United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge
Antuan Valentino Little (“Little”), was convicted
of first-degree sexual assault of a child and exposing a
child to harmful materials after a jury trial held in
Milwaukee County Circuit Court. After being denied
postconviction relief by the Wisconsin courts, he now seeks a
writ of habeas corpus from this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. (Docket #1). After screening Little's
petition and evaluating his requests to remove certain
claims, see (Docket #12, #21, #34), two grounds for
relief remain: (1) ineffective assistance of counsel arising
from a failure to introduce evidence of the victim's
prior sexual assault allegation against another man; and (2)
denial of due process arising from the trial court's
failure to order a new trial based on newly discovered
evidence that the victim's father pressured her into
testifying against Little at trial. The parties have now
fully briefed their respective positions. For the reasons
stated below, the Court finds that Little's petition is
without merit and must be denied.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
criminal convictions are generally considered final. Review
may be had in federal court only on limited grounds. To
obtain habeas relief from a state conviction, 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(d)(1) (as amended by the Antiterrorism and
Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”)) requires
the petitioner to show that the state court's decision on
the merits of his constitutional claims was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); Brown v. Payton, 544
U.S. 133, 141 (2005). The burden of proof rests with the
petitioner. Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170, 181
(2011). The relevant decision for this Court to review is
that of the last state court to rule on the merits of the
petitioner's claim. Charlton v. Davis, 439 F.3d
369, 374 (7th Cir. 2006).
state-court decision runs contrary to clearly established
Supreme Court precedent “if it applies a rule that
contradicts the governing law set forth in [those] cases, or
if it confronts a set of facts that is materially
indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court but
reaches a different result.” Brown, 544 U.S.
at 141. Similarly, a state court unreasonably applies clearly
established Supreme Court precedent when it applies that
precedent to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner.
Id.; Bailey v. Lemke, 735 F.3d 945, 949
(7th Cir. 2013).
AEDPA undoubtedly mandates a deferential standard of review.
The Supreme Court has “emphasized with rather
unexpected vigor” the strict limits imposed by Congress
on the authority of federal habeas courts to overturn state
criminal convictions. Price v. Thurmer, 637 F.3d
831, 839 (7th Cir. 2011). It is not enough for the petitioner
to prove the state courts were wrong; he must also prove they
acted unreasonably. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S.
86, 101 (2005); Campbell v. Smith, 770 F.3d 540, 546
(7th Cir. 2014) (“An ‘unreasonable application
of' federal law means ‘objectively unreasonable,
not merely wrong; even ‘clear error' will not
suffice.'”) (quoting White v. Woodall, 134
S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014)).
the habeas petition must demonstrate that the state court
decision is “so erroneous that ‘there is no
possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state
court's decision conflicts with [the Supreme] Court's
precedents.'” Nevada v. Jackson, 133 S.Ct.
1990, 1992 (2013) (quoting Harrington, 562 U.S. at
102). The state court decisions must “be given the
benefit of the doubt.” Woodford v. Visciotti,
537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002); Hartjes v. Endicott, 456
F.3d 786, 792 (7th Cir. 2006). Further, when a state court
applies general constitutional standards, it is afforded even
more latitude under the AEDPA in reaching decisions based on
those standards. Knowles v. Mirzayance, 556 U.S.
111, 123 (2009); Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S.
652, 664 (2004) (“[E]valuating whether a rule
application was unreasonable requires considering the
rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more
leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case
Supreme Court has explained, “[i]f this standard is
difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.”
Harrington, 562 U.S. at 102. Section 2254(d) stops
just short of “imposing a complete bar on federal-court
relitigation of claims already rejected in state
proceedings.” See Id. This is so because
“habeas corpus is a ‘guard against extreme
malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, ' not
a substitute for ordinary error correction through
appeal.” Id. at 102-103 (quoting Jackson
v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 332 n.5 (1979) (Stevens, J.,
federal court may also grant habeas relief on the alternative
ground that the state court's adjudication of a
constitutional claim was based upon an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence
presented. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). The underlying state
court findings of fact and credibility determinations against
the petitioner are, however, presumed correct. Newman v.
Harrington, 726 F.3d 921, 928 (7th Cir. 2013). The
petitioner overcomes that presumption only if he proves by
clear and convincing evidence that those findings are wrong.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Campbell, 770 F.3d at
546. “A decision ‘involves an unreasonable
determination of the facts if it rests upon factfinding that
ignores the clear and convincing weight of the
evidence.'” Bailey, 735 F.3d at 949-50
(quoting Goudy v. Basinger, 604 F.3d 394, 399-400
(7th Cir. 2010)). “‘[A] state-court factual
determination is not unreasonable merely because the federal
habeas court would have reached a different conclusion in the
first instance.'” Burt v. Titlow, 134
S.Ct. 10, 15 (2013) (quoting Wood v. Allen, 558 U.S.
290, 301 (2010)). If shown, however, an unreasonable factual
determination means that this Court must review the claim in
question de novo. Carlson v. Jess, 526 F.3d
1018, 1024 (7th Cir. 2008).
noted above, Little was convicted of first-degree sexual
assault of a child and exposing a child to harmful materials
after a jury trial held in Milwaukee County Circuit Court on
January 27-29, 2010. He was sentenced to eleven years in
prison to be followed by six years of extended supervision.
victim, identified as “J.B., ” testified at
Little's trial. She stated that in 2007, when she was
only ten years old, Little forced her to rub his penis
wrapped in a sandwich bag to the point of ejaculation. This
occurred at some point between November 1, 2003 and August
30, 2005, when she and her mother lived with Little in
Milwaukee. Little also made J.B. watch a pornographic video
kept hidden under her mother's bed on at least one
occasion during the same time frame. These offenses occurred
when Little was left alone with J.B. and her siblings while
their mother was away at work during the day.
did not initially tell her mother about Little's sexual
misconduct because she was afraid her mother would not
believe her and she knew that her mother loved Little. Rather
than tell her mother, J.B. first told her cousin in 2007
about the sexual misconduct. Her cousin then told her uncle
who, in turn, told her biological father, Humberto Rangel
(“Rangel”), who reported it to police in 2009,
after J.B. came to live with him upon his release from jail.
first disclosed the sexual abuse by Little to police in June
2007 while they were investigating an alleged sexual assault
by another man, Michael C., against her younger sister. When
J.B. reported the incident to Milwaukee Sensitive Crimes
Police Officer Karla Lehman (“Lehman”), she wrote
a note imploring: “Please, please, please, please,
please don't tell my mom, ” alongside a drawing of
a frowning face with tears falling. (Docket #15-17 at 37).
J.B. also drew a star on the note inside of which she drew a
heart with the words, “I love my mother and my
dad.” Id. at 38. During her interview with
Lehman, J.B. accused both Little and Michael C. of sexual
referred J.B.'s 2007 allegations against Little and
Michael C. to the district attorney. However, neither man was
charged. The district attorney noted both that J.B.
“had several inconsistencies in her story” and
that J.B. had recanted her allegations against Little. J.B.
admitted that she had intentionally lied to Lehman concerning
Little's assaults because “she was angry with
him.” (Docket #15-9 at 25). J.B. also told her mother
later in 2007 that she had lied and that Little had not
abused her. J.B. recanted to her mother because she did not
want her mother to feel bad. As discussed further below, J.B.
never recanted her allegations against Michael C. See
infra Part 3.1.
noted above, J.B. started living with Rangel in June 2009
after he was released from jail. Rangel took J.B. for a walk
in early August and asked whether Little did anything to her
as his brother (and her uncle) had reported. J.B. turned red
and did not provide details but confirmed that Little had
sexually abused her. Rangel reported this to police and took
J.B. to the police station a few days later. Rangel told
police that he wanted “those guys that molested his
daughter put in jail.” (Docket #15-9 at 28).
interviewed J.B. on August 19, 2009, at Rangel's urging.
At trial, Lehman described J.B.'s demeanor and the
details of her account as being similar to her 2007 interview
and to her trial testimony, which took place the day before
Lehman testified. Little's theory of defense at trial was
that J.B. lied so she could live with her biological father,
rather than with Little and her mother.
direct review, Little argued that his trial attorney was
ineffective for not introducing evidence under Wis.Stat.
§§ 971.31(11) and 972.11(2)(b)(3) that J.B. falsely
accused another man of sexual assault. This was the same man,
Michael C., who was investigated for sexually assaulting her
sister. The trial court summarily denied relief because
Little made an insufficient showing that J.B.'s sexual
assault allegation against Michael C. was
Wisconsin Court of Appeals agreed in a per curiam decision
issued January 3, 2013. The court, applying State v.
Ringer, 785 N.W.2d 448, 460 (Wis. 2010), held that
merely showing that Michael C. would deny any wrongdoing and
was not charged did not sufficiently allege that J.B.'s
2007 sexual assault allegation against him was untrue.
Without more, the court held, “no reasonable jury would
be able to conclude that the prior allegations were, in fact,
false.” (Docket #15-2 at 3). The Wisconsin Supreme
Court denied Little's petition for review June 12, 2013.
collateral review, Little moved for a new trial on the ground
that J.B.'s father, Rangel, admitted that he pressured
her to testify at trial against her wishes. Little presented
an affidavit from Rangel stating that, because he believed
J.B.'s allegations against Little, he pressured her to
testify to ensure Little was convicted. The trial court
denied the motion on April 30, 2014, after holding that there
was nothing in Rangel's uncorroborated affidavit to
support the conclusion that J.B. lied at trial or that there
was a reasonable probability of a different verdict had
Rangel testified that he pressured his daughter to testify.
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed in a decision issued
September 22, 2015, finding that evidence of Rangel's
pressuring J.B. to testify against Little did ...