300 F.3d 1232 (11th Cir. 2002), 01-11915, Isaacs v. Head

Docket Nº:01-11915.
Citation:300 F.3d 1232
Party Name:Carl J. ISAACS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Frederick J. HEAD, Warden, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:August 06, 2002
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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300 F.3d 1232 (11th Cir. 2002)

Carl J. ISAACS, Petitioner-Appellant,


Frederick J. HEAD, Warden, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 01-11915.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 6, 2002

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John R. Martin, Martin Brothers, P.C, Atlanta, GA, for Petitioner-Appellant.

Paula Khristian Smith, GA Dept. of Law, Atlanta, GA, for Respondent-Appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.

Before EDMONDSON, Chief Judge, and ANDERSON and BARKETT, Circuit Judges.

ANDERSON, Circuit Judge:

In 1985, this Court granted a writ of habeas corpus based on constitutional infirmities with Carl Isaacs' 1974 state murder trial. See Isaacs v. Kemp, 778 F.2d 1482 (11th Cir. 1985). Afterwards, the State of Georgia retried Isaacs in 1988 on six counts of murder, and Isaacs was again convicted and sentenced to death. Isaacs was denied relief from his conviction and sentence through direct appellate review and through state collateral review, and the case has now made its way to the federal courts again. After Isaacs filed his federal habeas petition, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the district court denied Isaacs any relief, but granted him a certificate of appealability as to numerous issues. Isaacs then filed this appeal contending that his second trial and sentencing hearing did not satisfy minimal constitutional guarantees. We disagree, and affirm the district court's denial of habeas relief.


A. Facts

The historical facts concerning Isaacs' case, as concisely recounted by the Georgia Supreme Court, are as follows:

In May of 1973, Carl Isaacs escaped from a Maryland penal institution and, accompanied by his younger brother Billy Isaacs, his half-brother Wayne Coleman and a friend, George Dungee, drove to Florida. On the afternoon of May 14, 1973, they were in Seminole County, Georgia, and their car was almost out of gas. They thought they saw a gas pump behind the rural mobile home belonging to Jerry Alday and Mary Alday and stopped to investigate it. They discovered there was no pump; however, the trailer was empty, and they decided to burglarize it. Dungee remained in the car while the defendant and Wayne Coleman entered the trailer. While they were inside, Billy Isaacs warned them two men were approaching in a jeep.

Jerry Alday and his father Ned Alday pulled in behind the trailer, unaware that it was being burglarized. Carl Isaacs met them and ordered them inside at gunpoint. After their pockets were emptied, Jerry Alday was taken into the south bedroom of the trailer while Ned was taken to the north bedroom. Carl Isaacs shot and killed Jerry Alday, and then both he and Coleman shot and killed Ned Alday.

Soon afterward, Jimmy Alday (Jerry Alday's brother) drove up on a tractor, walked to the back door, and knocked on the door. Coleman answered the door, "stuck a pistol up in the guy's face," and ordered him inside. He was taken into the living room and forced to lie on the sofa. Carl Isaacs shot and killed him. After Carl Isaacs went outside to move the tractor, which was parked in front of

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their car, Mary Alday (Jerry Alday's wife) drove up. Carl Isaacs entered the trailer behind her and accosted her. Meanwhile, Chester Alday (Jerry Alday's brother) and Aubrey Alday (Jerry Alday's uncle) drove up in a pickup truck. Leaving Coleman and Dungee to watch Mary Alday, Carl and Billy Isaacs went outside to confront the two men, and forced them at gunpoint into the trailer. Once inside, Aubrey was taken to the south bedroom where Carl Isaacs shot and killed him, while Chester Alday was taken to the north bedroom and killed by Coleman.

Coleman and Carl Isaacs raped Mary Alday on her kitchen table. Afterward, they drove to a heavily wooded area several miles away where Mary Alday was raped again. Dungee killed her. They abandoned their car in the woods and took Mary Alday's car, which they later abandoned in Alabama. They stole another car there, and were arrested a few days later in West Virginia, in possession of guns later identified as the murder weapons, and property belonging to the victims.

After his original trial, Carl Isaacs was interviewed by a film maker who was producing a documentary about the case. The defendant admitted shooting Jerry, Ned, Aubrey and Jimmy Alday, raping Mary Alday, and burglarizing the trailer. These admissions were introduced in evidence at the retrial.

Isaacs v. State, 259 Ga. 717, 718-19, 386 S.E.2d 316, 320 (1989). Neither party disputes these facts.

B. Procedural History

After we granted Isaacs a writ of habeas corpus following his first conviction, Isaacs was retried in Houston County, Georgia in 1988, and was again convicted of six counts of murder and sentenced to death. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence, Isaacs v. State, 259 Ga. 717, 386 S.E.2d 316 (1989), and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari. Isaacs v. Georgia, 497 U.S. 1032, 110 S.Ct. 3297, 111 L.Ed.2d 805, reh'g denied, 497 U.S. 1051, 111 S.Ct. 19, 111 L.Ed.2d 832 (1990). In 1991, Isaacs filed a petition seeking state habeas corpus relief, and the Butts County Superior Court conducted an evidentiary hearing on the petition in 1993. The state court denied Isaacs' petition, and the Georgia Supreme Court denied Isaacs' petition for a certificate of probable cause. See Isaacs v. Thomas, No. S95H0164 (Ga. April 14, 1995). The U.S. Supreme Court again denied cert. Isaacs v. Thomas, 516 U.S. 1002, 116 S.Ct. 548, 133 L.Ed.2d 451, reh'g denied, 516 U.S. 1099, 116 S.Ct. 830, 133 L.Ed.2d 772 (1996).

While the rehearing motion was pending in the U.S. Supreme Court, Isaacs filed a motion with the federal district court in the Middle District of Georgia for appointment of habeas counsel pursuant to 21 U.S.C. § 848(q)(4)(B). The district court granted the motion on February 9, 1996. On November 4, 1996, the district court ordered that Isaacs' § 2254 petition be filed by December 6, 1996, and Isaacs filed it on that day.

Between the time that the district court granted Isaacs' motion for appointment of habeas counsel and the time that Isaacs actually filed his § 2254 petition, Congress passed the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 110 Stat. 1214, which took effect on April 24, 1996. Therefore the timing of Isaacs' various filings gave rise to one of the issues before the district court and involved in this appeal— whether the more lenient pre-AEDPA standards, or the stricter AEDPA standards, should be applied to Isaacs' petition. After briefing by the parties, the district court ruled that it would apply AEDPA to Isaacs' petition.

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In February 1999, the district court directed the parties to file briefs on procedural default and on discovery. The court then entered an order ruling on the claims of procedural default, denying discovery, and directing briefing on "all grounds raised."

On August 25, 2000, the district court entered an order denying Isaacs' request to present evidence as to certain grounds and denying relief based on the merits of all of the claims not previously found to be procedurally barred. After the district court also denied a motion for reconsideration, Isaacs filed a timely notice of appeal on April 5, 2001. On May 2, 2001, the district court issued a certificate of appealability, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c), giving Isaacs the right to appeal 16 different issues (all of the ones with respect to which Isaacs requested permission to appeal).


Of the issues for which Isaacs received permission to appeal, he apparently chose to abandon all but eight for purposes of this appeal. Therefore, the only issues before this Court are:

A. Whether the district court correctly determined that AEDPA applied to Isaacs' § 2254 habeas petition.

B. Several issues related to the prayer given at the beginning of Isaacs' trial, including:

Whether Isaacs' constitutional rights were violated when his trial was opened with a prayer. Whether the district court erred by denying discovery or the presentation of evidence during the federal habeas proceedings concerning the prayer that opened Isaacs' trial. Whether Isaacs' constitutional claims regarding the failure to record the prayer which opened his trial were properly dismissed as procedurally defaulted. Whether the district court correctly determined that Isaacs' ineffective assistance of counsel claim based on his counsel's failure to recreate the record of the prayer which opened Isaacs' trial was procedurally defaulted.

C. Whether the admission of statements made by Isaacs while in custody concerning two escape attempts violated his constitutional rights.

D. Whether Isaacs' constitutional rights were violated by the presentation of evidence, argument and jury instructions concerning his lack of remorse.

E. Whether the district court correctly determined that Isaacs' challenge to electrocution as cruel and unusual punishment was procedurally defaulted.


A. Applicability of AEDPA to Isaacs' Petition

The first issue that we will addresswhether AEDPA is applicable to Isaacs' § 2254 petitionaffects our review of all of Isaacs' claims. The relevant facts, as mentioned above, are that Isaacs filed a motion for appointment of habeas counsel, and the district court granted that motion, prior to the effective date of AEDPA. However, Isaacs did not file his actual habeas petition until after the effective date. The Supreme Court subsequently held that the new AEDPA standards did not apply to...

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