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Hurt v. Dowling

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

December 30, 2019

JANET DOWLING, Warden, Respondent.


          John E. Dowdell Chief Judge United States District Judge

         Before the Court is William Stefvon Hurt's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition (Doc. 4). Hurt challenges his first-degree murder conviction in Tulsa County District Court, Case No. CF-2010-1963. For the reasons below, the Court will deny the petition.

         I. Background

         This case stems from a fatal shooting at Cheyenne Park in Tulsa. On the evening of May 16, 2010, Petitioner and his co-defendant, Jerlon Morgan, encountered victim Marcus Lewis at two locations. (Doc. 18-1 at 52-57; see also Doc. 18-2 at 11-16). Each time Morgan and the victim discussed fighting. (Doc. 18-2 at 11, 15). According to eyewitnesses Jarred Miller and Joseph Thomas, Petitioner and Morgan followed the victim to Cheyenne Park. (Doc. 18-1 at 111; see also Doc. 18-2 at 19). Petitioner was purportedly driving a white Taurus with a black front-end mask.[1](Doc. 18-1 at 143; see also Doc. 18-2 at 19). The witnesses testified that Petitioner shot the victim after co-defendant Morgan and the victim engaged in a physical fight. (Doc. 18-1 at 58-64; 69-71; see also Doc. 18-2 at 22-27, 32-33).

         The State charged Petitioner with first-degree murder in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 701.7. (Doc. 17-4 at 1). His jury trial commenced on October 3, 2011. (Doc. 18-1). Defense counsel argued Petitioner's family had already sold the white Taurus, and that the eyewitnesses were lying. (Doc. 17-1 at 18-21). After a five-day trial, the jury convicted Petitioner of first-degree murder and recommended a sentence of life imprisonment. (Doc. 18-4 at 143). The state court sentenced him accordingly. (Doc. 18-6 at 4).

         Petitioner perfected a direct appeal to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA). By a summary opinion entered May 17, 2013, the OCCA affirmed the conviction and sentence. (Doc. 17-4). Petitioner filed the instant § 2254 petition (Doc. 4) on February 7, 2017. He identifies three grounds of error:

(Ground 1): Insufficient evidence.
(Ground 2): Erroneous admission of opinion testimony.
(Ground 3): Prosecutorial misconduct.
(Ground 4): Ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

         (Doc. 1 at 11, 14, 16, 20).

         Respondent filed an answer (Doc. 17), along with relevant portions of the state court record (Doc. 18), on August 17, 2017. Respondent concedes, and the Court finds, that Petitioner exhausted his state remedies. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 2244(d)(1); 2254(b)(1)(A). Respondent initially argued the Petition was untimely, but the Court determined tolling applied. (Docs. 10, 14). The matter is fully briefed and ready for a merits review.

         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 ...

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