does the later. Schiro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). A state court's determination that a claim fails on its merits cannot be overturned by a federal habeas court "so long as fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state ...

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