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Lakey v. Hickman

March 4, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge


I. Introduction

Petitioner is a state prisoner represented by counsel proceeding on an original petition for writ of habeas corpus. Petitioner challenges his 1996 conviction for one count of murder (Cal. Penal Code § 187), two counts of attempted murder (Cal. Penal Code § 664/187(a)), one count of assault with a semi-automatic firearm (Cal. Penal Code § 245(b)) and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm (Cal. Penal Code § 12021(a)). Petitioner is serving a prison sentence of 46 years and four months to life.

Petitioner raises the following claims in his challenge: 1) his conviction was based on a case interpretation of law that was applied ex post facto; and 2) improper jury instructions. Petition (Pet.) at 10, 12.

After carefully considering the record, the court recommends that the petition be denied.

II. Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)

The AEDPA "worked substantial changes to the law of habeas corpus," establishing more deferential standards of review to be used by a federal habeas court in assessing a state court's adjudication of a criminal defendant's claims of constitutional error. Moore v. Calderon, 108 F.3d 261, 263 (9th Cir. 1997).

In Williams (Terry) v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495 (2000), the Supreme Court defined the operative review standard set forth in § 2254(d). Justice O'Connor's opinion for Section II of the opinion constitutes the majority opinion of the court. There is a dichotomy between "contrary to" clearly established law as enunciated by the Supreme Court, and an "unreasonable application of" that law. Id. at 495, 117 S.Ct. at 1519. "Contrary to' clearly established law applies to two situations: (1) where the state court legal conclusion is opposite that of the Supreme Court on a point of law, or (2) if the state court case is materially indistinguishable from a Supreme Court case, i.e., on point factually, yet the legal result is opposite.

"Unreasonable application" of established law, on the other hand, applies to mixed questions of law and fact, that is, the application of law to fact where there are no factually on point Supreme Court cases which mandate the result for the precise factual scenario at issue. Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 407-08, 120 S.Ct. at 1520-1521 (2000). It is this prong of the AEDPA standard of review which directs deference to be paid to state court decisions. While the deference is not blindly automatic, "the most important point is that an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of law....[A] federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the relevant state-court decision applied clearly established federal law erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also be unreasonable." Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 410-11, 120 S.Ct. at 1522 (emphasis in original). The habeas corpus petitioner bears the burden of demonstrating the objectively unreasonable nature of the state court decision in light of controlling Supreme Court authority. Woodford v. Viscotti, 537 U.S. 19, 123 S.Ct. 357 (2002).

The state courts need not have cited to federal authority, or even have indicated awareness of federal authority in arriving at their decision. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 123 S.Ct. 362 (2002). Nevertheless, the state decision cannot be rejected unless the decision itself is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, established Supreme Court authority. Id. An unreasonable error is one in excess of even a reviewing court's perception that "clear error" has occurred. Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 1175 (2003). Moreover, the established Supreme Court authority reviewed must be a pronouncement on constitutional principles, or other controlling federal law, as opposed to a pronouncement of statutes or rules binding only on federal courts. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. at 9, 123 S.Ct. at 366.

However, where the state courts have not addressed the constitutional issue in dispute in any reasoned opinion, the federal court will independently review the record in adjudication of that issue. "Independent review of the record is not de novo review of the constitutional issue, but rather, the only method by which we can determine whether a silent state court decision is objectively unreasonable." Himes v. Thompson, 336 F.3d 848, 853 (9th Cir. 2003).

III. Background

The opinion of the California Court of Appeal contains a factual summary. After independently reviewing the record, the court finds this summary to be accurate and adopts it below.

The victim, Calvin Willis, was standing on the sidewalk near the intersection of Flint Avenue and Georgia Street in the Conway Homes area of Stockton in the evening of September 4, 1995; with him were his sister Tashambe Willis and his cousins Tubiya McCormick and Simon McCormick. Tubiya McCormick held a can of beer in one hand.

Soon after the four met and began talking, a dark car drove up. Defendant McCoy was driving the car and defendant Lakey was in the front passenger seat. Some witnesses testified that Matthew McGee and Patrick Hall were in the back seat. When he saw the car drive up, Simon McCormick became nervous, and moved behind a tree. As McCoy leaned out of the window and shouted "What's up now nigger," a flurry of shots was fired from the car toward the group. Witnesses saw McCoy and Lakey shooting handguns.

Tubiya McCormick was shot in the chest, but survived. At trial, Tubiya McCormick testified that he turned toward the car after he heard someone say "What's up nigger," and was immediately shot. Calvin Willis was fatally shot in the back of the head as he tried to run away. Tashambe Willis and Simon McCormick were not shot.

During the melee, one or more persons outside McCoy's car began returning fire, and bullet casings were found afterward near the tree where Calvin Willis and his family had been standing. Lakey was shot and survived. Police questioning Lakey at the hospital found him evasive about the circumstances of his injury, although he eventually stated he had been shot while walking alone in a different part of Stockton.

Defendants McCoy and Lakey, together with Matthew McGee, were charged in the shooting and tried together.

The prosecution's theory of the case was that the Willis shooting was an intended retaliation in an ongoing feud between two Stockton gangs referred to as the "Southside Mob" (also referred to as "Southside Gangsters," "South Mob" or "Southside") and the "Conway Homes Gangsters" or "Conway." In the prosecution's view, the victims were not gang members, but innocent bystanders. Stockton Police Officer Michael Townes testified as a gang expert and opined that the Willis shooting was a gang-related retaliation attempt, and explained that his opinion was based upon the location of the shooting, the parties involved, and the existence of a recent ongoing feud between Southside Mob and Conway Homes. The intersection of Flint and Georgia, where Willis was killed, is claimed by Conway and is a central location for gang activity. Officer Townes testified that McCoy, Lakey, McGee, and Patrick Hall are South Mob Gangsters; other witnesses also testified that McCoy and Lakey are members of the Southside Mob.

To show that the Willis shooting was precipitated by a string of recent gang shootings, the prosecution offered evidence of several other events. On August 30, less than a week before the Willis shooting, near the intersection of Flint and Georgia, someone from a passing car fired shots at Cheri Mitchell and Calvin Mitchell*fn1; Alton Burton was with them. Calvin Mitchell and Alton Burton are "high profile" Conway gang members. The next night, Hammam Noel, who is not a gang member, was shot from a passing car when he was in the company of Calvin Mitchell in the vicinity of Flint and Georgia. The car from which the shots were fired at Hammam Noel crashed and its occupants fled on foot; the car was registered to Patrick Hall and contained Hall's fingerprints and those of defendant McGee. Officer Townes testified he had investigated the shooting of Jonathan Martin, a member of the South Mob, which occurred early on September 4, the same day Willis was killed. Alton Burton pleaded guilty to his involvement in the Martin shooting.

Finally, McCoy's cousin, Latroy Taylor, testified that shortly before Willis was shot, he and McCoy drove past the intersection of Flint and Georgia in McCoy's car. Someone fired a handgun toward the car, which made McCoy angry and upset.

A cellmate of Lakey's after his arrest testified that Lakey admitted participating in a drive-by shooting in which he had shot someone in the head for revenge.

The bullets recovered from Calvin Willis's body were .380 caliber and all were fired from the same gun. McCoy was the only one firing .380-caliber ammunition from the car. DNA factors consistent with those in Lakey's blood were found on the front passenger seat and floor of McCoy's car; the chances of all such factors existing in the same person in the African-American population is one in 720,000. The blood in McCoy's car could not have been his own.

Of the defendants at trial, only McCoy testified. He admitted shooting Calvin Willis, but denied that he had done so as retaliation against Conway Homes gang members; rather, he testified he had fired his gun because he believed he was himself going to be shot.

McCoy testified he had ceased to be a member of the Southside Mob after 1993, was not a gang member at the time of the Willis shooting, and was unaware of the recent shootings involving Hammam Noel and Jonathan Martin.

In the afternoon of the Willis shooting, McCoy drove his cousin Taylor to a friend's house in Conway; on the way he passed the corner of Flint and Georgia, where he saw a group of people standing. After they passed the intersection, McCoy noticed gunshots had been fired in his direction from the group. When he returned home, he decided to return to Conway, seek out his friend Calvin Mitchell, whom he knew to have influence in the Conway neighborhood, and ask him to find out who had been shooting at McCoy and to use his influence to stop it. McCoy brought along his gun for protection, picked up Lakey and drove to Conway. He knew Lakey also had a gun. McCoy testified that neither defendant McGee nor Patrick Hall was with them.

Across the street from Calvin Mitchell's house, McCoy saw three men standing near a tree, and because he thought one man with his back to the car might be Mitchell, he drove slowly toward the group, stopped the car and called out "What's up nigger" to get their attention. He denied that the statement was a challenge or a threat. When he saw one of the three dart behind the tree, McCoy testified he got nervous. When the person McCoy thought was Mitchell turned around, McCoy saw that it was not Mitchell and that the man had a "dark something" in his left hand which appeared to be a gun. McCoy, believing that the person McCoy thought was Mitchell "was going to shoot [him]," grabbed his own gun from the seat next to him and fired. Although McCoy did not know for certain whether the object in the man's hand was a gun before he ...

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