United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma
MILES-LAGRANGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Michael Lee Edwards, a state court prisoner appearing pro se,
has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus seeking relief
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1). Petitioner
challenges the convictions entered against him in Oklahoma
County District Court Case No. CF-2012-2836. In that case,
Petitioner was found guilty by jury of two counts of lewd
acts with a child under sixteen. Petitioner received a life
sentence on each count, and the trial court ordered the
sentences to be served concurrently (O.R. I, 50-52; O.R. II,
258-59, 276-78; J. Tr. IV, 142; S. Tr. 19). Petitioner
appealed his convictions to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal
Appeals (hereinafter “OCCA”). The OCCA affirmed
in an unpublished summary opinion, Edwards v. State,
No. F-2014-1022 (Okla. Crim. App. Dec. 15, 2015).
raises eight grounds for relief, all of which were
presented to the OCCA in his direct appeal. Respondent has
responded to the petition (Doc. 7). No reply has been
filed. For the reasons set forth herein, the
Court finds that Petitioner is not entitled to habeas
April 25, 2012, four-year-old A.S. approached her mother,
Bethany Sing, and said, “Hey, guess what? . . . Papa
can make snot come out of his bottom.” A.S. was very
calm and nonchalant, obviously too young to realize the
import of her statement (J. Tr. II, 143, 151-52). The
conversation, as told by Mrs. Sing, continued as follows:
I [Mrs. Sing] said, Really? That's weird. And she [A.S.]
said, Yeah, he's silly. He's silly sometimes. And I
said, Oh, really, why would he do that? And she goes, I
don't know, . . . he was just making snot come out of his
bottom. And I said, Well, did you try to go the bathroom with
him? . . . And she said, no, that we were outside in the
trees. It was when we were on the tractor. And I said, So was
he peeing outside? She goes, No. Was he pooping outside? No.
And then I asked her then, Was he, you know, peeing? Was he
pooping? She said, No. And she specifically said, Poop is
brown and pee is yellow. And I said, So what was it? What
color was it? And she said, White. And I was kind of startled
and I kind of walked away and she followed me and she said it
was when he was kissing and licking all over me - - all over
my body. And I was, like, Oh, okay.
So I sat there for another minute and I said, Well, when you
say that he was doing that, when you say that he was kissing
and licking all over your body, where was that? And she said
- - she pulled down her pants and touched her vagina and she
said, Right here and, when he puts his tongue in there, it
hurts and I have to tell him to stop and he did. And I asked
her if she touched him and she said, I just held his bottom.
(id. at 152-53). The “Papa” A.S. was
referring to was Petitioner, her step grandfather
(id. at 143-44, 153-54).
after A.S. made this disclosure, her parents took her to
Children's Hospital (id. at 155-57). Lauren
Donaldson, a physician's assistant at the hospital,
conducted a forensic examination of A.S. (id. at 88,
91). Ms. Donaldson made a finding of “probable sexual
abuse by history” and referred the matter to the
Department of Human Services (id. at 99, 102). When
Ms. Donaldson asked A.S. why she was at the hospital, A.S.
He licked my bottom, he spit snot out of his bottom, it went
into the grass. It was white. He started to do it on my knee.
I touched him on his bottom. He licked my bottom way inside
it and it hurt. And he told me not to tell anybody.
(id. at 96).
at the hospital, A.S. was interviewed by Sheliah Melfah, a
social service specialist. The interview was videotaped and
played for the jury (J. Tr. III, 168, 172, 175; State's
Exhibit 5). In the interview, A.S. once again relayed what
happened to her when she was riding the tractor with
Petitioner. Using two drawings, A.S. identified the private
parts of a boy and a girl. A.S. used the word
“butt” or “bottom” to describe her
lower private parts (State's Ex. 5 at 9:00) and
“bottom” to describe a male's penis or butt
(id. at 10:28). In the thirty-five minute interview,
A.S. made the following statements:
• “If we tell her [Nana, A.S.'s grandmother
and Petitioner's ex-wife] what we did, she won't let
us ride the tractor” (id. at 4:51);
• When asked if she had seen a boy's bottom before,
A.S. said, “Papa let me touch his” (id.
• When asked to tell about Papa's bottom, A.S. said,
“Well, it feels like it's soft, but it doesn't
. . . and it spits out snot when I wiggle it”
(id. at 14:40);
• “We stopped it [the tractor] and then we started
the touching . . .” (id. at 16:40);
• When shown the anatomically correct male doll and
asked to show what happened on the tractor, A.S. pulled down
the pants on the doll, pulled out the penis, and said,
“I touched his bottom.” When asked to show how
she touched it, she put both hands on the doll's penis
and moved her hands around it (id. at 19:20);
• When asked what color the snot was, A.S. said,
“It was white.” A.S. said the snot went in the
grass. She also said that the snot came from his bottom, and
when asked to show on the doll where the snot came from, she
pointed to the doll's penis (id. at 20:00);
• A.S. said, “He started to lick my bottom. . . .
He licked it.” When asked to show how he licked it,
A.S. lifted up the dress on the girl doll, pointed to the
doll's vaginal area, and said, “He licked right
there.” She added, “And he went into my bottom
and it hurted.” She said he licked her with his tongue
(id. at 20:35); and
• “He told me not to tell nobody. . . . If I told
Nana, she wouldn't let us do it” (id. at
testified at preliminary hearing via closed circuit
television. A.S. testified that Petitioner licked her
“pee-pee” in the field when they were driving the
tractor (P.H. Tr. 5/10/13, 11-13). She also testified that
she touched Petitioner's “pee-pee” and that
it “spit snot out” (id. at 15-16). A.S.
said the snot was “nasty, ” that it went on the
ground, and that it was brown and green (id. at
16-17, 23). A.S. testified that Petitioner “told [her]
not to tell” (id. at 18).
A.S. took the witness stand at trial, she was unable to
testify (J. Tr. II, 140-42). As described by the trial court,
“when [A.S.] was called [as a witness], she immediately
began to cry. She shook her head a couple of times to [the
prosecutor's] questions. Anyway, she just clammed up,
bottom line, with tears in her eyes” (id. at
212). Arrangements were made to take A.S.'s testimony by
video deposition in chambers; however, A.S. was unable to
testify in that setting either. A.S. was subsequently
declared unavailable and her preliminary hearing testimony
was read to the jury (J. Tr. II, 212-27; J. Tr. III, 5-30;
Court's Ex. 1).
addition to A.S.'s statements and testimony about what
Petitioner did to her, A.S. exhibited changes in her behavior
after the disclosure. Mrs. Sing testified that A.S. is
“afraid of everything, ” has trouble sleeping,
cries sometimes at bedtime, and “wishes she could be
the girl down the street . . . because they didn't have
bad things happen to them.” When A.S. plays with her
dolls, she takes their clothes off and licks their private
parts and she has taught her sister to do the same. Once Mrs.
Sing saw A.S. try to lick her sister (J. Tr. II, 162-63).
A.S. is afraid of tractors. In the fall following the
disclosure, A.S. was very upset and did not want to attend
her school field trip to the Orr Family Farm. Her mother
learned that A.S.'s emotions were fueled by her fear that
a tractor would be there and she would have to ride it
(id. at 163-64). A.S.'s relationship with her
grandmother, Petitioner's ex-wife, is almost nonexistent.
A.S. refuses to see her grandmother and she is in fear for
her sister's safety when she goes to see her
(id. at 164-65). A.S. has been diagnosed with
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and has been in counseling
since June 2012 (J. Tr. II, 167; J. Tr. III, 159-160).
testified at trial and denied that he did any of the things
A.S. said he did.Petitioner implied that A.S.'s
disclosure may have been the result of her coming in on him
while he was going to the bathroom. Petitioner testified that
on the day prior to the disclosure, he was preparing for a
colonoscopy and A.S. walked into the bathroom three times
while he was sitting on the toilet (J. Tr. IV, 32-38). On
cross-examination, however, Petitioner admitted that his
penis was not exposed when A.S. came into the bathroom
(id. at 70).
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).
Grounds One and Two: Evidentiary Rulings.
Grounds One and Two, Petitioner presents challenges to the
trial court's evidentiary rulings. For the following
reasons, the Court finds that the OCCA was not objectively
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 strength of the
evidence against the defendant.” Hanson v.
Sherrod, 797 F.3d 810, 843 (10th Cir. 2015).