United States District Court, D. Nevada
MICHAEL B. WADSWORTH, Petitioner,
BRIAN E. WILLIAMS, et al., Respondents.
M. NAVARRO, CHIEF JUDGE
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.
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;
(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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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. ...