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Ward v. Allbaugh

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

June 10, 2019

REGINALD WARD, Petitioner,
v.
JOE ALLBAUGH, Director, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James H. Payne United States District Judge.

         Before 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.

         I. Background

         The 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.

         The 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. Id.

         Petitioner 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.

         Petitioner 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 insufficient.
(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 3-4.[1]

         Respondent 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.

         II. Discussion

         The 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);[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 § 2254(d)(2).

         “To 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).

         Essentially, 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.

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         In 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.

         Under 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 habeas ...


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