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Wilson v. Sheldon

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

October 26, 2017

Robert Wilson, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Edward T. Sheldon, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Toledo. No. 3:12-cv-00014-James S. Gwin, District Judge.

          Matthew M. O'Rourke, MILLER JOHNSON, Grand Rapids, Michigan, for Appellant.

          Jonathan R. Khouri, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

          Before: SUTTON, DONALD, and THAPAR, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          BERNICE BOUIE DONALD, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Petitioner Robert Wilson appeals the district court's dismissal of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons that follow, we AFFIRM the district court's denial of habeas relief.

         I.

         A. Factual Background

         Wilson was convicted of murdering Brenda Navarre in 2008 and sentenced to 15 years to life. Navarre, a confidential informant for the Toledo Police Department's ("TPD") Vice Narcotics Unit, was found unresponsive and bleeding from the head on December 1, 1993. A bloody, 110-pound boulder was found near her body. Navarre died several days later. Autopsy results showed that Navarre died of blunt force trauma to the head.

         TPD misclassified the offense as a felonious assault, rather than a homicide after Navarre died from her injuries, and as a result destroyed the relevant evidence from the scene once the statute of limitation for felonious assault had expired. The case remained unsolved and was eventually classified as a "cold case."

         Over a decade later in 2005, Janet Wilson, Wilson's wife, met with TPD to discuss Wilson's possible involvement in Navarre's murder. Sergeant Lou Vasquez of the TPD was investigating a robbery involving Ms. Wilson's grandson, and after the investigation concluded, Ms. Wilson contacted Sergeant Vasquez to discuss Navarre's murder. Following multiple conversations, Ms. Wilson made a formal statement in August 2006. Subsequently, Detective Bart Beavers, of the TPD's Cold Case Unit, reopened Navarre's case. Detective Beavers spoke with Ms. Wilson seven or eight times about the case. Detective Beavers discovered that Navarre's murder had been misclassified as a felonious assault and never properly categorized as murder after she died from her injuries. As a result of the miscategorization, the evidence found at the scene had been destroyed.

         Ms. Wilson testified against Wilson at trial, but owing to Wilson's assertion of spousal privilege, her testimony was limited to acts and communications by Wilson in the presence of a third party. Ms. Wilson's son, Alfonso Davis, also testified, specifically about the night of the murder, during which Wilson made comments about confidential informants. Davis testified that Wilson told him that "snitch bitches die, " and "he had to kill the snitch bitch, " and finally, that he had "dropped a brick on her head." Sergeant Vasquez and Detective Beavers both testified that Ms. Wilson's statements had been consistent during the investigation and at trial, but neither testified to the specific content of her comments to them.

         B. Procedural Background

         After a four-day jury trial, Wilson was convicted of murder and sentenced to fifteen years to life. On October 23, 2008, Wilson appealed his conviction to the Ohio Court of Appeals, arguing that the State had violated his due-process rights by failing to retain incriminating physical evidence. The court affirmed his conviction and concluded that the physical evidence, including the bloody boulder, was not "materially exculpatory." State v. Wilson, No. L-08-1380, 2010 WL 2025521, at *6 (Ohio Ct. App. May 21, 2010). Wilson appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which declined jurisdiction. State v. Wilson, 126 Ohio St.3d 1598 (Ohio 2010) (table).

         On November 18, 2009, while Wilson's appeal was pending, Wilson filed a "motion to vacate or set aside judgment of conviction or sentence" in the trial court. State v. Wilson, No. L-13-1210, 2014 WL 1343694, at *2 (Ohio Ct. App. Mar. 28, 2014). Wilson argued that the state failed to adhere to discovery obligations under Ohio Crim. R. 16(D) which deprived him of a fair trial as a result of the police department's destruction of physical evidence. Id. On April 29, 2011, the trial court denied Wilson's motion for post-conviction relief as untimely. Id.

         While Wilson's direct appeal was pending, he also filed an application to re-open his appeal under Ohio Appellate Rule 26(B)(1), in which he argued ineffective assistance of counsel. The Ohio Court of Appeals denied his application, and the Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed his subsequent appeal. Wilson v. Sheldon, No. 3:12-cv-14, 2016 WL 4225571, at *1 (N.D. Ohio Aug. 11, 2016).

         Wilson filed his habeas petition on January 4, 2012, raising ten grounds for relief. Id. at *2. The Respondent filed a Return of Writ on March 6, 2015. On June 1, 2016, the magistrate judge filed a Report and Recommendation ("R&R"), in which he recommended dismissing three grounds for relief as procedurally defaulted and denying six grounds of relief because the state appellate court "did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal ...


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