366 F.3d 1191 (11th Cir. 2004), 02-15674, Conklin v. Schofield

Docket Nº:02-15674.
Citation:366 F.3d 1191
Party Name:Robert Dale CONKLIN, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Derrick SCHOFIELD, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:April 21, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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366 F.3d 1191 (11th Cir. 2004)

Robert Dale CONKLIN, Petitioner-Appellant,


Derrick SCHOFIELD, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 02-15674.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 21, 2004

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Mark Evan Olive (Court-Appointed), Law Offices of Mark E. Olive, P.A., Tallahassee, FL, for Conklin.

Susan V. Boleyn, State Law Dept., Atlanta, GA, for Schofield.

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

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

WILSON, Circuit Judge:

Robert Dale Conklin, an indigent defendant, appeals the denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus in his capital case. After review of the record and oral argument, we affirm.


Conklin, a twenty-three year old McDonalds manager, first met George Crooks, a twenty-eight year old lawyer, at an interstate rest stop. Over a period of time, the two established an intimate sexual relationship. On the night of Monday, March 26, 1984, Crooks went to Conklin's apartment. According to Conklin, he told Crooks that evening that he wished to end their relationship, at which point Crooks became "moody" and "upset." Later in the evening, the two men smoked marijuana, and Crooks, who had recently had his wisdom teeth removed, also took several codeine pills.

Conklin claims that when he attempted to go to bed that evening, Crooks would not allow him to sleep. In Conklin's statement given to law enforcement officers after his arrest ("post-arrest statement"),1

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Conklin explains, "[Crooks] kept messing with me and it turned into a wrestling match. I got tired of it, told him to quit and he wouldn't. This went on for quite a while, an hour to an hour and a half. [E]ventually he had me pinned on the bed sitting on my stomach. I was wrestling trying to get free. I was mad but he thought it was all a big joke."

Although not mentioned in his post-arrest statement, Conklin testified at trial that the events escalated when Crooks told Conklin that he wanted to have anal intercourse with him against Conklin's wishes. At this point, Conklin allegedly attempted to force Crooks to leave. His post-arrest statement continues, "[e]ventually I ... hit him and he hit me back. He was still sitting on me. We were there struggling and I reached over and grabbed a screwdriver. I swung the screwdriver and it stuck into him. He rolled off the bed and I followed him screwdriver in hand." At trial, Conklin altered this previous statement, testifying, "[Crooks] rolled off the bed and I followed him and stopped at the edge of the bed and I had the screwdriver in my hand." He then testified, "he saw that I had the screwdriver, he told me to give it to him. He ... got hold of me around the waist, or legs. He pulled me off the bed and we started to struggle for the screwdriver ... and he was going to take it away from me." Conklin testified that he became afraid for his own life at this point. He admitted at trial, however, that he initially did not think Crooks was trying to hurt him.

Conklin's post-arrest statement continues, "I held him down and I stuck the screwdriver in his ear, I wiggled it around.... I tried to stop him from bleeding but I think he was already dead." At trial, Conklin added testimony of a greater struggle occurring immediately after this second stabbing. He testified, "[Crooks] squirmed away. He got away, and he grabbed me, he was saying 'give me the screwdriver.' We were struggling and I stabbed him other times during the struggle. I don't know how many times or where.... I was just fighting the best I could." On cross-examination, Conklin stated that he may have stabbed Crooks up to seventeen times with the screwdriver, and that some of these stabbings may have been inflicted in the neck and shoulder area.

Conklin, who had been released on parole after serving a period of incarceration in Illinois, decided not to call the police. According to Conklin, rather than calling the police, he "panicked" and decided to dispose of the body. Because the body was too heavy for Conklin to transport by himself, Conklin dragged Crooks's body to the bathtub and attempted to lighten it by draining it of blood.

Leaving Crooks's body in the bathtub, Conklin went to Crooks's apartment to destroy any evidence connecting the two men. He replaced the cassette tape in Crooks's answering machine, and took a card containing Conklin's name and telephone number. Conklin then took Crooks's checkbook and drove Crooks's car to a grocery store, where he purchased cleaning supplies and knives. Conklin abandoned Crooks's car in a parking lot and returned to his apartment.

Conklin's post-arrest statement describes his attempt to dispose of Crooks's body, stating, "[w]hen I got [to the apartment] I went ahead and went to work to cut him in half so I could get him out of there.... I decided there would be less of him to move if I could put some of him down the garbage disposal.... I then cut the rest of him up in small enough pieces to put in the bags."

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During the next twenty-four hours, Conklin tried to maintain normalcy. Conklin went to a meeting at work from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m., and had friends over that evening while Crooks's body was still in his bathroom. That night, Conklin placed Crooks's body in several trash bags and disposed of them in the dumpster outside of his apartment. He got up for work the next day, but took a bus to Florida when he discovered that the police had found Crooks's body. Conklin returned to Georgia a few days later and was caught by the police.

The police recovered a great deal of evidence from the trash dumpster where Crooks's body was found, including several knives, five screwdrivers, a length of rope, bloody bed clothes, and credit cards belonging to Crooks. Crooks's body itself was dispersed in nine separate garbage bags.

In addition to the items found in the dumpster, the police recovered substantial evidence linking Conklin to the murder. Upon searching Conklin's apartment, the police recovered carpet fibers that matched fibers from bed clothing that had been found in the dumpster. The police also found blood spots on Conklin's bed, observed blood on the carpet beside the bed, recovered body parts from the garbage disposal, and found a forged birth certificate in the name of "Robert Allan King." Conklin later admitted that, before he was caught by the police, he planned to obtain a social security card and a driver's license in that name.

In Conklin's post-arrest statement, he states that only two screwdriver wounds were inflicted prior to death. This statement was contradicted at trial by several pieces of evidence. For instance, Conklin altered his own post-arrest statement by testifying at trial that he stabbed Crooks several additional times with the screwdriver while they struggled for its possession. In response, the state presented evidence that these additional wounds were inflicted before death by a knife rather than a screwdriver, thereby further undermining Conklin's story.

In addition, several witnesses testified that Conklin was not visibly bruised or injured on the day following Crooks's death, tending to undermine Conklin's self-defense claims.2 Moreover, the police recovered a book, Foxfire, from Conklin's bedroom which sets forth procedures for slaughtering animals and specifically describes how to drain animals of blood. At trial, Conklin admitted to having read this book and treating Crooks's body in a similar manner.

Finally, the autopsy report prepared by the state's medical examiner, Dr. Saleh Zaki, and his subsequent trial testimony supported the prosecution's version of events. On direct examination, Dr. Zaki testified that eight stab wounds on the right side of the victim's neck were "antemortem," meaning that, in his opinion, these wounds were inflicted prior to death.3 Dr. Zaki also found two additional antemortem stab wounds in the lower right side of the neck, as well as evidence that Crooks's head was hit by a blunt

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object prior to death. The death certificate prepared by Dr. Zaki, which was admitted into evidence, concluded that the "immediate cause" of death was "stab wounds to neck and chest" with "other significant conditions" being "head and neck trauma."

Notably, however, in voir dire of Dr. Zaki outside the presence of the jury but within the presence of the trial judge, Dr. Zaki admitted that, while it was his opinion that the eight knife wounds to the neck were inflicted prior to death (which conflicted with Conklin's defense and testimony), it was also possible that these wounds were inflicted shortly after death (which did not conflict with Conklin's defense and testimony). Conklin's attorney, Tommy Chason, subsequently obtained Dr. Zaki's admission on cross-examination that antemortem wounds could occur "a very short period of time after death," thereby undermining Dr. Zaki's statement on direct examination that the eight knife wounds to the neck occurred before death.

In an effort to further rebut the testimony of Dr. Zaki and to prove that he did not intentionally kill George Crooks, Conklin filed two pre-trial motions requesting funds to hire an independent medical expert. Conklin's counsel explained to the court that he needed a medical examiner not only to assist in presenting Conklin's defense but also to facilitate his cross-examination of Dr. Zaki. At this time, the court was aware that Conklin's sole defense of disproving intent depended on his ability to pinpoint the exact cause of death. The more specific of Conklin's two pre-trial motions requested funds not to exceed $2,500, and sought "expert assistance of psychiatric, medical and other forensic aids...." In...

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