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Collins v. Litteral

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

March 22, 2018

JOHN WAYNE COLLINS PETITIONER
v.
KATHY LITTERAL, Warden RESPONDENT

          John Wayne Collins, pro se.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Greg N. Stivers, Judge United States District Court.

         This matter is before the Court on the objections of both Petitioner (DN 37) and Respondent (DN 34) to the Magistrate Judge's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Recommendation (“R. & R.”) (DN 33). For the following reasons, the R. & R. is ADOPTED to the extent not inconsistent with this opinion, and all objections are OVERRULED. Petitioner's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (DN 1) is DISMISSED. A limited Certificate of Appealability is GRANTED as to Ground One, but DENIED as to Petitioner's remaining claims.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Kentucky Supreme Court summarized the events leading to Petitioner John Wayne Collins' (“Petitioner” or “Appellant”) conviction and subsequent pending petition for habeas corpus as follows:

On October 10, 2004, Appellant and his girlfriend, Christa Wilson, were visiting Appellant's father, Harold Wayne Collins, and then-stepmother, April Sizemore Collins. Another friend, Natasha Saylor, was also present. Everyone was on the porch of the home, visiting and drinking, when Stevie Collins pulled into the driveway, exited his vehicle and approached the porch. Stevie Collins extended an invitation for them to accompany him to church, and Appellant's father invited Stevie into the house. Appellant's father then shot Stevie in the face, whereupon Stevie fell to the floor and began pleading for his life. Appellant told his father that they could not let Stevie leave there. Appellant's father agreed and instructed Appellant to finish the job. Appellant retrieved his own gun and shot Stevie seven or eight times more, killing Stevie. A possible explanation for Stevie Collins's murder was revealed at trial when witnesses, including Appellant's uncle, Joe B. Collins, testified that his brother, Appellant's developmentally disabled uncle, had been murdered and dismembered in 1997, and that it was believed that Stevie Collins was responsible for the uncle's murder. After the shooting, the group left in three different vehicles and met up again at a relative's house in Henry County, where they continued to drink and sleep.
Meanwhile, police were dispatched to the murder scene. Kentucky State Police Sergeant, John Yates, one of the investigating officers, testified that one 9mm round was discovered on the front porch and eight SKS rounds were found in the yard on either side of the porch. Later, when Appellant's father was arrested, a 9mm handgun was retrieved from his vehicle. Ammunition fitting the description of the ammunition retrieved from Stevie Collins's body was found in Appellant's vehicle. However, lab results on the weapons were inconclusive.
Although Appellant's girlfriend, Christa Wilson, Appellant's stepmother, April Sizemore Collins, and Natasha Saylor all repeatedly denied any knowledge of Stevie Collins's murder during the initial police investigation, both Natasha and April testified at trial to a substantially similar version of events, consistent with the factual summary set out hereinabove. Both also testified that they initially lied to the police because they had been threatened not to speak of Stevie Collins's shooting. April had been threatened by her then-husband, Appellant's father, while Natasha had been threatened by both Appellant and his father.
Forty days after Stevie Collins was murdered, the body of Christa Wilson was found face down in a creek. She died from a gunshot wound to the head. Christa had last been seen with Appellant. Paint that was discovered on a rock near Christa's body appeared to have been the result of a vehicle scraping the rock, and Appellant's vehicle appeared to have been damaged in the rear bumper area. A sample of the paint was compared with a paint sample taken from Appellant's vehicle, the one he was driving when Christa was last seen with him. At trial, a forensic science specialist for the Kentucky State Police (KSP) and a defense expert witness testified concerning the results. The KSP specialist testified that the paint layer from the rock sample was identical to the paint layer from Appellant's vehicle in all areas, i.e., color, type, structure, texture, and elemental composition. The defense expert testified that the substrata of the paint samples differed in thickness and that the bottom layer did not match. For this reason, the defense expert disagreed that the paint samples were identical, but he did admit that the paint samples were extremely similar. Further, the defense expert explained that paint layer thickness varies across each vehicle and, in fact, two samples taken from Appellant's vehicle varied in thickness. He also testified that the difference in substrates could be the result of previous repairs made to the vehicle.
Ultimately, Appellant was tried and convicted for both the murder of Stevie Collins and the murder of Christa Wilson. Appellant had, initially, been indicted for Stevie Collins's murder. While Appellant was awaiting trial on that charge, he was indicted for the kidnapping and murder of Christa Wilson. As a jury was being selected for the Stevie Collins's murder, the Commonwealth moved to consolidate the two cases. Over Appellant's objection, the trial court granted consolidation, but gave Appellant a continuance. The Commonwealth filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty based upon intentional killing and multiple deaths. Subsequently, Appellant moved to sever the offenses, arguing that his option to testify at trial was compromised by joinder given his conflicting theories of defense. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that evidence in each case would presumably be admissible in the other. As stated above, when an impartial jury could not be seated in Clay County, the case was transferred to the Warren Circuit Court. Appellant renewed his motion to sever after transfer, but the Warren Circuit Court also concluded that joinder was appropriate, and denied the motion to sever.

Collins v. Commonwealth, No. 2008-SC-000107-MR, 2010 WL 2471839, at *1-2 (Ky. Nov. 18, 2010).[1] Petitioner was convicted at trial and sentenced to life without parole for a minimum of twenty-five years on each of the two counts. (Resp't's Answer Attach. 3, at 25-28, DN 26-3). The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed on direct appeal by a 4-3 margin. Collins, 2010 WL 2471839, at *1, *7. After he sought relief under Ky. R. Crim. P. 11.42, the Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the Warren Circuit Court's decision. Collins v. Commonwealth, No. 2011-CA-002105-MR, 2013 WL 2257673 (Ky. App. May 24, 2013). The Kentucky Supreme Court denied Petitioner's motion for discretionary review. (Resp't's Answer Attach. 6, at 138, DN 26-6).

          Petitioner filed a Petition for Habeas Corpus in this Court on six grounds. (Pet. Writ Habeas Corpus, DN 1 [hereinafter Pet.]). First, Petitioner argued that his Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated by the trial court's joinder of the two murder counts and denial of his subsequent motions to sever. (Pet. 5). Second, Petitioner alleged his Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when the trial court refused to grant a mistrial following testimony from Commonwealth witness Natasha Saylor (“Saylor”) regarding her assault. (Pet. 6). Third, Petitioner claimed he was denied his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process when the trial court allowed the Commonwealth to elicit prejudicial hearsay statements during the testimony of April Collins. (Pet. 6). Fourth, Petitioner argued that his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights were violated when the trial court permitted a testifying witness for the Commonwealth to remain in the courtroom during all testimony, “permitting her to clean up the Commonwealth's case by refuting the defense theory of justification/defense.” (Pet. 7). Fifth, Petitioner alleged he was denied his Sixth Amendment rights because the Commonwealth's opening statement included reference to Harold Collins' statements regarding his invocation of the right to remain silent and request for an attorney, and Petitioner's counsel's failure to object further denied Petitioner his Sixth Amendment rights. (Pet. 7). Sixth and finally, Petitioner claimed that his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when the Commonwealth introduced hearsay statements of Harold Collins through the testimony of Detective Yates, and Petitioner's counsel's failure to object further denied Petitioner his Sixth Amendment rights. (Pet. 9). On November 14, 2017, Magistrate Judge Brennenstuhl issued an R. & R. recommending dismissal of Petitioner's Petition on the merits of each of Petitioner's claims, and recommending the issuance of a limited certificate of appealability as to Ground One, but denying the same as to the remaining five claims. (R. & R. 27, DN 33).

         II. JURISDICTION

         This Court has jurisdiction to “entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat.

         1214 (1996) (“AEDPA”), applies to all habeas corpus petitions filed after April 24, 1996, and requires “heightened respect” for legal and factual determinations made by state courts. See Herbert v. Billy, 160 F.3d 1131, 1134 (6th Cir. 1998). Section 2254(d), as amended by AEDPA, provides:

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).

         This is a “difficult to meet and highly deferential standard . . . .” Cullen v. Pinholster,563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011) (internal quotation marks omitted) (internal citation omitted) (citation omitted). Legal conclusions made by state courts are also given substantial deference under AEDPA. The Supreme Court has concluded that “a federal habeas court may overturn a state court's application of federal law only if it is so erroneous that there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with this Court's ...


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