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Sears v. Chatman

United States District Court, N.D. Georgia, Atlanta Division

April 24, 2017

DEMARCUS ALI SEARS, Petitioner,
v.
BRUCE CHATMAN, Warden, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on foundational issues that the Court required the parties to address in its June 23, 2016, Order [45] before considering Petitioner Demarcus Ali Sears' ("Petitioner") Motions for Discovery and an Evidentiary Hearing [38].

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Petitioner's Trial

         On April 11, 1991, a Cobb County grand jury issued an indictment charging Petitioner with one count of kidnapping with bodily injury (Count 1) and one count of armed robbery (Count 2). ([14.1] at 14-16). The case went to trial.

The evidence [presented at trial] showed that on the afternoon of October 7, 1990, Demarcus Sears and Phillip Williams were walking through Atlanta because their car had broken down. Wanting to return home to Ohio, where they lived, they walked to a Waffle House in Smyrna and tried to borrow money from several patrons in the restaurant. They told the patrons that their car had broken down and they needed money to go to Cincinnati. Sears carried a black briefcase that contained brass knuckles, knives and a set of old handcuffs that was missing a key. He opened the briefcase in the restaurant and tried to sell some of the items to a customer. After receiving directions and a couple of dollars for bus fare, Sears and Williams walked to a nearby Kroger food store. A police officer observed them loitering near the Kroger parking lot and briefly spoke with them before he left in response to a radio call. Subsequently, they decided to steal a car so they could drive back to Cincinnati.
They spotted the victim, Gloria Wilbur, when she parked her 1985 Buick and entered the Kroger. Around 8:00 p.m., Ms. Wilbur returned to her car and placed her groceries in the trunk. Sears approached her, struck her with the brass knuckles and forced her into the car. Williams then got behind the wheel and they drove north on 1-75. Sears told Ms. Wilbur to keep quiet, pulled her into the back seat, and handcuffed her with her hands behind her back. When they stopped for gas and hamburgers, Sears wedged Ms. Wilbur down between the seats and covered her with book bags to prevent discovery. While they were driving through Tennessee, he raped her.
They crossed the border into Kentucky around 1:00 a.m. and stopped the car. Despite her pleas to remain in the car, Sears took the victim into the bushes along 1-75 and stabbed her to death. Ms. Wilbur's body was found, still handcuffed, almost a week later. Her abandoned Buick was discovered in a Cincinnati suburb. Bloodstains in the car matched the victim and pubic hair taken from the back seat matched Sears

Sears v. State, 493 S.E.2d 180, 182 (Ga. 1997).

         On September 22, 1993, a jury convicted Petitioner on both counts of the indictment. ([14.2] at 91). On September 25, 1993, the jury returned their sentencing verdict, finding statutory aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and recommending a sentence of death. ([15.24] at 32-36; [14.2] at 102-107).[1]Each juror affirmed, in court, that the verdict announced was the verdict they reached, that it was still their verdict, and that it was freely and voluntarily entered. ([15.24] at 37-46). The trial court adopted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Petitioner to death for his kidnapping with bodily injury conviction. ([14.2] at 106-107). Petitioner was sentenced to life imprisonment on the armed robbery charge. ([14.2] at 108).

         B. Petitioner's Motion for a New Trial and his Direct Appeal

         On October 14, 1993, Petitioner filed a motion for a new trial, which he amended on February 9, 1996, May 24, 1996, and June 20, 1996. Petitioner's motion argued, among other things, that "the jury's death verdict was impermissibly coerced, " and that "there was misconduct on the part of jurors during the trial and sentencing deliberations." ([14.4] at 29, 100). The trial court denied Petitioner's motion on July 18, 1996. ([14.4] at 113). Petitioner appealed and, on December 3, 1997, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed Petitioner's convictions but remanded to develop the record on the alleged jury misconduct during sentencing. Sears v. State, 493 S.E.2d 180 (Ga. 1997).

         On March 16 and 17, 1998, the trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Petitioner's jury misconduct allegations. ([17.8]; [17.9] at 52-53). One of the jurors at trial, Angel Fisher ("Fisher"), was called to testify at the hearing. ([17.9] at 35).[2] She stated that she was, during deliberations, the lone hold-out for a life sentence but ultimately voted for a death sentence on the kidnapping with bodily injury count. The trial court ruled that Fisher could testify about the following topics:

1. "Express and specific acts of violence, " including "threats of violence." ([17.9] at 20).
2. "[O]vert acts of coercion." ([17.9] at 20).
3. Juror Kenneth Makant's "statements regarding the rape of his daughter." ([17.9] at 20).
4. Foreman Sanford Abrams' alleged claim that Fisher should be prosecuted for ...

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