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Rogers v. Muniz

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 5, 2016

WILLIAM MUNIZ, Warden, Salinas Valley State Prison, [1] Respondent.


          JAMES K. SINGLETON, JR. Senior United States District Judge.

         Christopher Brian Rogers, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Rogers is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and incarcerated at Salinas Valley State Prison. Respondent has answered, and Rogers has replied.


         On January 22, 2010, Rogers was charged with the first-degree murder of Juanita Johnson. The information further alleged that Rogers intentionally and personally discharged a firearm causing death or great bodily injury. Rogers pled not guilty and denied the allegation. On direct appeal of his conviction, the California Court of Appeal laid out the following facts underlying the charges against Rogers:

         Discovery of the Body and Initial Investigation

At about 8:25 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2004, Sothat Lee’s (Lee) cousin discovered a lifeless female body outside Lee’s front door. Lee’s cousin was visiting from San Diego and had arrived about six hours earlier; no body was there then.
Lee lived at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 40th Street in Sacramento. That intersection dead-ended within a block in both street directions, because of Highway 99, which ran diagonally through the area. Next to Highway 99’s sound wall in this area was a small triangular grassy field (sometimes referred to as an easement). On the opposite corner of the block from Lee’s house was Pacific Elementary School, at the intersection of 44th Avenue and 41st Street.
The body was later identified as that of the victim, Juanita Johnson. Police officers followed a blood trail from Lee’s house to the triangular grassy field, where the evidence-most prominently, a large amount of pooled blood, and the beginning of the trail-indicated the shooting had taken place. Just a few feet away, officers discovered a fresh condom still containing a white substance.

         Johnson’s Autopsy

Johnson died from a single, not immediately fatal, gunshot wound to her face, which entered her right cheek, exited just below her left earlobe, and severed a major artery (the left maxillary). Gunpowder stippling found on Johnson’s right cheek indicated she had been shot from a distance of one and a half to four feet. The forensic pathologist conducting the autopsy, who was not a ballistics expert, believed the bullet fragments that were recovered from Johnson were from a small to medium caliber gun (.22-caliber to .38-caliber). Johnson’s body did not exhibit any classic defensive wounds.
The pathologist took swabs from Johnson’s oral, vaginal, and rectal cavities.

         Johnson’s Activities Before the Murder

Johnson, who occasionally worked as a prostitute, had a casual relationship with Bernard Holland, who called her “Joyce.” Around 4:00 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, November 25, 2004, Johnson left Holland’s house to go on a “date” (prostitution), after the rock cocaine the two had been smoking with two others, ran out.
Johnson never returned to Holland’s house; she was supposed to be back by 8:00 a.m., as the two of them planned to spend Thanksgiving with Johnson’s family.
Holland provided the police his DNA sample as well as his .38-caliber revolver, neither of which linked him to Johnson’s killing.

         Cold Case and DNA Evidence

Johnson’s case went cold, until July 2009, when DNA test results linked [Rogers] to the matter.
The sperm in the condom recovered at the apparent shooting scene came from a single source matching [Rogers’] DNA profile. The sperm recovered from Johnson’s vagina matched [Rogers’] DNA profile. And the sperm found in Johnson’s rectum yielded a partial profile consistent with [Rogers’] DNA profile.
Furthermore, the sperm concentration on the vaginal swab disclosed a “4-plus” concentration (the highest score possible). A 4-plus concentration was consistent with the victim being motionless and/or horizontal shortly after intercourse; one would generally expect the concentration to diminish if, following intercourse, the person remained upright, walked some distance, and engaged in normal physical activities for some period of time.

         [Rogers’] Pretrial Statements

The police interviewed [Rogers] twice: first on August 7, 2009, and again on October 1, 2009.
In both interviews, [Rogers] initially denied any familiarity with the apparent shooting scene, although evidence from his former girlfriend and from a clerk at the Pacific Elementary School disclosed that [Rogers] had driven regularly by that scene over a period of years, when he ferried his children to that school from the fall of 2001 to the spring of 2005. The school was just one block from the apparent crime scene. Confronted with some of this evidence, [Rogers] eventually conceded in the second interview that the crime scene did look a little familiar.
[Rogers] steadfastly maintained that he never owned a gun, never had a gun, never shot a gun, never possessed a gun, and never bought a gun, until overwhelming contrary evidence from his former girlfriend and from his own mother forced him to concede that he had possessed a gun (around the time of the murder), a “little .22, ” which “stayed under the mattress” and which he later sold to someone named “Buddy” (who could not be located). Evidence showed that when [Rogers’] former girlfriend moved out of [Rogers’] home toward the end of 2005, she discovered the gun under the mattress and gave it to [Rogers’] mother; when [Rogers] learned the gun was missing, he angrily and repeatedly called the former girlfriend demanding it.
[Rogers] denied recognizing Johnson, denied ever having sex with her, and denied ever hurting her. When confronted with the condom-DNA evidence, he acknowledged he may have had sex with Johnson.
Finally, [Rogers] claimed that the time period around 4:00 to 6:00 in the morning were “not [his] hours” and that he had been faithful to his former girlfriend, but his former girlfriend and other evidence (including from [Rogers] himself) contradicted these claims.

         [Rogers’] Interview with ...

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