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Tanner v. Yukins

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 15, 2017

Hattie Tanner, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Joan Yukins, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: May 4, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan at Detroit. No. 2:04-cv-71155-Victoria A. Roberts, District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Matthew R. Cushing, JONES DAY, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Raina I. Korbakis, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Matthew R. Cushing, Chad A. Readler, Danielle L. Scoliere, JONES DAY, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Raina I. Korbakis, OFFICE OF THE MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL, Lansing, Michigan, for Appellee.

          Before: DAUGHTREY, MOORE, and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          KAREN NELSON MOORE, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Hattie Mae Tanner, who was convicted of murder in 2000, argues that the district court erred by denying habeas relief on two grounds. First, Tanner argues that the Michigan Supreme Court unreasonably applied Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68 (1985), when it held that the trial court properly denied Tanner's trial counsel funding for a serology or DNA expert, and that the district court erred by upholding the Michigan Supreme Court's application of Ake. Second, Tanner argues that the Michigan Supreme Court unreasonably applied Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307 (1979), when it held that there was sufficient evidence to convict Tanner, and that the district court erred by upholding the Michigan Supreme Court's application of Jackson. We agree with Tanner that she was convicted based on insufficient evidence and that the Michigan Supreme Court unreasonably applied Jackson. We REVERSE the district court's judgment denying habeas relief on Tanner's Jackson claim. Because we hold that Tanner is entitled to habeas relief on the ground that the Michigan Supreme Court unreasonably applied Jackson, we do not address whether the Michigan Supreme Court also unreasonably applied Ake.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Crime Scene

         Sharon Watson, a bartender at Barney's Bar and Grill, was stabbed to death in the basement of Barney's sometime after 1:00 a.m. on March 22, 1995. People v. Tanner, 660 N.W.2d 746, 751 (Mich. Ct. App. 2003). Watson's murder appears to have happened during the course of a robbery. Id.

         Watson's boyfriend, Jerry Dockum, testified that at around 1:30 a.m. on March 22, Watson called him to tell him that she was closing the bar early. Id. at 752. When Watson was not home by 2:00 a.m., Dockum grew concerned and called the bar. Id. No one answered. Id. Dockum contacted Watson's sister, Gloria Loring, who eventually went to Barney's accompanied by Maria Coller, a former Barney's employee who had keys, and Maria Coller's husband, Ron Coller. Id. at 753. Loring and the Collers arrived at Barney's around 5:30 a.m. Id. When they arrived, the lights were on, the television was blaring, the outside doors were locked, and Watson's car was in the parking lot behind the bar. Id. A pack of Budweiser was on the floor near the side door with a napkin on top of it. Id. A note for a takeout order of beer was on the cash register behind the bar. Watson's coat was on the back of a chair, and Watson's purse was on the back of the bar. Id. There was a knife behind the bar. Id.

         Shortly after arriving, the Collers called 911 and Barney's owners. After Mr. Coller opened the door to the basement and observed loose cash at the bottom of the stairs, Mrs. Coller called 911 a second time. When they noticed that the door to the basement office was closed, Mrs. Coller called 911 a third time. Id. After one of Barney's owners, Tom Bliler, arrived, they opened the door to the basement office. Id. They found Watson's body in the basement. Id. Bliler estimated that $1, 009 had been stolen from the safe, suggesting robbery. Id.

         Detective Michael VanStratton, who at the time was the crime lab supervisor of the Battle Creek Police Department, arrived at the scene. He testified that Watson had blood stains smeared across her body, an excessive amount of blood on her neck and chest, and stab wounds to her chest. Id. at 753-54. Because of the disarray in the office and the wounds to Watson's arms, VanStratton concluded that there had been a struggle. Id. Crime-scene technicians found "diluted bloodstains on the stainless steel sink area directly behind the bar." Id. In addition to the items the Collers had already noticed-namely, the six pack of beer with the napkin on it, the note about the take-out beer order, the knife, and Watson's purse-technicians also found two drinking glasses and a cash register receipt. Id. In the basement, technicians found a bloodstain on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. Id. at 754.

         VanStratton had originally arrived at Barney's around 7:00 a.m. without the necessary equipment to process the crime scene. Id. at 753. VanStratton testified that when he returned to Barney's with the necessary equipment around 8:00 a.m., "'some of the areas which [he] thought might be critical for investigation'"-including the area behind the bar-"'had already been occupied by people that came in that morning.'" Id. There were about seven non-law-enforcement people in Barney's, including Watson's friends and Barney's employees. Id. at 754. People were making coffee behind the bar and were in the area where the bloodstains, knife, and takeout beer were found. Id. "Detective VanStratton testified that because 'there was some important evidence behind the bar, ' it was the first area that was isolated, " although people had gathered and made coffee in that area earlier in the morning, before law enforcement isolated it. Id. at 753-54.

         B. Witness Accounts

         Detective David Walters of the Battle Creek Police Department focused the investigation on Tanner, Dion Paav, and Robert Cady. Id. at 751, 755. On May 24, 1995, Walters interrogated Tanner and made an audio recording of the interrogation. Id. at 755. According to Walters's trial testimony, Walters showed Tanner a photograph of the knife recovered from the crime scene. Walters testified that Tanner said the knife was hers and that she recognized it by the alteration she had made to the blade for cleaning crack pipes. Id. On cross-examination, Walters acknowledged that the transcript of the audio recording shows Tanner saying that the knife was not hers. Id. at 757. Walters conceded that Tanner's answers to many questions were inaudible in the recording. Id. Walters also testified that although the thirty-two page transcript included 261 instances where Tanner's response is transcribed as "inaudible[]" Walters did not send the tape to the Michigan State Police Crime Laboratory to enhance the sound quality. Id.

         Walters testified that he interviewed Tanner about Watson's murder again on June 7, 1995. Id. at 756. This interview took place in a police car, with Detective David Adams also present. Id. According to Walters, during this interview Tanner admitted to accompanying Cady to Barney's around the time of Watson's murder. Id. Walters testified that Tanner said she stayed in the car while Cady went inside, and that after she and Cady left Barney's, they bought beer, cashed a check, and purchased crack. Id. Walters testified that he asked Tanner whether she was responsible for killing Watson, and she shook her head no. Id. Walters testified that he asked what circumstances might have led her to commit that sort of murder, Tanner responded that she might have done so "'if that bitch had treated her bad.'" Id. There is no audio recording of this interview, and Detective Adams, who was also in the police car during the interview, did not testify.

         Tanner also testified at trial, and characterized her answers about the knife differently than Walters did. Id. at 760. Tanner testified that she told Walters that the knife in the photo looked like a knife she used to have but was not her knife. Id. She testified that she told Walters it could not be hers because it was a straight-bladed knife and her knife was a folding knife. Id.

         Additionally, a friend of Watson, Catherine Huskins, testified that Watson had found a nonfolding knife before she was murdered. Id. Watson told Huskins's husband that she was going to keep the nonfolding knife in her purse. Id. Huskins never saw the knife that Watson apparently carried in her purse; she only heard about it from Watson. Id.

         According to Cady's trial testimony, on March 21, 1995 he got off work at approximately 10:55 p.m. Id. at 751. He had planned to meet Paav after work, but could not reach him. Id. After midnight on March 22, Cady called Tanner, drove to her house, and went with her to purchase crack cocaine. Cady and Tanner returned to Tanner's house and smoked the crack. Id. Approximately a half hour later, Cady left, without Tanner, to cash a check at Barney's. Id. He arrived at Barney's around 1:00 a.m. Id. Barney's appeared to be closed, but Cady entered through the open side door. Id. at 751-52. Watson was at the bar working, and there was a white male who Cady did not recognize in the bar. Id. Watson told Cady that she could not cash his check because she had already closed out her cash register. Id. at 752. Cady indicated that Watson would close out her cash register with customers in the bar only if they were trusted regular customers, and that Watson would close out her cash register with Cady in the bar. Id. at 752-53.

         Cady then went to Green's Tavern, where he was able to cash the check. Id. at 752. He also had a beer while at Green's Tavern. Id. At around 1:30 a.m., Cady called Tanner to tell her he was going to return to her house. Id. Cady went to buy more crack and then returned to Tanner's house, arriving around 2:30 a.m. Id. He drove home around 2:45 a.m. Id. On his way home, he passed by Barney's and noticed that the lights were on. Id. He found it unusual for Barney's light to be on at that time, but he continued driving home without stopping. Id.

         Tanner's trial testimony about the night of March 21 mirrored Cady's. Id. at 760. She testified that Cady came to her house where they smoked crack together and then he left to go cash a check. Id. She testified that he returned to her house after cashing the check and then left again around 2:30 or 3:00 a.m. Id. She testified that she did not go anywhere with Cady except to purchase crack around 12:00 a.m. Id. She specifically said she did not go to Barney's. Id.

         Other witnesses also corroborated aspects of Cady's and Tanner's accounts of that night. Tanner's mother testified that Cady was at her house when she woke up in the morning, and that neither Cady nor Tanner had any blood on them. Id. Todd Green testified that Cady did go to Green's Tavern after midnight, where he cashed a check, drank a beer, and made a telephone call. Id.

         Two witnesses spotted a truck and unidentified individuals outside of Barney's. Kevin Sage testified that he saw a light-colored truck with a wooden cap at Barney's around 1:15 a.m. Sage said that the driver appeared to be a white man with a beard, and that there was a passenger who Sage did not get a good look at. Id. Nancy Chantrene testified that at 2:47 a.m. she passed ...


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