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Morrow v. Prison

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

March 27, 2018

SCOTTY GARNELL MORROW, Petitioner - Appellant,

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 2:12-cv-00051-WBH

          Before WILSON, WILLIAM PRYOR, and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges.

          WILLIAM PRYOR, Circuit Judge:

          Scotty Garnell Morrow, a Georgia prisoner convicted and sentenced to death for the murders of Barbara Young and Tonya Woods, appeals the denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Morrow contends that we should vacate his sentence on the grounds that his trial attorneys provided ineffective assistance when they failed to uncover and introduce mitigating evidence from Morrow's childhood and when they failed to hire an independent crime-scene expert to corroborate Morrow's account of the murders. We disagree. The Supreme Court of Georgia reasonably concluded that Morrow's attorneys were not deficient for failing to uncover mitigating evidence and that the attorneys' failure to hire an independent crime-scene expert did not prejudice Morrow. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         We divide this background in four parts. We begin with the facts of the crime. Next, we explain counsel's preparations for trial. Then, we describe Morrow's trial and sentencing. We then provide an overview of the state and federal habeas proceedings.

         A. The Crime

         On December 29, 1994, Scotty Garnell Morrow murdered Barbara Young and Tonya Woods, and he severely injured LaToya Horne. Humphrey v. Morrow ("Morrow III"), 717 S.E.2d 168, 171-72 (Ga. 2011). Young was Morrow's girlfriend, and Morrow repeatedly abused her. Id. at 171. On December 6 of the same year, Morrow struck Young; on December 9, he abducted, beat, and raped her twice; and on December 24, Young told a neighbor that "Morrow was going to kill her." Id.

         On the day of the murders, Morrow and Young argued over the telephone before Morrow, armed with a handgun, went to Young's house, id. at 172, which was occupied by Young, Woods, Horne, and two children, id. at 171-72. Morrow entered the house and found the three women in the kitchen. Id. at 172. He argued with Woods before shooting her "in her abdomen, severing her spine and paralyzing her." Id. He then shot Horne in the arm. Id. Young fled into the bedroom, but Morrow pursued her and kicked open the bedroom door. Id. As they struggled, the gun discharged and "likely injur[ed]" Young. Id. She then ran into the hallway, but Morrow again caught her. Id. Forensic evidence presented by the state, id. at 177, suggested that Morrow "smashed her head into the bedroom's doorframe, leaving behind skin, hair, and blood, " before he executed her with a single shot to the head, id. at 172. The bullet passed through Young's left palm, suggesting that she was "attempt[ing] to shield her head." Id. Morrow disputes this account and argues that "the blood and hair found on the doorframe in the hallway were deposited there by . . . Young's wounded hand, not by Morrow striking her head against the door jamb." Regardless, after Young died, Morrow returned to the kitchen and either reloaded or unjammed his pistol. Id. He murdered Woods by shooting her in the "head at close range, and he shot . . . Horne in the face and arm." Id. Horne survived, but suffered permanent injuries. Id. Morrow then fled the scene after cutting the telephone line. Id.

         B. The Attorneys' Pretrial Preparations

         In 1995, the trial court appointed Harold Walker Jr. and William Brownell Jr. to represent Morrow, and in March of the same year a grand jury indicted Morrow for two counts of malice murder and several lesser offenses. Walker and Brownell decided to pursue mitigating evidence to support their theory that the crime was an out-of-character outburst by an otherwise "good man." They met with Morrow "almost right away" and probed "his general life history." They repeatedly discussed Morrow's childhood with Morrow's sister and mother. And they hired an investigator, Gary Mugridge, who interviewed, among others, Morrow's sister, mother, father, former girlfriend, former co-workers, and bishop. Although Mugridge lacked specific experience with capital investigations, he had 40 years of investigative experience and "literally reported everything he did back to [counsel]."

         The attorneys hired two psychologists. The first, Dr. Dave Davis, interviewed Morrow about his personal and family history. Davis learned that Morrow's father "battered" his mother, that Morrow "[got] in trouble with school, " and that Morrow had been in several "serious [romantic] relationships, " "ha[d] always been heterosexual, [had] beg[u]n intercourse at age 16, and ha[d] had sexual relations with about thirty women." Davis reported that Morrow was "cooperative, " that a "[g]ood rapport was established, " and that Morrow was "responsive and spontaneous." The second psychologist, Dr. William Buchanan, saw Morrow four times, and the attorneys met several times with Buchanan. Buchanan testified that "Morrow was cooperative and honest" in their sessions. Morrow shared other sexual details with Buchanan, including that he "was picked up with a transvestite" in 1992 and that his son had been molested. But Morrow never told Buchanan that he had been sexually abused.

         The attorneys' investigation revealed that Morrow had spent "a lot of [his] youth . . . in the New York [and] New Jersey area" before moving to the south as an older teenager. They learned that Morrow had struggled in school, had undergone psychological testing, had experienced "blackouts as a child, " and had a "big brother mentor through the school." And they discovered that "Morrow's childhood life was not ideal" because "he saw his mother physically abused, saw his family members emotionally abused . . . [and] was made fun of by . . . other children."

         This investigation led the attorneys to "believ[e] [they] had [found] everything" and that Morrow had not experienced sexual or extreme physical abuse in the light of his and his family's statements. They also saw little reason to doubt the truthfulness and completeness of these accounts because the family offered candid responses to their questions. For example, Morrow's mother freely discussed "how her husband beat her in front of [the] children, " and counsel learned that Morrow was subject to "some physical abuse" such as "intense spanking[s]." Although the attorneys found the mother "difficult in terms of providing information" and perceived that she gave "the same answers over and over again, " they determined that she was honest and never "hostile or unwilling to help." And Walker later testified that he "never got the feeling [Morrow] was trying to mislead [them]."

         The attorneys encountered a few "dead ends, " such as when they unsuccessfully attempted to reach out to officials at Morrow's childhood school and Morrow's childhood mentor. They also declined to send Mugridge to New York and New Jersey to further explore Morrow's childhood. And the attorneys did not hire a social worker to help with the investigation because they concluded that doing so was unnecessary in the light "of what . . . Buchanan was doing and the mitigation evidence that . . . Mugridge was finding." They also did not retain a forensic expert to rebut the state investigator's forensic account of the crime.

          C. The Trial and Sentencing

         At trial, Morrow testified that his victims had verbally provoked the assault and gave a less-brutal description of the murders. He asserted that Woods was standing upright and taunting him when he fired the first shot. He also gave an account of his struggle with Young that conflicted with evidence presented by the state that "Young's forehead likely was injured when her head struck a doorframe." Id. at 177. And he disputed that he reloaded his gun mid-rampage. The prosecutor underscored the ...

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