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Douprea v. Johnson

United States District Court, N.D. California

May 25, 2018




         Before the Court is the above-titled petition for a writ of habeas corpus, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 by Petitioner Sheyna Douprea, challenging the validity of her state court conviction. ECF No. 12. Respondent has filed an answer to the petition, ECF No. 20, and Petitioner has filed a traverse, ECF No. 31. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.


         On August 16, 2010, a Sonoma County jury found Petitioner guilty of first-degree murder, enhanced for use of a knife. Clerk's Transcript[1] (“CT”) 312-13; Reporter's Transcript[2] (“RT”) 2681-83. On January 4, 2011, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to twenty-six years to life in prison. CT 2586; RT 2924-28.

         On November 30, 2012, the California Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment in an unpublished decision. People v. Douprea, No. A131031, 2012 WL 5987896, at *1 (Cal.Ct.App. Nov. 30, 2012). On March 13, 2013, the California Supreme Court denied review. ECF No. 24-4 at 2.

         On May 15, 2014, Petitioner filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme Court. ECF Nos. 24-5-24-18. After soliciting an informal opposition from respondent, the California Supreme Court denied the petition on December 16, 2015.

         On December 28, 2015, Petitioner filed a federal habeas petition that commenced this action. See ECF No. 1. On January 10, 2017, Petitioner filed an amended habeas petition that omitted her unexhausted claims. See ECF No. 12 (“Pet.”).


         The following factual and procedural background is taken from the California Court of Appeal's opinion:[3]

Sheyna Douprea, then 23 years old, stabbed her intoxicated 46-year-old boyfriend to death after he refused to go with her to a Christmas party in December 2008. The essential question at trial was Douprea's state of mind at the time of the killing.
A. Pretrial and Evidentiary Rulings
An information charged Douprea with the murder of her boyfriend, Daniel Mooney, and alleged that she perpetrated the murder willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation. (Pen. Code, § 187.) The information further alleged that Douprea personally used a deadly and dangerous weapon (a knife), such that the offense was a serious felony. (Pen. Code, §§ 12022, subd. (b)(1); 1192.7, subd. (c)(23).) In addition, it was alleged that Douprea personally and intentionally inflicted great bodily injury. (Pen. Code, §§ 1203.075, 12022.7, subd. (a)).
In July 2010, the prosecution filed motions in limine seeking admission of numerous prior acts of violence by Douprea. (Evid. Code, §§ 1101, subd. (b); 1109.) Defense counsel opposed the motions in part. The trial court admitted all but two of the prior incidents, a ruling that Douprea challenges in this appeal, as discussed post.
Also in July 2010, defense counsel agreed with the prosecutor's motion to preclude a defense expert witness from opining that Douprea suffers from Battered Women's Syndrome (or, as it is also known, “Intimate Partner Violence”). (See Evid. Code., § 1107.) The court later precluded the expert's opinion that Douprea entered into a dissociative state on the date of the crime. As addressed post, Douprea challenges these matters as well.
B. Prosecution Case
1. Relationship Between Douprea and Mooney
Douprea and Mooney started dating in late 2007 or early 2008. At that time, Mooney lived in an apartment in Healdsburg with Matthew Schamens, whom he had met at an alcohol rehabilitation center. Douprea lived with her two-year-old daughter in Windsor, in a mobile home purchased by her mother, Gena. [FN 1]
FN 1: Because Gena Douprea has the same last name as appellant, we refer to Gena by her first name for clarity, without disrespect.
In August 2008, about four months before the killing, Douprea and Mooney had a physical altercation witnessed by Douprea's neighbor, Jennifer Cardona. Cardona testified that she saw a female quickly leaving Douprea's home around midnight, trying to get away from a male and yelling at him to “leave us alone.” The man pulled the woman by the hair toward the house and then toward a car; she pushed him to get away; and then he hit her and she fell to the ground. Cordona called 911, and the police soon arrived.
Questioned by the police, Mooney denied hitting Douprea or any physical violence, while Douprea claimed they had a fight because she wanted him to spend the night. Photographs admitted at trial showed an injury to Douprea's hip and a small scratch on her face. After Mooney was taken away, however, Douprea asked the police how she could bail him out. She did not want him arrested and did not want a restraining order.
At some point, Mooney obtained a restraining order against Douprea. Sometime thereafter, Schamens observed an argument between them at Mooney's apartment: Douprea struck at Mooney's face, removed Mooney's glasses and threw them on the floor, and hit Mooney with a towel rack; Mooney had scratches down his neck and “claw” marks on his chest.
In November 2008, Mooney started drinking again. Schamens saw Mooney intoxicated twice, but on neither occasion was he aggressive or violent. Schamens vacated the apartment in late November, and Douprea accepted Mooney's invitation to move in.
Around 11:00 p.m. on the night before the December 14 killing, Victoria Steel, who lived in the apartment below Mooney's, heard noises upstairs for 15-20 minutes. The noises sounded like something heavy dropping on the floor. [FN 2]
FN 2: As described post, Douprea told the police that she had an argument with Mooney the night before he died; initially, she claimed there was no violence; later she asserted that he had swung at her, choked her, threatened to kill her, and twisted her arm behind her back.
2. The Hours Before the Killing
On the morning of December 14, 2008, Douprea attended church and dropped off her daughter at daycare. At 11:00 a.m., she picked up her daughter and said she was going to a Christmas party. She did not appear distraught.
Around 11:15 or 11:30 a.m., Douprea was observed driving in the direction of Gena's home in Windsor. Gena confirmed that Douprea dropped off her daughter at her house around 11:30 a.m. and was in a pleasant mood.
According to Douprea's cell phone records, Douprea called Nicole Rowan, her sponsor at Alcoholics Anonymous, at 11:31 a.m. and spoke for nine minutes. Rowan testified that Douprea sounded irritated; she had planned to go to a Christmas party with Mooney and he was already drinking at 11:00. The last thing Douprea said was, “I'm going to go and get him cleaned up, see if I can get him cleaned up.” At 11:54 a.m., Douprea called Gena and spoke with her for eight minutes. According to Gena, Douprea said she was locked in the bathroom and Mooney had beaten her, threatened to kill her, and tried to strangle her. Gena heard screaming and pounding on the door, and Douprea sounded terrified and frantic and was “sort of” crying. Douprea said she did not know what to do; she could not leave the apartment, and she did not want to call 911 because she was afraid Mooney would go to jail. After about six minutes, the pounding and screaming subsided, Douprea seemed calmer, and she said she thought everything was going to be alright. Douprea convinced Gena not to call 911.
According to Douprea's cell phone records, Douprea spoke next to her friend Fulton, from 12:04 to 12:09 p.m. Fulton testified that he had invited Douprea and Mooney to dinner and called Douprea to let her know she did not have to pick up one of the other guests. Although she seemed calm, Douprea told him that Mooney had been drinking and they got into an altercation. At Fulton's request, Douprea put Mooney on the phone; obviously intoxicated, Mooney's speech was so slurred that Fulton could hardly understand him. After Mooney got off the phone, Fulton spoke to Douprea while Mooney was “laughing maniacally” in the background. Douprea said, “Get off of me, Daniel” at least once, but still seemed calm. According to Fulton, Mooney's laugh sounded evil and out of control; he testified that he had never heard Mooney laugh that way before. Douprea said she was scared (or sounded scared) when she talked about Mooney being physical with her, and she asked Fulton if she should call the police. Fulton suggested that Douprea leave the apartment and talk to Mooney when he was sober.
Janet Lopez and Tamara Nolan, who lived in the apartment next to Mooney's, testified that they were returning to their apartment around 12:15 or 12:30 p.m. on December 14th when they met Douprea going up the stairs. [FN 3] Douprea was talking on her cell phone, saying “I will get him up or get him out.” She did not appear angry.
FN 3: Their time estimate may not be correct, since Douprea's cell phone records indicate that Douprea was on the phone with Fulton from 12:04 to 12:09 p.m. and made calls to Gena at 12:09 p.m., to 911 (apparently without a connection) at 12:29 p.m., and to Gena at 12:33 p.m.
At some point between 12:09 and 12:32, Douprea killed Mooney.
3. Douprea's Post-Killing Call to Gena; Gena's Call to 911
At 12:33 p.m., Gena received a call from Douprea. Crying and very upset, Douprea said Mooney had been strangling her and tried to kill her, and she stabbed him. Douprea claimed she had tried to call 911 but could not get through. Gena said she would call 911 and hung up.
Gena testified that she called 911 when she got off the phone with Douprea and gave the dispatcher Douprea's contact information. She also told the 911 operator that there was probably a knife in the house and that Douprea “[said] he's dead.” Police dispatcher Linda Haviland testified that Gena called 911 at 12:32 p.m. [FN 4]
FN 4: It is unclear why records indicate that Douprea's call to Gena was at 12:33 p.m., while Gena's call to 911, supposedly following Douprea's call to Gena, was at 12:32 p.m.
4. Police Dispatch and Douprea's False Statement to the Dispatcher
The Healdsburg Police were dispatched to Mooney's apartment at 12:33 p.m., and officers arrived at 12:34. Before they entered, Haviland telephoned Douprea inside the apartment. In a tape of the conversation played for the jury, Douprea told Haviland, “I came in from church and my boyfriend's covered in blood.” (At trial, defense counsel conceded that Douprea's statement to the dispatcher was untrue.)
5. The Crime Scene
At 12:39 p.m., the police entered Mooney's apartment. Mooney was on his back on the floor of his bedroom, unresponsive, attempting to breathe, and bleeding heavily. A towel saturated with blood was against the left side of his neck. A lot of blood was on the floor around him, particularly close to his head. Emergency medical technicians were unable to revive him; he was transported to the hospital and pronounced dead on arrival.
Douprea was handcuffed and remained with police inside the apartment for 15 to 20 minutes. She had blood on her lip and in her left nostril. She was concerned about Mooney, seemed to be crying, and was breathing heavily or rapidly, but she had no difficulty speaking and did not indicate she was in pain.
A police officer drove Douprea from Mooney's apartment to the Healdsburg police station. Douprea had no difficulty breathing or speaking, she did not cough or gasp, and nothing about her appearance suggested she needed medical attention.
6. Mooney's Condition
Mooney had a .35 percent blood alcohol level and a therapeutic level of Benadryl in his blood, which in combination would intoxicate a person much more than either substance would separately. He was 70 inches tall and “relatively slight” and “slighter framed, ” weighing 150 pounds.
An autopsy determined that Mooney died from four stab wounds on the left side of his neck. Three of the wounds had the same angle, suggesting they occurred in the same session, while Douprea and Mooney were in the same relative positions. The pathologist could not determine, however, the position of Mooney or Douprea at the time of the injuries. Two of the wounds were about one and a half inches deep, reflected similar paths through the neck and external jugular vein, damaged the internal jugular vein and carotid artery, and would have been fatal individually. A third wound was about one and a quarter inches deep, just below the left jaw bone. The fourth wound was toward the back of the left side of Mooney's neck and about a half inch deep. Mooney had superficial wounds around his left nostril, on his left forearm, and on his right palm, which could have been caused by a fingernail or a knife. He had abrasions on the left side of his face and the right side of his neck, along with apparent scrapes from fingernails on his arm and bruises on his nose and above his right eyebrow.
7. Physical Evidence
The knife that Douprea used to kill Mooney was a folding pocketknife with a two-inch blade. Police found it in a diaper pail on the patio, under soiled diapers.
The room with the most blood was a bedroom in which Mooney's wallet was found. Blood was on the bed and saturated the carpet. There was also blood leading to the bathroom and inside the bathroom. Blood in the shower suggested that someone had taken a shower (and Douprea's hair was wet when the police arrived).
In the kitchen, blood was on the counter, in the sink, on the refrigerator, and next to the sliding glass door. In the trash can was broken glass wrapped in a wet tissue, a shoe with apparent blood stains, and paper towels soaked in blood.
8. Douprea's Statement to Police
Douprea was interviewed at the police station by Healdsburg Police Detective Shooter for about three hours, starting around 3:00 p.m. The interview was recorded. Other than a headache, Douprea made no complaints of pain. She had a one-inch red mark above her brow and said she had suffered a nose bleed.
Douprea offered police several inconsistent explanations for Mooney's death. She began by saying that she just found Mooney on his bed, bleeding, when she came home. She tried to help him to the bathroom so she could put a towel on his neck, but he slumped to the floor. She tried to call 911 but could not get through, so she called Gena and said Mooney might be dying. Douprea next told police that Mooney had been getting drunk lately and was prone to fighting when drunk. Douprea described previous altercations between them, including one the night before.
[FN 5] This time, Douprea claimed, Mooney attacked her by pulling her into the closet, beating her, twisting her arm, and asking her if she wanted to die. She fought back, and he “started bleeding more” from what “might have been some kind of a cut.” FN 5: Douprea told the police that Mooney had assaulted her physically two or three times before the day she killed him. The first time was the August 2008 incident at her home; she claimed that Mooney choked her and said, “I'm gonna kill you.” Douprea also stated that she would bite Mooney to get him off of her, and she had a recorded voice message from Mooney saying he would rearrange her face if she ever bit him again. As to the night before the killing, Douprea first told the police they had a non-violent argument in which he did not understand why she wanted to be with him since he was a worthless drunk. Later she claimed that he became angry when she asked him how much he had to drink, and he swung at her and choked her. Holding her throat, he pressed her up against the refrigerator, told her not to get into his business, and said he was going to kill her. Later that night, he twisted her arm behind her back and said she was worthless and drove him to drink.
Detective Shooter told Douprea that her story was not “lining up.” Douprea then claimed that Mooney was choking her, so she used a pocket knife to try to get him off of her and accidentally cut his neck. Eventually, Douprea provided additional details, which we piece together as follows.
On the morning of the killing, Douprea went to church with her daughter, dropped her off afterward at Gena's home in Windsor, and returned to Mooney's apartment so she and Mooney could attend a Christmas party. But when she went into Mooney's bedroom, he rolled away from her and said they were not going. She replied that the party was very important to her, but Mooney repeated they were not going. “[V]ery hurt, ” Douprea pulled back Mooney's blanket and said, “Come on, you gotta get ready, let's go.”
Mooney became very angry and followed her into the kitchen. They punched each other in the nose, and they each had bloody noses. They gave each other a black eye. He banged her head on the floor, twisted her arms, and threatened to break them.
Douprea ran into the bathroom and called Fulton and Gena, telling them she was scared. She did not call the police or ask anyone to do so because Mooney was on parole and would get into trouble. She loved him and knew that “that's not the sober him.” Douprea next went into her bedroom. After about a minute and a half, Mooney opened the door, yelled at her, and insulted her. When he left, she thought about what to do. She felt unsafe because the door to her room did not lock, but she felt unable to leave the apartment because her experience was that he would become more angry and something worse would happen. [FN 6]
FN 6: When Detective Shooter asked Douprea why she stayed in the apartment to confront a belligerent and violent man, she said she could usually calm Mooney down, she loved him, and she did not want to get him in trouble.
So Douprea got her knife and put it in her pocket. After about 10 minutes in her bedroom, she went to the bathroom for a few minutes until she said to herself, “Okay, I'm calmed down, I'm gonna go talk to him.”
Douprea went to Mooney's bedroom to calm him down, as she was usually able to do. She brought her knife along to protect herself and to scare him, because she thought there could be a fight.
Entering Mooney's room, Douprea tried to reassure Mooney, saying she did not want to fight, she loved him, and everything would be okay. She went to hug him, but Mooney told Douprea she was a worthless whore, pushed her to the floor, and tackled her. On top of her, he twisted her arms and banged her head in the closet; she punched him in the nose again; and he moved his hands to her throat and said he was going to kill her.
Although the knife “was a threat” and she had not originally intended to stab Mooney, that changed when Mooney choked her. Frightened, she pulled out her knife to scare him. But Mooney just laughed and said she could not do anything.
Douprea stabbed Mooney lightly in the side of the neck with a puncturing motion, thinking that “a little poke” would scare him and get him to understand this was serious, without severely hurting him. The knife went into the side of Mooney's neck and she saw a little blood, but it did not phase him.
Mooney taunted Douprea for another 30 seconds and said he was going to kill her. Believing him, and feeling dizzy and unable to breathe, Douprea stabbed Mooney again. She thought that stabbing him the second time would make him get off her, without seriously hurting him. But “there might have been some aspect of it where I was like I don't ever want this to happen again”; she did not want Mooney to assault her anymore.
Mooney got up and fell backwards onto his bed. She tried to pull him to the bathroom to get a towel, but he fell down. She retrieved a towel, hoping to stop the bleeding with pressure, and held him for a few minutes. She called 911 but no one answered, so she called her mother, who called the police. She told her mother she did not intend for this to happen and was scared Mooney was going to die.
Douprea put the knife in the diaper pail because she was scared. Then she showered for about two minutes because she was covered in Mooney's blood; she often took a shower to comfort herself when scared, hurt, or depressed. When she got out of the shower, she put on different jeans (but the same shirt), held Mooney again, and called the police about three more times.
After asking what the process would be if she were charged with murder, Douprea told police, “I think [a jury] would probably be more understanding due to the fact that I was protecting myself.”
9. Douprea's Condition at the Hospital
Douprea was brought to the hospital at 7:59 p.m. Dr. Richard Reisman, an emergency room physician, examined Douprea for perhaps 10 minutes to see if she was able to go to jail. According to Dr. Reisman, Douprea was alert, her blood pressure was normal, and her pulse and breathing were a little fast. She complained of a headache and soreness in the back of her head and neck, explaining that she had been choked and thrown to the ground, hitting the back of her head several times. She also stated that she had been hit in the face with a fist and suffered a nose bleed.
Dr. Reisman found the back of Douprea's head tender but not swollen. A small reddened area next to the left nostril did not have much swelling; there was a little blood at the left nostril but no active bleeding. There was dried blood on both sides of the upper and lower lips. A little reddened area on the right side of the forehead had some swelling, but there was no tenderness or deformation in the face.
10. Douprea's Prior Violence Against Other Men
Douprea's former husband, Robert Melia, testified that his relationship with Douprea began in 2005. During the two or three months they initially lived together, Douprea had angry outbursts. In the first incident, Douprea threw a box at him, shoved him, and scratched him when he accused her of lying and cheating. The police were called, but Melia declined to have her arrested. Later in Calistoga, Douprea attacked him again, grabbing him and throwing things.
The couple moved to Las Vegas, where Douprea threatened suicide. She was hospitalized twice in a psychiatric ward, the second time voluntarily after she threatened to jump off a hotel parking garage. They also continued to have violent arguments. In September 2005, she ripped Melia's shirt, scratched his face, and punched him because he smoked a cigarette. When she returned from jail on October 2, 2005, Douprea threw a glass at Melia because he was drinking and smoking. Trying to intervene, Schneider pinned Douprea down while Gena called the police; Douprea bit Gena and bit and scratched Schneider. (Schneider and Gena described the altercation similarly at trial.)
At Gena's suggestion, Melia nonetheless married Douprea two or three days later. Subsequently, Douprea attacked Melia for not showing sexual interest in her; she punched, scratched, and kicked him, nearly ripping off his shirt and leaving fingernail scrape marks on his face. She threatened him by brandishing a three-inch knife, from her collection of 20 to 25 knives. Melia walked out and never returned.
Adam Patterson testified that he met Douprea at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in 2005, and they had an off-and-on intimate relationship for about five or six months. Douprea's temper was unpredictable and severe, and they broke up about a month before she went to Las Vegas. When she returned, they lived together for perhaps a few months. On one occasion, he awoke to find her hitting him and trying to force him to have sex. In February 2006, after their relationship ended, Douprea dropped off some of Patterson's belongings at his residence; Patterson asked her to leave, and Douprea started yelling and threw a boot through his window. When Patterson opened the door, she punched and bit both Patterson and his roommate, Lawrence Mahoney. At some point, she was holding a small knife. Mahoney called the police, who took photographs of the damage Douprea caused to the apartment and the injuries she inflicted. Douprea later entered a plea to throwing the boot through the window.
Michael Schneider testified that he lived with Gena from 2003 to 2010 and experienced Douprea's violent temper as well. On one occasion, Schneider put Douprea's cat out of Gena's house, and Douprea grabbed a big knife from the kitchen and said she would kill him if he “messed” with her cat. On another occasion on April 11, 2006, Gena asked Schneider to get her a cup of coffee, and when Schneider made a rude comment, Douprea grabbed a knife from the kitchen and rushed at him. Raising his arm to block her, Schneider suffered a cut that required three stitches.
C. Defense Case
1. Mooney's prior ...

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