United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Statesboro Division
LISA GODBEY WOOD, JUDGE
Jerry Scott Heidler's Third Amended Petition for Writ of
Habeas Corpus is before the Court. Dkt. No. 124. It has been
fully briefed and is ripe for review. For the reasons below,
Mr. Heidler's petition is DENIED.
Mr. Heidler's Crimes
Georgia Supreme Court summarized Mr. Heidler's crimes as
Danny and Kim Daniels lived in the town of Santa Claus in
Toombs County[, Georgia] with their seven children, three of
whom were foster children. Heidler's sister was in the
Daniels' care as a foster child for 45 days in 1995, and
it was then that he began to frequent the house and
occasionally to stay there overnight. Months before the
murders, Mr. Daniels noticed that Heidler, 20 years old at
the time, was beginning to develop a relationship with his 16
year old daughter, Jessica. He had a conversation with
Heidler, after which Heidler stopped visiting the
At approximately 5:00 a.m. on December 4, 1997, the police in
Bacon County [, Georgia] found three young girls on the
street in their nightclothes. The girls said they had been
kidnapped from the Daniels' house in Toombs County by a
man they knew as Scott Taylor, who drove them to Bacon County
in a white van. The police subsequently learned from DFCS
[Division of Family and Child Services] that "Scott
Taylor" was actually Heidler. The ten-year-old victim
told the police that Heidler sexually assaulted her in the
van while in Toombs County. This was corroborated by evidence
of physical trauma to the child and by DNA testing. The
eight-year-old victim told the police that she witnessed the
sexual assault. From a photographic lineup, each of the three
girls separately identified Heidler as the kidnapper.
Toombs County police officers went to the Daniels' house,
where they found the bodies of the four victims. Bryant
Daniels, eight years old, was found lying on his bed
face-down, where he died from massive head trauma caused by a
close-range shotgun blast. Both Mr. and Mrs. Daniels were
found lying in their bed, each having been killed by multiple
shotgun blasts. The body of Jessica Daniels also was found
lying in the master bedroom, near a doorway that led into the
hallway. She had been killed by a close-range shotgun blast
to the back of her head. A Remington 1100 semi-automatic
shotgun was missing from Mr. Daniels' gun cabinet, the
door to which was open. Seven spent shotgun casings were
found throughout the house. A firearms expert testified that
the Remington 1100 shotgun holds six shotgun shells, so the
shooter must have reloaded at least once. A neighbor heard,
at 1:45 a.m., noises that could have been shots and the
police determined that the assailant entered the house by
using a ladder to climb through a bathroom window. A
fingerprint lifted from this window matched Heidler's
fingerprint. DNA taken from saliva on a cigarette butt found
on the floor in the house matched Heidler's DNA.
After dropping the girls off in Bacon County, Heidler went to
his mother's house where he slept and played video games
with his brother. Heidler asked his brother if he had ever
killed anyone, and his brother said no. Heidler then said
that killing "gives you a rush, makes you want to go out
and kill more people." After his arrest, Heidler
confessed to the crimes. He told the police that he threw the
shotgun into a river and the kidnapped girls confirmed this
Heidler v. State, 273 Ga. 54, 58-59 (2000).
Mr. Heidler's Jury Trial
jury trial in the Superior Court of Walton County, Georgia
(the "trial court"), Mr. Heidler was convicted of
four counts of malice murder, three counts of kidnapping, one
count of kidnapping with bodily injury, one count of
aggravated sodomy, one count of aggravated child molestation,
one count of child molestation, and one count of burglary.
Dkt. Nos. 12-7 at 108-16; 12-8 at 1-2. During the trial's
sentencing phase, the jury found that aggravating
circumstances existed and recommended the death penalty for
each of the four malice murder counts. Dkt. No. 12-8 at
13-16. In September 1999, the trial court sentenced Mr.
Heidler to death for each of those four counts. Id.
at 18-25. The trial court also sentenced Mr. Heidler to two
consecutive life terms for aggravated sodomy and kidnapping
with bodily injury, thirty years (consecutive) for aggravated
child molestation, and twenty years (consecutive) for each of
the remaining counts. Id. at 26.
Mr. Heidler's Direct Appeal
Heidler first filed a motion for new trial, which he later
amended. Id. at 41-42, 55-56. Following a hearing,
that motion was denied. Id. at 44-48; Dkt. No. 12-9
at 1-14. Then, Mr. Heidler appealed his case to the Supreme
Court of Georgia. There, the Supreme Court of Georgia
affirmed Mr. Heidler's death sentences, reversed Mr.
Heidler's sentence for aggravated child molestation
(finding that it merged into the aggravated sodomy
count),' and affirmed the remainder of Mr. Heidler's
sentences. Heidler v. State, 273 Ga. 54 (2000); Dkt.
No. 15-18. Thereafter, the United States Supreme Court denied
Mr. Heidler's petition for writ of certiorari.
Heidler v. Georgia, 532 U.S. 1029 (2001),
reh'g den'd, 533 U.S. 965 (2001); Dkt. Nos.
Mr. Heidler's State and Federal Habeas
November 2001, Mr. Heidler filed a state habeas corpus
petition in the Superior Court of Butts County, Georgia (the
"state habeas court"). Dkt. No. 16-3. In April
2004, Mr. Heidler amended that petition. Dkt. No. 18-4. In
January and May 2006, the state habeas court conducted
evidentiary hearings. Dkt. No. 31-12 at 9. In August 2009,
the state habeas court denied Mr. Heidler's amended
petition. Dkt. Nos. 31-12; 31-13. The Supreme Court of
Georgia summarily denied Mr. Heidler's application for a
Certificate of Probable Cause to Appeal ("CPC")
from the state habeas court's decision. Dkt. No. 31-18.
October 2011, Mr. Heidler commenced this action by filing a
petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254. Dkt. No. 1. Mr. Heidler amended his petition in
April 2012, dkt. no. 45, April 2014/ dkt. no. 70, and-for the
third and final time -in April 2019, dkt. no. 124.
Heidler's federal habeas corpus petition was filed after
April 24, 1996; therefore, his case is governed by the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
("AEDPA"). See e.g. 28 U.S.C. § 2254;
see also Payne v. Allen, 539 F.3d 1297, 1312 (11th
Cir. 2008). AEDPA "greatly circumscribe[s]" this
Court's review and makes it "highly deferential to
the state courts." Crawford v. Head, 311 F.3d
1288, 1295 (11th Cir. 2002). First, under AEDPA's
deferential standard, state court factual determinations are
"presumed to be correct" unless the petitioner
rebuts them "by clear and convincing evidence." 28
U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also id. §
2254(d)(2) (requiring federal courts to accept state court
adjudications unless they "resulted in a decision that
was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in
light of the evidence presented in the State court
state court legal determinations will be accepted unless they
"resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). "[A] state
prisoner must show that the state court's ruling on the
claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in
justification that [it constituted] an error well understood
and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for
fairminded disagreement" among jurists. Harrington
v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 103 (2011) . In other words,
"if some fairminded jurists could agree with the state
court's decision, although others might disagree, federal
habeas relief must be denied." Loggins v.
Thomas, 654 F.3d 1204, 1220 (11th Cir. 2011); see
also Hill v. Humphrey, 662 F.3d 1335, 1347 (11th Cir.
2011) (en banc); Bobby v. Dixon, 565 U.S. 23, 32-33
(2011) (per curiam).
when filing a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas petition,
"generalized allegations are insufficient."
Hittson v. GDCP Warden, 759 F.3d 1210, 1265 (11th
Cir. 2014). Instead, "petitioners must meet heightened
pleading requirements." McFarland v. Scott, 512
U.S. 849, 856 (1994) . Specifically, petitioners are required
to (1) "specify all the grounds for relief available to
the petitioner" and (2) "state the facts supporting
each ground." 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Rule
initial matter, when the state's highest court issues an
unexplained, summary decision on appeal of a reasoned lower
court decision, "the federal court should 'look
through' the unexplained decision to the last related
state-court decision that does provide a relevant rationale.
It should then presume that the unexplained decision adopted
the same reasoning." Wilson v. Sellers, 138
S.Ct. 1188, 1191 (2018).
Mr. Heidler applied to the Georgia Supreme Court for a CDC
after the state habeas court denied his Amended Petition for
Writ of Habeas Corpus. Dkt. No. 31-15. The Georgia Supreme
Court then summarily denied Mr. Heidler's CPC
application. Dkt. No. 31-18. Therefore, this Court presumes
that the Georgia Supreme Court's summary denial adopted
the state habeas court's reasoning, Raulerson v.
Warden, 928 F.3d 987, 996 (11th Cir. 2019). As such,
this Court will "look through" the Georgia Supreme
Court summary denial and focus on the reasonableness of the
state habeas court's decision even though it was not the
last state court decision on the merits. 28 U.S.C. §
Mr. Heidler's Strickland Claims
Heidler argues that he is entitled to de novo review
of the claims set forth in Part IV.B of his Brief in Support,
dkt. no. 127 at 75-117, because the state habeas court's
decision relied upon unreasonable factual and legal
determinations. Id. at 11. However, this Court finds
the contrary to be true: the state habeas court's
decision relied upon reasonable factual and legal
determinations. Therefore, Mr. Heidler is not entitled to de
novo review. Instead, this Court applies the
allege a successful ineffective assistance of counsel claim
(a Strickland claim), a defendant must establish (1)
that his trial counsel's "performance was deficient,
and [(2)] that the deficiency prejudiced [his] defense."
Wilson v. Warden, Georgia Diagnostic Prison, 898
F.3d 1314, 1322 (11th Cir. 2018) (second alteration in
original) (quoting Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510,
521 (2003)). To satisfy the first prong-deficient
performance- "a defendant must show that his
counsel's conduct fell below an objective standard of
reasonableness in light of prevailing professional norms at
the time the representation took place." Johnson v.
Upton, 615 F.3d 1318, 1330 (11th Cir. 2010)(quoting
Bobby v. Van Hook, 558 U.S. 4, 7 (2009)) (internal
judicial review of a defense attorney's performance is
"highly deferential-and doubly deferential when it is
conducted through the lens of federal habeas."
Yarborough v. Gentry, 540 U.S. 1, 6 (2003). First,
as a general principle, "[j]udicial scrutiny of
counsel's performance must be highly deferential."
Evans v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 703 F.3d
1316, 1333 (11th Cir. 2013). Then, "[w]hen we layer the
deferential lens of § 2254(d) atop that first level of
deference, the . . . result is [a] doubly deferential review
of counsel's performance." Id. (internal
quotations omitted); Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668, 689 (1984).
determining the second prong of the test- whether an
attorney's deficient performance resulted in prejudice to
the defendant-is, "in the end, a legal [question]."
Evans, 703 F.3d at 1334. Answering this legal
question requires no underlying deference (apart from AEDPA
deference) . Id. A defendant has been prejudiced
when "there is a reasonable probability that, but for
counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the
proceeding would have been different."
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. "A reasonable
probability is a probability sufficient to undermine
confidence in the outcome." Id. As the Supreme
Court noted in Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86
This does not require a showing that counsel's actions
more likely than not altered the outcome, but the difference
between Strickland's prejudice standard and a
more-probable-than-not standard is slight and matters only in
the rarest case. The likelihood of a different result must be
substantial, not just conceivable.
Id. at 111-12 (internal quotation marks and
reasons provided below, this Court denies all of Mr.
Heidler's Strickland claims.
Mr. Heidler's Strickland Claims Relating to
Evidence regarding His Mental Health
Mr. Heidler finds fault with Part III.D.2.d.2. of the state
habeas court's decision. There, the state habeas court
discussed Mr. Heidler's trial counsel's investigation
of his background and found the following:
Palmer [one of Mr. Heidler's trial counsel] testified
that they hired an investigator, Mr. Gillis, whom they used
to track down Petitioner's friends in Alma and Baxley and
a few family members. Unfortunately, Petitioner's friends
were "criminals, thugs" and "dopers" that
were currently in jail and were not helpful to
Petitioner's case. . . . Palmer went on to testify that
in her efforts to locate mitigating witnesses, "I drove
up and down the dirt roads and went to the jails and went to
the DFACS and went to the Juvenile Court and went up and down
the street where he lived . . .I'm the one who went door
to door and around the community and at the convenience
store. I did all that."
Dkt. No. 31-12 at 38. Mr. Heidler also argues that according
to Ms. Palmer's own billing records, she only spent one
day driving "up and down dirt roads looking for
witnesses," and that her one day spent searching for
witnesses was only four days prior to the start of the
evidentiary portion of the guilt-innocence phase of trial.
Id. at 100. Second, Mr. Heidler argues that Mr.
Gillis only worked on the case for one day for a total of 5.5
hours, and so the sate habeas court erroneously credited
defense counsel with hiring him. Dkt. No. 127 at 99.
Mr. Heidler has not shown that either of these factual
findings by the state habeas court are incorrect or
unreasonable through clear or convincing evidence.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e) (1). After a review of
record, it appears that the state habeas court simply
summarized and quoted Ms. Palmer's testimony. Moreover,
it is unclear how the state habeas court was incorrect when
it credited the defense counsel with hiring Mr. Gillis when
they did, in fact, hire him. For example, Mr. Heidler does
not argue that the state habeas court credited such hiring to
an unreasonable degree, merely that it credited defense
counsel at all.
Ms. Palmer's testimony at the state habeas evidentiary
hearing belies Mr. Heidler's reliance on Palmer's
billing records as conclusive proof of the extent of her
investigatory efforts. There, she testified that she thought
"she did a lot more work" than the billing records
document. Dkt. No. 19-4 at 40-41. Even though Palmer also
testified that she "tried" to document witness
interviews in her billing records, that does not show that
the state habeas court erroneously relied on Palmer's
testimony regarding the extent of her efforts. Finally, even
if Palmer did only search for witnesses on that one day, the
state habeas court did not make an unreasonable determination
of fact by quoting her testimony that she searched for
witnesses. Accordingly, this first contention fails.
Mr. Heidler contends that the state habeas court erroneously
believed Mr. Heidler's defense counsel, Michael Garrett,
when he testified that "his notes indicate he spoke with
Mr. George Dykes . . . regarding Petitioner's need for
mental health treatment." Dkt. No. 31-12 at 43. Mr.
Heidler argues that "[t]he record does not establish
that Mr. Garrett had any contact with Mr. Dykes and [that]
Mr. Garrett's testimony referring to Mr. Dykes as a
female corroborates his recollection that he did not speak
with Mr. Dykes." Dkt. No. 127 at 101.
Heidler fails to prove these claims by clear and convincing
evidence. For example, Mr. Heidler did not show that Mr.
Garrett did not testify that his notes indicated that he
spoke with Mr. Dykes, nor did he show that Mr. Garrett did
not, in fact, speak with Mr. Dykes. Finally, Mr. Heidler did
not show that the state habeas court unreasonably credited
Mr. Garrett's testimony regarding his interpretation of
his own notes. Accordingly, this argument also fails.
Mr. Heidler argues that the record does not support the state
habeas court's determination that Palmer "requested
and received records from the Detention Center as late as
June 1999, three months before the trial." Id.
at 101-102 (quoting dkt. no. 31-12 at 4. Mr. Heidler asserts
that the state habeas court relied on a letter dated June 15,
1999, from Palmer to Garret that states, "Enclosed
please find a copy of the record I have obtained
from the jail in Toombs County." Dkt. No. 30-8 at 44
(emphasis added). Notably, the letter's subject line
reads: "Re: State vs. Jerry Scott Heidler, Toombs County
Detention Center Records." Id. This letter
shows that the state habeas court's finding that Palmer
received at least one record from the Toombs County Detention
Center (i.e., the jail) in June 1999 is supported by the
record. The fact that the letter uses the singular
"record" instead of the plural "records"
does not show that the state habeas court's finding that
"records" were received in June 1999 was
unreasonable (nor does it show that the ultimate decision was
based on this determination of fact). Accordingly, this argument,
like the others before it, fails.
Mr. Heidler argues that the state habeas court's finding
that "'the trial attorney files clearly prove that
trial counsel did obtain [the Toombs County Detention Center]
documents' was critical to the court's conclusion
that counsel did not perform deficiently in failing to
provide these records to the mental health experts . . . [but
such finding] has no meaningful record support." Dkt.
No. 127 at 102 (quoting Dkt. No. 31-12 at 56) (alteration by
Mr. Heidler). This argument lacks merit. The state habeas
court cites to numerous locations in the record to support
its finding that "the trial attorney files clearly prove
that trial counsel did obtain these documents and, once
again, trial counsel testified that all records regarding
Petitioner were turned over to the mental health
experts." Dkt. No. 31-12 at 56. In short, Mr.
Heidler's conclusory argument is insufficient to meet his
burden to successfully allege this claim. Accordingly, it
Mr. Heidler contends that the state habeas court was
"unreasonable" in blaming any deficiencies in trial
counsel's investigation into Mr. Heidler's past
"on Mr. Heidler." Dkt. No. 127 at 102. In support
of this contention, Mr. Heidler highlights the state habeas
court's finding that Mr. Garrett "testified that
when he met with [Mr. Heidler] he 'couldn't
communicate with him at all' and gathered very little
information from [Mr. Heidler] due to [Mr. Heidler's]
unwillingness to cooperate." Dkt. No. 31-12 at 36. Mr.
Heidler argues that the state habeas court's use of the
word "unwillingness" shows that the state habeas
court found (a) that Mr. Garrett blamed Mr. Heidler for being
unwilling to cooperate and (b) that Mr. Garrett believed
"Heidler was being obstructive on purpose." Dkt.
No. 127 at 103.
state habeas court pointing out that Mr. Heidler was
unwilling to cooperate does not mean that it "blam[ed]
any deficiencies on the investigation on Mr. Heidler."
Id. at 102. Here, the context in which the state
habeas court uses the word "unwillingness"
illustrates that the court used the term to characterize Mr.
Garrett's testimony: that he was unable to gather
information from Mr. Heidler because of Mr. Heidler's
unwillingness to cooperate. Thus, a fair reading of the state
habeas court's decision shows that it did not identify or
blame any deficiencies in trial counsel's performance on
Mr. Heidler's lack of cooperation and forthrightness.
Rather, the record reflects that the state habeas court
thoroughly detailed Mr. Heidler's trial counsel's
efforts to investigate mitigating evidence despite Mr.
Heidler's lack of assistance (whether willful or not).
Such a determination is reasonable, and Mr. Heidler fails to
show otherwise by clear and convincing evidence. Accordingly,
this claim fails.
Mr. Heidler argues that the state habeas court made several
unreasonable errors in its "rejection of Dr. Faulk's
testimony and its dismissal of the Pineland records."
Id. at 105. Mr. Heidler alleges that in so doing,
the state habeas court "wholly discounted important
pieces of evidence" presented before it. Id. at
104. However, the state habeas court determined that the
records Mr. Heidler now claims are "important pieces of
evidence" were, in fact, cumulative evidence that trial
counsel did not need to present to the jury. Dkt. No. 31-12
at 59 ("Trial counsel [was] not ineffective for not
presenting cumulative evidence."). Such a conclusion is
reasonable, and Mr. Heidler has not presented clear and
convincing evidence to the contrary. See Reaves v.
Sec'y, Fla. Dep't of Corr., 872 F.3d 1137, 1157
(11th Cir. 2017) (holding that "counsel's failure to
present cumulative evidence is not ineffective
assistance."). Accordingly, this claim fails.
Mr. Heidler argues that the state habeas court erroneously
found that Mr. Heidler hearing a baby crying was the only
indication in the record of Mr. Heidler hallucinating, when
in fact the record also states that Mr. Heidler "[a]
lieges that he's been having flashback of the Meath,
'" dkt. no. 127 at 105 (quoting dkt. no. 21-17 at
34). The state habeas court's finding that an alleged
flashback is not a report of a hallucination is not
unreasonable. Additionally, even if it were unreasonable for
the state habeas court to find that Mr. Heidler's
self-reported flashback was not a report of a hallucination,
the court's bottom line ruling on Mr. Heidler's
ineffective assistance of counsel claims was not based on
this determination of fact. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).
Since Mr. Heidler has not shown that this factual finding was
unreasonable or that the state habeas court based its
decision on this factual finding, this claim fails.
Court now turns to the remainder of claims set forth in part
IV.B of Mr. Heidler's brief. Here, Mr. Heidler argues
that because of his "trial counsel's deficient
performance, the expert opinions in both the guilt and
sentencing phases of trial were. profoundly misleading and
inaccurate." Dkt. No. 127 at 76. Mr. Heidler argues that
his trial counsel were deficient in three respects:
(1) they "failed to obtain relevant documents that would
have shown that Mr. Heidler in fact suffered from a
psychosis-inducing thought disorder and not merely a
personality disorder," id.;
(2) they failed to contact witnesses that witnessed Mr.
Heidler's psychotic behavior, id. at 92-94; and
(3) they "failed to take an active role in highlighting
and curating the extensive records reflecting Mr.
Heidler's many years of debilitating mental illness to
focus the experts' attention on the more relevant
portions of the records they provided to the experts”
id. at 76.
Heidler claims that as a result of these deficiencies, his
mental health expert at trial, Dr. Maish, and the three
mental health experts retained by the trial court-Dr.
D'Alesandro, Dr. If ill, and Dr. Kuglar-did not diagnose
Mr. Heidler with a thought disorder but misdiagnosed him as
having one or more personality disorders.
the investigation of records, Mr. Heidler primarily argues
that his trial counsel were deficient by failing to obtain
records from Pineland Community Mental Health Center
regarding Mr. Heidler's treatment there while he awaited
trial. He also argues that his trial counsel did not obtain a
complete set of medical records from Toombs County Detention
Center. Mr. Heidler further argues that they did not speak
with Nurse George Dykes from the Toombs County Detention
Center--who treated Mr. Heidler and recommended on several
occasions that Mr. Heidler be given mental health
treatment-or Dr. David Faulk-who evaluated Mr. Heidler at
Pineland and prescribed him with Haldol, an ant i-psychotic
his claim that trial counsel failed to contact witnesses, Mr.
Heidler argues that his trial counsel failed to locate and
interview "numerous" individuals that witnessed Mr.
Heidler experience auditory and visual hallucinations and
could have testified to the same. Mr. Heidler identifies two
such individuals, both of whom interacted with Mr. Heidler on
a single occasion when he was twelve.
regarding the curation of the voluminous records, Mr. Heidler
argues that "[n]umerous documents reflected the severity
of Mr. Heidler's mental illness, long before he was
arrested and charged with the murders." Dkt. No. 127 at
94. Mr. Heidler highlights several records and the
information they allegedly contain before arguing that
"it does not appear that [his trail counsel] were aware
of the information contained" therein. Id. at
95. Mr. Heidler concludes his arguments on this point by
claiming his trial counsel were deficient because they failed
to provide the mental health experts with "a roadmap of
what to review." Id. at 96.
record tells a different story. The state habeas court
concluded that "trial counsel's investigation was
not deficient as they conducted an exhaustive investigation
of Petitioner's background by interviewing family
members, teachers, friends, DFACS caseworkers, and
Petitioner's juvenile probation officer." Dkt. No.
31-12 at 65-66. The court reasoned that the record made
"clear that trial counsel gathered voluminous documents
from the various schools, including the psycho-educational
centers Petitioner attended, the numerous mental health
centers records, DFACS records, Petitioner's Toombs
County Detention Center records and medical records."
Id. at 66. In its Order, the state habeas court
thoroughly described the record evidence above to support its
decision and findings. See id. at 35-66.
the state habeas court's thorough discussion of Mr.
Heidler's trial counsel's investigatory efforts show
that the state habeas court's decision was not
unreasonable, and Mr. Heidler fails to show otherwise by
clear and convincing evidence. Merely identifying documents
and witnesses that could have supported Mr. Heidler's
case is insufficient to show that his trial counsel's
investigation was deficient or that the state habeas
court's decision regarding the same was unreasonable.
See Reaves, 872 F.3d at 1157 ("[T]he fact that
other witnesses could have been called or other testimony
elicited usually proves at most the wholly unremarkable fact
that with the luxury of time and the opportunity to focus
resources on specific parts of a made record, postconviction
counsel will inevitably identify shortcomings in the
performance of prior counsel.").
note, Mr. Heidler supports his argument that trial counsel
did not sufficiently curate the records they provided to the
mental health experts by relying on cases that are not
"clearly established Federal law" under AEDPA, i.e.
they are not United States Supreme Court holdings. See
Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006) (reaffirming
that the "clearly established Federal law in §
2254(d)(1) refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta,
of this Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant
state-court decision") (internal quotations and
citations omitted); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529
U.S. 362, 412 (2000). For this additional reason, Mr. Heidler
has not shown that the state habeas court's adjudication
of this claim violated 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(d)(2), or both. Accordingly, this last claim,
like the others before it, fails.
above reasons, Mr. Heidler's Strickland claims
relating to evidence regarding his mental health are denied.
Strickland Claims regarding Trial Counsel's
Mental Health Defenses at Trial
Brief in Support, dkt. no. 127, Mr. Heidler claims that his
trial counsel were deficient because they failed to narrow
down their mental health defenses at trial "to focus the
issue of Mr. Heidler's mental health on the sole question
that was at issue during the guilt phase of the trial-whether
Mr. Heidler was guilty but mentally ill." Id.
at 119. This claim fails for two reasons. First, Mr. Heidler
did not raise it in his Third Amended Petition, dkt. no. 124.
Second, it is procedurally defaulted. Regarding the first
reason, Rule 2(c) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases
requires the operative petition, here the Third Amended
Petition, to: "(1) specify all grounds for relief
available to the petitioner; [and] (2) state the facts
supporting each ground." 28 U.S.C. § 2254, Rule
2(c) . Mr. Heidler has done neither with respect to this
the second reason-procedural default-Mr. Heidler never raised
this specific claim before the state habeas court or in his
application to the Georgia Supreme Court for a CPC. As a
result, this claim was not "adjudicated on the merits in
the State court proceedings" within the meaning of 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d). Thus, it is procedurally defaulted.
See, e.g., Hittson, 759 F.3d at 1232 n.23
(finding that "[b]ecause Georgia prisoners are required
to apply for a CPC before they have exhausted their state
remedies" several of the petitioner's claims not
included in the petitioner's CPC application were
the State has not expressly waived this defense.
Heidler's argument, that the State "expressly and
affirmatively stated that the claims [Mr. Heidler] now
asserts are unexhausted were in fact reviewable," dkt.
no. 130 at 7, is conclusory and unsupported by the record. As
the record shows, Heidler first raised this claim in his
Brief in Support, dkt. no. 127, which precluded the State
from arguing that the claim was unexhausted until now.
Additionally, Mr. Heidler has neither shown nor attempted to
show cause for the default or any resulting prejudice (or
that a miscarriage of justice would occur) . For the above
reasons, Mr. Heidler's Strickland claims
regarding his trial counsel's mental health defenses at
trial fail and are denied.
Trial Counsel's Investigation and Presentation of
Heidler's next Strickland claim argues that the
state habeas court unreasonably found that his trial counsel
were not deficient in their investigation or presentation of
mitigating evidence. Mr. Heidler claims that "the state
habeas court had an overly inflated view7' of trial
counsel's work. Dkt. No. 127 at 141. This Court has
already rejected that argument. The state habeas court
determined that trial counsel did indeed hire an
investigator, Frank Gillis, who found witnesses and conducted
interviews. Additionally, according to her testimony, Ms.
Palmer's billing records did not reflect the true extent
of her investigatory attempts to discover mitigating
evidence. Neither of these factual findings by the state
habeas court were unreasonable nor has Mr. Heidler shown by
clear and convincing evidence that such testimony and
evidence, or any reliance upon it, was erroneous.
Mr. Heidler claims that "the state habeas court's
reading of the evidence that the defense did present at trial
has little correspondence to the actual testimony jurors
heard." Id. Mr. Heidler specifically finds
fault with the state habeas court's factual determination
that Mr. Heidler's trial counsel presented evidence at
sentencing that Mr. Heidler suffered from abuse, neglect, and
mental illness. Mr. Heidler contends that, in fact,
"very little was shown about Mr. Heidler's
challenging childhood." Id. Heidler also argues
that the state habeas court unreasonably found that
Heidler's trial counsel presented witness testimony about
his "troubled childhood of neglect and abuse," dkt.
no. 127 at 141 (quoting Dkt. no. 31-12 at 50), when,
according to Heidler, his trial counsel merely presented
testimony of allegations of abuse since the members
of Heidler's family who testified denied that any abuse
arguments are not enough to satisfy Mr. Heidler's burden,
at this stage, under AEDPA. He fails to show that this
factual finding by the state habeas court was unreasonable.
Moreover, even if he did show that these factual findings
were unreasonable, Mr. Heidler does not show that the state
habeas court based its decision on these findings. First,
testimony stating that there were allegations of abuse is
circumstantial evidence of abuse. Thus, the trial court's
finding that witnesses testified about abuse is not
unreasonable. Second, the state habeas court listed numerous
pieces of mitigating evidence that Mr. Heidler's trial
counsel presented in its decision that Mr. Heidler's
trial counsel were not deficient in their investigation or
presentation of mitigating evidence. Thus, even if the state
habeas court did slightly mischaracterize the evidence of
allegations of abuse as evidence of abuse, the record does
not show that the state habeas court's ultimate decision
was based on this finding of fact (as it must under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254(d)(2)). Accordingly, these arguments fall short
Mr. Heidler argues that the state habeas court's finding
that his "[t]rial counsel cannot be held responsible for
[his] family's reticence in revealing shameful family
secrets," dkt. no. 31-12 at 62, was unreasonably wrong
because "trial counsel are responsible for the failure
to conduct an adequate investigation," dkt. no. 127 at
142. In other words, Mr. Heidler argues that his trial
counsel performed deficiently because they did not timely
investigate mitigating evidence and they did not adequately
interview Mr. Heidler's family members. See id.
Heidler does not meet his burden with this argument. While
the record does contain evidence showing that Ms. Palmer only
interviewed mitigation witnesses four days prior to the start
of the guilt-innocence phase of trial, the record also shows
that Mr. Heidler's "counsel [began] work on
obtaining mental health-related documents early in the
representation." Dkt. No. 127 at 143 n. 57. Obtaining
those documents "early in the representation,"
necessarily involved speaking with Mr. Heidler's family
early in the investigation. Ms. Palmer testified that she
talked with Mr. Heidler's family members, who told her
that "Mr. Heidler has been in and out of foster
care," which then prompted her to speak with DFACS, from
whom she obtained records. Dkt. No. 19-3 at 63. Thus, the
record shows that Ms. Palmer spoke with Mr. Heidler's
family members, located witnesses, and found records within a
Mr. Heidler has not shown that the state habeas court's
decision on this matter was unreasonable. Instead, Mr.
Heidler's arguments are colored by the "distorting
effects of hindsight." Strickland, 466 U.S. at
689. Such arguments are not enough to meet his burden under
AEDPA. As this argument fails.
Heidler's remaining arguments on this claim focus on the
second prong of a Strickland claim: prejudice. Since
this Court finds that Heidler falls well short of his burden
of proof under AEDPA with respect to first prong of a
Strickland claim (deficiency), we do not need to
reach an analysis involving the second prong.
above reasons, Mr. Heidler's overall claim that the state
habeas court unreasonably found that his trial counsel were
effective in their investigation of mitigating evidence
fails. It is denied.
Mr. Heidler's Escape from Toombs County Detention
Court has already rejected this claim when it denied Mr.
Heidler's motion for an evidentiary hearing. See
Dkt. No. 97. There, this Court determined that Mr.
Heidler's ineffective assistance of counsel claim
"stemming from a conflict of interest" lacked
merit. Id. at 29. This Court also found that
"there is no need to consider post-conviction
counsel's ineffectiveness . . . because post-conviction
counsel could not be deemed ineffective for failing to raise
a claim that the Court has determined lacks any merit."
Id. at 29-30. Although Mr. Heidler requests that
this Court revise that order, dkt. no. 130 at 31, this Court
has no reason to do so. Mr. Heidler's claim is still
without merit. Accordingly, this claim is denied.
Trial Counsel's Voir Dire
Heidler's next Strickland claim argues that his
trial counsel were deficient by "conduct[ing] an anemic
voir dire . . . that ignored critical and specific
issues." Dkt. No. 127 at 165. Mr. Heidler identifies the
following ways that his trial counsel were allegedly
(1) "asked virtually no case-specific questions of
venirepersons beyond a general inquiry into their willingness
to listen to the testimony of a psychiatrist or
psychologist," id. at 166;
(2) failed "to determine which venirepersons held
harmful (and potentially disqualifying) views, and which held
helpful views, on issues germane to ...