Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Wadsworth v. Williams

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 28, 2017

MICHAEL B. WADSWORTH, Petitioner,
v.
BRIAN E. WILLIAMS, et al., Respondents.

          ORDER

          GLORIA M. NAVARRO, CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the court are the second amended petition for writ of habeas corpus (ECF No. 26), respondents' answer (ECF No. 57), and petitioner's reply (ECF No. 62). The court finds that relief is not warranted, and the court denies the petition.

         Congress has limited the circumstances in which a federal court can grant relief to a petitioner who is in custody pursuant to a judgment of conviction of a state court.

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). “By its terms § 2254(d) bars relitigation of any claim ‘adjudicated on the merits' in state court, subject only to the exceptions in §§ 2254(d)(1) and (d)(2).” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011).

Federal habeas relief may not be granted for claims subject to § 2254(d) unless it is shown that the earlier state court's decision “was contrary to” federal law then clearly established in the holdings of this Court, § 2254(d)(1); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); or that it “involved an unreasonable application of” such law, § 2254(d)(1); or that it “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts” in light of the record before the state court, § 2254(d)(2).

Richter, 562 U.S. at 100. “For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), ‘an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.'” Id. (citation omitted). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as ‘fairminded jurists could disagree' on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Id. (citation omitted).

[E]valuating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.

Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004).

Under § 2254(d), a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, as here, could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of this Court.

Richter, 562 U.S. at 102.

As a condition for obtaining habeas corpus from a federal court, a state prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.

Id. at 103.

         Ground 1(A) is a claim that the ballistics evidence was insufficient to support the verdict that petitioner was guilty of first-degree murder with the use of a deadly weapon. On this issue, the Nevada Supreme Court held:

Wadsworth was convicted of murdering Jose Esparza by shooting him, causing a rupture of his femoral artery. The State presented evidence placing Wadsworth at the crime scene and shooting a revolver. Wadsworth's theory of defense was that a second gunman was present at the scene and fired the fatal shot. . . .
Wadsworth next argues that there was insufficient evidence to convict him because the firearms expert could not affirmatively state that the shots fired came from Wadsworth's revolver. The firearms expert testified that the bullets recovered from the crime scene came from a Colt .38 caliber revolver. He compared the recovered bullets to the Colt .38 caliber revolver found at the crime scene. The firearms expert testified that he could not conclusively determine that the Colt .38 recovered from the crime scene was the murder weapon, but he also could not exclude it. Wadsworth later testified that the Colt .38 revolver was his and that he had fired the gun in the victim's direction, but that he had fired it into the ground. No other weapon was recovered from the crime scene.
It is for the jury to determine the weight and credibility of the evidence. The jury apparently found credible the firearm expert's testimony, as well as Wadsworth's acknowledgment that he owned the Colt .38 found at the crime scene. Moreover, additional evidence supported Wadsworth's conviction, including eyewitness testimony placing him at the crime scene and shooting a revolver. Therefore, we conclude that the firearm expert's testimony did not render the evidence adduced at trial insufficient to support his conviction.

Ex. 75, at 1, 4-5 (ECF No. 14-14, at 2, 5-6) (footnotes omitted). “The Constitution prohibits the criminal conviction of any person except upon proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.” Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 309 (1979) (citing In re Winship, 397 U.S. 358 (1970)). “[T]he 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 (emphasis in original). “[T]he standard must be applied with explicit reference to the substantive elements of the criminal offense as defined by state law.” Id. at 324 n.16.

         The court addresses first petitioner's argument that the evidence was insufficient to support the verdict that petitioner was guilty of first-degree murder. Petitioner cites to conflicting eyewitness testimony, biased testimony of persons who were present with Esparza, dubious testimony of a jailhouse informant, evidence of another man with a gun being present, evidence of more shots fired than bullets recovered, and evidence of shots being fired into the ground. Petitioner is presenting an argument why the jury should not believe this evidence. However, as the Nevada Supreme Court noted correctly, whom and what to believe is reserved to the jury, not to a reviewing court. Petitioner has not demonstrated how the Nevada Supreme Court's decision was an unreasonable application of Jackson v. Virginia.

         Regarding the weapon, people saw petitioner firing a gun, running away, and dropping the gun into a trash can. Petitioner admitted in testimony that he handled and fired the gun. The police recovered the gun. It was a Colt .38 Special revolver. The police also recovered three bullets, one from Esparza and two from walls. The prosecution's firearms expert test-fired the gun. He found that the bullets were .38 Special, and that they were fired from a particular class of weapon, based upon the number and twist of marks that the rifling of the gun's barrel left upon the bullets. That class included the Colt recovered from the location of the shooting, but it also included any other Colt .38 Special revolver and any other gun chambered for .38 Special with the same number and twist of rifling grooves. The recovered Colt did not mark well bullets fired from it. The firearms expert could not match some of the bullets that he knew he had test-fired from it. In short, the firearms expert could not rule that the recovered Colt fired the recovered bullets, and he could not rule out that the recovered Colt fired the recovered bullets. Petitioner has not shown how the Nevada Supreme Court's decision was an unreasonable application of Jackson v. Virginia.

         The court already has determined that ground 1(B) is procedurally defaulted, regardless of any alternative holding on the merits, and that petitioner could not show cause to excuse the procedural default because the purported cause itself was an unexhausted ground which petitioner dismissed.

         Reasonable jurists would not find the court's conclusions to be debatable or wrong, and the court will not issue a certificate of appealability for ground 1.

         The court found that parts of ground 2 were not exhausted, and they were dismissed. The remaining parts of ground 2 are claims that the trial court erred when it denied admission of both petitioner's prior statements to the police and a videotape of petitioner speaking to his grandmother after being interviewed by the police.

         Regarding the videotape, the Nevada Supreme Court held:

Following his arrest, Wadsworth was allowed to talk to his grandmother and an aunt in a police interrogation room, which had a camera that recorded the conversation. During the conversation, Wadsworth stated that there was another shooter at the crime scene. Wadsworth argues that the district court erred by not admitting a videotape of Wadsworth telling his relatives that a second shooter was present when Esparza was shot. However, a review of the record reveals that Wadsworth did not seek admission of the videotape. Therefore, the district court did not err in failing to admit it.

Ex. 75, at 1-2 (ECF No. 14-14, at 2-3). Petitioner has not demonstrated that the Nevada Supreme Court's determination that he did not seek admission of the videotape is unreasonable or wrong.

         The part of ground 2 regarding the admission of petitioner's prior statements to police is related to ground 4, in which petitioner claims that he was forced to testify because the trial court rejected his attempts to impeach the detective with his own statements to the detective. The court considers the two claims together. The Nevada Supreme Court held:

Wadsworth further argues that he should have been allowed to question Detective David Fogerty [sic] about his statements to his grandmother and aunt concerning a second shooter at the crime scene. A review of the record reveals that Wadsworth testified that he told his grandmother and aunt that a second shooter was present when Esparza was killed. Wadsworth has failed to identify what additional helpful information would have been elicited had he been able to question Detective Fogerty on this matter. Therefore, even assuming error, we conclude that Wadsworth was not prejudiced by any limitation on the questioning of Detective Fogerty.
Additionally, Wadsworth argues that, but for the district court's error in limiting Detective Fogerty's questioning, he would not have had to testify because the second gunman theory would have been presented through Detective Fogerty. However, the decision to testify is a strategic decision. As such, it was Wadsworth's prerogative to testify knowing the strength of the State's case. By choosing to testify, Wadsworth accepted both the risks and the rewards that accompanied his testimony.

Ex. 75, at 2 (ECF No. 14-14, at 3). Detective Duncan interviewed petitioner. Detective Fogarty-that is the correct spelling of his name-observed the interview. Detective Fogarty testified at trial. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.