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Coleman v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

May 7, 2018

TYRUS D. COLEMAN, Petitioner,


          Philip P. Simon Judge

         Tyrus D. Coleman seeks habeas corpus relief from his conviction for attempted murder. He was found guilty by a jury, and the Elkhart County Circuit Court sentenced him to forty-five years of incarceration. He seeks relief based on a slew of issues, but I find that none of them entitle him to relief.

         Let's start with the facts as set forth by the state court which I must presume are correct unless they are rebutted with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Coleman does not dispute the Indiana Supreme Court's summary of the evidence presented at trial. Here are the facts as set forth by the Indiana Supreme Court:

In a tragic incident occurring March 18, 2007, Tyrus Coleman shot his friends Anthony Dye and Dye's son Jermaine Jackson during a confrontation on Coleman's property, where Coleman operated a music recording studio. The confrontation stemmed from an event occurring approximately four months earlier in which Omar Sharpe, one of Coleman's musician clients, robbed Dye at gunpoint. Coleman retrieved part of the stolen property from Sharpe and returned it to Dye. Jermaine was irritated when he later learned that Sharpe had robbed his father, but Dye asked him not to get involved. On the afternoon of the shootings, Jermaine discovered that Sharpe was present at Coleman's studio and frantically phoned Dye to “[c]ome over here right now.” Armed with a handgun Dye headed to Coleman's studio. In the meantime an armed and agitated Jermaine pushed open the door to the studio and attempted to enter. Sharpe, who was present inside, prevented Jermaine's entry and closed the door. Exiting the studio Coleman attempted to calm Jermaine and to dissuade him from trying to enter. Coleman called a neighbor to come over to help calm Jermaine; he also called his business partner to inform him of the situation. The neighbor testified that he tried to talk with Jermaine by telling him what he [Jermaine] was doing “wasn't worth it. Just go ahead and leave. There was kids around and people around that didn't have nothing to do with what they was angry about.” According to the witness Jermaine responded by saying, “F* *k that. He didn't think about that s* *t when he did the s* *t to my Daddy.” Coleman armed himself and walked back and forth in front of the studio door holding his handgun at his side. As Coleman was making a phone call, Dye came into the yard through a front gate carrying a handgun which was pointed toward the ground. Dye strode toward his son Jermaine, who was standing next to Coleman on the patio in front of the studio. Within three seconds, the following occurred: Dye stepped onto the patio where Jermaine and Coleman were standing. As Dye stepped in front of Coleman, Coleman raised his gun and fired at Dye, who immediately fell to the ground. Coleman then shot Dye a second time. At that point Coleman “turned to Jermaine.” Coleman saw that Jermaine's handgun, which before that time had been concealed under his shirt and in a holster, was “pointed at [Coleman], ” and Coleman shot Jermaine. Jermaine fell to the ground and died at the scene as a result of his injuries. After the shooting, Coleman drove to Milwaukee disposing of his weapon along the way. Several days later he returned to Elkhart and surrendered to the police.

Coleman v. State, 946 N.E.2d 1160, 1163-64 (Ind. 2011); ECF 7-11 at 2-3.

         What is not included in the Supreme Court's description of the evidence is the fact that the entire episode is captured on video which I have viewed in my consideration of Coleman's petition. State's Exhibit 25 is a DVD from a security video from the day in question - March 18, 2007. The shootings occurred at approximately 3:34 pm. The Supreme Court's description of the events is accurate. But a picture is worth a thousand words, and I found viewing the video to be extremely helpful in bringing the case into focus.

         The State charged Coleman with murder for the death of Jermaine Jackson and attempted murder for the shooting of Mr. Dye. In the first trial, Coleman testified and admitted the shootings, but contended that his actions against both victims were justified on the basis of self-defense. The jury acquitted Coleman on the murder of Jackson, but was hung on the charge of attempted murder of Mr. Dye. Recall that Dye was shot twice and survived, and Jackson was shot thereafter and died. The trial court thus declared a mistrial on the count of attempted murder of Mr. Dye and scheduled another trial. Prior to retrial Coleman filed a motion to dismiss contending a subsequent trial on the attempted murder of Dye was barred by collateral estoppel and the Double Jeopardy Clauses of both the United States and Indiana Constitutions. The trial court denied the motion, and a retrial ensued where Coleman was found guilty of the attempted murder of Dye. He was later sentenced to a term of forty-five years. Id. at 1164.

         Coleman argues that he is entitled to habeas corpus relief because his second trial on the charge of attempted murder violated the Double Jeopardy Clause. He also argues that he was denied effective assistance of trial counsel when trial counsel: (1) failed to question the jurors regarding self defense during voir dire; (2) failed to properly cross-examine Dye's testimony; (3) failed to comply with a witness separation order and call character witnesses; (4) failed to call Omar Sharpe and LaQuisha Hunt as witnesses; (5) failed to present an uncropped version of the video recording of the shooting; and (6) presented inconsistent defenses. Coleman has presented these claims to the Indiana Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals of Indiana. ECF 7-3 at 16-27; ECF 7-10; ECF 7-14; ECF 7-18. Therefore, Coleman has properly exhausted his State court remedies, and I will consider his claims on the merits. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); Lewis v. Sternes, 390 F.3d 1019, 1025 (7th Cir. 2004).

         Respondent argues that Coleman's petition is untimely because he missed the limitations deadline of May 10, 2016, by six days. Respondent concedes that the prison mailbox rule may apply but notes that Coleman did not corroborate his assertion that he timely submitted the petition to the prison mail system with an affidavit. See Ray v. Clements, 700 F.3d 993, 1008 (7th Cir. 2012). However, Coleman has since filed an affidavit attesting that he submitted the petition to the prison mail system on May 6, 2016. ECF 10-1. As a result, I find that Coleman's petition is timely.


         Federal habeas review serves as an important error-correction role in helping to ensure the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. But the available relief is very limited. “Federal habeas review . . . exists as a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quotations and citation omitted). Habeas relief can only be granted in one of two ways: if it is shown that the adjudication of the claim by the state court 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 if the state court decision 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 demanding standard that has been described by the Supreme Court as being “intentionally difficult to meet. We have explained that clearly established Federal law for purposes of §2254(d)(1) includes only the holdings . . . of this Court's decisions. And an unreasonable application of those holdings must be objectively unreasonable, not merely wrong; even clear error will not suffice.” Woods, 135 S.Ct. at 1376 (quotation marks and citations omitted). What this means is that to succeed on a habeas claim the petitioner must show that the state court's ruling “was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.” Id.

         Criminal defendants are entitled to a fair trial but not a perfect one. Rose v. Clark, 478 U.S. 570, 579 (1986). To warrant relief, a state court's decision must be more than incorrect or erroneous; it must be objectively unreasonable. Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 520 (2003). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011) (quotation marks omitted).

         With these standards in mind I will turn to the various claims for relief asserted by Mr. Coleman.

         Issue Preclusion and Double Jeopardy

         Coleman claims that the Indiana Supreme Court made an objectively unreasonable determination that his second trial on the charge of attempted murder did not violate the Double Jeopardy Clause. On direct appeal, Coleman argued that issue preclusion applied to the charge of attempted murder of Dye barring a retrial on that count. Coleman's theory is that because the jury acquitted him of the murder of Jackson, that amounted to a finding of fact that he acted in self-defense as to the other victim, Dye.

         Let's start with some basics. The Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment “was designed to protect an individual from being subjected to the hazards of trial and possible conviction more than once for an alleged offense.“ Green v. United States, 355 U.S. 184, 187 (1957). The doctrine of issue preclusion “is embodied in the Fifth Amendment guarantee against double jeopardy.” Ashe v. Swenson, 397 U.S. 436, 445 (1970). This means that “when an issue of ultimate fact has once been determined by a valid and final judgment, that issue cannot again be litigated between the same parties in any future lawsuit.” Id. at 443. “Where a previous judgment of acquittal was based upon a general verdict, as is usually the case, this approach requires a court to examine the record of a prior proceeding, taking into account the pleadings, evidence, charge, and other relevant matter, and conclude whether a rational jury could have grounded its verdict upon an issue other than that which the defendant seeks to foreclose from consideration.” Id. But consideration of counts upon which the jury hung “has no place in the issue-preclusion analysis.” Yeager v. United States, 557 U.S. 110, 122 (2009). “Because a jury speaks only through its verdict, its failure to reach a verdict cannot-by negative implication-yield a piece of information that helps put together the trial puzzle.” Id. at 121.

         At the first trial, the prosecution attempted to prove a charge of attempted murder for the shooting of Dye and a charge of murder for the shooting of Jackson. Direct Appeal App. 104. Recall that Coleman shot Dye twice, and then, immediately thereafter, Jackson pointed a gun at Coleman, and Coleman shot and killed Jackson. Coleman asserted self-defense, and the jury was instructed on this defense. Id. at 112. The jury acquitted Coleman on the charge of murder of Jackson, but it could not reach a verdict on the charge of attempted murder of Dye. Id. at 130. Coleman then filed a motion to dismiss the charge of attempted murder based on issue preclusion, which the trial court denied. Id. at 147-66, 184-88. At the second trial, the jury convicted Coleman on the charge of attempted murder. Id. at 317.

         Here's how the jury was instructed on self-defense:

A person is justified in using deadly force, and does not have a duty to retreat, only if he reasonably believes that deadly force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to himself or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony.

         However, a person may not use force if:

He is committing a crime that is directly and immediately connected to the confrontation; He provokes a fight with another person with intent to cause bodily injury to that person; or He has willingly entered into a fight with another person or started the fight, unless he withdraws from the fight and communicates to the other person his intent to withdraw and the other person nevertheless continues or threatens to continue the fight.

Id. at 112.

         On direct appeal, Coleman argued that the jury from the first trial acquitted him on the charge for the murder of Jackson based on the self-defense instruction, although this is rank speculation. ECF 7-3 at 18-22. He further argued that this means that this jury necessarily found that he did not commit a crime by shooting Dye, which took place before he shot Jackson. Id. To which I ask, why then did the jury not acquit him of the attempted murder? The respondent argued on direct appeal that the jury could have interpreted the two shootings as a single confrontation and then considered whether Coleman had committed a crime prior to this confrontation. ECF 7-4 at 23-27. The Court of Appeals of Indiana agreed with Coleman and reversed the trial court's ruling on the motion to dismiss. ECF 7-6.

         Respondent petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court for transfer, which was granted. ECF 7-9. According to the Indiana Supreme Court, Coleman argued that if the jury found that he was reasonably in fear of Jackson, then the jury must have necessarily found that he was reasonably in fear of Dye. ECF 7-11 at 4-6. The Indiana Supreme Court rejected this argument, noting that the jury could have sensibly found that the second shooting was justified but that the first shooting was not because Jackson, unlike Dye, was clearly agitated and had pointed and fired a gun at Coleman. Id.

         Significantly, the Indiana Supreme Court's reasoning, though internally sound, wholly misconstrues Coleman's argument and omits any mention of the reasoning of the Court of Appeals of Indiana. Indeed, Coleman's argument regarding issue preclusion remained consistent at each relevant stage of litigation from his motion to dismiss to the instant habeas petition, and there is no apparent explanation as to why the Indiana Supreme Court declined to address it. This discrepancy raises the question of which standard of review I should apply to the Indiana Supreme Court's decision.

         In Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 98 (2011), the Supreme Court held that, “Where a state court's decision is unaccompanied by an explanation, the habeas petitioner's burden still must be met by showing there was no reasonable basis for the state court to deny relief.” In such cases, “a habeas court must determine what arguments or theories supported or, as here, could have supported, the state court's decision; and then it must ask whether it is possible fairminded jurists could disagree that those arguments or theories are inconsistent with the holding in a prior decision of [the Supreme Court].” Id. at 102. The Supreme Court extended the Harrington standard of review to “when the state court addresses some of the claims raised by a defendant but not a claim that is later raised in a federal habeas proceeding.” Johnson v. Williams, 568 U.S. 289, 293 (2013).

         Similarly, the Seventh Circuit extended the Harrington standard of review to cases in which “the last state court to render a decision offers a bad reason for its decision.” Brady v. Pfister, 711 F.3d 818, 826 (7th Cir. 2013). In such cases, federal courts must “still apply AEDPA deference to the judgment.” Whatley v. Zatecky, 833 F.3d 762, 775 (7th Cir. 2016). Stated otherwise, a federal habeas petitioner is not entitled “to de novo review simply because the state court's rationale is unsound.” Id. Based on these cases, I conclude that I must apply the deferential standard of review described in Harrington to the judgment of the Indiana Supreme Court even if the opinion of the Court did not address the substance of Coleman's argument.

         After reviewing the record, there is at least one theory that could have supported the Indiana Supreme Court's decision. The trial court denied Coleman's motion to dismiss because the jury did not necessarily rely on the self defense instruction to acquit Coleman; they could have acquitted Coleman of the Jackson murder by finding that the prosecution did not demonstrate the elements of the offense of murder. Direct Appeal App. 187.

         Coleman tells me that the fact that he knowingly killed Jackson was not in dispute, but the trial record suggests otherwise. The jury was instructed that to convict Coleman for murder, they were required to find that he knowingly killed Jackson and that knowingly was defined as follows: A person engages in conduct “knowingly” if, when he engages in the conduct, he is aware of a high probability that ...

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