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Huiett v. Conover

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Northern Division, Covington

September 18, 2018



          Joseph M. Hood, Senior U.S. District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court upon the Recommended Disposition filed by Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram [DE 13] and Petitioner's Objections thereto [DE 14]. Having considered the matter de novo in light of those objections, the Court adopts Magistrate Judge Ingram's recommended disposition as its own.

         Tina Rae Stevens was murdered in Kentucky in 1999. In April 2000, a roadside cleaning crew found most of her remains in a dark blue garment bag at the bottom of a hill. The initial target of the murder investigation was Thomas Jansen, Stevens's boyfriend at the time of her disappearance in May 2009. Investigators' suspicion then pivoted toward her former boyfriend, Leonard Day, and his girlfriend, petitioner Deborah Huiett. Day and Huiett faced separate jury trials and were convicted. The Commonwealth's theory was that Huiett stabbed Stevens in a fit of jealous rage, and that Day helped Huiett finish off the victim and dispose of her body. Day was tried first and convicted of Stevens's murder. Day appealed as a matter of right to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which unanimously affirmed the judgment. Day v. Commonwealth, No. 2004-SC-000039-MR, 2006 WL 2707960 (Ky. Sept. 21, 2006). His conviction was the subject of a habeas corpus petition in this court in which relief was denied. See Day v. Beckstrom, No. 2:14-CV-75-KKC-HAI (E.D. KY April 11, 2016). The United States Court of Appeals denied his application for a Certificate of Appealability. See Day v. Beckstrom, No. 16-5610 (6th Cir. Feb. 9, 2017).

         In Huiett's case, after a trial lasting several days, the jury convicted Petitioner on both counts and the state trial court sentenced Petitioner to life imprisonment as recommended by the jury. The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed on direct appeal. Huiett v. Commonwealth, 2005-SC-000643-MR, 2007 WL 4793688 (Ky. June 21, 2007), as modified Jan. 24, 2008. The Kentucky Supreme Court addressed one claim which Petitioner has included in her habeas petition (Claim 5) regarding a comment co-defendant Leonard Day made to a witness. As mentioned above, Day was tried separately.

         Petitioner filed a pro se motion to vacate the conviction under Ky.R.Crim.Proc. 11.42 before her direct appeal was final. The state trial court appointed counsel who filed a supplemental brief and asked for DNA testing. The trial court then held a two-day evidentiary hearing on the post-conviction motion before denying relief.

         The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's order in all respects except that it remanded the issue of DNA testing to the trial court. Huiett v. Commonwealth, No. 2012-CA-001824-MR, 2014 WL 1268695 (Ky.App. Mar. 28, 2014), as modified Aug. 29, 2014 on denial of reh'g. App. 427-450. DNA testing is still pending before the state trial court. The Kentucky Court of Appeals addressed four claims pending before this Court; a claim that the Commonwealth failed to produce exculpatory information before trial and three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.

         A state prisoner has a statutory right to collaterally attack her conviction or sentence. West v. Bell, 242 F.3d 338, 346 (6th Cir. 2001). A state prisoner may seek federal habeas corpus relief on the ground that she is being held in custody in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         The Antiterrorism 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 “highly deferential” standard of review that is “difficult to meet.” Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 131 S.Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011). All of the state court's factual findings are presumed to be correct, and can be rebutted only by “clear and convincing evidence.” Mitchell v. Mason, 325 F.3d 732, 737-38 (6th Cir. 2003); 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Legal conclusions made by state courts also receive substantial deference under AEDPA. “[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 precedents.” Nevada v. Jackson, 569 U.S., 133 S.Ct. 1990, 1992 (2013) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). Also, “circuit precedent does not constitute clearly established Federal law” under AEDPA. Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S., 132 S.Ct. 2148, 2155 (2012) (internal quotation marks omitted). In sum, “federal judges are required to afford state courts due respect by overturning their decisions only when there could be no reasonable dispute that they were wrong.” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015).

         Therefore, the question before this Court is not merely whether the Kentucky courts were incorrect, but whether they were so wrong that their treatment of the law and facts was “unreasonable” under these deferential standards.

         Magistrate Judge Ingram correctly analyzed Petitioner's claims under AEDPA in a thorough and in-depth fashion and found them wanting. Although Petitioner has filed objections to his recommended disposition [DE 14], the Court wholly agrees ...

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