United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
J. CAUTHRON United States District Judge
Timothy Maher, a state court prisoner, has filed a petition
for writ of habeas corpus seeking relief pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254 (Dkt. No. 11). Petitioner challenges the
convictions entered against him in Stephens County District
Court Case No. CF-2011-5. In that case, a jury found
Petitioner guilty of first degree manslaughter and possession
of a sawed-off shotgun. Petitioner received consecutive
imprisonment sentences of forty-five years and two years,
respectively, and fines totaling $11, 000 (O.R. 159, 161,
187-91). Petitioner appealed his convictions to the Oklahoma
Court of Criminal Appeals (hereinafter “OCCA”).
The OCCA affirmed in an unpublished opinion, Maher v.
State, No. F-2012-597 (Okla. Crim. App. Jan. 22,
raises seven grounds for relief, all of which were presented
to the OCCA in his direct appeal. Respondent has responded to
the petition and Petitioner has replied (Dkt. Nos. 17 and
21). In his reply, Petitioner has requested an evidentiary
hearing with respect to his Ground Three (Dkt. No. 21 at 3).
For the reasons set forth herein, the Court finds that an
evidentiary hearing is unnecessary and that Petitioner is not
entitled to habeas relief.
evening of January 6, 2011, Petitioner met Maurice Wade for
the first time at a bar (Tr. 4/24/12, 54; Tr. 4/26/12, 16-19;
Tr. 4/27/12, 9-10). After leaving the bar around 1:30 a.m.
and hanging out with one of Mr. Wade's friends until
about 3 a.m., the two men went to Petitioner's house (Tr.
4/24/12, 48-55, 58-62; Tr. 4/26/12, 18; Tr. 4/27/12, 10-12).
Shortly before 6 a.m. on January 7th, Petitioner shot and
killed Mr. Wade in his living room. Mr. Wade was shot twenty
times (Tr. 4/24/12, 7-9; Tr. 4/25/12, 178; State's Exs. 6
claimed that he shot Mr. Wade in self-defense. According to
Petitioner, when he and Mr. Wade arrived at the house, they
talked, drank beer, and got along just fine. At some point,
however, Mr. Wade “began to act very strange.”
Petitioner did not know why Mr. Wade's behavior changed,
but he started “talking crazy talk, nonsense” and
“he was just being weird” (Tr. 4/27/12, 12-14).
In response, Petitioner got his pistol and placed it in his
back pocket. When Petitioner told Mr. Wade to leave, Mr. Wade
“jumped up over the top of [him] off the loveseat and
said, ‘What are you going to do if I
don't?'” Petitioner then drew his pistol and
told Mr. Wade to get out of his house (id. at
14-15). Mr. Wade went outside the house and onto the front
porch. At this point, Mr. Wade “was enraged.” He
was “yelling and screaming” and “pulling
his hair and throwing his hands up” (id. at
15-16). When Mr. Wade came back inside, Petitioner held the
pistol on him and told him again to leave. Mr. Wade went back
outside, but came back in a second time (id. at
16-17). Mr. Wade wanted his phone (id. at 17).
According to Petitioner, it was then that Mr. Wade charged
him, and Petitioner shot him because he was scared for
himself and his family (id. at 18-20).
Petitioner's wife and young daughter were home when the
shooting occurred (Tr. 4/24/12, 148-52, 169).
wife, Ruthann Maher, witnessed some of the interaction
between Petitioner and Mr. Wade. Mrs. Maher testified that it
was the sound of the two men bickering that woke her up
around 5:30 a.m. Although Mrs. Maher got up and was in the
living room when the shooting occurred, she did not see the
initial shots because she was looking for Mr. Wade's cell
phone in the loveseat. Mrs. Maher did see the final shots,
the last of which was fired as Mr. Wade lay on the ground.
Mrs. Maher did not see Mr. Wade charge her husband (Tr.
the shooting, Petitioner, Mrs. Maher, and their daughter went
to a neighbor's house to call the police (Tr. 4/24/12,
171). According to Mrs. Maher, on the way to the
neighbor's house, Petitioner stopped and went into one of
two sheds they had on their property (id. at
171-74). Inside that shed, police later found a sawed-off
shotgun, along with marijuana and drug paraphernalia
(id. at 68-74, 80-82; State's Exs. 77-80). This
was in addition to the two marijuana plants and numerous guns
police found inside the house (Tr. 4/23/12, 190-91; Tr.
4/26/12, 52, 58, 59-64; State's Exs. 5-D, 19, 23, 26-29,
and 31). At trial, Petitioner admitted ownership of the
sawed-off shotgun and the marijuana plants (Tr. 4/27/12,
20-21, 41-44). When police arrived at the neighbor's
house, Petitioner told police, “I shot the mother
fucker. I killed him. I did it. I'm guilty” (Tr.
facts will be referenced herein as they relate to the
individual grounds for relief raised by Petitioner.
Standard of Review.
the OCCA addressed the merits of all of Petitioner's
grounds for relief, the Court reviews them in accordance with
the standard of relief set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
Section 2254(d) requires Petitioner to show that the
OCCA's adjudication of his claims either
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.
See Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011)
(acknowledging that “[t]he petitioner carries the
burden of proof”). The focus of this statutory
provision is on the reasonableness of the OCCA's
decision. “The question under AEDPA is not whether a
federal court believes the state court's determination
was incorrect but whether that determination was
unreasonable-a substantially higher threshold.”
Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007). In
other words, “[i]t is not enough that [this] court, in
its independent review of the legal question, is left with a
firm conviction that the [OCCA] was erroneous.” What is
required is a showing that the OCCA's decision is
“objectively unreasonable.” Lockyer v.
Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75-76 (2003) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted).
Supreme Court has repeatedly acknowledged that Section
2254(d) “‘erects a formidable barrier to federal
habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been
adjudicated in state court, '” and that “[i]f
[it] is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to
be.” White v. Wheeler, 577 U.S.__, 136 S.Ct.
456, 460 (2015) (quoting Burt v. Titlow, 571 U.S.
__, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013)); Harrington v. Richter,
562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011). Section 2254(d) “stops short
of imposing a complete bar on federal-court relitigation of
claims already rejected in state proceedings.”
Richter, 562 U.S. at 102. What remains, then, is a
very narrow avenue for relief, one that permits relief only
“where there is no possibility
fairminded jurists could disagree that the [OCCA's]
decision conflicts with [the Supreme] Court's
precedents.” Id. (emphasis added).
Section 2254(d) reflects the view that habeas corpus is a
“guard against extreme malfunctions in the state
criminal justice systems, ” not a substitute for
ordinary error correction through appeal. As a condition for
obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state
prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the
claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in
justification that there was an error well understood and
comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
Id. at 102-03 (citation omitted).
Ground One: Motion to Sever.
first ground for relief, Petitioner asserts that the trial
court erred when it denied his motion to sever. As noted
above, in addition to the murder charge (Count 1), Petitioner
was also charged with cultivation of a controlled dangerous
substance (Count 2) and possession of a sawed-off shotgun
(Count 3). Petitioner filed a motion to sever Counts 2 and 3.
The trial court granted the motion as to the cultivation
charge (O.R. 103-07; Tr. 4/2/12, 10-11; Tr. 4/23/12, 4).
Because the trial court did not also sever the shotgun
charge, Petitioner claims that he was denied due process. On
appeal, the OCCA found that the trial court's ruling on
the motion to sever was not an abuse of discretion.
Maher, No. F-2012-597, slip op. at 3. Applying AEDPA
deference to the OCCA's decision, the Court concludes
that Petitioner is not entitled to relief on Ground One.
United States v. Lane, 474 U.S. 438, 446 n.8 (1986),
the Supreme Court acknowledged that “[i]mproper joinder
does not, in itself, violate the Constitution. Rather,
misjoinder would rise to the level of a constitutional
violation only if it results in prejudice so great as to deny
a defendant his Fifth Amendment right to a fair trial.”
See Cummings v. Sirmons, 506 F.3d 1211, 1239 (10th
Cir. 2007) (quoting Lane and requiring a habeas
petitioner to show the denial of a fundamentally fair trial
in order to obtain relief for misjoinder); Lucero v.
Kerby, 133 F.3d 1299, 1313-14 (10th Cir. 1998) (same).
“Such prejudice may arise when there is a great
disparity in the amount of evidence supporting the charges or
when the jury is likely to confuse the evidence or infer a
criminal disposition on the part of the defendant.”
Webber v. Scott, 390 F.3d 1169, 1178 (10th Cir.
2004) (citing Lucero).
support of his request for relief, Petitioner relies on the
arguments he made to the OCCA. Focusing on Oklahoma law
regarding the joinder of offenses, the sum of
Petitioner's argument is that the shotgun charge should
have been severed because it was unconnected to the murder,
i.e., the shotgun was not the weapon used to kill Mr. Wade
and it was found in a shed in the backyard, not in the house
where Mr. Wade was killed. Pet'r's Br. at 10-16. The
only argument that even hints at prejudice is
Petitioner's contention that the jury was not given a
limiting instruction regarding its consideration of the
evidence presented in support of the shotgun charge. However,
even Petitioner acknowledges that the jury was instructed to
give separate consideration to the counts. Id. at
the two counts for which Petitioner was tried, the jury was
instructed as follows:
The defendant is charged with more than one count. Separate
consideration must be given to each count since they each
constitute separate charges. Whether a defendant is guilty or
not guilty of one count should not influence you as to
whether or not he is guilty or not guilty of the other count.
(O.R. 151). Given this instruction, the Court cannot conclude
that Petitioner was denied a fair trial by inclusion of the
shotgun charge. The instruction is simple and clear, and the
Court can assume that the jury followed it. See Weeks v.
Angelone, 528 U.S. 225, 234 (2000) (“A jury is
presumed to follow its instructions.”). In addition,
this is not a situation where there was a great evidentiary
disparity between the counts. Petitioner admitted to both
crimes. His only challenge to the State's case was his
claim that he killed Mr. Wade in self-defense. Confusion of
the evidence was also not an issue as the crimes were
distinct. For these reasons, the Court concludes that
Petitioner was not prejudiced by the joinder of offenses and
the OCCA was therefore not unreasonable in its denial of
relief. Petitioner's Ground One is denied.
Grounds Two, Four, and Five: Evidentiary Challenges.
Grounds Two, Four, and Five, Petitioner presents challenges
to the trial court's evidentiary rulings. For the
following reasons, the Court finds that the OCCA was not
unreasonable in denying relief on these claims.
petitioner challenges the admission of evidence, “the
Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides a
mechanism for relief” where the admitted evidence
“is so unduly prejudicial that it renders the trial
fundamentally unfair.” Payne v. Tennessee, 501
U.S. 808, 825 (1991). Undefined by specific legal elements,
this standard obliges the court to “‘tread
gingerly'” and “exercise ‘considerable
self-restraint.'” Duckett v. Mullin, 306
F.3d 982, 999 (10th Cir. 2002) (quoting United States v.
Rivera, 900 F.2d 1462, 1477 (10th Cir. 1990)). Relief is
warranted in only “the most serious cases, which truly
shock the conscience as well as the mind.”
Rivera, 900 F.2d at 1477 (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted).
alleged evidentiary error is not viewed in isolation, but is
considered in light of the entire proceeding. As acknowledged
in Rivera, “a fundamental-fairness analysis is
heavily dependent upon the peculiar facts of an individual
trial.” Id. Thus, “inquiry into the
fundamental fairness of the trial requires an examination of
the entire proceedings, including the ...