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Bulger v. Habti

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

December 19, 2019

ABOUTANAA EL HABTI, Warden, [1] Respondent.



         Now before the Court is petitioner's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition (Dkt. # 1). For the reasons below, the petition will be denied.


         This cases arises from petitioner's murder conviction. The victim, Emily Clark, was friendly with petitioner and her boyfriend, Michael Lyke. See Dkt. # 7-5, at 128-29. On the day of her death, police stopped the victim for suspected prostitution. Id. at 20. Officers escorted her to her motel room residence, where they encountered Lyke and his brother, Darius Smith. Id. at 22-23, 133. Smith had an outstanding warrant, and he was arrested. Id. at 22. Officer Treantafeles led Smith and Lyke to believe that the victim had “snitched” on Smith, i.e., disclosed Smith's whereabouts and stated that Smith should go to jail.[2] Id. at 23. Later that evening, petitioner, Lyke, and the victim were having dinner at a crowded Tulsa apartment. Id. at 131. The victim was shot in the head, and several witnesses testified that they saw petitioner holding the gun. Id. at 61, 113, 138.

         The State charged petitioner with first degree murder in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 701.7. See Dkt. # 7-9, at 19. Her defense theory was that Lyke shot the victim. See Dkt. # 1, at 6. Lyke testified against petitioner at the preliminary hearing, but he died before the trial. Id. The state presented, inter alia, the preliminary hearing transcript along with evidence from a jailhouse informant, who testified that petitioner admitted to shooting the victim at Lyke's urging. See Dkt. # 7-5, at 128; see also Dkt. # 7-6, at 53-54. After a three-day trial, the jury convicted petitioner of first degree murder. Id. at 123. The state court sentenced petitioner to life imprisonment, in accordance with the jury's recommendation. See Dkt. # 7-7, at 3.

         Petitioner perfected a direct appeal with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA). See Dkt. # 6-1. The OCCA affirmed the conviction and sentence. See Dkt. # 6-3. Petitioner filed the instant § 2254 petition (Dkt. # 1) on December 1, 2016. She raises two propositions of error:

(Ground 1): The state court violated the Confrontation Clause and petitioner's right to present a defense when it excluded extrinsic evidence impeaching Lyke's testimony; and
(Ground 2): Trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance.

See Dkt. # 1, at 4, 7.

         Respondent filed an answer (Dkt. # 6), along with copies of the state court record (Dkt. # 7). Respondent concedes, and the Court finds, that petitioner timely filed her federal habeas petition and exhausted state remedies. See Dkt. # 6, at 1; see also 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244(d), 2254(b)(1)(A). However, respondent contends that both claims fail on the merits. The matter is fully briefed and ready for review.


         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). However, 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);[3] (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 state court'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 ...

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