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Trayers v. Johnson

United States District Court, S.D. California

August 1, 2016

DEBORAH K. JOHNSON, Warden, et al., Defendant.



         On April 20, 2015, Petitioner Jennifer Trayers, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging her state court conviction for second degree murder. (Doc. No. 1.) On January 14, 2016, Respondent filed a response to the petition. (Doc. No. 12.) On February 8, 2016, Petitioner filed a traverse. (Doc. No. 14.) On May 10, 2016, the magistrate judge issued a report and recommendation recommending that the Court deny the petition. (Doc. No. 15.) After careful consideration, the Court denies Petitioner’s petition for writ of habeas corpus and adopts the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation.


         I. Factual History

         The Court adopts the facts from the California Court of Appeal’s opinion denying Petitioner’s direct appeal and affirming her conviction. (See Doc. No. 13-18, Lodgment No. 7.) This Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), presumes the following relevant facts to be true:

A. The People’s Case
Dr. Trayers was an emergency medicine physician at the Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego. When Jennifer killed him on December 4, 2010, they had been married for 18 years.
1. Stabbing death of Dr. Trayers After he attended a holiday party on the night of December 3, Dr. Trayers worked a night shift at the Balboa Naval Hospital until 6:00 o’clock the next morning. He was next scheduled to work at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, December 5, and coworkers became worried when he did not come to work. They began attempting to reach him by phone on Sunday evening. Friends went to the Trayers’ home, and, although both of the Trayers’ cars were there, they saw no sign of anything out of the ordinary other than that the Trayers were not at home. Coworkers called police late Sunday night.
Police officers went to the Trayers’ home on Sunday night to conduct a welfare check, but observed that everything was quiet. Officers returned the next morning, December 6, and one of them looked through a window into a bedroom and saw a female (Jennifer) lying face up on the floor, with her clothing covered in blood, next to the left (or east) side of the bed (viewing the scene from the foot of the bed).
The officers forcibly entered the Trayers’ home and found that Jennifer was barely alive with what were later determined to be self-inflicted knife wounds. A military-style knife with a blade about seven inches in length was found on the floor under the edge of the left (east) side of the bed very close to where Jennifer was found.
Dr. Christina Stanley, a forensic pathologist who examined Jennifer in the hospital, testified that Jennifer had suffered about three dozen stab wounds or sharp force injuries primarily over a small area of her chest, many of which were superficial, and she had lost a significant amount of blood and was in shock. Her most significant injury was to an artery in the wall of her abdomen, but the wound did not go inside her abdomen.
Dr. Michael Sise, a vascular surgeon and trauma medical director at Scripps Mercy Hospital who treated Jennifer’s multiple knife wounds, opined that the wounds were self-inflicted. Dr. Sise explained that he found no wounds of self-defense, which are usually on the hands. He also explained that the multiple wounds in the central area of Jennifer’s chest were “hesitation marks, ” a term that trauma surgeons use to describe superficial wounds that may have penetrated the skin but had not penetrated deeply.
The police officers who entered the Trayers’ home found Dr. Trayers dead and face down on the floor on the right (or west) side of the bed- opposite where Jennifer was found on the floor on the left side of the bed-in a fetal position facing the bed and leaning against the side of the bed with the bedding around his lower extremities. The bedding around Dr. Trayers’s body, as well as the pillows and the fitted sheet on the bed in the area near the headboard, were cut. A kitchen or chef’s knife was found near Dr. Trayers’s left calf under the bedding. He had a strand of hair-later determined to be Jennifer’s-in his left hand.
According to a deputy medical examiner for the County of San Diego who examined Dr. Trayers’s body at the scene of the killing, Dr. Trayers had suffered numerous stab wounds: two in the chest, six in the back, one in the back of the head, one in the right forearm, one on the tip of the right index finger, one on the tip of the right middle finger, and another by the left thumb. One of the chest wounds, which could have been a fatal wound, went through the heart and the right lung. The multiple superficial incised wounds to Dr. Trayers[‘s] hands were consistent with defensive wounds inflicted as he was attempting to block or grab the knife.
A large saturation of Dr. Trayers’s blood was found on the pillows, sheets, and mattress on Dr. Trayers’s right (west) side of the bed, and his blood spatter was on the west side of the headboard, the wall, and the nightstand on his side of the bed. A blood spatter expert found the blood evidence was consistent with Dr. Trayers’s having been stabbed while lying on the bed under the bedding, having flung a hand that was cut from the palm to the forearm, and having moved and ended up on the floor where the officers found him with the bedding (a comforter and sheet) around him.
The results of forensic toxicology testing indicated the presence of Zolpidem, a prescription sleep aid, in both Jennifer’s system and that of Dr. Trayers. The amount in Dr. Trayers’[s] system was within the normal therapeutic range for a single dose. Zolpidem is commonly used by emergency physicians as a sleep aid because they work different shifts and sometimes have trouble falling asleep. One empty bottle of Zolpidem, which had been prescribed for Dr. Trayers, was found on the left side of the bed within three or four feet of the military-style knife in the area where Jennifer was found, and another nearly empty bottle was found in a medicine box.
Three of four stacked manila envelopes found on a shelf near the Trayers’ kitchen contained 218 pages of printouts of screen captures and numerous text messages to and from Dr. Trayers’s phone, e-mails, and photographs of Dr. Trayers. Most of the documents were correspondence between Dr. Trayers and Danielle Robins (discussed, post) discussing how much they loved each other and their future plans together. There was also a lengthy e-mail from Jennifer to Robins.
2. Dr. Trayers’[s] relationship with Danielle Robins and the events culminating in his death Robins testified that she met Dr. Trayers in August 2010 on a Mercy-class hospital ship when she was a medical student, and they developed a friendship. They both returned to San Diego County after their journey on the ship. Robins eventually started an emergency room rotation at Balboa Naval Medical Center where Dr. Trayers worked, and they began to have an affair at the end of September. They exchanged numerous e-mail and text messages in which they expressed their love for each other.
During this same time period, Dr. Trayers and Jennifer attended marriage counseling, and Dr. Trayers was conflicted about whether he should continue his affair with Robins. In late November or early December, he told Robins a false story that Jennifer was pregnant, and Robins told him they would have to end the affair. Unbeknownst to Dr. Trayers and Robins, Jennifer was reading their e-mail communications.
Early in the morning on December 4, Dr. Trayers texted Robins, who was in Maryland, that he had finished his shift and had about 30 minutes of dictation to complete. At around 7:15 a.m., Dr. Trayers, who was at home, sent his last text message to Robins telling her he was going to sleep. He took some Zolpidem to help him sleep.
About an hour later, Jennifer replaced her husband’s photographs on Facebook with photos of themselves in happier times. Shortly thereafter, using her husband’s e-mail account, Jennifer sent Robins two e-mails with attachments, one of which was a lengthy eight-page letter written by Jennifer and addressed to “Little Miss Grass is Not Greener on My Side.” In her letter, Jennifer accused Robins of having ruined her husband’s marriage, career, and future. Jennifer wrote, “I was the last person he was with.” Within minutes of sending the e-mail to Robins, Jennifer deleted Dr. Trayers’s Gmail account. On a shelf near the kitchen, Jennifer left manila envelopes containing copies of her e-mailed letter to Robins and e-mails between Dr. Trayers and Robins. It is undisputed that Jennifer killed Dr. Trayers that morning with a knife.
3. Additional evidence Jennifer’s mother, Deborah Smith, testified that she spoke with Jennifer by telephone on the morning of December 4 right after she texted Jennifer at around 9:00 a.m. Jennifer told her she and Fred (Dr. Trayers) were sleeping in.
a. Evidence of Jennifer's extramarital affair Orvill Webb testified he met Jennifer in Florida in 2001 or 2002, and they [had] a sexual affair that began around 2002 and ended in late 2004 or 2005.
B. Defense Case
Jennifer testified on her own behalf. She and Dr. Trayers, who was in the Navy training to be a pilot, met in 1991 and married in 1992. In 1997, they moved to Fallon, Nevada, so Dr. Trayers could teach at the Top Gun flight school. In Fallon, Dr. Trayers met Danielle Merket, a civilian who was conducting some sort of psychological research on pilots. The two continued to have contact after Merket left Fallon.
Jennifer testified that she and her husband moved to Fort Lauderdale in 2001, and her husband started medical school. Dr. Trayers contacted Merket, who lived in Orlando, and they started spending time together. Jennifer eventually became convinced they were having an affair.
Jennifer began to have a sexual relationship with Webb in early 2003 because she was upset her husband was in love with Merket and felt their marriage was over. Dr. Trayers learned about the relationship a couple months after it started and blamed himself for not paying attention to Jennifer and not being home. The couple stayed together, but the marriage was under strain.
Jennifer testified that when they moved from Florida to San Diego in 2005, they agreed to put the affairs behind them and renewed their vows in 2007 on their 15th anniversary. Jennifer became angry when she caught Fred e-mailing Merket late in 2007, but she remained in the marriage. She testified that her relationship with Dr. Trayers from early 2010 to early August of that year was good, there was never a time when she used physical violence against him, and he did not use physical violence against her.
Jennifer testified that when Dr. Trayers returned from the Mercy ship cruise in early September, she became suspicious over the amount of time he spent sending text messages to someone else on his phone. She became anxious because she felt something was wrong and started losing weight and not sleeping. The couple began going to counseling in late September, but Dr. Trayers continued to deny anything was happening.
Jennifer stated she installed spyware software on their home computer and Dr. Trayers's laptop in early October that allowed her to see what he was communicating by e-mail. The first e-mail she read was from Dr. Trayers to another woman about what he had done with her that day. She mistakenly thought Dr. Trayers was communicating with Danielle Merket. Jennifer testified she felt sick when she read that e-mail, and she began to print the emails. She confronted Dr. Trayers in mid-October about the hundreds of text messages the phone bill showed he had sent to a phone number in Maryland, and he told her he was simply helping a medical student (Danielle Robins) in Maryland.
Jennifer testified she read one e-mail from Danielle Robins that called Dr. Trayers “Mr. Wonderful” and suggested he was with Robins exclusively. Jennifer started feeling better when she deduced from the e-mails that Dr. Trayers’s relationship with Robins was ending, but then in late November she saw one informing Dr. Trayers that Robins was returning to Camp Pendleton. Jennifer testified she continued feeling anxious and losing weight. In late November, Dr. Trayers removed photos of the two of them from his Facebook page.
The eight-page e-mail that Jennifer sent to Robins was actually a journal Jennifer began in October. She testified she made her last entry on December 1. She made no entry on the morning of December 4. She stated that when she wrote her entries-such as, “I will have the joy of knowing I got to spend quality time with him, ” and “I got to see him every day, ” which she acknowledged seemed to be in the past tense-she had no plan to kill her husband, but was considering suicide. By the end of November, she was sleeping only one or two hours a night.
Jennifer also testified that on December 3, before Dr. Trayers left for the holiday party and then work, he sat down on the couch with her and told her he would never leave her and that he wanted to start being honest with her and communicating more. Jennifer wanted him to admit his affair with Robins, but did not confront him about it because she had not told him she was reading his ...

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