393 F.3d 943 (9th Cir. 2004), 03-35081, Lambert v. Blodgett

Docket Nº:03-35081, 03-35092.
Citation:393 F.3d 943
Party Name:Donald Eugene LAMBERT, Petitioner-Appellee, v. James BLODGETT, Respondent-Appellant. Donald Eugene Lambert, Petitioner-Appellant, v. James Blodgett, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:December 28, 2004
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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393 F.3d 943 (9th Cir. 2004)

Donald Eugene LAMBERT, Petitioner-Appellee,

v.

James BLODGETT, Respondent-Appellant.

Donald Eugene Lambert, Petitioner-Appellant,

v.

James Blodgett, Respondent-Appellee.

Nos. 03-35081, 03-35092.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

December 28, 2004

Argued and Submitted March 2, 2004

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Paul Douglas Weisser and John Joseph Samson, Office of the Washington Attorney General, Olympia, WA, for the appellant and cross-appellee James Blodgett.

Patricia J. Arthur, Columbia Legal Services, Seattle, Washington; Nancy D. Tenney and Laura Mate, Federal Public Defender's Office, Seattle, WA, for the appellee and cross-appellant Donald Eugene Lambert.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Washington; Wm. Fremming Nielsen, Senior Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-00-00163-WFN.

Before: O'SCANNLAIN, RYMER, and BYBEE, Circuit Judges.

BYBEE, Circuit Judge:

This case requires us to interpret and apply the standard of review mandated by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub.L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996), and to determine the meaning of the phrase "adjudicated on the merits," which acts as a prerequisite to AEDPA review.

In Washington state court, on December 10, 1997, fifteen-year-old Donald Eugene Lambert pled guilty to aggravated first-degree murder, an offense which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Shortly thereafter, Lambert filed a Personal Restraint Petition in the Washington Court of Appeals attacking his plea on the grounds that he was provided ineffective assistance of counsel and the plea was not knowingly, voluntarily and intelligently entered. After unsuccessfully arguing his claims both in the Court of Appeals and the Washington Supreme Court, Lambert petitioned the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington for a writ of habeas corpus.

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In his habeas petition, Lambert reasserted his claim of ineffective assistance supported by three primary allegations: (1) his attorney, Guillermo Romero, stipulated to the juvenile court's declination of jurisdiction and transfer to adult court; (2) Romero failed to fully advise him of the penalty he would face if he pled guilty, failed to advise him that he should not plead guilty because he would receive the same sentence if he were convicted after a trial, and failed to investigate certain impeachment evidence; and (3) Romero labored under an actual conflict of interest created by his association with an indigent defense firm that was also representing Lambert's co-defendant. Lambert also reasserted the allegation that his guilty plea was not knowing, voluntary and intelligent because he was unaware that the sentence set forth in his plea agreement--life in prison without the possibility of parole--truly meant that he would never be released. The district court granted relief on his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, finding persuasive Lambert's second allegation, that Romero failed to investigate the government's case and advise Lambert prior to the entry of his plea. The district court 17318 also concluded that Lambert was entitled to habeas relief on the ground that his plea was not knowing, voluntary and intelligent because he was unaware of the punishment he would face. The state of Washington, through Warden James Blodgett, appeals the grounds on which the district court granted relief, and Lambert cross-appeals the issues on which he was denied relief.

Because we conclude that the district court erroneously disregarded the Washington state courts' factual findings and conclusions of law, we reverse the district court's decision granting habeas relief on the ground that Lambert was denied the effective assistance of counsel and his plea was not knowing, voluntary and intelligent. We otherwise affirm.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

In the early morning hours of May 21, 1997, 89-year-old Homer Smithson and his elderly wife, Vada Smithson, were abruptly awakened by two armed teenage intruders who entered the bedroom of their rural home in Grant County, Washington, shouting expletives. As the teens repeatedly and fatally shot Homer in the couple's bed, Vada--in an effort to telephone her son for help--ran into the kitchen. The two teens ran outside to reload their firearms with ammunition they had stolen from a shed on the Smithsons' property. Entering the house a second time, the teens concentrated their fire on Mrs. Smithson. After emptying their weapons again, the teens exited the house to reload once more. Through the kitchen window, one of the teens noticed Vada Smithson on the telephone and heard her exclaim, "they're killing me, they're killing me!" Believing she was calling the police, the teen shot her multiple times, firing six or seven rounds until the gun was empty.

Police detectives from the Grant County Sheriff's Office responded to the scene. They found Homer Smithson in bed, still alive but semi-conscious, thrashing around. He died at the Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane, Washington shortly thereafter, having sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the head, chest, legs and abdomen. Vada Smithson was found dead in her kitchen, holding the handset of a telephone. She appeared to have been shot multiple times, and lost large quantities of blood. According to detectives, the house had not been ransacked, but numerous .22 cartridge casings were found at the scene.

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Investigation later that day led police to the home of Marcus Wawers, where they found the murder weapons. Police questioned 15-year-old Melanie Hinkle, who was then residing at the Wawers's residence. Hinkle disclosed a plan to rob and kill the Smithsons that she and three other teens, including Wawers, age 15, Adam Betancourt, age 16, and 15-year-old Donald Eugene Lambert, had devised over the course of two weeks. Hinkle said that the plan on the evening of May 20 was for Lambert, Wawers and Betancourt to shoot Homer Smithson and then hold a gun to Mrs. Smithson's head, forcing her to tell them where the valuables were in the house. After she had done so, they planned to shoot Mrs. Smithson as well. Hinkle said that she had intended to accompany the boys that evening, but was unable to after she injured her leg. In her sworn statement she reported that, in connection with the plan to rob the Smithsons, Lambert had expressed the possibility that Mr. and Mrs. Smithson might both be killed, stating, "whatever happens, happens."

The Grant County Sheriff's Office interviewed Lambert regarding his whereabouts on the evening of the murders. After waiving his Miranda rights, Lambert initially denied any involvement in the murders, claiming to have been at Wawers's home the entire evening. He did acknowledge knowing Homer Smithson, reporting that he used to live on the Smithsons' sod farm.

Later in the interview, however, Lambert confessed his involvement in the crimes. He stated that he, Wawers and Betancourt went to the Smithsons' home that evening to rob them. The three proceeded first to the Smithsons' shed, stealing approximately 35 rounds of ammunition. Lambert initially carried a nine shot .22 revolver, Betancourt carried a single shot rifle, and Wawers planned to stand watch over the robbery with a pellet gun. Betancourt and Lambert subsequently traded guns, and the two entered the Smithsons' home. After hearing Mr. Smithson coughing, Lambert and Betancourt followed the sound to the bedroom and opened fire. Once they had depleted their ammunition, the two ran outside, traded weapons again, and reloaded. After entering, firing and exiting a second time, Lambert, overhearing Vada Smithson's panicked phone call, then shot six or seven bullets at her through the kitchen window. According to Lambert, Betancourt then joined in, shooting her in the head. Following the shootings, the three boys ran from the Smithsons' property back toward Wawers's residence. According to Lambert, before reaching the home, Betancourt recalled leaving his flashlight in the Smithsons' shed, and he returned to the scene to retrieve it. Betancourt later reported to Lambert that, upon his return, he found Vada Smithson still alive, and he stabbed her with his knife. In retrospect, Lambert recalled thinking that the plan was "all a game, like we were just gonna jack whatever, rob whatever and then leave."

On May 22, 1997, Lambert was arraigned in juvenile court in Grant County on two counts of aggravated first-degree murder for the deaths of Homer and Vada Smithson. The Grant County Superior Court appointed attorney Guillermo Romero to represent Lambert. Romero was associated with The Defenders, an indigent defense firm which contracted with Grant County to provide legal services. Thomas Earl, another attorney associated with The Defenders, was appointed to represent Betancourt. Hinkle was represented by yet another attorney associated with The Defenders, while Wawers retained private counsel. All four youths were charged with two counts of aggravated first-degree

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murder. Sixteen-year-old Betancourt was directly charged in Superior Court. He subsequently pled guilty to two counts of non-aggravated first-degree murder and agreed to testify in hearings pertaining to Lambert, Hinkle and Wawers.1 The other three defendants, Lambert (15), Wawers (15), and Hinkle (15), were initially charged in juvenile court, but the State immediately petitioned the juvenile court to decline jurisdiction and transfer the case to Superior Court. In preparation for...

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