187 F.3d 1193 (10th Cir. 1999), 97-6435, Bryson v. Ward

Docket Nº97-6435
Citation187 F.3d 1193
Party NameWILLIAM CLIFFORD BRYSON, Petitioner-Appellant, v. RONALD WARD, Respondent-Appellee.
Case DateAugust 06, 1999
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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187 F.3d 1193 (10th Cir. 1999)

WILLIAM CLIFFORD BRYSON, Petitioner-Appellant,


RONALD WARD, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 97-6435

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

August 6, 1999


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

Robert L. Whittaker, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Division (W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General of Oklahoma with him on the brief), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Respondent-Appellee.

Before TACHA, BRISCOE, and MURPHY, Circuit Judges.

MURPHY, Circuit Judge.

Petitioner William Clifford Bryson, an Oklahoma state prisoner sentenced to death, appeals from the district court's denial of his federal habeas corpus petition brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. On appeal, Bryson asserts the trial court (1) violated his right to due process under the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments when it determined he was competent to stand trial; (2) violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by excluding from the capital sentencing proceeding a videotape of his confession to authorities, which he offered as mitigating evidence; (3) erred in failing to instruct the jury that it had the option to return a life sentence even if it found that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances; (4) erred in refusing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offenses of second degree murder and first degree manslaughter; and (5) erred in refusing to give the mitigation instructions he requested.1 Our jurisdiction arises under 28 U.S.C. § 2253, and we affirm.


Bryson first met his co-defendant Marilyn Plantz in late 1987 or early 1988 when he was sixteen and she was in her late twenties and married. In the spring of

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1988, they became romantically involved and sexually intimate. Plantz allowed Bryson to drive her car, entertained him and his friends at her home while her husband worked at night, and either provided Bryson with money to purchase alcohol and crack cocaine or purchased them for him.

Also in the spring of 1988, Bryson became acquainted with co-defendant Clinton McKimble. Like Bryson, McKimble was a teenager. McKimble knew that Bryson and Plantz were romantically involved. Bryson and Plantz asked McKimble to help them kill Mr. Plantz.

Having indicated that Mr. Plantz was abusive and that she wanted to kill him to obtain life insurance proceeds, Marilyn Plantz initiated several plans to kill him. She gave Bryson a gun to kill Mr. Plantz, but Bryson either sold or pawned it. Another time, Marilyn Plantz suggested that she lure her husband home from work and that Bryson and McKimble ambush him when he arrived. A third suggestion was that Bryson and McKimble push Mr. Plantz off a boat while fishing and let him drown. None of these schemes was carried out.

On August 17, 1988, one of Marilyn Plantz's schemes was carried further but ultimately failed. Bryson, McKimble, and Rory Jenkins, aided by Marilyn Plantz, stole a car they planned to use to run Mr. Plantz off the road. Although they followed Mr. Plantz from his workplace, they were unable to carry out the plan because Mr. Plantz took an unexpected route home and Jenkins did not want to go through with the plan.

McKimble offered Roderick Farris $7000 to help kill Mr. Plantz. Farris refused the offer. Subsequently, Bryson offered Farris $40,000 if he could kill Mr. Plantz without Bryson's involvement. When asked by Farris how he intended to kill Mr. Plantz, Bryson indicated that he could catch Mr. Plantz coming home from work, beat him with a bat, and set him on fire in his truck. A few days later, Bryson introduced Farris to Marilyn Plantz. At that time, Bryson offered Farris $10,000 to kill the victim. Marilyn Plantz explained that the killing had to look like an accident. Later that night, Farris was arrested for unrelated reasons.

On August 25, 1988, Plantz, Bryson, and McKimble were together. She withdrew money from her bank, purchased crack cocaine and beer for them, and drove them around until Mr. Plantz had gone to work. The three then went back to her house. Bryson and McKimble drank the beer, smoked the crack cocaine, and fell asleep in the front room. The sound of keys in the front door awakened them. Bryson and McKimble hid in the kitchen with baseball bats supplied by Marilyn Plantz. When Mr. Plantz entered the kitchen, Bryson struck him on the back of the head with the bat. McKimble joined in the beating, while Marilyn Plantz waited in her bedroom. The two men carried Mr. Plantz to his pickup truck parked in front of the house and placed him in the truck bed. Marilyn Plantz told them that Mr. Plantz must be burned to make the death look like an accident because Mr. Plantz was beaten so badly. At that time, Mr. Plantz was insured for approximately $299,000.

Bryson and McKimble drove the truck and Marilyn Plantz's car to an isolated area. They placed Mr. Plantz's body in the cab of the truck. McKimble placed a rag in the truck's gas tank and lit it, attempting to cause an explosion. When that did not work, Bryson poured gas in and around the truck and lit it. The truck and Mr. Plantz ignited. Mr. Plantz was alive, but perhaps unconscious, when Bryson and McKimble placed him in the truck and ignited it.

Bryson and McKimble returned to the Plantz home and found Marilyn Plantz cleaning up the blood. The men changed into clothes of Mr. Plantz and dumped their own bloody clothes and rags into a creek. They then went to a convenience store and purchased sandwiches and drinks with money from Mr. Plantz's wallet.

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Over the next two days, Bryson and McKimble told some friends about the murder. Bryson told one friend that he planned to move out of town with Marilyn Plantz and purchase a house. McKimble said that he had expected to be paid for the murder.

Bryson was interviewed by police detectives two times after the murder. Although he initially denied involvement, he later confessed. In the second interview, he admitted his relationship with Marilyn Plantz and his drug habit. After his arrest, Bryson twice attempted to commit suicide in jail.


Bryson was found guilty of first degree murder, third degree arson, solicitation to commit murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. He was sentenced to death for first degree murder, fifteen years' imprisonment for third degree arson, one hundred years' imprisonment for solicitation to commit murder, and ten years' imprisonment for conspiracy to commit murder.2 In support of the death penalty, the jury found two aggravating circumstances: (1) the murder was committed for remuneration or the promise of remuneration or another was employed to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration; and (2) the murder was "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel."

On direct appeal, Bryson's convictions and sentence were affirmed. See Bryson v. State, 876 P.2d 240 (Okla. Crim. App. 1994). The United States Supreme Court denied a petition for writ of certiorari. See Bryson v. Oklahoma, 513 U.S. 1090 (1995). Bryson filed an application for post-conviction relief in the state district court, which denied relief. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. See Bryson v. State, 903 P.2d 333 (Okla. Crim. App. 1995). The Supreme Court again denied a petition for writ of certiorari. See Bryson v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 1144 (1996).

Bryson then filed the present habeas petition in federal district court. His habeas petition was filed after the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), and he does not contest the applicability of its provisions. Under amended 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), as the district court correctly recognized, a state prisoner will be entitled to federal habeas relief only if he can establish that a claim adjudicated by the state courts "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;" 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." Applying this standard, the district court denied relief. It is from this denial of relief that Bryson now appeals.3


A. Competency to Stand Trial

Bryson argues that the trial court violated his right to due process under the

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Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments when it determined he was competent to stand trial. He contends the trial court wrongfully used the clear and convincing standard of proof to determine competency. Also, he contends the trial court erred in not holding a competency hearing as is required by Okla. Stat. tit. 22, § 1175.3.

1. Clear and convincing evidence

Bryson argues the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals determined that the trial court applied the then-existing rule in Oklahoma which placed upon the defendant the burden of proving his incompetence to stand trial by clear and convincing evidence. Because the Supreme Court subsequently struck down the clear and convincing evidence standard in Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S. 348 (1996), Bryson maintains the determination of his competency was erroneous. He further argues that application of this erroneous standard is not harmless error.

Oklahoma law provides for both threshold competency hearings and for full, "post-examination" competency hearings. See Okla. Stat. tit. 22, §§ 1175.2 through 1175.4; see also Cargle v. State, 909 P.2d 806, 815 (Okla. Crim. App. 1995). A trial court holds a threshold hearing to determine whether to...

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