United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
H. Payne United States District Judge.
the Court is Petitioner Reginald Ward's habeas corpus
petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Dkt. 1). Petitioner
challenges his Tulsa County District Court conviction for
first degree murder, No. CF-2013-0121. Dkt. 1, Petition, at
1. He argues he was acting in self-defense; his trial was
tainted by instructional error and other due process
violations; and trial counsel rendered ineffective
assistance. He asks the Court to vacate his life sentence and
reduce the charge to manslaughter. Respondent contends
Petitioner shot the victim in the back as he walked away, and
that the trial was otherwise free from constitutional error.
For the reasons below, the Court will deny the petition.
above-mention shooting occurred on March 17, 2013. Dkt. 12-5,
Amended Information in O.R., at 4. Petitioner, his
girlfriend, and his friend Michael McConnell went to a family
member's home to do laundry. Dkt. 12-3, Tr. Trial vol.
II, at 63. For simplicity, the Court will refer to that home
as the “Ward Residence.” The Ward Residence was
across the street, and one lot over, from where victim Alonzo
Stewart was staying. Dkt. 12-2, Tr. Trial vol. I, at 138-139.
The Court will refer to that home as the “Stewart
Residence.” The Stewart Residence had been “shot
up, ” and Stewart previously accused Petitioner of
committing that crime. Id. at 151, 186-187. Stewart
was in his yard on the phone when Petitioner arrived at the
Ward Residence to do laundry. Id. at 169-170;
see also Dkt. 12-3, Tr. Trial vol. II, at 79.
Petitioner entered the Ward Residence without incident. Dkt.
12-3, Tr. Trial vol. II, at 78. He came back outside after a
few minutes, when Stewart was still in his yard. Id.
at 79. Petitioner and Stewart engaged in a verbal argument,
and Petitioner shot Stewart between seven and eleven times.
Dkt. 12-3, Tr. Trial vol. II, at 83, 169-170. Stewart, who
was unarmed, died in a third party's driveway across from
the Ward Residence. Id. at 20.
State charged Petitioner with first-degree murder (malice
aforethought) in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 21, §
701.7. Dkt. 12-5, Amended Information in O.R., at 4.
Petitioner's theory was that he shot Stewart in
self-defense and, at most, he committed manslaughter. Dkt.
11-1, App. Brief, at 17-22. The jury received instructions on
first degree murder and the lesser charge of manslaughter by
heat of passion. Dkt. 12-6, Jury Instructions in O.R., at
64-67. On January 30, 2014, a jury convicted Petitioner of
first-degree murder. Dkt. 12-3, Tr. Trial vol. II, at 262.
The jury recommended a punishment of life imprisonment, and
the state court sentenced Petitioner accordingly.
perfected a direct appeal to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal
Appeals (“OCCA”). Dkt. 11-1, App. Brief, at 1.
Appellate counsel raised six propositions of error relating
to the sufficiency of the evidence, the self-defense theory,
ineffective assistance of trial counsel, and other procedural
defects. Id. at 3-4. By a Summary Opinion entered
January 6, 2015, the OCCA affirmed Petitioner's
conviction and sentence. Dkt. 11-3, State v.
Petitioner, No. CF-2014-127 (Okla. Crim. App. 2015)
(unpublished) (“OCCA Op.”), at 1. Petitioner then
filed a state application for post- conviction relief, which
was denied. Dkt. 11-4, P.C. Application; see also
Dkt. 11-5, Order Denying Application; Dkt. 11-7, OCCA Order
Affirming Denial of Post-Conviction Relief.
filed the instant § 2254 Petition (Dkt. 1) on September
21, 2016. He identifies the following grounds for relief:
(Ground 1): The evidence supporting the conviction was
(Ground 2): The state court failed to sua sponte
instruct the jury on the lesser charge of Manslaughter by
Resisting Criminal Attempt.
(Ground 3): The state court improperly refused to replay
video evidence for the jury.
(Ground 4): The state court responded to a jury question via
a written note, rather than on the record, in violation of
Okla. Stat. tit. 22, § 894.
(Ground 5): Trial counsel provided ineffective assistance.
(Ground 6): Cumulative error.
Dkt. 1, Petition, at 5-14; Dkt. 11-1, App. Brief, at
filed a opposition Response (Dkt. 11), along with copies of
the state court record (Dkt. 12, 13). Respondent concedes,
and the Court finds, that the Petition is timely and
Petitioner exhausted his state remedies. See 28
U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). The
matter is ready for a full review on the merits.
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) governs
this Court's review of petitioner's habeas claims.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Relief is only available
under the AEDPA where the petitioner “is in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Further,
because the OCCA already adjudicated petitioner's claims,
this Court may not grant habeas relief unless he demonstrates
that the OCCA's ruling: (1) “resulted in a decision
that was contrary to . . . clearly established Federal law as
determined by Supreme Court of the United States, ” 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); (2) “resulted in a decision that
. . . involved an unreasonable application of clearly
established Federal law, ” id.; or (3)
“resulted in a decision that was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of
the record presented to the state court, id. at
determine whether a particular decision is ‘contrary
to' then-established law, a federal court must consider
whether the decision ‘applies a rule that contradicts
[such] law' and how the decision ‘confronts [the]
set of facts' that were before the state court.”
Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 182 (2011)
(alterations in original) (quotations omitted). When the
state court's decision “identifies the correct
governing legal principle in existence at the time, a federal
court must assess whether the decision ‘unreasonably
applies that principle to the facts of the prisoner's
case.” Id. (quotations omitted).
Significantly, an “unreasonable application of”
clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1)
“must be objectively unreasonable, not merely
wrong.” White v. Woodall, 134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702
(2014) (quotations omitted). “[E]ven clear error will
not suffice.” Id. Likewise, under §
2254(d)(2), “a state-court factual determination is not
unreasonable merely because the federal habeas court would
have reached a different conclusion in the first
instance.” Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S. 290, 301
(2010). The Court must presume the correctness of the
OCCA's factual findings unless petitioner rebuts that
presumption “by clear and convincing evidence.”
28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
the standards set forth in § 2254 are designed to be
“difficult to meet, ” Harrington v.
Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011), and require federal
habeas courts to give state court decisions the
“benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v.
Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). A state prisoner
ultimately “must show that the state court's ruling
... was so lacking in justification that there was an error
well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any
possibility for fairminded disagreement.”
Richter, 562 U.S. at 103.
Sufficiency of the Evidence
Ground 1, Petitioner claims he was deprived of due process
because the State's evidence is insufficient to support a
first-degree murder conviction. Dkt. 1 at 5. He contends the
State failed to prove he was not acting in self-defense when
he shot Stewart. Id. At most, he argues the evidence
established he was guilty of manslaughter, under either a
heat of passion or “imperfect” self-defense
theory. Id.; see also Dkt. 11-1, App.
Brief, at 21-22.
the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, a
criminal defendant cannot be convicted of a crime unless the
state proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, every essential
element of the crime charged. See Jackson v.
Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 316 (1979); In re
Winship, 397 U.S. 358, 364 (1970). On federal habeas
review, “the relevant question is whether, after
viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the
prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the
essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable
doubt.” Jackson, 443 U.S. At 319.
“Jackson claims face a high bar in federal