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McKnight v. Ladner

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

February 11, 2019

JAMES DOUGLAS MCKNIGHT PETITIONER
v.
WARDEN BRIAN LADNER RESPONDENT

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOHN C. GARGIULO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is the Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody, filed by Petitioner James Douglas McKnight. The Petition challenges McKnight's 2013 conviction for murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the record, and relevant legal authority, the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge recommends that Petitioner's request for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 be denied. McKnight has not demonstrated that he is entitled to federal habeas relief.

         I. BACKGROUND

         McKnight is a postconviction inmate in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. After a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Pike County, Mississippi, McKnight was convicted of murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon on June 13, 2013. He was sentenced as a habitual offender to life in prison without the possibility of parole on each conviction, with sentences to run consecutively. After his motions for judgment notwithstanding the verdict and for a new trial were denied, McKnight appealed, and the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed his conviction. McKnight v. State, 187 So.3d 635 (Miss. Ct. App. 2015).

         McKnight, who was represented by an attorney before the Court of Appeals, raised seventeen issues during his direct appeal:

1. whether the evidence was sufficient to sustain the verdict;
2. whether the verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence;
3. whether probable cause existed to arrest McKnight;
4. whether the trial court should have suppressed evidence obtained from his vehicle and mobile phone;
5. whether the trial court erred in admitting evidence from photographic lineups;
6. whether McKnight received ineffective assistance of counsel;
7. whether the trial court should have ordered a mental evaluation;
8. whether the trial court should have granted a change of venue;
9. whether McKnight was prejudiced by the first judge's recusal or the public defender's office withdrawal;
10. whether McKnight's right to a speedy trial was violated;
11. whether the trial court erred in admitting prior convictions or bad acts;
12. whether the trial court should have given a jury instruction presenting McKnight's theory of defense;
13. whether the trial court erred in admitting hearsay testimony;
14. whether the statute preventing possession of a firearm by a convicted felon violates the Second Amendment;
15. whether McKnight's sentences constituted cruel and unusual punishment;
16. whether the habitual offender statute is unconstitutional; and
17. whether cumulative errors and plain error warranted reversal or a new trial.

         The Mississippi Court of Appeals found each of these issues to be without merit and affirmed his conviction. After his Motion for Rehearing was denied, McKnight, proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari before the Mississippi Supreme Court raising three grounds for relief: (1) hearsay evidence was improperly admitted; (2) his conviction rested on the perjured testimony of a co-defendant; and (3) he was denied compulsory process to obtain witnesses in his favor. The Mississippi Supreme Court denied his Petition on March 31, 2016. McKnight then filed a Motion for Post-Conviction Collateral Relief before the Mississippi Supreme Court on April 26, 2017. This Motion raised thirty-seven grounds for relief.

1. He was a victim of malicious prosecution.
2. He should be excused for any failure to raise issues at a prior stage.
3. He received ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel.
4. He received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial because trial counsel worked with the prosecution in suppressing evidence about the victim's murder.
5. He received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel suppressed or withheld exculpatory evidence.
6. He received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel did not present evidence refuting “well known perjured testimony.” 7. He received ineffective assistance of counsel at both the trial and appellate levels because counsel did not investigate or present evidence concerning “perjured hearsay testimony of a recent fabrication.” 8. He received ineffective assistance due to counsel assisting in prosecutorial misconduct.
9. He received ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel did not present evidence concerning his co-defendant's involvement.
10. He was denied due process because of inadmissible hearsay.
11. He received ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel colluded with a detective to create a false impression of the facts.
12. He received ineffective assistance of counsel on appeal when counsel “improperly adopted and fostered a misstatement of fact in appellate brief.” 13. He received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel improperly initiated the recusal of the first assigned trial judge.
14. The first assigned trial judge abused his discretion in recusing.
15. The trial judge was not disinterested.
16. McKnight was denied due process of law because the trial judge admitted interest in the case.
17. He received ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel filed a motion to dismiss.
18. He was denied due process when the state used a surprise witness.
19. He received ineffective assistance of counsel when trial counsel did not object to the introduction of two state witnesses as “blood relatives.”
20. The Court of Appeals ruling on Petitioner's right to a speedy trial was “based on false facts.”
21. He received ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel did not object to the prosecution “vouching” for a witness.
22. He received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel did not object to Petitioner being “held to answer for a crime he was not properly on trial to answer.”
23. He was denied due process and received ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel aided the state in allowing perjured testimony and in suppressing evidence of inducements offered to a state witness.
24. He received ineffective assistance of counsel in relation to the “egregious prosecutorial misconduct.”
25. He received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel failed to object to the prosecution's “urging” of false information to the jury.
26. He received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel did not present evidence to refute perjured testimony.
27. He received ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel did not object to the admission of shell casing evidence.
28. He received ineffective assistance of counsel because counsel did not “demand a show and tell” of a mystery bag of evidence.
29. He received ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel did not object to the autopsy report.
30. The state pathologist improperly assisted the State.
31. A detective improperly assisted the State in planting evidence.
32. He received ineffective assistance of counsel when counsel did not request and pursue a “cautionary accomplice testimony instruction” or a “corroboration instruction.”
33. The trial court erred in denying McKnight his counsel of choice and a continuance for that counsel to ...

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