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Williams v. Humphrey

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

April 3, 2019

JOSEPH WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN CARL HUMPHREY, Respondent.

          ORDER

          WILLIAM T. MOORE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         In 2004, Petitioner Joseph Williams was convicted and sentenced to death by the Superior Court of Chatham County for the murder of Michael Deal. After the completion of his direct appeal and state habeas court proceedings, Petitioner Williams filed a petition for habeas corpus in this Court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenging his conviction and death sentence on a number of grounds. Presently before the Court is the parties' briefing on procedural default, cause and prejudice, and fundamental miscarriage of justice. Petitioner is DIRECTED that he may brief his claims in his upcoming merits brief in accordance with this order.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         I. FACTUAL HISTORY

         The facts of this case were set forth by the Supreme Court of Georgia:

[O]n July 24, 2001, Williams was a jail inmate at the Chatham County Detention Center. See OCGA § 17-10-30(b)(9) ("murder was committed by a person in, or who has escaped from, the lawful custody of a peace officer or place of lawful confinement"). Seven other inmates, including Michael Deal, were being held in the same unit as Williams. Williams and four of the other inmates, Leon McKinney, Pierre Byrd, Michael Wilson, and John McMillan, discovered a loose window and used an improvised chisel to chip away at the wall around it. Deal inquired what the men were doing but left when he was told "to mind his own business." Williams and other inmates began to suspect that Deal had informed, or was going to inform, the jail authorities about the escape plan. McKinney suggested stabbing Deal with the improvised chisel, but Williams objected that there would be too much blood and that their plan would be frustrated. The group then carried out an alternative plan to strangle Deal and make the killing appear to be a suicide. McKinney engaged Deal in a discussion about their relative body sizes and then, facing Deal, lifted him in a "bear hug." Williams then began strangling Deal from behind with an Ace bandage. Deal fell to the floor but did not immediately lose consciousness. The evidence is unclear whether it was Wilson or Byrd, but one of those two men then assisted Williams by taking one end of the Ace bandage and completing the strangulation in a "tug-of-war." Byrd invited Anthony King, an inmate who had been friendly with Deal, into Byrd's cell to distract King as Deal's body was moved. Williams then dragged Deal's body to Deal's cell, flushed the Ace bandage down the toilet, cleaned up blood and hair on the floor with a rag, flushed the rag, tied a bed sheet around Deal's neck, and finally, with the assistance of McKinney and McMillan, lifted Deal's body and tied the bed sheet to a grate in the ceiling to make the death appear to be a suicide. After the murder, Williams and Byrd favored also killing King and Dewey Anderson, but McKinney and McMillan objected. Byrd, later troubled by dreams about the victim, contacted his attorney, passed a note about the murder to a jail guard, and then directed authorities to the improvised chisel, the loosened window, and a letter about the murder written to him by Williams. Williams confessed in an audiotaped interview conducted by a GBI agent.
In support of the OCGA § 17-10-30 (b) (1) aggravating circumstance, the State presented three certified convictions of Williams, one for the armed robbery of Harry Jaymes, one for the murder of Iris Hall, and one for the murder of Taureen Graham. The State also presented testimony regarding those three crimes. Harry Jaymes testified that Williams delivered some stereo equipment, that he gave Williams a cash gratuity from a bag of money, and that Williams returned with an accomplice two days later on May 27, 1999, hit Jaymes in the head repeatedly with a handgun, and threatened to kill Jaymes if he did not reveal where the bag of money was. Jaymes escaped, threw a brick; through his car's window to set off the alarm, and had a neighbor call police. A GBI agent testified that Williams confessed during an audiotaped statement, which was played for the jury, to the murders of Taureen Graham and Iris Hall. Williams explained in the statement that he had been hired to murder Taureen Graham's older brother but that, on July 31, 1999, he murdered the wrong person. Janet Cooper testified that, during a drug deal on July 11, 1999, Williams held Cooper and Iris Hall at gunpoint, placed Cooper in a bathroom, and searched Hall's house. As Cooper escaped from the bathroom window, she heard the shots that killed Hall. At Williams's trial for Hall's murder, Williams "made slashing gestures and gunshot gestures" toward Cooper. Williams later, in March 2004, gave a letter to Cooper in which he stated, "I've killed many men before that incident, even killed a couple afterwards." The letter continued as follows:
August will be an even five years of incarceration for me. In those five years, I' ve killed two men, slit an of f icer's throat with a razor, stabbed two inmates, and whipped my first lawyer's ass. I am who I am, Janet. Those walls can't stop me.
The evidence also showed that Williams had committed several other criminal acts. A criminal defense attorney testified that Williams struck him repeatedly during a jailhouse interview on September 28, 2001. A prison guard testified that Williams slashed his face and throat with a razor blade embedded in a newspaper on December 17, 2001. Testimony from two prison officers to whom Williams confessed and testimony from the surviving victim showed that Williams murdered one prison inmate and repeatedly stabbed another with an improvised weapon on January 26, 2003. In his audiotaped confession about the 2003 prison attack, Williams stated that he had also planned to kill a third inmate that day but the man's cell door had been locked.

Williams v. Georgia, 281 Ga. 87, 88-89, 635 S.E.2d 146, 147-49 (2006).

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On April 5, 2004, Petitioner pleaded guilty to malice murder. (Doc. 11, Attach. 4 at 52-55.) On April 7, 2004, Petitioner was sentenced to death by lethal injection. (Doc. 9, Attach. 32 at 71.) The jury found, beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of two statutory aggravating factors. (Id. at 69.) First, the jury found that the murder of Michael Deal was committed while Petitioner was in a place of lawful confinement. Second, the jury found that the murder of Michael Deal was committed by a person with a prior record of conviction for murder and armed robbery. (Id.)

         The trial court denied Petitioner's motion for a new trial. (Doc. 9, Attach. 35 at 79.) The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed his convictions and sentence on September 18, 2006. Williams, 281 Ga. 87, 635 S.E.2d 146. A petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court was denied on April 21, 2008. Williams v. Georgia, 553 U.S. 1004, 1004 (2008).

         On March 16, 2009, Petitioner filed a state habeas corpus petition in the Superior Court of Butts County. (Doc. 11, Attach. 30.) In March of 2010, Petitioner filed an amended petition. (Doc. 12, Attach. 2.) The court conducted an evidentiary hearing on July 12, 2010, and ultimately denied the petition, as amended, on October 18, 2010. (Doc. 22, Attach. 33.) Further attempts to appeal were similarly unavailing. See Williams v. Humphrey, 568 U.S. 982, 982 (2012).

         On April 18, 2012, Petitioner filed a habeas corpus petition in this Court. (Doc. 1.) In his petition, Petitioner raised nine general claims for relief. (Id.) On May 13, 2012, Respondent requested that the Court impose a truncated scheduling order to ensure the efficient disposition of Petitioner's claims. (Doc. 8.) Petitioner, however, opposed Respondent's proposed briefing schedule and requested that the Court implement a scheduling order that would allow Petitioner the opportunity to fully develop each of his claims prior to briefing the merits of his petition for the Court's consideration. (Doc. 24.) After considering Petitioner's concerns, the Court implemented a scheduling order that provided Petitioner with the opportunity to separately request discovery and move for an evidentiary hearing. (Doc. 26.) In addition, the Court's scheduling order directed the parties to brief issues of procedural default, cause and prejudice, and the miscarriage of justice prior to briefing the merits of Petitioner's claims. (Id.)

         To date, the Court has already considered Petitioner's Motion to Conduct Discovery and Motion for Evidentiary Hearing. (Doc. 42; Doc. 65.) Now, the parties have filed their briefing with respect to issues of procedural default, cause and prejudice, and miscarriage of justice. The Court must now determine whether any of Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted and, if so, whether there is any showing of cause and prejudice or a miscarriage of justice that would excuse that default. If the Court finds that any of Petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted and there is nothing to excuse the default, Petitioner will not be permitted to brief those claims on the merits.

         ANALYSIS

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal courts are generally not permitted to review claims raised in a federal habeas petition that are procedurally defaulted. Bailey v. Nagle, 172 F.3d 1299, 1302-03 (11th Cir. 1999). "[W]hether a particular claim is subject to the doctrine of procedural default ... is a mixed question of fact and law." Judd v. Haley, 250 F.3d 1308, 1313 (11th Cir. 2001). There are two general ways in which procedural default can arise to bar a petitioner's claims from federal court review. Bailey, 172 F.3d at 1302-03.

         First, federal courts are precluded from reviewing "a state court's rejection of a federal constitutional claim on procedural grounds ... if the state procedural ruling rests upon [an] 'independent and adequate' state ground." Judd, 250 F.3d at 1313 (citing Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 729-30, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 2553 (1991)). To determine whether a state court ruling was based on an independent and adequate state law ground, courts employ a three-part test:

First, the last state court rendering a judgment in the case must clearly and expressly state that it is relying on state procedural rules to resolve the federal claim without reaching the merits of that claim. Secondly, the state court's decision must rest solidly on state law grounds, and may not be "intertwined with an interpretation of federal law." Finally, the state procedural rule must be adequate; i.e., it must not be applied in an arbitrary or unprecedented fashion.

Id. (quoting Card v. Duqger, 911 F.2d 1494, 1516 (11th Cir.1990)). Typically, state court procedural rules are found to be adequate if they are "firmly established and regularly followed." Walker v. Martin, 562 U.S. 307, 316, 131 S.Ct. 1120, 1127 (2011) (internal citation omitted).

         In addition, claims are typically procedurally defaulted and precluded from federal review when a petitioner fails to properly exhaust his claims in the underlying state court proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (b) (1) (A); see also Bailey, 172 F.3d at 1302 ("A state habeas corpus petitioner who fails to raise his federal claims properly in state court is procedurally barred from pursuing the same claim in federal court absent a showing of cause for and actual prejudice from the default." (citing Wainwriqht v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 87, 97 S.Ct. 2497, 2506-07 (1977)). "Exhaustion reguires that "state prisoners must give the state courts one full opportunity to resolve any constitutional issues by invoking one complete round of the State's established appellate review process.'" Mason v. Allen, 605 F.3d 1114, 1119 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting 0'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 845, 119 S.Ct. 1728, 1732 (1999)). The Supreme Court of the United States has recently explained that the "exhaustion requirement is designed to avoid the 'unseemly' result of a federal courtupset [ting] a state court conviction without' first according the state courts an 'opportunity to . . correct a constitutional violation.'" Davila v. Davis, U.S., 137 S.Ct. 2058, 2064 (2017) (quoting Rose v. Lundy, 455 U.S. 509, 518, 102 S.Ct. 1198, 1203 (1982) (internal quotation marks omitted)) .

         As part of the requirement that a petitioner must fully exhaust his claims in the underlying state court, a petitioner must "present his claims to the state court 'such that a reasonable reader would understand each claim's particular legal basis and specific factual foundation.'" French v. Warden, Wilcox State Prison, 790 F.3d 1259, 1270-71 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Kelley v. Sec'y Dept. of Corr., 377 F.3d 1317, 1344-45 (11th Cir. 2004)). Accordingly, a petitioner cannot "scatter some makeshift needles in the haystack of the state court record. The ground relied upon must be presented face-up and squarely; the federal question must be plainly defined. Oblique references which hint that a theory may be lurking in the woodwork will not turn the trick." Kelley, 377 F.3d at 1344-45 (internal quotation omitted).

         "[T]he teeth of the exhaustion requirement comes from its handmaiden, the procedural default doctrine." Smith v. Jones, 256 F.3d 1135, 1138 (11th Cir. 2001) . While federal courts are permitted to dismiss habeas petitions that contain unexhausted claims to allow proper exhaustion of those claims in the state court, federal courts are not required to do so "when it is obvious that the unexhausted claims would be procedurally barred in state court due to a state-law procedural default." Snowden v. Singletary, 135 F.3d 732, 736 (11th Cir. 1998) . In other words, "[w]here a return to state court would be futile-because the petitioner's claims would clearly be barred by state procedural rules-a federal court can "forego the needless judicial ping-pong' and treat unexhausted claims as procedurally defaulted." Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1260 n.56 (11th Cir. 2014} (quoting Snowden, 135 F.3d at 736 (internal quotations omitted)).

         Although federal courts are typically prevented from considering claims that are deemed to be procedurally defaulted by a state court or not properly exhausted, a petitioner may be able to overcome the procedural default of his claim to allow federal court review in certain limited circumstances. First, the United States Supreme Court has provided that "[a] state prisoner may overcome the prohibition on reviewing procedurally defaulted claims if he can showvcause' to excuse his failure to comply with the state procedural rule and "actual prejudice resulting from the alleged constitutional violation.'" Davila, U.S., 137 S.Ct. at 2064-65 (quoting Wainwright, 433 U.S. at 84, 97 S.Ct. at 2505; Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750, 111 S.Ct. at 2565). Federal courts have found that "[c]ause exists if there was 'some objective factor external to the defense [that] impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule.'" Mize v. Hall, 532 F.3d 1184, 1190 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 2645 (1986)) . This external factor to the defense can be shown when there is "evidence that could not reasonably have been discovered in time to comply with the rule; interference by state officials that made compliance impossible; and ineffective assistance of counsel at a stage where the petitioner had a right to counsel." Id. In addition to establishing cause, the petitioner must be able to establish prejudice. Henderson v. Campbell, 353 F.3d 880, 882 (11th Cir. 2003). A petitioner can make this showing by establishing that "there is at least a reasonable probability that the result of the proceeding would have been different" had the constitutional violation not occurred. Id.

         In addition to establishing both cause and prejudice, procedural default can be excused if the court finds that enforcing the procedural default would result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice. Typically, this exception only "applies if the petitioner can show that, in light of new evidence, it is probable that no reasonable juror would have convicted him." Mize, 532 F.3d at 1190 (citing Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 2 98, 327, 115 S.Ct. 851, 867 (1995)). In the death penalty context, however, this exception applies if the petitioner can show "by clear and convincing evidence' that no reasonable juror would have found him eligible for the death penalty in light of the new evidence." Calderon v. Thompson, 523 U.S. 538, 559-60, 118 S.Ct. 1489, 1493 (1998) (quoting Sawyer v. Whitley, 505 U.S. 333, 348, 112 S.Ct. 2523, 2523 (1992)).

         II. Petitioner's § 2254 Petition

         In his petition, Petitioner raises nine different general claims seeking habeas relief in this Court. These claims include:

Claim I: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
Claim II: Prosecutorial Misconduct
Claim III: Juror Misconduct
Claim IV: Trial Court Error Claim V: Inadequate Jury Instructions
Claim VI: Shackling Claim VII: Invalid Guilty Plea
Claim VIII: Disproportionate Death Sentence
Claim IX: Challenge to the Death Penalty

(Doc. 1 at 7-38.) Within these claims, Petitioner alleges a variety of errors that occurred during the underlying state court proceedings which, in his view, entitles him to habeas relief. (Id.)

         Now, Respondent contends that this Court is unable to reach the merits of many of Petitioner's claims because the claims are procedurally defaulted and precluded from federal court review. (Doc. 73.) Respondent contends that Petitioner's claims are either procedurally defaulted because Petitioner failed to properly exhaust his claims in the underlying state court or his claims were found to be procedurally defaulted by the state habeas court. (Id.) In response, Petitioner purports that many of his claims are not actually procedurally defaulted. (Doc. 69; Doc. 76.) Even if some of his claims are procedurally defaulted, Petitioner contends that the procedural default can be excused by either the ineffective assistance of his trial counsel, the ineffective assistance of his state habeas counsel, or the state's suppression of evidence in this case. (Id.) Because the parties heavily dispute the alleged procedural default of many of Petitioner's claims, the Court will conduct a claim by claim analysis of the parties' positions in order to determine which claims may be briefed on the merits.

         A. Abandoned Claims

         As an initial matter, Petitioner has expressly abandoned his intent to pursue several claims initially raised in his habeas petition. Specifically, Petitioner has stated his intention to abandon his (1) challenge to the constitutionality of the Georgia Supreme Court's proportionality review in Claim VIII; (2) challenge based on juror misconduct in Claim III; (3) challenge based on shackling in Claim VI; and (4) challenge to the lethal injection procedures that are raised in Claim IX and a portion of Claim IV. (Doc. 76 at 11.) Because Petitioner has expressly abandoned these claims, the Court will not address any of Respondent's arguments that these claims are procedurally defaulted or not properly before the Court. Petitioner will not be permitted to brief these claims in his upcoming merits brief. The Court will now consider Petitioner's remaining claims.

         B. Claim I: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         A large portion of Petitioner's § 2254 petition is dedicated to Petitioner's claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial. (Doc. 1 at 7-18.) Under his general claim that he received ineffective assistance of counsel, Petitioner raises over 61 specific ways in which his counsel was ineffective at trial. (Id.) Although Respondent concedes that some of Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims are properly before the Court, Respondent contends that many of Petitioner's claims must be dismissed. (Doc. 73 at 13-26.} Respondent argues that many of Petitioner's claims fail either because they are procedurally defaulted or improperly pled in Petitioner's § 2254 petition. Respondent contends that the Court should not allow Petitioner to brief these procedurally defaulted or insufficiently pled claims on the merits. The Court will address each of Respondent's arguments separately.

         First, Respondent contends that many of Petitioner's ineffective assistance claims are procedurally defaulted because Petitioner failed to properly exhaust these claims in the underlying state court proceeding. (Doc. 73 at 13-22.) Specifically, Respondent contends that Petitioner failed to raise many of his claims in his post-hearing brief in the state habeas proceedings or in his Application for Certificate of Probable Cause ("CPC application") filed with the Georgia Supreme Court. (Id. at 8-11.) Respondent alleges that Georgia Supreme Court Rule 22 requires petitioners to raise all claims in a CPC application and that a failure to do so results in abandonment of those claims. (Id.) Because Petitioner failed to properly allege many of his claims in the CPC application, Respondent contends that these claims are unexhausted and procedurally defaulted under Rule 22. (Id.) Moreover, Respondent contends that any attempt by Petitioner to incorporate any of his claims by reference in his CPC application or his post-hearing brief was insufficient to properly exhaust his claims. (Id.)

         For his part, Petitioner argues that his claims are not procedurally defaulted. (Doc. 69.) Petitioner alleges that Rule 22 does not apply to CPC applications. (Doc. 76 at 3-5.) More importantly, Petitioner contends that Rule 22 cannot constitute an independent and adequate state law basis for procedural default because no underlying state court reviewing Petitioner's claims relied on Rule 22 to find that his claims were procedurally defaulted. (Id. at 6-7.) Finally, Petitioner contends that his claims are not procedurally defaulted due to his failure to raise his claims in his post-hearing brief because there is no obligation that a petitioner brief the entirety of his claims in a post-hearing brief in a state habeas proceeding. (Id. at 4, n.1)

         While the Court doubts the fundamental logic of Petitioner's arguments and is inclined to agree that a petitioner has an obligation to raise all of his claims at every stage in the underlying proceedings, ultimately, the Court does not need to determine whether Petitioner failed to properly exhaust his claims in the underlying state proceedings. Rather, this Court finds that Respondent, in its answer to Petitioner's petition, waived any argument that Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were not properly exhausted in the state courts. (Doc. 7.) Accordingly, Respondent will not now be permitted to argue Petitioner has not properly exhausted his ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

         In the Eleventh Circuit, it is well established that "[t]he exhaustion reguirement is not jurisdictional, but rather, is a procedural rule based in comity." King v. Chase, 384 Fed.Appx. 972, 97 4 (11th Cir. 2 010) (citing Thompson v. Wainwright, 714 F.2d 1495, 1503-04 (11th Cir. 1983)). Accordingly, state attorney generals are permitted to waive the exhaustion requirement in federal habeas proceedings. 28 U.S.C. § 2254; see also Hills v. Washington, 441 F.3d 1374, 1376 (11th Cir. 2006)." [T]he state either may waive exhaustion expressly, or impliedly by failing to raise the issue or arguing that exhaustion would be futile." King, 384 Fed.Appx. at 974 (citing Thompson, 714 F.2d at 1503-04.} The district court has the discretion to accept or reject the state's waiver. Esslinqer v. Davis, 44 F.3d 1515, 1524 (11th Cir. 1995). "[T]he district court may invoke [the failure to exhaust procedural bar] sua sponte where, notwithstanding the state's waiver, requiring the petitioner to return to state court to exhaust his claims serves an important federal interest." Id.

         In this case, Respondent waived his ability to raise any exhaustion challenge to Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims in 2012. (Doc. 7.) In his answer to Petitioner's habeas corpus petition, Respondent provided that all of Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were properly before the Court because "[t]hese allegations were properly rejected on their merits by the state habeas corpus court." (Id. at 22.) Moreover, Respondent listed these claims as "claims properly before the court for review" and "allegations . . . that are reviewable under § 2254 (d) ." (Id. at 25.) In the Court's view, this is an express waiver of any potential argument that Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims are unexhausted. Additionally, the Court sees no reason to reject Respondent's express waiver.

         In its current briefing, Respondent attempts to "amend" its answer and argue that Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were not properly exhausted. (Doc. 73.) While the Court is doubtful that Respondent's attempt to amend its answer within a response brief at this stage in these proceedings is fair or proper, the Court rejects Respondent's attempted amendment. Respondent expressly waived its claim that these claims were not properly exhausted over six years ago. Moreover, Respondent has provided no argument as to why this Court should allow Respondent to retract its waiver at this stage in the proceedings.[2] Accordingly, the Court accepts Respondent's waiver of any argument that these claims are procedurally defaulted due to Petitioners' failure to exhaust these claims at all stages of the underlying state proceedings.

         Although the Court finds that Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims are not barred from this Court's review due to Petitioner's failure to properly exhaust these claims, the Court finds that some of Petitioner's claims are insufficiently pled and, therefore, not properly before this Court. When filing a petition pursuant to § 2254, "[h]abeas petitioners must meet heightened pleading requirements." McFarland v. Scott, 512 U.S. 849, 856, 114 S.Ct. 2568, 2572 (1994) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 2(c)). Accordingly, "generalized allegations are insufficient in habeas cases." Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1265 (11th Cir. 2014) . Instead, petitioners are required to "specify all the grounds for relief available to the petitioner" and "state the facts supporting each ground" in their petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 Rule 2(c). "In other words, habeas petitions must contain *fact pleading as opposed to notice pleading.'" Arrinqton v. Warden, GDCP, CV 117-022, 2017 WL 4 07 94 05, at * 1 (S.D. Ga. Sept. 14, 2017) (quoting Hittson, 759 F.3d at 1265 (internal quotations omitted)). Courts have found that this heightened pleading requirement exists because "the habeas petitioner ordinarily possesses, or has access to, ...


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