182 F.3d 705 (10th Cir. 1999), 98-6302, Lafevers v Gibson

Docket Nº:98-6302
Citation:182 F.3d 705
Case Date:June 16, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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182 F.3d 705 (10th Cir. 1999)




No. 98-6302

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

June 16, 1999


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Don J. Gutteridge, Jr., Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Petitioner-Appellant.

Jennifer B. Miller (W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General, with her on the brief), Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Respondents-Appellees.

Before Porfilio, Brorby, and Murphy, Circuit Judges.

Porfilio, Circuit Judge.

Petitioner Loyd Winford LaFevers appeals from the district court's denial of his federal habeas petition challenging both his conviction and his death sentence. Despite having decisively denied relief, the district court granted a certificate of appealability on all issues raised by the petitioner believing petitioner's sentence of death required that action. On appeal, Mr. LaFevers raises a number of discrete issues which we have considered in full. Finding no error, we affirm the judgment of the district court.


Petitioner and his co-defendant were convicted in state court of kidnapping and murdering eighty-four year old Addie Hawley. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals recounted the facts of the crime:

On June 24, 1985, [LaFevers] and co-defendant [Randall] Cannon decided to steal a car after [LaFevers'] car broke down in a northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood. After selecting a house in the neighborhood, the two men forced their way into the home of eighty-four year old Addie Hawley. They ransacked her home, taking eight dollars from her purse, along with the keys to her car and the garage door opener. The two took her out of the house and into the car. Cannon, who was driving the car, drove for just over a mile before pulling over so that they could put Hawley in the trunk.

The two men drove to a convenience store where they bought a two liter bottle of orange soda. After drinking some of the soda, they poured the rest out and filled the bottle with gasoline. [LaFevers] directed Cannon to drive to a secluded area where he removed Hawley from the trunk of the car. Although there was evidence presented at trial that indicated that Hawley was raped, neither defendant admitted having committed rape or sodomy. Each man indicated in his pretrial confession to police and during his testimony at trial that the other man had committed the sexual offenses while he remained as a lookout.

After the completion of the sex acts, one of the two men, again each blamed the other, poured gasoline from the orange soda bottle on Hawley and set her on fire. They drove the car a short distance away and also set it on fire.

Rescue personnel were called to the scene soon after the fires were set. Although Hawley had been burned over sixty percent of her body, she was still alive. She had suffered a blunt injury to the forehead and had two black eyes along with multiple cuts and bruises. She died a short time after being taken to the hospital.

LaFevers v. State, 819 P.2d 1362, 1364 (Okla. Crim. App. 1991) (footnote omitted).

Mr. LaFevers and Mr. Cannon were tried jointly in March of 1986. A jury convicted both defendants of first-degree murder, burglary in the first degree, robbery in the first degree, kidnapping, larceny of a motor vehicle, arson in the third degree, rape in the first degree, and anal sodomy. The state trial court sentenced Mr. LaFevers to death for the first-degree murder charge and to terms of years on the remaining counts. On direct appeal, however, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals reversed Mr. LaFevers' convictions on the counts of first-degree murder, arson in the third degree, rape in the first degree, and anal sodomy. The court held the defendants had mutually antagonistic defenses on those counts and the failure to

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grant Mr. LaFevers a severance constituted reversible error. See id.

Mr. LaFevers was retried soon thereafter. The second jury convicted him on counts of first-degree murder and arson in the third degree but acquitted him on charges of rape in the first degree and anal sodomy. During the penalty phase, the jury found the existence of three aggravating circumstances: (1) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel; (2) there was a probability that Mr. LaFevers would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society; and (3) the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution. The trial court sentenced Mr. LaFevers to death on the murder count and forty years on the arson count. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed on direct appeal, see LaFevers v. State, 897 P.2d 292 (Okla. Crim. App. 1995), and denied Mr. LaFevers' application for post-conviction relief, see LaFevers v. State, 934 P.2d 356 (Okla. Crim. App. 1997).

Subsequently, Mr. LaFevers filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. The district court denied the petition and then denied a subsequent Rule 59(e) motion for reconsideration. The petitioner timely filed a notice of appeal. On August 6, 1998, the district court granted a certificate of appealability on all claims raised in the petition.


As a preliminary matter, we must note the district court granted the certificate of appealability on an erroneous legal Conclusion. The court reasoned:

This Court is in receipt of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Order dated June 4, 1998, in the Roberts v. Ward case, Appellate Case No. 98-6066. The Roberts Order provides, in pertinent part:

[t]his is a death penalty state habeas case with numerous claims of perceived error rising to constitutional dimension. In order to ensure that these issues receive a thorough and thoughtful review on appeal, assisted by complete briefing from both parties, we hereby grant the application for certificate of appealability as to all issues enumerated in appellant's application for certificate of appealability.

It appears from this ruling that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has held the statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c), does not apply to appeals arising from cases involving a death sentence.

Based upon the directive contained in the Roberts Order, this Court hereby GRANTS Petitioner's Application for Certificate of Appealability as to all claims enumerated therein.

Unfortunately, this interpretation of our ruling in one case and of the requirements of section 2253(c) is mistaken.

We take this opportunity to point out to the district courts nothing in section 2253(c) suggests it is inapplicable to capital habeas cases. Indeed, it is in those very cases in which the deft scrutiny of the district court is most essential to the appellate process. Reading section 2253(c) to suggest otherwise deprives it of all purpose and meaning and surely obverts the legislative will of Congress. It is equally important, however, that district courts do not proceed to the other end of the jurisdictional spectrum and make a blanket denial of a certificate of appealability unless the court is convinced there is nothing in the petition that is of debatable constitutional magnitude. In each instance, the district court must analyze a capital case as it would any other section 2254 petition or section 2255 motion, rendering judgment as Congress has prescribed. Nothing we stated in Roberts was intended to imply otherwise.

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Now that the district court has made appealable all the issues in this case by its blanket order, we must review the merits of each claim. Cf. Nowakowski v. Maroney, 386 U.S. 542, 543, 87 S.Ct. 1197, 1199 (1967) ("[W]hen a district Judge grants such a certificate [of probable cause], the court of appeals must... proceed to a Disposition of the appeal in accord with its ordinary procedure."); Chaney v. Brown, 712 F.2d 441, 442 (10th Cir. 1983) ("The certificate of probable cause for an appeal having been granted [by the district court], the appellant must `be afforded an opportunity to address the merits, and the court of appeals is obligated to decide the merits of the appeal.'" (quoting Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 893, 103 S.Ct. 3383, 3395 (1983)). We shall proceed to that task.


In reviewing a denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, we are generally subject to two different modes of analysis. If the claim was not heard on the merits by the state courts, and the federal district court made its own determination in the first instance, we review the district court's Conclusions of law de novo and its findings of fact, if any, for clear error. See Hickman v. Spears, 160 F.3d 1269, 1271 (10th Cir. 1998). But when reviewing the merits of a claim already decided by the state courts, we are bound to deny relief unless the state court's decision "was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court" or "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

A state court decision is "contrary to, or involves an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" if: (1) the state court decision is in square conflict with Supreme...

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