133 N.E.3d 673 (Ind. 2019), 22S00-1601-PD-00009, Gibson v. State

Docket Nº:22S00-1601-PD-00009, 22S00-1608-PD-00411
Citation:133 N.E.3d 673
Opinion Judge:Massa, Justice.
Party Name:William Clyde GIBSON, III, Appellant (Defendant) v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff)
Attorney:ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Stephen T. Owens, Public Defender of Indiana, Deidre R. Eltzroth, Joanna L. Green, Steven Schutte, Lindsay C. Van Gorkom, Laura L. Volk, Deputy Public Defender, Indianapolis, Indiana ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Curtis T. Hill, Jr., Attorney General of Indiana, Tyler G. Banks, ...
Judge Panel:Rush, C.J., and David and Goff, JJ., concur. Slaughter, J., not participating.
Case Date:October 24, 2019
Court:Supreme Court of Indiana

Page 673

133 N.E.3d 673 (Ind. 2019)

William Clyde GIBSON, III, Appellant (Defendant)

v.

STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff)

Nos. 22S00-1601-PD-00009, 22S00-1608-PD-00411

Supreme Court of Indiana

October 24, 2019

Argued: January 10, 2019

Appeal from the Floyd County Superior Court, No. 22D01-1606-PC-4, The Honorable Susan L. Orth, Appeal from the Floyd County Superior Court, 22D01-1703-PC-4, The Honorable Susan L. Orth

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: Stephen T. Owens, Public Defender of Indiana, Deidre R. Eltzroth, Joanna L. Green, Steven Schutte, Lindsay C. Van Gorkom, Laura L. Volk, Deputy Public Defender, Indianapolis, Indiana

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Curtis T. Hill, Jr., Attorney General of Indiana, Tyler G. Banks, Andrew A. Kobe, Kelly A. Loy, Denise A. Robinson, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana

OPINION

Massa, Justice.

William Clyde Gibson, III was convicted of and sentenced to death for the brutal murders of Christine Whitis and Stephanie Kirk. After this Court affirmed those convictions, Gibson, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel, unsuccessfully petitioned for post-conviction relief. Finding Gibson’s arguments unpersuasive and largely unsupported by the record, we now affirm the post-conviction court’s denial of relief. We also hold that Gibson’s conflict-of-interest claim falls under our standard Strickland analysis for prejudice, not the presumption-of-prejudice standard under Cuyler v. Sullivan .

Facts and Procedural History

Victims, Murders, and Arrest

In March 2012, William Gibson invited Stephanie Kirk to his home, where, in an extended attack, he brutally strangled her to death and sexually assaulted her corpse. Gibson hid her naked and broken body in his garage overnight, burying her the next day in a shallow grave in his backyard. The following month, Gibson invited to his home his late mother’s best friend, 75-year-old Christine Whitis. As with Kirk, Gibson violently strangled Whitis to death and sexually abused her corpse. He then dragged her nude and lifeless body to the garage, where he severed one of her breasts before leaving for a night out drinking at the bars. The following day, Gibson’s sisters contacted police after discovering Whitis’s body. That same evening, police arrested Gibson after a brief car chase, forcibly removing him from the vehicle when he refused to exit on his own. A later search of the vehicle revealed Whitis’s severed breast lying in the center console.1

Investigation, Confessions, Charges, and Appointment of Defense Counsel

While in custody, Gibson repeatedly asked to speak with police, expressly waiving his Miranda rights each time. On April 20, the day after his arrest, Gibson confessed to killing Whitis. He also confessed to killing Karen Hodella, a woman whose murder had gone unsolved since police had found her decomposed body in early 2003.

In subsequent interviews— on April 23, 24, and 26— Gibson confessed to murdering Kirk (who, at the time, police did not yet know was dead) and told police where to find her body in his back yard. Arriving there, investigators found Kirk’s prescription drugs inside Gibson’s home and, as with Whitis, found her corpse with a broken back.

The State charged Gibson with Whitis’s and Hodella’s murders on April 24. That same day, the court appointed J. Patrick Biggs, the Chief Public Defender of Floyd County, as Gibson’s defense counsel. The public defender’s office, however, wouldn’t formally receive the order of appointment for another three days. But on April 26, after receiving direct notice from the New Albany Police Department, Biggs met with Gibson, advising him, "in the very strongest possible language," to remain silent and to stop talking with police. PCR Tr. Vol. I, p.15. Biggs also told Gibson that he could be facing the death penalty for his crimes. Gibson signed a special advisement and waiver form after the trial court advised him of the potential consequences for speaking with police.

Nearly a month later, on May 23 the State charged Gibson with Kirk’s murder, filed separate death-penalty requests for the murders of Whitis and Kirk, and refiled Hodella’s murder under a separate cause number. In late June of that year, the trial court ordered a competency evaluation after Gibson attempted suicide in jail. In October, the court heard evidence and found Gibson competent to stand trial.

Trials, Pleas, Convictions, and Sentencing

Gibson first stood trial in October 2013 for Whitis’s murder (Gibson I ). Following his conviction, the jury deliberated on four aggravators during the penalty phase: two forms of criminal deviate conduct, dismemberment, and his probation status at the time of the crime. See I.C. § 35-50-2-9(b)(1)(D) (2007) (criminal deviate conduct); I.C. § 35-50-2-9(b)(10) (2007) (dismemberment); I.C. § 35-50-2-9(b)(9)(C) (2007) (probation status). The jury unanimously recommended a death sentence, and the trial court sentenced Gibson accordingly in November (withholding judgment on the jury’s habitual-offender finding in view of the death sentence). On direct appeal, this Court affirmed Gibson’s conviction and sentence for the Whitis murder. Gibson v. State, 43 N.E.3d 231, 242 (Ind. 2015).

Gibson’s trial for the murder of Karen Hodella was originally set for October 2014. But in March of that year, he agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a 65-year sentence in lieu of the death penalty. The State also agreed not to use the Hodella murder or conviction as a death-penalty aggravator in the pending Kirk case. See I.C. § 35-50-2-9(b)(8) (enabling the State to seek the death penalty for murder by alleging at least one of several enumerated aggravators, including the defendant’s commission of "another murder, at any time, regardless of whether the defendant has been convicted of that other murder"). The trial court accepted the plea agreement and, in April 2014, entered judgment of conviction and sentenced Gibson accordingly.

Finally, Gibson stood trial for Kirk’s murder in early June 2014 (Gibson II ). The day after jury selection began, the defense team discussed the State’s proposal for a guilty plea and a penalty decision by the court without a jury in exchange for dismissal of a habitual-offender allegation. Gibson accepted his counsel’s advice to plead guilty and to "take his chances with the Judge." PCR Tr. Vol. I, p.74. At the penalty-phase hearing, the State presented four aggravators: conviction of the Whitis murder, the same two forms of criminal deviate conduct as with Whitis, and his probation status at the time of the murder. The trial court sentenced Gibson to death in August 2014, which this Court affirmed on direct appeal. Gibson v. State, 51 N.E.3d 204, 216 (Ind. 2016).

Post-Conviction Proceedings and Appeals

Gibson petitioned for post-conviction relief in all three cases, arguing ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC). At a consolidated hearing, three witnesses— a psychiatrist, Gibson’s former attorney, and Gibson’s ex-wife— testified in support of the defense’s mitigation theory that Gibson had sustained a traumatic brain injury in a 1991 car crash, an injury which exacerbated his mental-health and substance-abuse problems. The post-conviction court denied relief and Gibson appealed.

The non-capital case for the murder of Hodella proceeded to the Court of Appeals after this Court denied Gibson’s petition for emergency transfer. See Gibson v. State, No. 22A01-1711-PC-2528, 2018 WL 3421721 (Ind. Ct.App. July 16, 2018) (mem. dec.).2 The two capital cases for the murders of Whitis and Kirk— Gibson I and Gibson II, respectively— come to this Court on direct appeal under Appellate Rule 4(A)(1)(a). After hearing oral arguments in all three cases, we now deny Gibson’s petition to transfer in the Hodella case. Our opinion today, without formally consolidating the cases under Appellate Rule 38(B), addresses Gibson’s post-conviction appeals in Gibson I and Gibson II .

Standard of Review

Post-conviction proceedings are civil proceedings in which a defendant may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence. Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b); Wilkes v. State, 984 N.E.2d 1236, 1240 (Ind. 2013). The scope of potential relief is limited to issues unknown at trial or unavailable on direct appeal. Ward v. State, 969 N.E.2d 46, 51 (Ind. 2012). "Issues available on direct appeal but not raised are waived, while issues litigated adversely to the defendant are res judicata ." Id. The defendant bears the burden of establishing his claims by a preponderance of the evidence. P.-C.R. 1(5). When, as here, the defendant appeals from a negative judgment denying post-conviction relief, he "must establish that the evidence, as a whole, unmistakably and unerringly points to a conclusion contrary to the post-conviction court’s decision." Ben-Yisrayl v. State, 738 N.E.2d 253, 258 (Ind. 2000). When a defendant fails to meet this "rigorous standard of review," we will affirm the post-conviction court’s denial of relief. DeWitt v. State, 755 N.E.2d 167, 169-70 (Ind. 2001).

Discussion and Decision

Gibson’s I.A.C. claim consists of several arguments, which we summarize and restate as follows: (I)(A) unreasonable delay in legal representation, which led to harmful self-incriminating statements; (I)(B) unreasonable delay in assembling a defense team and investigating evidence, which resulted in a deficient mitigation strategy throughout the proceedings; and (I)(C) failure to challenge certain evidence presented by the State as false, prejudicial, misleading, or unreliable. Gibson also argues (II) that trial counsels uninformed advice prevented him from entering his guilty plea in Gibson II knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily; as...

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15 practice notes
  • Wilson v. State, 111720 INSC, 19S-PC-548
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 17 Novembre 2020
    ...may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence. Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b); Gibson v. State, 133 N.E.3d 673, 681 (Ind. reh'g denied, cert. denied, __ S.Ct. __, No. 19-8904, 2020 WL 6037221 (Oct. 13, 2020). Potential relief is limited in sco......
  • Conley v. State, 022321 INCA, 19A-PC-3085
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 23 Febbraio 2021
    ...civil proceedings in which a defendant may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence. Gibson v. State, 133 N.E.3d 673, 681 (Ind. 2019), reh'g denied, cert. denied, 141 S.Ct. 553 (2020); Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b). "The scope of p......
  • Absher v. State, 012221 INCA, 20A-PC-1227
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 22 Gennaio 2021
    ...in which a defendant may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence." Gibson v. State, 133 N.E.3d 673, 681 (Ind. 2019) (citing Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b)), cert. denied (2020). "The scope of potential relief is limited to iss......
  • Bautista v. State, 012921 INCA, 20A-PC-1542
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 29 Gennaio 2021
    ...in which a defendant may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence." Gibson v. State, 133 N.E.3d 673, 681 (Ind. 2019) (citing Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b)). "The scope of potential relief is limited to issues unknown at trial ......
  • Free signup to view additional results
15 cases
  • Wilson v. State, 111720 INSC, 19S-PC-548
    • United States
    • Indiana Supreme Court of Indiana
    • 17 Novembre 2020
    ...may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence. Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b); Gibson v. State, 133 N.E.3d 673, 681 (Ind. reh'g denied, cert. denied, __ S.Ct. __, No. 19-8904, 2020 WL 6037221 (Oct. 13, 2020). Potential relief is limited in sco......
  • Conley v. State, 022321 INCA, 19A-PC-3085
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 23 Febbraio 2021
    ...civil proceedings in which a defendant may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence. Gibson v. State, 133 N.E.3d 673, 681 (Ind. 2019), reh'g denied, cert. denied, 141 S.Ct. 553 (2020); Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b). "The scope of p......
  • Absher v. State, 012221 INCA, 20A-PC-1227
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 22 Gennaio 2021
    ...in which a defendant may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence." Gibson v. State, 133 N.E.3d 673, 681 (Ind. 2019) (citing Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b)), cert. denied (2020). "The scope of potential relief is limited to iss......
  • Bautista v. State, 012921 INCA, 20A-PC-1542
    • United States
    • Indiana Court of Appeals of Indiana
    • 29 Gennaio 2021
    ...in which a defendant may present limited collateral challenges to a conviction and sentence." Gibson v. State, 133 N.E.3d 673, 681 (Ind. 2019) (citing Ind. Post-Conviction Rule 1(1)(b)). "The scope of potential relief is limited to issues unknown at trial ......
  • Free signup to view additional results