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Combs v. Warden

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

May 2, 2018

MICHAEL COMBS, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN, [1] Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         Petitioner Michael Combs is serving a 61-year sentence for his 2012 Allen County, Indiana convictions for child molesting, neglect of a dependent, and battery. He brings this petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons that follow, Mr. Combs's petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied and the action dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         District court review of a habeas petition presumes all factual findings of the state court to be correct, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Daniels v. Knight, 476 F.3d 426, 434 (7th Cir. 2007). On appeal from the denial of post-conviction relief, the Indiana Court of Appeals summarized the relevant facts and procedural history:[2]

In August 2010, Shanna Vorndran and her children, two-year old M.D. and one-year-old D.D., moved into a house in Fort Wayne with Combs, his sister, Anna Hogan, and Hogan's four children. M.D. had a speech delay and rarely talked.
Vorndran worked at a Wendy's restaurant, but Combs and Hogan were not working. Combs and Hogan watched the children while Vorndran worked. After moving into the house, Vorndran started noticing more bruises on M.D. and D.D. and noticed that M.D. had a rash around his anus and injuries to his anus and penis. Vorndran, Hogan, and a neighbor had also seen Combs hit M.D.
On September, 14, 2010, Vorndran worked from approximately 11:45 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Vorndran did not recall having contact with her children before she left for work. Combs and Hogan watched the children while Vorndran was working. When Vorndran got home from work, she found D.D. on a bed, in pain, and with a swollen leg. Hogan said that D.D. had fallen out of his playpen. At approximately 10:00 p.m., Vorndran took D.D. to the hospital. Vorndran learned that D.D. had a spiral fracture of his femur, and he had surgery that night. The spiral fracture was inconsistent with a fall, and the Department of Child Services (“DCS”) was contacted.
On September 15, 2010, Lanita Holder, a DCS family case manager, talked with Vorndran. Vorndran initially claimed that she and the children were living with her mother. However, Vorndran's mother reported that she had not seen Vorndran in months. When DCS family case managers and police officers arrived at Vorndran's house, they discovered that M.D. was filthy, covered with bruises, and had blood in his diaper. Combs claimed that M.D. had fallen out of the bathtub when he was watching him. DCS removed M.D. and Hogan's children from the residence. M.D. was examined at a sexual assault treatment center and at the hospital emergency room. The sexual assault nurse documented seventy-five injuries on M.D., including numerous bruises and abrasions on his body. M.D. had bruises and abrasions on his genitals and several tears to his anus, including one fresh tear. The anal injuries were consistent with more than one episode of anal intercourse or penetration by a blunt object. Hogan later reported to police that, on September 15, 2010, while Vorndran was at the hospital, she saw Combs having what appeared to be anal intercourse with M.D.
Combs v. State, No. 02A03-1209-CR-393 (Ind.Ct.App. Mar. 13, 2013) (emphasis added), trans. denied. The State charged Combs with Class A felony child molesting of M.D., Class B felony neglect of dependent D.D., Class B felony neglect of dependent M.D., and Class D felony battery of M.D. The jury found Combs guilty as charged, and the trial court sentenced him to an aggregate term of sixty-one-and-a-half years.
Combs appealed, raising insufficiency of the evidence for neglect of dependent D.D. and inappropriate sentence, and we affirmed. See id. [On transfer to the Indiana Supreme Court, Defendant reasserted his claims. Ex. H. On May 16, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer. Ex. C.]. [On July 5, ] 2013, Combs, pro se, filed a petition for post-conviction relief, which he later amended. In response, the State filed a motion to require Combs to submit his case by affidavit pursuant to Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(9)(b). The post-conviction court granted the State's motion. Combs then filed “affidavits” from Rebecca Schatzman, Imogene Combs, and Kathy Holland in order to prove that the State coerced Hogan into falsely testifying at trial that she saw Combs having what appeared to be anal intercourse with M.D. See Trial Tr. p. 434-36. The post-conviction court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law denying relief. Specifically, the court found that Rebecca's statement had “no tendency to establish that Anna Hogan later recanted her testimony at trial” and that Imogene's and Kathy's statements, which were not sworn under penalties of perjury, did “not assert that Anna Hogan [had] recanted her testimony at trial.”

Combs v. State, No. 02A03-1602-PC-343, 2016 WL 5156312, *1-2 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016); dkt. 15-12.

         On appeal from the denial of post-conviction relief, Mr. Combs argued: 1) the post-conviction court erred “in denying his motion to compel the State to provide him with ‘missing discovery documents;'” 2) the post-conviction court erred in ordering the cause to be submitted by affidavit pursuant to Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(9)(b) and not holding an evidentiary hearing; and 3) that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object when the State committed prosecutorial misconduct. Specifically, Mr. Combs argued that the State committed misconduct by using false testimony from Hogan to convict him. Dkt. 15-12. On September 21, 2016, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief. Id.

         Mr. Combs sought review from the Indiana Supreme Court, arguing that: (1) the post-conviction court erred when it denied his motion to compel missing parts of the discovery; (2) the post-conviction court erred in ordering the cause to be submitted by affidavit pursuant to Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(9)(b) and not holding an evidentiary hearing; and (3) trial and appellate counsel were ineffective for falling to object to the State's alleged coercion of Hogan which resulted in her perjured testimony. Dkt. 15-13. On February 9, 2017, the Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer.

         On May 12, 2017, Mr. Combs filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus.

         II. Applicable Law

         A federal court may grant habeas relief only if the petitioner demonstrates that he is in custody “in violation of the Constitution or laws . . . of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Mr. Combs's petition is governed by the provisions of the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”); see Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336 (1997).

         The Supreme Court has described AEDPA as “a formidable barrier to federal habeas relief for prisoners whose claims have been adjudicated in state court” and has emphasized that courts must not “lightly conclude that a State's criminal justice system has experienced the ‘extreme malfunction' for which federal habeas relief is the remedy.” Burt v. Titlow, 134 S.Ct. 10, 16 (2013) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102 (2011)); see also Renico v. Lett, 559 U.S. 766, 773 (2010) (“AEDPA . . . imposes a highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, and demands that state court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt.”) (internal quotation marks, citations, and footnote omitted).

         Where a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court, habeas relief is available under the deferential AEDPA standard only if the state court's determination was (1) “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, ” or (2) “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); see Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181 (2011). Thus, “under AEDPA, federal courts do not independently analyze the petitioner's claims; federal courts are limited to reviewing the relevant state court ruling on the claims.” Rever v. Acevedo, 590 F.3d 533, 536 (7th Cir. 2010). “A state-court decision involves an unreasonable application of this Court's clearly established precedents if the state court applies this Court's precedents to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner.” Brown v. Payton, 544 U.S. 131, 141 (2005) (internal citations omitted). “Under § 2254(d)(2), a decision involves an unreasonable determination of the facts if it rests upon fact-finding that ignores the clear and convincing weight of the evidence.” Goudy v. Basinger, 604 F.3d 394, 399-400 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Ward v. Sternes, 334 F.3d 696 (7th Cir. 2003)). “The habeas applicant has the burden of proof to show that the application of federal law was unreasonable.” Harding v. Sternes, 380 F.3d 1034, 1043 (7th Cir. 2004) (citing Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 25 (2002)).

         III. Discussion

         Mr. Combs raises three grounds in his petition: (1) the post-conviction court abused its discretion in denying his motion to compel missing parts of the record; (2) the post-conviction court abused its discretion and violated his due process rights in ...


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