United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Jerome Jackson, III, pro se Petitioner.
F. Ryan, Esq., Crow Wing County Attorney, counsel for
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
R. THORSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
2012, Ronnie Jerome Jackson was convicted of first-degree
arson and given an aggravated sentence of 115 months
imprisonment. Jackson now petitions for relief from this
sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (See Doc. No.
1, Habeas Pet.) Petitioner has also filed a renewed motion
for discovery. (See Doc. No. 12.) For the reasons
stated below, this Court recommends that the § 2254
petition and discovery motion be denied.
Arson at a Residence in Brainerd, Minnesota
21, 2011, authorities questioned Petitioner about an
early-morning fire at a residence in Brainerd, Minnesota.
State v. Jackson, No. A13-0346, 2014 WL 902667, at
**1-2 (Minn.Ct.App. Mar. 10, 2014). The home was owned by the
mother of Petitioner's girlfriend. Id. at *1.
Petitioner had been staying at the home from time to time
along with his girlfriend and another housemate. Id.
The housemate was in the house at the time of the fire, but
not the girlfriend. See id.
first, Petitioner denied knowing anything about the fire.
Id. at *2. The following day, however, Petitioner
gave a statement to investigators, admitting his
participation. Id. Petitioner said that he and a
person named Nancy Portz bought gasoline from a Holiday
station at around 3:29 a.m. on June 21, 2011. Id.
Petitioner further stated:
[A]fter they parked behind the house, [Ms. Portz] ran to the
house while Jackson waited in the car. Jackson stated,
‘When I . . . next time I look up, dude, it was
whoosh.' When asked where Portz poured the gas, he said,
‘I don't know. I just know where I was parked at .
. . . Somewhere along the porch it was set. I know that much
because it . . . when I looked back up, all I seen was whoosh
. . . .' Jackson also stated that, at some point after
they drove away, Portz threw the gas can out of the window.
Jackson insisted several times that he did not think that
Portz would ‘do it, ' but he admitted to
‘egging her on.'
Id. Petitioner also admitted that he knew the
housemate was in the house when the blaze was set.
Petitioner is Convicted of First-Degree Arson
and Ms. Portz were both charged with first-degree arson.
(See Doc. No. 11-13, 3/18/16 Mem. Order Denying
Postconviction Relief (“3/18/16 Mem. Order”) 1.)
In August 2011, a plea hearing was held for Ms. Portz's
case. (Id.) Ms. Portz pled guilty to a newly-added
felony charge of providing after-the-fact aid to an offender
who committed arson, and the first-degree arson charge was
dropped. (Id.) In her plea, Portz agreed that the
State had evidence indicating that Petitioner had started the
fire, and that she had provided him aid relative to the
the case against Petitioner went forward. (Id. at
2.) A Sentencing Guidelines Worksheet indicated that if
Petitioner was convicted, the presumed outcome was an
executed prison sentence of 58 to 81 months. (Id.)
In September 2011, however, the State provided notice that it
intended to seek an aggravated sentence, on the grounds that
the victims of the arson offense were “particularly
vulnerable” since they were asleep in the home at the
time the fire was started. (Id. (citing Minn. Stat.
244.10, Subd. 5a).)
April 2012, the State filed an amended complaint against
Petitioner. (Id.) The amended complaint charged
Petitioner as a direct actor, and alternatively, as a person
criminally liable for the act of another, whereas the initial
complaint charged Petitioner only as a direct actor.
(Id.) Petitioner's attorney did not specifically
advise Petitioner that the amended complaint had been filed.
(Id.) However, Petitioner's attorney frequently
advised Petitioner that in the trial, the State could ask the
jury to convict Petitioner of arson on the theory that he had
aided and abetted Ms. Portz in the commission of the crime.
(Id. at 2-3.)
lengthy period of time before trial, the State maintained an
offer that would allow Petitioner to plead guilty to the
arson charge and receive a 58-month executed prison sentence.
(Id. at 3.) Counsel advised Petitioner about this
offer, other possible offers, and the possibility that the
State would seek an aggravated sentence if the case went to
trial and Petitioner was convicted. (Id.) During all
of these discussions, Petitioner continually insisted that he
would not accept any plea offer that would require him to
serve any prison time. (Id.)
case proceeded to a jury trial, and on May 1, 2012, the jury
found Petitioner guilty of first-degree arson. (Id.)
On May 2, 2012, a Blakely hearing was held, and the
jury responded “yes” to four special verdict form
questions regarding aggravating factors. (Id.) After
a contested sentencing hearing on November 29, 2012, the
district court sentenced Petitioner to a 115 month term of
Petitioner's Direct Appeal
February 2013, Petitioner appealed his conviction, arguing:
(1) the evidence was insufficient to convict him; (2) the
district court committed plain error by failing to properly
instruct the jury on accomplice liability; (3) the district
court erred in permitting the State to reopen its
case-in-chief; (4) the facts found by the jury were
insufficient to prove that Petitioner's sleeping roommate
was a “particularly vulnerable” victim; and (5)
the district court committed plain error in failing to
properly instruct the sentencing jury. (Id. at 3-4.)
The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed ...