219 F.3d 245 (3rd Cir. 2000), 98-9005, Weeks v. Snyder

Docket Nº:98-9005
Citation:219 F.3d 245
Case Date:July 17, 2000
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

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219 F.3d 245 (3rd Cir. 2000)




No. 98-9005

United States Court of Appeals, Third Circuit

July 17, 2000

Argued: January 26, 2000

On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware (D.C. Civ. No. 96-cv-00622) District Judge: Hon. Sue L. Robinson

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Joseph M. Bernstein (Argued) Ste 1130 300 Delaware Ave. Wilmington, DE 19801 Adam L. Balick Sidney Balick & Associates Ste 710 919 N. Market St. Wilmington, DE 19801 Attorneys for Appellant

Loren C. Meyers (Argued) Timothy J. Donovan, Jr. Delaware Department of Justice 820 N. French St. Wilmington, DE 19801 Attorneys for Appellees

Before: Sloviter, McKEE and Rendell, Circuit Judges


Sloviter, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from the decision of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware denying the petition of Dwayne Weeks for a writ of habeas corpus. Weeks, who pled guilty to the first degree murder of his wife, Gwendolyn Weeks, and her friend, Craig Williams, was sentenced to death. His subsequent appeals and post-conviction proceedings have been unsuccessful. He raises one narrow issue before us: whether his trial attorney afforded him constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel in connection with his guilty plea.

Because of the nature of the proceeding, we will review the facts and procedural background in detail before turning to the legal analysis.



A. The Murders of Gwendolyn Weeks and Craig Williams1

At 8:36 p.m. on April 10, 1992, the 911 center of the New Castle County Police received a call from Gwendolyn Weeks who requested that police come to her apartment immediately. She told the 911 operator that someone was trying to get into her apartment, and that she believed it was her estranged husband Darryl Weeks. Gwendolyn Weeks explained that she lived in a high-security apartment complex where all visitors were announced by the security guards and that she had not authorized any visitors.

The 911 tapes then captured the grim events. Approximately four minutes after calling the 911 operator, Gwendolyn Weeks became alarmed and frightened, crying out "He's in here. He has a gun. A gun." Several gunshots and screams were heard over the open line and the operator sped the police to the caller's apartment, but they arrived too late to prevent the murders. Instead, the police officers found evidence of forced entry and the bodies of Gwendolyn Weeks and Craig Williams lying face down in the living room in a pool of blood. The police later determined that both Gwendolyn Weeks and Williams were killed while they huddled on the floor of her apartment. Gwendolyn Weeks was shot twice in the head. Williams sustained defensive gunshot wounds to his right hand and upper extremity, two wounds to his face, and a fatal wound to his head. Both victims died virtually instantaneously.

B. The Case Against Weeks

The police investigation of the murders focused immediately on Dwayne Weeks, the husband of Gwendolyn Weeks since 1983. The police discovered that during their marriage, Dwayne Weeks "subjected Gwendolyn to possessiveness, irresponsible behavior, and abuse." Weeks v. State of Delaware, 653 A.2d 266, 268 (Del. 1995) ("Weeks I"). In September 1991, Gwendolyn Weeks left her husband and moved into a high-security apartment complex specifically selected to protect her from

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her abusive husband. After she separated from her husband and moved into her own apartment, she contacted an attorney to discuss possible divorce proceedings.

Soon after the murders a police broadcast listed Weeks as a suspect. That same evening, a police officer stopped a vehicle leaving Dwayne Weeks' residence with Weeks, his girlfriend Tammy Robinson, and her daughter. Weeks was arrested and both Weeks and Robinson were transported to police headquarters.

Robinson gave three statements to the police that night. Initially, she told the police that Weeks had been with her the entire day. She later told the police that Weeks had returned home at around 9 o'clock that evening and that she had seen a gun in a brown case on the kitchen table while she was at Weeks' house. Eventually, she confessed that Weeks said he was out with his friend Arthur Govan and told her to lie if asked about his whereabouts that evening.

Late that evening, Govan learned that Weeks and Robinson had been taken into custody and that the police wanted to talk with him in connection with the murders. Govan decided to go to the police and tell his side of the story. The next day, after being read his Miranda warnings, Govan confessed that he was present during the murders but claimed that Weeks was the only shooter. Govan explained to the officers that after Weeks had received divorce papers earlier that week, Weeks called him and tried to hire him to kill his wife. Govan said he refused Weeks' offer but that he accompanied Weeks to his wife's apartment and was present during the murders. Govan explained that after the murders, Weeks took his wife's pocketbook and the two men drove to a junk yard owned by Weeks' father to hide the gun and the pocketbook. Weeks then drove Govan to the train station and returned to his home to pick up Robinson and her daughter. Govan repeated these statements to the police two days later when the police asked more specific questions relating to the number of weapons and bullets used to murder Gwendolyn Weeks and Williams.

The police obtained a search warrant. When they searched Weeks' home they found a gun box for a .38 caliber pistol on a bookshelf in Weeks' living room. The serial number on the gun box matched one of the murder weapons recovered later at his father's junk yard.

The police determined that two guns were fired in Gwendolyn Weeks' apartment the night she and Williams were murdered: a .38 caliber gun with copper jacketed slugs and a .32 caliber gun using lead bullets. Two weapons were subsequently recovered from the junk yard owned by Weeks' father: a .38 caliber handgun and a .32 caliber handgun. The forensic evidence revealed that the .38 caliber gun was used to shoot Gwendolyn Weeks and fired one shot into the head of Williams. The .32 caliber gun was shot six times, twice into the floor and four times into Williams. In addition to the two weapons, the investigators recovered from the junk yard a partially used box of .38 caliber copper jacketed bullets, a make-up kit, a purse, a wallet, a checkbook, an address book, and various cards and papers. Gwendolyn Weeks' name appeared on the address book and the checkbook.

Armed with evidence that two guns were used in the murders, the police arrested Govan who, after signing a waiver of rights form, confessed to shooting Williams. Weeks and Govan were jointly indicted in Delaware for, inter alia, two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Gwendolyn Weeks and Williams. The criminal case against both Weeks and Govan was listed before the Delaware Superior Court, which is the state trial court. Judge John E. Babiarz presided throughout. The court granted the State's motion to sever the trials of the defendants and to schedule Weeks' trial after Govan's.

Govan's trial proceeded before a jury. Despite his attempts to suppress his three

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statements to the police, the court admitted Govan's two earlier statements as well as his confession. The jury convicted Govan on all counts of the indictment. The jury in the penalty hearing decided that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances, thereby recommending that the judge sentence Govan to death. The trial judge reserved making a decision so that he could sentence Govan and Weeks together.

C. June 15, 1993 Chambers Conference

At about 4 p.m. on June 15, 1993, attorneys for the State, Weeks, and Govan met with the trial judge to discuss a potential plea of guilty by Weeks. Counsel for Weeks, John Willard, was an experienced criminal defense lawyer of nineteen years who had recently tried two capital murder cases. He was also a friend of the Weeks family. Willard informed the judge that over his strenuous objections Weeks was intent on pleading guilty to the crimes, even though the State persisted on pressing for the death penalty.

MR. WILLARD: After meeting with the State yesterday, I discussed it again with my client and with his parents. The parents were immediately of the opinion that it was in his best interest to plead and face a jury, having admitted it rather than trying it.

I spoke to him about it last night and he thought he wanted to do that too. He said he wanted to have a chance to talk to his parents last night. He talked to them and they advised me this morning he wanted to plead, and I just left him and that's what he wants to do, Your Honor. I'm physically ill about it. It just-- I'm a trial man and I thought we were going to try it, and that's what he wants to do. I'm not terribly surprised, because from the beginning he indicated that he might want to do this, and I'm convinced that he's absolutely competent in every way.

He is an extremely deeply religious person, and that's been a big part of it. We talked about that yesterday. He made me stand there and hold his hand while he prayed about it, and this is what he wants to do, and I've discussed every facet that I can imagine about it. I discussed with him the State, Miss Epstein, graciously gave me virtually everything that she was going to come at him with at the penalty phase, and she gave me more today and I discussed that with him. He fully understands that the State intends to...

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