474 F.3d 154 (4th Cir. 2007), 06-14, Emmett v. Kelly

Docket Nº:06-14.
Citation:474 F.3d 154
Party Name:Christopher Scott EMMETT, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Loretta K. KELLY, Warden, Sussex I State Prison, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:January 23, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit

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474 F.3d 154 (4th Cir. 2007)

Christopher Scott EMMETT, Petitioner-Appellant,


Loretta K. KELLY, Warden, Sussex I State Prison, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 06-14.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

January 23, 2007

Argued: October 26, 2006.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Virginia, at Roanoke. Norman K. Moon, District Judge. (7:05-cv-00329-nkm)

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Matthew Leland Engle, Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

Steven Andrew Witmer, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.


William H. Lindsey, Salem, Virginia, for Appellant.

Robert F. McDonnell, Attorney General of Virginia, Jerry P. Slonaker, Senior Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General Of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

Before TRAXLER, GREGORY, and SHEDD, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge TRAXLER wrote the majority opinion, in which Judge SHEDD joined. Judge GREGORY wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.

TRAXLER, Circuit Judge:

Appellant Christopher Scott Emmett was convicted by a Virginia jury of the capital murder and robbery of his coworker, John Langley, and sentenced to death. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed, see Emmett v. Commonwealth, 264 Va. 364, 569 S.E.2d 39 (2002), and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari, see Emmett v. Virginia, 538 U.S. 929, 123 S.Ct. 1586, 155 L.Ed.2d 324 (2003). After unsuccessfully challenging his conviction and sentence in state habeas proceedings, Emmett filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal district court. See 28 U.S.C.A. § 2254 (West 1994 & Supp.2006). The district court denied his application for relief, and declined to issue a certificate of appealability. We granted a certificate of appealability to review two claims. See 28 U.S.C.A. § 2253(c)(1) (West Supp.2006). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.


In the early morning hours of April 27, 2001, Emmett beat his sleeping coworker John Langley to death with the base of a brass0 motel room lamp in order to rob Langley and use his cash to buy crack cocaine. The circumstances of the murder were described by the Virginia Supreme Court as follows:

Weldon Roofing Company employed Emmett and Langley as laborers for its roofing crews. During late April 2001, both men were assigned to a project in the City of Danville and shared a room

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at a local motel where the roofing crew was staying. On the evening of April 26, 2001, Emmett, Langley, Michael Darryl Pittman, and other members of the roofing crew cooked dinner on a grill at the motel, played cards, and drank beer. During the course of the evening, Langley loaned money to Emmett and Pittman, who used the money to buy crack cocaine.

At approximately 11:00 p.m. that evening, Rainey Bell, another member of the roofing crew, heard a noise he described as "bang, bang" coming from the room Emmett and Langley shared. Shortly after midnight, Emmett went to the motel office and asked the clerk to call the police, saying that he had returned to his room, "seen blood and stuff . . . and didn't know what had took place."

The police arrived at the motel at 12:46 a.m. on April 27, 2001 and accompanied Emmett back to his room. There they discovered Langley's dead body lying face down on Langley's bed beneath a comforter. Blood spatters were found on the sheets and headboard of Langley's bed, on the wall behind it, and on the wall between the bathroom and Emmett's bed. A damaged brass lamp stained with Langley's blood was discovered beneath Langley's bed.

In his initial statement to police, Emmett denied killing Langley. He stated that he had returned to the room and gone to bed. Emmett claimed to have discovered the blood and Langley's body later that night when he got up to use the bathroom. Observing what appeared to be bloodstains on Emmett's personal effects, the police took possession of Emmett's boots and clothing with his permission. Emmett suggested that the blood might be his own because he had injured himself earlier in the week. Subsequent testing, however, revealed that Emmett's boots and clothing were stained with Langley's blood.

Later in the morning of April 27, Emmett voluntarily accompanied the police to the Danville police station. There he agreed to be fingerprinted and gave a sample of his blood. Emmett admitted to the police that he had been drinking and using cocaine on the previous evening. Over the course of the next several hours, Emmett related different versions of the events of the previous evening to the police. He first implicated Pittman as Langley's murderer, but ultimately Emmett told the police that he alone had beaten Langley to death with the brass lamp.

Emmett was given Miranda warnings and he gave a full, taped confession. Emmett stated that he and Pittman decided to rob Langley after Langley refused to loan them more money to buy additional cocaine. Emmett stated that he struck Langley five or six times with the brass lamp, took Langley's wallet, and left the motel to buy cocaine.

Emmett, 569 S.E.2d at 42-43. "[B]ased upon the amount of blood and bruising of [Langley's] brain tissue at the point of impact," the medical examiner opined that "Langley was not killed immediately by the first blow from the lamp[, but] might have been unconscious after the first blow was struck and may have suffered 'brain death' prior to actual death." Id. at 43.

At the conclusion of the guilt phase of Emmett's bifurcated trial, Emmett was convicted by a jury of the capital murder and robbery of Langley. At the separate sentencing hearing, the Commonwealth sought the death penalty based upon Virginia's statutory aggravating factors of future dangerousness and of vileness based upon aggravated battery and depravity of mind. See Va.Code Ann. § 19.2-264.2(2004)

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("In assessing the penalty of any person convicted of an offense for which the death penalty may be imposed, a sentence of death shall not be imposed unless the court or jury shall (1) after consideration of the past criminal record of convictions of the defendant, find that there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing serious threat to society or that his conduct in committing the offense for which he stands charged was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind or an aggravated battery to the victim; and (2) recommend that the penalty of death be imposed.").

In support of the future dangerousness factor, the prosecutor presented Emmett's prior criminal history, to the extent it could be determined. The history presented consisted of juvenile convictions for felonious larceny and for assault and battery arising from an incident in which Emmett, while incarcerated in a maximum-security juvenile detention facility, rushed a guard and locked him in a closet in order to escape.1 In addition, the prosecutor presented evidence of an adult conviction for involuntary manslaughter arising from an incident in which Emmett, while driving a van in the wrong direction and under the influence of alcohol, struck and killed a motorcyclist. Testimony was presented that the drunken Emmett was smiling after the driver was killed and told an officer "'that there was no need to worry about the man on the motorcycle. He was already dead, and that [Emmett] could do nothing to help him.'" Id. at 43 (alteration in original). As noted by the state court,

[t]he evidence . . . showed that Emmett lacked remorse for this earlier violent crime and for the instant killing of a co-worker. Indeed, Emmett himself confessed that he killed Langley simply because it "just seemed right at the time." Such lack of regard for a human life speaks volumes on the issue of future dangerousness and leaves little doubt of its probability.

Id. at 45.

In support of the vileness factor, the prosecutor highlighted to the jury the aggravated nature of the beating that Emmett inflicted upon his victim. As noted by the state court, Emmett's actions demonstrated both aggravated battery and depravity of mind. Specifically, "[t]he use of a blunt object to batter the skull of the victim repeatedly and with such force that blood spatters several feet from the victim is clearly both qualitatively and quantitatively more force than the minimum necessary to kill the victim." Id.; see also Smith v. Commonwealth, 219 Va. 455, 248 S.E.2d 135, 149 (1978) (defining an "aggravated battery" as "a battery which, qualitatively and quantitatively, is more culpable than the minimum necessary to accomplish an act of murder"). Additionally, "[t]he evidence established that Emmett violently attacked a co-worker with whom he had apparently enjoyed an amicable relationship. The brutality of the crime amply demonstrates the depravity of mind involved in the murder of Langley." Id. at 45-46, 248 S.E.2d 135; see also Smith, 248 S.E.2d at 149 (defining "depravity of mind" as a "degree of moral turpitude and psychical debasement surpassing that inherent in the definition of ordinary legal malice and premeditation").

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In mitigation, Emmett presented testimony from his mother, Barbara McAdams, and a half-sister with whom he was raised, Lauri McAdams. Mrs. McAdams testified that Emmett's natural father was an abusive alcoholic who failed to take care of his family. She testified that she ultimately left her husband and remarried the man who raised Emmett. Mrs. McAdams testified that in the months leading up to Langley's murder, she began to notice troubling changes in Emmett's behavior. Although Emmett had been a good parent to his young daughter, he stopped spending time with her,...

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