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Dehenre v. State

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

July 28, 2014

MALACHY DeHENRE, #317415, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI and RONALD KING, Respondents.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

KEITH STARRETT, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus [1] ("Petition") filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 by Malachy DeHenre ("Petitioner") on August 15, 2011. Petitioner is currently incarcerated by the State of Mississippi following a conviction of manslaughter on January 23, 2008. Petitioner was sentenced to 20 years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections on March 13, 2008. After considering the pleadings, the state court records, and relief sought by Petitioner, the Court has concluded that the Petition should be denied.

II. BACKGROUND

Petitioner was charged with the murder of his ex-wife Dr. Nyasha DeHenre. On January 23, 1997, Jones County deputies found Nyasha in her home lying on the couch, a book on her stomach and her feet propped up, with a bullet in her head. She died a several days later.

Petitioner testified that Nyasha had been emotionally distraught and had committed suicide. According to his version of events, they were both seated in the same room, with him on the recliner and her on the love seat, where he reported that he kept a loaded gun hidden in the recess. He noticed a flash of metal when he stood to adjust his pajamas and reflexively reached out to grab Nyasha's arm. Petitioner contends that the gun fired just as he pulled her arm. He then lay her down on the love seat and propped her legs up. He did not recall anything about a book. He then called Nyasha's mother before calling 911. While waiting for the ambulance, he went into the bedroom and changed clothes.

The State's experts classified Nyasha's death as a homicide and concluded that the gun was fired from at least eighteen inches away, with twenty-four or greater being the probable distance.

Petitioner's first trial in 1998 ended with the jury deadlocked with eleven members for acquittal and one for conviction. Petitioner was reindicted by a grand jury in December 2006, and he was put on trial once more in January 2008.

During the jury selection process of the second trial, in answer to a routine voir dire question, one juror replied, "Every man is entitled to a fair trial, but when DeHenre left here he became an abortionist." The defense immediately moved for a mistrial, but was denied by the trial court. The juror was promptly dismissed, and the trial judge admonished the remaining jurors to disregard the comment and repeatedly asked the entire panel if they could still be impartial after hearing the statement. Later, the panel was asked once more by the defense if they could put the comment aside. At all times, the prospective jurors responded that the comment would not affect their impartiality.

In pretrial motions, the defense moved to dismiss on the ground that certain pieces of physical evidence were unavailable, which the defense argued was because they were destroyed by the State. The trial court denied the motion and allowed the trial to proceed regardless of the missing evidence.

At trial, the judge allowed the admission of testimony from Dr. B.R. Patel, a colleague and friend of Nyasha, as well as statements made by Petitioner's daughter to a 911 operator the night of Nyasha's death.

The jury ultimately found Petitioner guilty of manslaughter, and the trial court sentenced him to serve twenty years in prison and to pay a $10, 000 fine. The Supreme Court of Mississippi upheld the conviction in a 5-4 decision.

Petitioner now seeks federal habeas relief from this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

III. STANDARD FOR HABEAS REVIEW

A writ of federal habeas corpus shall not be granted to a state prisoner on a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication "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] that was based on an ...


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