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Wyatt v. Sutton

United States District Court, N.D. California

December 5, 2019

JOHN SUTTON, Respondent.



         This is 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 denied.


         A jury 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.


         The 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.
1. Investigation
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 anyone.
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 person.”
[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 threatening manner.
[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 doing.
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 didn't.”
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 ...

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