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Sherrors v. Scribner

November 2, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court


On June 20, 2005, petitioner Ronnie Jermaine Sherrors ("petitioner"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, file a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his June 2001 conviction for first degree murder. (Doc. No. 1.) This matter was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Leo Papas pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). On May 24, 2007, Magistrate Judge Papas issued a Report and Recommendation ("Report") recommending that the court conditionally grant the petition for writ of habeas corpus. Respondent filed objections to the Report on June 19, 2007. (Doc. No. 47.) Petitioner filed a response to respondent's objections on July 30, 2007. (Doc. No. 54.)

Following de novo review of petitioner's claims, the court finds Magistrate Judge Papas's Report to be thorough, complete, and an accurate analysis of the legal issues presented in the petition. For the reasons explained below, the Court: (1) adopts in full Magistrate Judge Papas's Report; (2) rejects the respondent's objections; (3) conditionally grants petitioner's section 2254 petition; and (4) denies petitioner's motion for clarification as moot.


State Proceedings

The Court incorporates by reference Magistrate Judge Papas's fair and accurate recitation of the factual and procedural background regarding petitioner's proceedings in state court.*fn2

(Report at 2-5.) To summarize, the victim, Steve Foth ("Foth"), moved to San Diego in September of 1999 in an attempt to recover from a cocaine habit. (Id. at 2.) On September 29, 1999, one of Foth's friends lent Foth an automobile, a cell phone, and a Visa credit card. (Id.) Foth and his friends planned to meet for dinner that evening but Foth never showed up. On September 30, 1999, Foth's body was discovered near a work site in San Diego with over 80 stab wounds. (Id. at 3.) On October 9, 1999, after coaxing from friends, Lena Hixon ("Hixon") falsely told police that she had murdered Foth with Benjamin Wilson and Terrence Smallgreen. A few days later, Hixon retracted her earlier statement and confessed that petitioner and an accomplice, James Hall ("Hall"), murdered Foth.

At trial, Hixon testified about the following events that led to Foth's murder. Foth approached Hixon late in the afternoon of September 29, 1999, looking to buy drugs. Hixon connected Foth with Hall and petitioner, who drove away with Foth in his borrowed car. (Id. at 4.) About 15 to 20 minutes later, Hall and petitioner drove back to pick up Hixon in Foth's car, but Foth was nowhere to be seen. Petitioner, Hall, and Hixon drove to a dirt lot near Lake Hodges.

Petitioner and Hall opened the trunk of Foth's car and Foth emerged. At this point, Hixon became scared and protested but petitioner threatened her. Petitioner then turned towards Foth and stabbed him with a knife for several minutes. After forcing Hixon to stab Foth, petitioner and Hall stripped Foth and threw him into the bushes. The threesome drove back to San Diego in Foth's car and petitioner told Hixon to keep her mouth shut or he would harm her daughter. At trial, petitioner's sister, Trina Walker, testified she saw blood on petitioner's clothes when petitioner returned home on the evening of September 29, 1999. Petitioner and Hall were also seen with Foth's car in the days following Foth's murder.*fn3 The police arrested Hall and petitioner on October 14, 1999. (Id. at 5.)

On June 21, 2000, the San Diego County District Attorney filed an Amended Information charging petitioner with one count of murder. The Amended Information also alleged the use of a deadly weapon (California Penal Code §12022(b)(1)) and commission of the murder during a robbery (California Penal Code §190.2(a)(17)). Following a jury trial, petitioner was found guilty of murder in the first degree on June 7, 2001. (Lodgment No. 15 at 299-300.) The jury also found the two additional allegations (i.e., use of a deadly weapon and murder during the commission of a robbery) true. (Id. at 329-330.) On September 28, 2001, the trial court sentenced petitioner to life in prison without the possibility of parole, plus one year. (Id.)

Petitioner appealed to the California Court of Appeal, which affirmed his conviction on July 16, 2003. (Lodgment No. 4.) On August 15, 2003, petitioner filed a petition for review in the California Supreme Court, which denied his petition on October 1, 2003. (Lodgment Nos. 5, 6.)

On October 25, 2004, petitioner filed a petition for habeas corpus in San Diego Superior Court raising fifteen claims. The court denied his petition on December 9, 2007. (Lodgment Nos. 9-10.) Petitioner then filed a petition for habeas corpus with the California Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal denied his petition on February 24, 2005. (Lodgment Nos. 11, 22.) On March 8, 2005, petitioner filed a petition for habeas corpus with the California Supreme Court. (Lodgment No. 13.) The California Supreme Court denied the petition on March 15, 2006. (Lodgment No. 14.)

Federal Proceedings

On June 20, 2005, petitioner filed the instant habeas petition alleging fourteen different grounds for relief. (Doc. No. 1.) Respondent filed a motion to dismiss on September 12, 2005. (Doc. No. 8.) The court denied respondent's motion to dismiss on March 23, 2006. (Doc. No. 23.) Respondent filed answer to the petition on June 30, ...

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