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Fulgham v. Crow

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

December 31, 2019

HILLIARD A. FULGHAM, Petitioner,
v.
SCOTT CROW, Director,[1] Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          CLAIRE V. EAGAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         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.

         I.

         This cases arises from petitioner's murder convictions. The investigation began in 2006, when police discovered that two women had been stabbed to death in a Tulsa apartment. See Dkt. # 8-9, at 248; see also Dkt. # 8-16, at 58. Police collected blood samples from bathroom tissue and the apartment's window ledge, but the DNA did not match any known suspects. See Dkt. # 8-10, at 198-99. The case initially went cold. Id. In 2009, petitioner contributed his DNA to the Combined DNA Index System (“CODIS”) after he was incarcerated in Mississippi. See Dkt. # 8-10, at 299-300. His DNA could not be excluded from the Tulsa murder scene, and, according to a forensic scientist, the statistical probability that an unrelated person contributed the blood on the window ledge was at least 1 in 3.3 billion. See Dkt. # 8-11, at 55-56.

         The State charged petitioner with two counts of first degree murder in violation of Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 701.7. See Dkt. # 8-17, at 26. Petitioner's defense theory was that he fought with the killer on the night of the crime; that petitioner bled into the killer's face, eyes, and ears; and that the killer then transferred petitioner's blood to the murder scene. See Dkt. # 7-1, at 11. However, petitioner's ex-girlfriend testified that he admitted to stabbing the victims. See Dkt. # 8-9, at 281-82. After a five-day trial, the jury convicted petitioner on both counts. See Dkt. # 8-12, at 88. The state court sentenced petitioner to life imprisonment without parole, in accordance with the jury's recommendation. See Dkt. # 8-14, at 13.

         Petitioner perfected a direct appeal with the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA). See Fulgham v. State of Oklahoma, 400 P.3d 775 (Okla. Crim. App. 2016).[2] The OCCA affirmed the conviction and sentence. Id. Petitioner filed the instant § 2254 petition (Dkt. # 1) on January 9, 2017. He raises two propositions of error:

(Ground 1): The state court violated the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act (“IAD”) by failing to commence a trial within 120 days of petitioner's transfer to Oklahoma; and
(Ground 2): Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to pursue the IAD violation.

See Dkt. # 1, at 4, 6.

         Respondent filed an answer (Dkt. # 7), along with copies of the state court record (Dkt. # 8). Respondent concedes, and the Court finds, that petitioner timely filed his federal habeas petition and exhausted state remedies. See Dkt. #7 at 2; 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.

         II.

         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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