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Williams-Cook v. Yates

September 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge United States District Court


On November 20, 2009, Alvin Williams-Cook ("Petitioner"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his conviction for second degree murder. (Doc. No. 1.) Respondent filed a response on May 3, 2010, and Petitioner filed a traverse on June 28, 2010. (Doc. Nos. 13, 19.) On July 14, 2010, the Magistrate Judge issued a report and recommendation ("R&R") to deny and dismiss the petition. (Doc. No. 20.) On August 19, 2010, Petitioner filed an objection to the R&R. (Doc. No. 22.)

After due consideration, the Court DENIES the petition for writ of habeas corpus.


I. Factual History

Federal habeas courts presume the correctness of a state court's determination of factual issues unless Petitioner "rebut[s] the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The court of appeal summarized the relevant facts as follows:

In early December 2004, Williams began staying in the home of his uncle, Alvin Davis. On the morning of December 4, Williams was arrested after he aggressively confronted other people at a shopping center and acted uncooperatively towards officers who responded to a call for assistance. After he was placed in a patrol car, Williams repeatedly said that it was "judgment day" and that it was "his time to die." Based on Williams's erratic behavior, police took him to a county mental health facility for evaluation. After his admission, Williams gave a urine sample that later tested positive for the presence of methamphetamines, cocaine and marijuana.

Late in the evening of that same day, San Diego police officers found Davis's dead body, face down, in a hallway of his home; Davis's pants were pulled down slightly below his knees, although they were still fastened in the front and zipped, his face had a blood trail that ran from his nose to his ear despite the face-down position of the body, his back had an unexplained abrasion, and the tip of his nose had a rug burn. There was blood near the body and on the living room carpet some distance away, the telephone line had been disconnected, and the bedroom near the body was in disarray.

The forensic pathologist who examined the body found numerous injuries to Davis's head, including hemorrhaging and bruising of both eyes, swelling of the lips, a large, deep hemorrhage on the left cheek, an even larger hemorrhage on the top left side, and two bruises on the right side, one on the forehead and one on the upper back of the scalp. The body also had substantial bruising on both sides of the neck that was consistent with strangulation and bruises on the right arm, shoulder and armpit. The pathologist opined that the death was a homicide, resulting from "blunt force head and neck injuries" followed by cardiac arrest, and that Davis had been dead for at least 24 hours.

Police detectives interviewed Williams on December 5 after he was discharged from the mental health facility. Williams expressed surprise when the detective told him of Davis's death and indicated that Davis had been at home, alive, when he left the home and that he had not been back since then. He told the officers that Davis had allowed him to take one of Davis's cars so that he could go to the store, but that he had driven it around town, to visit friends and family, instead. During the interview, Williams expressed frustration that the police had not spoken to him earlier about Davis's death and referred to the fact that Davis had "[gotten] killed," although the detective had previously told him that the cause of death was unknown. Williams also acknowledged to the officers that Davis had been "a very sick man."

One of the detectives noticed some blood on the back of Williams's shirt and on one of Williams's shoes and asked to keep Williams's clothing for investigative purposes. Williams indicated that the blood could not have been his uncle's and agreed to turn over his clothing. DNA tests indicated that Davis was the "most likely" source of bloodstains that were found on the right front pocket of Williams's vest, on the ankle and heel areas of one of Williams's socks and on the inside of one of Williams's shoes. Although Williams consistently maintained that he had nothing to do with Davis's death, he was ultimately arrested and charged with murder. At his first trial, the court declared a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

On retrial, the prosecution sought to establish that Williams was guilty of first degree murder on a felony murder theory (premised on the contention that Williams caused Davis's death during the commission of a carjacking). It introduced evidence of the facts described above, as well as evidence that Davis was very overweight, had high blood pressure and an enlarged heart, had had a kidney transplant and a knee replacement within the year preceding his death and was taking multiple medications, including a blood thinner. Various witnesses also testified that Davis was very protective of his cars and rarely allowed anyone else to drive them, and his girlfriend testified that he had indicated he was not going to let Williams take his car on the evening in question.

The primary focus of the defense was establishing that Davis's injuries could have resulted from a fall rather than from a physical attack by another person. For example, defense counsel cross-examined the forensic pathologist at length regarding the nature of the injuries, particularly the absence of any subdural hematomas or any fracture in the larynx and the fact that the injuries were largely to soft tissue. He also elicited testimony that Davis's medical condition or medications might have made him prone to having nose bleeds or susceptible to more extensive bruising and presented a defense forensic expert who testified that none of the bloodstains on Williams's clothes or in various places in the house were impact blood spatters. In closing arguments, defense counsel contended that Williams and Davis were close, that Williams had no motive to kill Davis, that there was no evidence that Williams showed physical signs of having been involved in an assault on Davis (who was a black belt in karate) and that Davis's death resulted from natural causes rather than an assault.

The court instructed the jury on felony murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and carjacking. The jury acquitted Williams of first degree murder and carjacking, but convicted him of second degree murder. (Notice of Lodgment ("Lodgment") 5 at 2-5.)

II. Procedural History

On December 14, 2006, Petitioner was convicted of second degree murder in violation of California Penal Code ("Penal Code") section 187(a). (Lodgment 2.) On March 6, 2007, Petitioner was sentenced to an indeterminate prison term of eighteen years to life based on his ...

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