United States District Court, N.D. California
ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND
GRANTING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY RE: DKT. NO.
PHYLLIS J. HAMILTON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a habeas corpus case filed pro se by a state prisoner
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The court ordered
respondent to show cause why the writ should not be granted.
Respondent filed an answer and lodged exhibits with the court
and petitioner filed several responses that the court has
reviewed. For the reasons set out below, the petition is
found petitioner guilty of first-degree murder. People v.
Wyatt, No. A144872, 2018 WL 1633816, at *5 (Cal.Ct.App.
April 5, 2018). Petitioner was sentenced to 56 years to life
in prison. Id. The California Court of Appeal
affirmed the conviction and the California Supreme Court
denied review. Id.; Answer, Exs. J, L. Petitioner
filed a habeas petition with the California Supreme Court,
which denied review. Ex. M.
California Court of Appeal set forth the relevant facts:
An information charged [petitioner] with the 2012 murder of
James Nobles (Pen. Code, § 187) and alleged that he
personally used a deadly weapon in the commission of the
offense (Pen. Code, § 12022, subd. (b)(1)). The
information also alleged that [petitioner] had a prior
serious felony conviction for his 1995 voluntary manslaughter
of Titus Crowder in 1995 for purposes of Penal Code section
667, subdivisions (a) and (e).
A. Prosecution Case
On February 8, 2012, the Alameda County Sheriff's office
received a report that a dead body had been discovered near
the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) tracks in Hayward.
Detective Joshua Armijo of the Alameda County Sheriff's
Office responded to the scene and observed the body of an
African- American male at the bottom of a dirt embankment,
near the support pillar of the elevated BART tracks. The body
and clothing were relatively clean, leading Armijo to
conclude that the victim had been killed elsewhere. The
victim had two incised puncture wounds on his left chest, a
swollen area on his left temple, a blackened eye, jawline
swelling, and blood from his nostrils.
The police did not find identification or personal effects on
the body, but used fingerprints to identify the victim as
James Nobles. Officers contacted Nobles's cousin, Ioma
Nobles. She told them that Nobles had been living with
“Mike” in Hayward. Although she did not have the
exact address, she gave officers Mike's telephone number,
which she would call if she wanted to reach Nobles. Police
traced the phone number to [petitioner], who lived on Hampton
Road, approximately a quarter-mile from where Nobles's
body was discovered. They also determined this to be
Nobles's last known address.
Police obtained a warrant to search [petitioner's]'s
apartment on February 10, 2012. Officers executing the
warrant observed blood drops inside the doorway and
bloodstains on a mattress. Forensic evidence specialists
found trace amounts of blood throughout the apartment. The
search lasted approximately 12 hours until the morning of
February 11; [petitioner] was not there.
2. Forensic Pathologist
Dr. Thomas Rogers conducted an autopsy on Nobles's body.
He observed several blunt force injuries, including a bruise
to the right eye, a laceration on the right side of the nose,
and a bruise on the right arm. There were superficial incised
wounds on Nobles's face, neck, and lower right leg, as
well as six deeper stab wounds-two in the chest, one in the
neck, one near the jawline, and two in the leg-that had been
inflicted recently. The two chest wounds penetrated his left
lung and caused life-threatening injuries. Dr. Rogers opined
that multiple stab wounds and incised wounds were the cause
of Nobles's death.
3. Ioma's Testimony
Ioma testified that Nobles was mentally disabled and could be
“slow” and “childish.” He took
medications to control his symptoms, but had trouble
remembering to take them. When he did not take his
medication, he would behave oddly and mumble things that did
not make sense. Even then, however, Nobles was not violent,
and Ioma had never seen him behave aggressively or assault
4. [Petitioner's] Confession
[Petitioner] surrendered to police on February 12, 2012. His
shoes and pants had apparent bloodstains. He waived his
Miranda rights and agreed to be interviewed by Detective
Armijo and Alameda County Sheriff's Sergeant Dave Dixon.
(See Miranda v. Arizona (1966) 384 U.S. 436.) A
redacted recording of the interview was played for the jury.
[Petitioner] told the officers that he was self-employed and
took care of people in their homes. Years earlier he became
friends with Nobles, who moved in with him in mid-2010.
Nobles usually used his disability checks to pay the rent on
the apartment. [Petitioner] denied they had any romantic
involvement, but acknowledged that Nobles may have been
interested in one.
[Petitioner] generally did not have any conflict with Nobles.
However, sometimes Nobles would “go off the deep
end” and talk to himself, behave in a childlike manner,
and at times urinate on himself. [Petitioner] would let him
act out, and Nobles would come back around. Most of the time,
“[Nobles] was a gentle, easy-goin' guy regardless
of what the circumstances, ” “he would not harm a
fly, ” and he was “never a threatening
[Petitioner] claimed he did not know Nobles's whereabouts
and had not done anything to him. After police said they
could prove that Nobles was killed in [petitioner's]
apartment, however, [petitioner] admitted to killing Nobles
during a fight. He claimed that Nobles “flipped out,
” [petitioner] tried to subdue him, and “the next
thing you know, it just got outa hand and I lost it.”
[Petitioner] recounted the events as follows. Two weeks
before the homicide, Nobles started acting out consistently.
Nobles acted out so much-every day with constant movement or
incessant babbling-that [petitioner] asked him to move to a
board and care home. Nobles did so for a while, but
[petitioner] let him return to the apartment.
Around 2:00 a.m. on Sunday, February 5, 2012, [petitioner]
received a text from a male friend. Nobles knew it was from a
man, and he became upset. Nobles started breathing hard and
was constantly moving, making noises, and “acting real
bad.” [Petitioner] asked Nobles to “chill out,
” to no avail. [Petitioner] repeatedly asked him to
“just take it easy” and lie down, but Nobles did
not stop. [Petitioner] told Nobles it would be best for him
to leave at the end of the month, “[b]ecause this is
gettin' outa hand here . . . [a]nd you constantly
makin' it uncomfortable where I'm livin'
at.” Nobles “rant[ed] and rave[d].”
[Petitioner] was unable to sleep during Nobles's
disruption, which continued until around 6:00 a.m. on Sunday.
[Petitioner] awoke around 9:00 a.m. on Sunday. Nobles also
awoke and was fine for a while, but then restarted his
barrage of noise and movement. [Petitioner] repeatedly asked
Nobles to calm down, but Nobles didn't relent, which
“got [petitioner's] nerves in a frenzy.”
[Petitioner] described Nobles's behavior as
“nagging, ” explaining it as follows:
“Words, there was a lot of movements . . . constant-he
would get up and then he would write on the floor and then he
would kick. It was just a lot of-I-I mean it may seem petty.
You know, but it was just a lot of irritation. Just-just
talking and you know and just moving around. . . . It just
didn't-it just didn't let up.”
Around 2:00 or 2:30 that afternoon, thing s “came to
boil.” [Petitioner] was watching basketball on
television. Nobles “started actin' crazy, ”
and [petitioner] asked for quiet. Nobles continued with his
“madness” and “just kept on goin' and
kept on and just kept on goin.”
[Petitioner] duct-taped Nobles's hands together,
duct-taped his ankles, and put duct-tape over his mouth. He
also put Nobles in a corner and placed a mattress over him.
Nobles broke free, untaping his hands and mouth. [Petitioner]
unwrapped his ankles, but Nobles “started back at his
theatrics again.” [Petitioner] told Nobles it was best
for him to “leave next month, ” but Nobles said
he did not want to. Nobles's nagging persisted.
[Petitioner] grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him;
Nobles flailed around, “‘doin' his little
strikin' and, you know, kickin, '” and refused
to “act like a civilized person.” In
[petitioner's] words, “it was just a naggin'
thing” and “it was just pressin' me and then
it blew me up.” [Petitioner] grabbed a container of
clear blue cleaning liquid and threw the liquid in
Nobles's face. Nobles swallowed some of it, and it began
to run out of his nose.
Nobles “seemed like he was just [losin'] it.”
Nobles kicked and slapped at [petitioner]-which [petitioner]
agreed was Nobles defending himself-and [petitioner] punched
Nobles in the chin. Nobles came at [petitioner] again, and
[petitioner] punched him in the right eye. Nobles “went
to the bathroom” and then “jumped and [ ]
attacked again.” Nobles had no weapon, but he was
“tryin' to swing and tryin' to grab.”
[Petitioner] claimed that Nobles “flipped out”
and it “scared” him, although he acknowledged
that Nobles never threatened him or approached him in a
[Petitioner] grabbed a small “folding-knife” and,
in “panic” and “rage, ” stabbed
Nobles twice in the chest. [Petitioner] heard a
“poof” as the air exited Nobles's lungs.
Nobles fell down, voided his bowels and bladder, and stopped
moving. [Petitioner] believed Nobles was dead; he attempted
chest compressions, but he did not consider calling 911.
[Petitioner] knew, however, that he was in the wrong.
Confronted with the fact that Nobles had six stab wounds
rather than two, [petitioner] initially maintained he stabbed
Nobles only twice, but eventually agreed he had reached a
boiling point and might not have realized all that he did. He
acknowledged that a “few times in the past” he
had become so angry that he did not remember what he was
Roughly 12 hours after he killed Nobles, [petitioner] put
Nobles's corpse into one of the apartment building's
garbage cans and wheeled it over to the BART tracks, where he
dumped it around 3:00 a.m. He also burned some clothing and
household items to get rid of the evidence, and threw the
knife down a gutter near the apartment. The next day,
[petitioner] left the apartment and did not return until the
search warrant had been executed.
[Petitioner] admitted to the officers that he “went too
far” and stated repeatedly that Nobles did not deserve
what happened to him. When asked if he premeditated the
homicide, [petitioner] responded “No, no, no, I
Police later found the knife [petitioner] used to kill Nobles
in the storm drain system, as [petitioner] had described.
Police also found duct tape and the clear blue cleaning
liquid in [petitioner's] apartment, as well as the
garbage can used to transport Nobles's dead body.
5. Evidence of [petitioner's] Killing of Crowder in 1995
In 1995, the body of Titus Crowder, an African-American man
who lived in an Oakland care home for men suffering from HIV,
was found face down, bloody, and lifeless in his living room.
Crowder was transported to a hospital and pronounced dead.
Officers had recovered nine bullet casings near the body.
They also found mail and other paperwork bearing
[petitioner's] name, as well as photographs belonging to
[petitioner] in a bedroom dresser drawer.
About three weeks after the homicide, [petitioner] was
arrested and interviewed by David Politzer, at the time a
sergeant with the Oakland Police Department. [Petitioner]
told Politzer that he did not have a romantic relationship
with Crowder but they were friends. They had not had previous
arguments, but Crowder was “agitated” on the day
he was killed.
[Petitioner] recounted that, on the day of the homicide, he
and Crowder spent time together at a friend's home and
then went to Crowder's apartment, where Crowder cooked
dinner. After midnight, as [petitioner] got ready to leave,
he asked Crowder about $200 that Crowder owed him. Crowder
became angry, hit [petitioner] in the jaw, and pulled out a
gun and pointed it at [petitioner]. [Petitioner] wrestled the
gun away from Crowder, aimed it at him, and fired until the
gun was out of bullets. [Petitioner] fled with the gun,
walking from Crowder's apartment near Oakland's ...