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Wilson v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

June 22, 2018




         Michael Wilson, by counsel, filed a habeas corpus petition to challenge his conviction for murder under Cause No. 49G04-704-MR-57737. Following a jury trial, on May 7, 2008, the Marion Superior Court sentenced Wilson to sixty years of incarceration with fifteen years suspended subject to five years of probation.


         In deciding this habeas petition, the court must presume the facts set forth by the State courts are correct unless they are rebutted with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). The Court of Appeals of Indiana summarized the evidence presented at trial:

The facts most favorable to the verdict reveal that thirty-two-year-old Wilson and thirty-three-year-old Nupur Srivastava met at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in New York in November 2006. After Nupur was discharged from the center, she joined Wilson at his father's home in Indianapolis in January 2007, and later rented an apartment on the north side of town. In early April 2007, while Nupur was visiting her family in Maryland, her parents convinced her she needed to return to the rehabilitation center. Nupur briefly returned to Indianapolis to retrieve her belongings. The day before she was scheduled to leave Indianapolis, Nupur and Wilson were drinking whiskey and arguing on Wilson's father's patio when Wilson splashed Nupur with gasoline and set her on fire.
Nupur ran through Wilson's father's house to the bathroom where she filled up the bathtub and jumped into it to put out the flames. While she was in the bathtub, Wilson called 911 to report a fire. During the phone call, Nupur asked Wilson why he had done that. Wilson responded, “I didn't think it was going to be like that, I swear.” When paramedics arrived at the scene, Nupur walked unassisted out of the garage. Paramedic Jeff Brown ran to Nupur and escorted her to an ambulance. When Brown asked Nupur what had happened, she told the paramedic that Wilson had poured gas on her and set her on fire. Brown placed Nupur in the ambulance and turned to see a naked Wilson standing in the yard. Wilson had burns on his hands and portions of his forearms. Wilson told the paramedic that there had been an accident with the gas grill. On the way to the hospital, Nupur again told Brown as well as paramedic Shawn Grindstaff that she and Wilson were arguing when Wilson threw gasoline on her and lit her on fire. Wilson told another paramedic and a hospital nurse that the fire started when he and Nupur tried to light a grill using gasoline.
The following day, Indianapolis Police Department Sergeant John Breedlove went to the hospital to interview Wilson. Before the interview, Breedlove consulted with hospital staff who advised him that Wilson was taking Percocet for pain. Before questioning Wilson, Sergeant Breedlove read him his Miranda rights and had him sign a waiver of rights form. Wilson told the sergeant that he understood his rights, and the sergeant began to question him.
During the interview, Wilson asked to make a telephone phone call so that he could talk to someone because of the seriousness of the events. The sergeant told Wilson that he could stop answering questions at any time and allowed Wilson to make a telephone call. Wilson attempted to call his father, who he was unable to reach. After making the phone call, Wilson told the sergeant that the person he wanted to speak to was his father but that he was unable to reach him.
Sergeant Breedlove readvised Wilson of his rights, and Wilson told the sergeant that he understood those rights and was willing to continue answering questions. During the interview, Wilson appeared coherent, understood the questions the sergeant asked him, never became confused, and thought about and provided answers to the questions. Although Wilson delayed answering some of the questions about how Nupur became doused with gasoline and set on fire, Sergeant Breedlove interpreted Wilson's responses to be deceitful rather than confused.
During the interview, Wilson admitted that his previous story about the grill accident was not true. Wilson explained that he told that story because he panicked. According to Wilson, he was holding a gas can while he and Nupur were arguing. Nupur pulled on the can and gas apparently splashed on her and ignited when one of them lit a cigarette. Wilson explained that when Nupur drank alcohol, “she always got very, very argumentative and wanted to put Wilson down and wanted to say things to push buttons.” The State subsequently charged Wilson with attempted murder and aggravated battery. Nupur, who had third degree burns on 80% of her body, was placed in a drug-induced coma to allow for treatment and pain management. After she died from multi-organ failure resulting from her burns five weeks later, Wilson was charged with murder.
At trial, additional evidence revealed that in March 2007, while Nupur was staying at a hotel in Indianapolis, she and Wilson got into a physical altercation. Jimmy Barona, the hotel's owner, testified that Nupur's hair was messed up, and she had a black eye and scratches on her face. When Nupur and Barona told Wilson to leave Nupur's hotel room, Wilson pushed Nupur and appeared ready to fight Barona. Barona and a hotel maintenance worker had to physically remove Wilson from the room.
In addition, a former neighbor testified that Wilson and Nupur argued every day. According to the neighbor, one night Wilson banged on Nupur's apartment door for hours demanding to be let into the apartment. The following morning, the neighbor noticed plaster from the ceiling and the walls had been knocked to the floor by Wilson's banging.
Also at trial, ATF Fire Research Engineer Brian Grove testified that he conducted nine tests where gas was splashed on a manikin wearing jeans and a sweater similar to those that Nupur was wearing. The tests revealed that Nupur was seated when she was doused with approximately one-half cup of gasoline below her waistband and above her knees. The gasoline was then ignited with a flame, not a cigarette, which had to have been placed one to two inches from the gasoline. Two lighters were found on the patio where Nupur was sitting. One of the lighters was found on a table, and the other was found on the ground.
Wilson testified that at the time he gave his statement to Sergeant Breedlove, Wilson was “pretty doped up, ” and easily confused. He also testified that Nupur set herself on fire and asked him not to tell anyone what she had ...

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