459 F.3d 1193 (11th Cir. 2006), 05-12621, Hallford v. Culliver

Docket Nº:05-12621.
Citation:459 F.3d 1193
Party Name:Phillip D. HALLFORD, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Grantt CULLIVER, Warden of Holman State Prison, Troy King, The Attorney General of the State of Alabama, Respondents-Appellees.
Case Date:August 11, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
 
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459 F.3d 1193 (11th Cir. 2006)

Phillip D. HALLFORD, Petitioner-Appellant,

v.

Grantt CULLIVER, Warden of Holman State Prison, Troy King, The Attorney General of the State of Alabama, Respondents-Appellees.

No. 05-12621.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit.

Aug. 11, 2006

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Andrew E. Kantra and Andrew R. Rogoff (Court-Appointed), Pepper Hamilton, LLP, Philadelphia, PA, William Rives Blanchard, Jr., Blanchard Law Offices, Montgomery, AL, for Hallford.

J. Clayton Crenshaw, Montgomery, AL, for Respondents-Appellees.

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

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

PER CURIAM:

Phillip D. Hallford appeals the denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition challenging his conviction and death sentence. Hallford argues that he suffered prejudice in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), that his trial counsel was ineffective during the penalty phase, and that the evidence was legally insufficient to support the "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel" aggravating circumstance. We now affirm Hallford's conviction and sentence.

I. BACKGROUND

Hallford was convicted of the capital offense of murder committed during the course of a robbery in violation of ALA.CODE § 13A-5-40(a)(2). Hallford's victim was 16-year old Charles Eddie Shannon, the boyfriend of Hallford's daughter, Melinda. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals summarized the facts of the murder-robbery this way:

The state's evidence at the guilt phase of [Hallford's] trial tended to show that in the early morning of April 13, 1986, [Hallford] forced his daughter to entice her boyfriend, Charles Eddie Shannon, to a secluded bridge. He then shot Shannon once in the roof of the mouth. While Shannon was still alive, Hallford dragged him to the side of the bridge and shot him two more times, once in the front of the left ear and once in the forehead. [Hallford] then threw the body over the bridge railing and into the water.

Sometime after the shooting, [Hallford] returned to the scene of the crime to remove the blood from the bridge. The next day [Hallford] burned the victim's wallet and its contents. These events were witnessed in part by [Hallford's] daughter and his son, who testified against him at trial. While [Hallford] was burning the victim's wallet he commented that the victim was a "cheapskate" because he said he found no money in the wallet. However, the victim's father testified that he had given the victim money on the afternoon of his disappearance. The victim's badly decomposed body was discovered in the water approximately two weeks after the shooting.

[Hallford] maintained at trial that he did not kill the victim and that he was nowhere near the bridge when the murder occurred.

Hallford v. State, 629 So.2d 6, 7-8 (Ala.Crim.App.1992).

The jury convicted Hallford and, by a 10-2 vote, recommended that Hallford receive the death penalty based on two aggravating circumstances: (1) that the murder occurred during the commission of a robbery, and (2) that it was "especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel." The trial court sentenced him to death. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed Hallford's conviction and sentence on direct appeal. Hallford v. State, 548 So.2d 526 (Ala.Crim.App.1988), aff'd, 548 So.2d 547 (Ala.1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 945, 110 S.Ct. 354, 107 L.Ed.2d 342 (1989).

Hallford filed a motion for state post-conviction relief pursuant to ALA. R.CRIM. P. 32. The trial court denied post-conviction relief, and the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the denial. Hallford v. State, 629 So.2d 6 (Ala.Crim.App.1992), cert. denied, 511 U.S. 1100, 114 S.Ct. 1870, 128 L.Ed.2d 491 (1994). Hallford then filed a petition for federal habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

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The district court denied his petition, and Hallford appeals. 1

A. Facts for the Brady Claim

Although the State presented several witnesses, Hallford's daughter, Melinda, was perhaps the most incriminating single witness. During the guilt phase of the trial, Melinda described Hallford's plot to lure Shannon to him and the graphic details of the murder. Melinda was also the only witness to identify directly the wallet Hallford burned as Shannon's. Her further testimony during the penalty phase--where she was the only witness for the State--described her sexual relationship with Hallford that began when she was seven or eight years old; Melinda testified that she and her father were engaged in an incestuous relationship when she became romantically involved with Shannon.

The gravamen of Hallford's Brady claim is that Melinda testified pursuant to a plea agreement of which Hallford's trial counsel was never made aware and about which the jury never learned. The prosecutor initially sought to charge Melinda as an adult and prosecute her for intentional murder along with Hallford. The lead investigator in the case, Walter Ford, found Melinda initially uncooperative; before her arrest Melinda was reluctant to speak with Ford, and she denied having sexual contact with Shannon, calling Shannon to the bridge, or being with Shannon at the bridge where he was killed. But Melinda did cooperate in the investigation after she struck a plea agreement in which she agreed to testify against Hallford in exchange for the prosecutor's agreement not to prosecute her as an adult. 2 The plea agreement was never memorialized in writing.

Twice before trial, Hallford's trial counsel requested all exculpatory Brady material. But at no time before trial did the State disclose the plea agreement. 3 As the district court wrote, "the jury heard no testimony during either the guilt or penalty phases of Hallford's trial that Melinda was testifying pursuant to a plea agreement or that Melinda had originally been charged with the intentional murder of Shannon."

Despite two requests, the State also failed to disclose Melinda's plea agreement to Hallford's counsel during the state post-conviction proceedings. The State advised Hallford's state post-conviction counsel that all information had been disclosed. Yet nothing in counsel's records disclosed the existence of the plea agreement. Hallford included a general Brady claim in his petition for state post-conviction relief, but Hallford failed to argue the claim or include it in his appeal to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. Later, in Hallford's federal section 2254 proceedings, the district court concluded Hallford's Brady claim was procedurally defaulted. And although

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the district court found cause for the procedural default, the court concluded Hallford did not suffer sufficient prejudice to excuse the default.

B. Facts for the Ineffective Assistance Claim

During the guilt phase of the trial, Hallford testified that he disapproved of certain of his children's acts such as "smoking dope" and that he was a strict disciplinarian. Because Hallford denied committing the murder, he offered this "good father" explanation to suggest a motive for his children's testimony against him. But this "good father" testimony made it possible for the State to present, during the penalty phase, Melinda's testimony about her incestuous relationship with Hallford.

At the penalty phase, Hallford presented only his mother's testimony in which she pleaded for Hallford's life. Hallford's trial counsel--who had previously represented Hallford on unrelated matters--considered but decided not to present psychological or personal background testimony.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Hallford filed his section 2254 petition before the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). This case is accordingly governed by pre-AEDPA law. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 2068, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997) (concluding that AEDPA provisions apply "only to cases filed after [AEDPA] became effective"). Under pre-AEDPA law, we review the district court's factual findings for clear error. Johnson v. Alabama, 256 F.3d 1156, 1169 (11th Cir.2001). The state court's findings of fact generally are accorded a presumption of correctness. Hardwick v. Crosby, 320 F.3d 1127, 1158 (11th Cir.2003). But questions of law and mixed questions of law and fact are not subject to the same presumption. Id. at 1159.

III. BRADY CLAIM

Hallford claims in his section 2254 petition that he suffered prejudice when the State failed to disclose its plea agreement with Melinda, in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). But Hallford abandoned this Brady claim during the state post-conviction proceedings. The district court accordingly concluded that Hallford's Brady claim was procedurally defaulted. 4

But Hallford's procedural default may be excused if he can show cause for the default and prejudice resulting from his failure to raise the claim. Johnson, 256 F.3d at 1171 (citing Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 2644, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986)). 5 To prove cause,

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Hallford must show that "some objective factor external to the defense impeded...

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