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John P. Lanning v. Rick Hill*Fn1

July 25, 2011



Petitioner is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with an application for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner challenges his conviction of assault with a deadly weapon, claiming that: (1) the trial court erroneously instructed the jury with certain instructions regarding self-defense and trespassing; and (2) the trial court erroneously failed to clarify the instructions when presented with jury questions. This matter is before the undersigned pursuant to consent of the parties. See 28 U.S.C. § 636; Fed. R. Civ. P. 73.

Upon careful consideration of the record and the applicable law, petitioner's application for habeas corpus relief is denied.

I. Background

On May 6, 2005, petitioner was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon (California Penal Code § 245(a)(1)) following a jury trial in Siskiyou County Superior Court. Resp.'s Lodg. Docs., Lodg. Doc. 1 at 224, 230. The facts of the offense, as stated by the California Court of Appeal*fn2 , are:

[Prosecution Case]

In May 2004, Melissa Renfro, who was pregnant with [petitioner]'s child, traveled with petitioner from Oregon to Yreka. They stayed at the residence of Renfro's grandmother, Margie Willett. Willett's adult son, Henry Matlock, lived with her. During the summer, he slept in the garage because of the heat.

After residing in the Willett house for three weeks, Renfro and defendant moved into a room at the Ben-Ber Hotel. [footnote omitted] There, they befriended Claude Freedle and his girlfriend Melinda Nakamura, who worked at the Ben-Ber.

Renfro gave birth on July 1; the next day she and defendant left the hospital and returned to the Ben-Ber. That evening, defendant and Freedle decided to go to a bar at the Montague Hotel. They spent approximately five hours there, drinking and playing pool. They left when Nakamura called Freedle and told him to come home.

On the way home, defendant told Freedle he needed to stop at the Willett house to borrow $20 from his uncle. Defendant parked in the driveway and entered the side door of the garage where Matlock slept. A short time later, Freedle heard a male voice yelling "get the fuck out of the driveway," and "get that fucking guy out of my yard." Defendant left the garage and went to the house of neighbor Jay Scholz, where Scholz and Rodney Culver were playing pool. Defendant attempted unsuccessfully to borrow money from Scholz. He then returned to Matlock's garage. A short time later, Freedle heard banging sounds as if someone were tearing up the garage.

Culver heard screaming and yelling and ran to the garage to investigate. When he arrived, he saw defendant standing over Matlock with an aluminum baseball bat.

Defendant struck Matlock 15 to 20 times with the bat as Matlock attempted to crawl away. Defendant noticed Culver standing there and told him to leave.

As Freedle was starting up his car, defendant jumped in. According to Freedle, defendant acted as if he had just robbed a bank. He told Freedle he thought he had killed Matlock. He explained that Matlock had come toward him with a bat and that defendant punched Matlock, took the bat out of his hands, and kept hitting him to keep him down "because nobody fucks with me, nobody."

Back at the motel, defendant told Renfro and Nakamura the same story he had told Freedle. When they expressed disbelief that defendant continued to beat Matlock while he was on the ground, defendant changed his story, telling them that Matlock hit him with the bat first. Defendant asked them to feel his head where Matlock had hit him, but no one saw marks or swelling on defendant's head.

The next day, defendant told Renfro he "needed to get out of here" and drove to Oregon.

Matlock sustained several skull fractures as a result of the attack. Since the attack, he has become distrustful, suffers from memory deficits, and cannot remember anything that happened the night of the assault.

Defense Defendant took the stand in his own defense. He testified that he stopped at Matlock's garage to retrieve $20 that Matlock had borrowed from him and Renfro.

When defendant entered the garage and asked Matlock for the money, Matlock became belligerent, yelled obscenities, and ordered defendant to leave. Defendant refused to leave without the money. Several more times, defendant demanded the money and Matlock told him to leave. Finally, Matlock grabbed a baseball bat. When defendant asked whether Matlock intended to hit him with the bat, Matlock struck him on the side of his head. Defendant then punched Matlock in the jaw. The two men wrestled on the couch, during which defendant was struck a second time with the bat. Defendant wrested the bat from Matlock and told him if he came any closer, he would hit him with it. When Matlock responded by reaching for a crowbar, defendant hit him on the side of the head with the bat and fled.

People v. Lanning, No. C050181, 2006 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 5452, *2-5 (Cal. App. 3d Dist. June 20, 2006) (appended as App. B to the Pet.).

On June 30, 2005, petitioner was sentenced to a prison term of 11 years for the assault on Matlock (including sentencing enhancements based on a prior conviction and prison term). Lodg. Doc. 1 at 229-30, 257-59, 261. Petitioner's conviction was affirmed by the California Court of Appeal on June 20, 2006. Pet. at 46-59 (App. B). The California Supreme Court denied petitioner's petition for review on August 23, 2006, and petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus in this court on ...

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