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There wasn’t enough evidence for a murder conviction, and the Michigan Supreme Court wrongly applied a U.S. Supreme Court case to find otherwise, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held Aug. 15 ( Tanner v. Yukins , 2017 BL 284727, 6th Cir., No. 15-1691, 8/15/17 ).
The circuit court applied Jackson v. Virginia, a case dealing with sufficiency of the evidence, to vacate a murder conviction in a case with “several gaps” in the evidence, the appeals court said.
Hattie Tanner was convicted of murder in Michigan state court for the deadly stabbing of a bartender. There was testimony that Tanner was in the bar parking lot around the time of the murder and that the knife used for the crime was hers. Blood at the scene matched Tanner’s type, according to the trial testimony.
The district court denied habeas relief, finding that the Michigan Supreme Court rightly held on appeal that the evidence was sufficient.
But the state court unreasonably applied Jackson, which asks if “any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt,” the circuit court said.
The gaps in the evidence—none of it directly implicated Tanner—combined with exculpatory evidence—an unknown woman’s blood was on the victim’s shirt—shows that a rational jury wouldn’t have convicted, it said.
Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote the opinion, joined by Senior Judge Martha Craig Daughtrey and Judge Raymond M. Kethledge.
Jones Day, Columbus, Ohio, represented Tanner. The Office of the Michigan Attorney General, Lansing, Mich., represented the state.
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