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Williams v. Norman

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

February 13, 2019

JEFF NORMAN, Respondent.



         This case is before the Court on the petition of Jerome Williams for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A state jury convicted Williams of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Williams received a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for murder and a consecutive sentence of life imprisonment with the possibility of parole for armed criminal action. His conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Missouri Court of Appeals. State v. Williams, 422 S.W.3d 456 (Mo.Ct.App. 2013) (Resp. Exh. E). The Missouri Court of Appeals later affirmed the denial of his post-conviction motion filed under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. Williams v. State, 510 S.W.3d 907 (Mo.Ct.App. 2017) (Resp. Exh. I).

         In his petition for habeas corpus, Williams asserts sixteen grounds for relief. Thirteen of his claims are procedurally barred. The Missouri Court of Appeals addressed three of Williams's claims and denied them on the merits. Because the state appellate court's decision was not an unreasonable application of clearly established law and was not based on an unreasonable determination of the facts, I will deny Williams's petition for writ of habeas corpus.


          The Missouri Court of Appeals described the factual and procedural background of this case on direct appeal as follows:

On November 12, 2010, Damon Hollis (Victim) went to Defendant's [Williams's] home at 4933 Penrose in the City of St. Louis to play some dice games. Several other individuals came and went from Defendant's home during the dice games. James Greenlee, Daryl Greenlee, and Greg Murry were at Defendant's home sometime between midnight and 1:00 a.m. on November 13, 2010, and saw a man matching Victim's description shooting dice there. When the Greenlees and Murry left, Victim and Defendant were still at Defendant's home. Brent Alexander, Derrick Altemus, Sean Sanders, Markus Rockett, and Michael Walker were all at Defendant's home at one time or another in the early hours of November 13, 2010. Rockett and Walker arrived after 1:30 p.m. and stayed only 10 or 15 minutes. Alexander and Altemus left after 4:00 a.m. The only individuals remaining at Defendant's home were Defendant and Victim.
Around 4:00 a.m., Clover Stubblefield (Stubblefield), who was Victim's girlfriend, awoke to discover she had received a cell phone voicemail message from Victim. Stubblefield knew that Victim had gone out to play craps, but Victim had not yet returned to the home he shared with Stubblefield. Stubblefield did not know whether Victim had gone to Defendant's home to play craps or to a different address to play craps. Stubblefield had gone with Victim to a craps game at Defendant's house on a previous occasion, so she knew it would be “an all night thing.” At the previous craps game, Stubblefield had observed that individual's tempers might flare and they would argue and “talk trash, ” but the game would continue. After listening to the voicemail message from Victim, Stubblefield called him back. Victim answered and told Stubblefield that he had won some money. Stubblefield heard loud background noise, including people telling Victim, “Shoot, shoot, shoot.” Stubblefield then heard a voice say, “Shut the f*** up. I'm going to make your ass get buck naked.” The phone call ended abruptly. Stubblefield went back to sleep.
Sometime after 6:00 a.m., Stubblefield woke up and looked out the window to see if Victim's car was parked in the alley, which would indicate Victim was home. Stubblefield did not see Victim's car, so she looked at her phone and noticed another voicemail message from Victim. When Stubblefield listened to the voicemail message, she did not hear Victim's voice but heard a voice she thought was Defendant's. Some of the message was muffled, but Stubblefield heard the following:
It's a dead mother f*****. Just relax baby
I want you to wash all this money off, you hear me? All of it.
don't worry about it.
(inaudible) Pap? (inaudible)
Shut the f*** up and do what I ask you to do n***** These bitch ass n***** don't live for f****** with this (inaudible) Make sure he's dead mother f*****
It's your turn bitch ass n***** Put them keys in the side (inaudible) move they car.
(inaudible) the keys right here, make sure you put them in the (inaudible).
(inaudible) its your turn (inaudible).
You better not move, if you (inaudible) another breath I'm gonna kill you again.
C'mon (inaudible) baby
You gonna f*** with (inaudible) nephew?
(inaudible) then I f*** bitch ass.
Where the rest of the money at?
(inaudible) gimmee them keys (inaudible)
At approximately 8:20 a.m., police were called to the scene of a car fire near 1410 Newhouse in the City of St. Louis. The burned car was Victim's, and Victim's body was in the back seat. Victim was already dead when his body was burned; he had sustained gunshot wounds to his head and chest. Police found blood stains on the car's license plate, hub caps, and backseat. The blood was later determined to be Victim's blood.
After Victim's body was found, police met with Stubblefield. Stubblefield provided police with the voicemail message she had received around 6:00 a.m. and told police the voice was Defendant's. Stubblefield also directed police to Defendant's home. When police arrived there to investigate, they found blood on the grass in the yard and blood spots on the stairs, handrail, and backdoor. After securing a warrant to search Defendant's home, police found what appeared to be blood in the kitchen. Although an attempt had been made by someone to clean the blood from the linoleum floor in the kitchen, police discovered blood underneath the linoleum. The blood was later determined to be Victim's blood. Police also found two bullet casings, two bullets, and a bullet hole in the floor.
Police later interviewed Defendant, who stated that he had been at his girlfriend's (Girlfriend) house at the time of the murder. Based on that information, police obtained search warrants for Defendant's and Girlfriend's cell phone records from telephone companies. Police reasoned that the records could be used to pinpoint the location of Defendant at the time of the murder through the use of location-based data based on “pings” between Defendant's and Girlfriend's cell phones and cellular telephone towers. Once the warrants were issued and police obtained the records, an employee of the police department, Emily Blackburn (Blackburn), then plotted the “pings” using longitude and latitude in relation to cellular telephone towers, the location of the murder, and the location where Victim's body was found.
Prior to trial, Defendant filed his motion in limine to preclude the admission of cellular telephone tower “ping” evidence or, in the alternative, for a Frye hearing to determine the admissibility of scientific testimony and evidence. During a pre-trial hearing on the motion in limine, Defendant argued that to allow such “ping” evidence was irrelevant and would mislead the jury becase “a ping off of one tower is not an accurate way to track a cell phone” in that cell phones were not intended to be used for tracking individuals and cell towers were not designed to track cell phones or to show the location of a specific cell phone. Defendant argued his research had shown that at “any one time when a cell phone is looking to either make a call or receive a call or even as a person is just traveling and the phone is in their pocket . . . [the] phone is looking for a tower to connect to.” Defendant argued that proximity was not the only factor in determining whether a cell phone “pings” off a particular cellular telephone tower. Defendant argued that multiple factors could affect a cell phone's connection to a particular tower, including the make and model of the phone; the wattage and bandwidth of the phone; whether the call originated inside or outside of a building; whether the call took place in an urban or rural environment; the topography of the area in which the tower was located; the number, location, and height of the antennae on a particular tower; the direction and angle for which the antennae on a particular tower are set to receive phone calls; the tower's height above sea level; the channel assignments to the tower; the number of cell phone providers utilizing a particular tower; the number of cell phone providers within a call region; and weather conditions. Defendant argued there was no proof that a phone call would “ping” off the closest cellular telephone tower because a cell phone seeks the tower with the strongest signal, not necessarily the closest tower. Defendant argued that, given the unsound science of locating an individual through cell phone data, the State's “ping” evidence should be excluded at trial for the purposes of showing Defendant's specific location in relation to a cellular telephone tower, or in the alternative, the State should be required in a Frye hearing to qualify as an expert any witness who would testify to the technology and relationship of cell phones and cellular telephone towers in determining when a “ping” from a cell phone goes to a particular tower versus another tower in the same coverage area.
The prosecutor counter argued that Defendant's motion in limine should be denied and that a Frye hearing to determine whether Blackburn was qualified as an expert was unnecessary. The prosecutor acknowledged that the map plotted by Blackburn would not be able to show that Defendant “was standing 25 feet away from [Victim's] body” at the time of the murder or at the time Victim's body was burned; however, the jury would be able to use the map to “extrapolate that at [a particular time Defendant's] phone pinged - in a five-minute period pinged less than a block from a body.” The prosecutor argued that the map of “pings” showed a pattern and a radius and that Defendant “must have been within the radius” where the murder occurred and where Victim's body was found. The prosecutor noted that Girlfriend's cell phone records showed her “pings” were roughly the same and somewhat overlapped Defendant's, showing a similar pattern of movement as Defendant. The prosecutor further argued that Blackburn could testify either as a layperson or be qualified to testify as an expert regarding how the cellular telephone towers operated. The prosecutor acknowledged that the State's case was based on circumstantial evidence but argued that the map and Blackburn's testimony would be only “one small . . . part of the case.”
The trial court thereafter overruled and denied Defendant's motion in limine and request for a Frye hearing. The trial court specifically stated that it would allow the State to call Blackburn as a witness during its case in chief. At trial, the State called Blackburn as a witness. When the prosecutor began to question Blackburn about the map on which she had plotted Defendant's and Girlfriend's cell phone “pings, ” Defendant objected to the line of questioning based on his motion in limine. The trial court overruled the objection. Blackburn subsequently testified that a “ping” is the connection a cell phone makes with a cellular telephone tower when a cell phone call is made. Blackburn testified that she did not know all of the factors involved in determining whether a particular tower would relay a cell phone call but “a lot of it has to do with proximity, the [number] of people making calls at the time, topography of ...

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