498 F.3d 491 (6th Cir. 2007), 03-3362, Wilson v. Mitchell

Docket Nº:03-3362.
Citation:498 F.3d 491
Party Name:Daniel WILSON, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Betty MITCHELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:August 15, 2007
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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498 F.3d 491 (6th Cir. 2007)

Daniel WILSON, Petitioner-Appellant,


Betty MITCHELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 03-3362.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

August 15, 2007

Argued: June 18, 2007.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland. No. 99-00007-David D. Dowd, Jr., District Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Alan C. Rossman, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

Carol Ann Ellensohn, Attorney General's Office of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.


Alan C. Rossman, David L. Doughten, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

Carol Ann Ellensohn, Charles L. Wille, Attorney General's Office of Ohio, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

Before: COLE, CLAY, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges.

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COLE, J., delivered the opinion of the court in which, CLAY, J., joined. ROGERS, J. (p. 515), delivered a separate opinion concurring in the result.


R. GUY COLE, JR., Circuit Judge.

Petitioner-Appellant Daniel Wilson seeks habeas relief from his conviction and death sentence for the murder of Carol Lutz. After a night of drinking, Wilson put Lutz into the trunk of her car and eventually set the car on fire, killing her. The jury convicted Wilson and found three capital specifications making him eligible for the death penalty: (1) murder committed to escape detection for kidnapping; (2) murder during kidnapping; and (3) murder during aggravated arson. The prosecution proceeded to the penalty phase relying on only the first (evading-kidnapping) specification as an aggravator, and the jury sentenced Wilson to death. Wilson now raises five claims for habeas relief; the strongest is his claim that the trial court's instruction regarding his intoxication defense improperly shifted to Wilson the burden to disprove the knowledge element of the evading-kidnapping aggravator. We conclude, for reasons other than those relied on by the district court, that any error in this regard was harmless. We further conclude that Wilson's remaining claims are without merit. Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court's denial of habeas relief.


A. Facts

In Elyria, Ohio, on Saturday, May 4, 1991, around 1:30 p.m., Wilson killed Carol Lutz by locking her in the trunk of her car, puncturing the gas tank, and setting the car on fire. [1 Wilson then walked away, allowing Lutz to burn to death.

On the previous afternoon, Wilson was drinking at the Empire Tavern, a bar he frequented. Between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., he went to the home of Angie Shelton, a girl he dated, and an argument ensued. As they argued, Wilson got angry, slammed her against the wall, threw her on the bed, and went to hit her. Shelton told him that if he hit her, she "would be the last person that he hit." Wilson then left, and later returned to the Empire Tavern.

That evening, Carol Lutz drove her 1986 Oldsmobile Cutlass to the Empire Tavern to meet Douglas Pritt, an old boyfriend, and Wilson, apparently a new friend. Pritt, Lutz, and Wilson played pool and drank together. Pritt left the bar sometime between 12:30 a.m. and 1:00 a.m. Lutz and Wilson left close to 2:30 a.m. According to Wilson's confession, Lutz offered him a ride home. She drove with him to the trailer where he lived. Once there, she came in with him and they drank a couple of beers. Wilson vaguely recalled driving to Lorain, Ohio, to search for a party and stopping at his father's house.

Darlene DeBolt, a service-station cashier in Stow, Ohio, stated that Wilson stopped at the station around 5:55 a.m. on May 4. He was driving a black Oldsmobile Cutlass and appeared to be alone. DeBolt did not hear any suspicious noise coming from the Oldsmobile. Wilson told DeBolt, an old friend, that the car was his, that he had just driven from Canada, and that he "stopped a few states back for a few beers." DeBolt smelled alcohol on him. Wilson tried to get DeBolt to go out with him and was "persistent and pushy."

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DeBolt refused to leave work and, after sixty or ninety minutes, Wilson left.

When Wilson woke up later that morning, around 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., he was in a parking lot, sitting in the driver's seat of Lutz's Oldsmobile. Lutz, who was locked in the trunk, asked him to let her out, but he refused. Wilson could not recall how she got there. He drove to various places, including a park where he took a walk. Wilson stated that he remembered thinking, "How am I going to get out of this?" Throughout this time, Lutz remained locked in the trunk.

Still later that morning, Wilson drove to a school and parked the Oldsmobile. After a while he took off the gas cap, stuffed a rag in the open neck of the gas tank, and lit the rag, but the fire burned out. Lutz told him "she really had to go to the bathroom." He "took the rag back out" of the gas tank and "let her [out to] go to the bathroom."

When he "told her to get back" in the trunk, "she stood there--she begged and pleaded with [Wilson]. She begged--she'd turn around for 30 seconds and let [Wilson] run like hell." Lutz told Wilson, "she'd go home and forget about it." Wilson did not believe her and thought to himself, "How can you forget about being locked in a trunk?" Wilson stated that he did not leave her in the trunk because he "figured somebody would find her.... She'd get out and tell who I was."

When Wilson told her to get back in the trunk a second time, she complied. She sat in the trunk for fifteen to twenty minutes with the lid up. They talked, and Wilson said "she asked me why don't I just let her go?" He "even gave her a cigarette." Then he closed the trunk lid, "poked a hole in the gas tank," stuffed a towel or blanket into the gas tank, "let it soak with gas ... and ... lit it." Then he "walked away from the car" and went to a nearby park.

While out driving that day, Janette Patton and her mother noticed smoke and saw Lutz's Oldsmobile enveloped in fire. After fire personnel extinguished the fire, they forced open the Oldsmobile's trunk, revealing Lutz's body. She died from third-degree burns and carbon monoxide poisoning. An arson investigator estimated that the flames could have heated the trunk to over 550 degrees, which could cause combustibles there to ignite and catch fire. There were no holes in the trunk, but there was a puncture in the gas tank. Investigators found a gas cap under the driver's seat and a tire iron and cross bar in the back seat. Several samples of materials taken from inside the car tested positive for kerosene.

Police detective Ray Riley traced the car to Carol Lutz and learned that she had last been seen with Wilson at the Empire Tavern. On May 9, police took Wilson into custody. Riley interviewed Wilson after advising him of his Miranda rights. Wilson waived his rights and agreed to talk with the police. Riley tape recorded the interview. Wilson confessed to locking Lutz in the Oldsmobile's trunk intermittently from 7:30 a.m. on May 4 until the time of her death. And he admitted that at approximately 1:30 p.m., he killed her by setting the Oldsmobile ablaze.

The grand jury indicted Wilson on three aggravated-murder counts. Count I charged aggravated murder by prior calculation and design; Count II charged felony murder, predicated on kidnapping; and Count III, as amended, charged felony murder, predicated on aggravated arson. Each murder count had three death specifications, which if found by the jury would make Wilson eligible for the death penalty. [2 Specification one charged murder to

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escape "detection, apprehension, trial, or punishment" for kidnapping; specification two charged murder during kidnapping; and specification three charged murder during an aggravated arson. Wilson was also indicted for kidnapping (Count IV) and aggravated arson (Count V).

Wilson defended himself at trial by claiming intoxication and lack of prior calculation and design. The jury found Wilson guilty on all counts.

At the penalty phase, the prosecutor elected to proceed to sentencing on only Count I (aggravated murder by prior calculation and design) and specification one (evading detection or punishment for another offense (kidnapping) in violation of Ohio Revised Code (O.R.C.) § 2929.04(A)(3)). Accordingly, neither the court nor jury considered the other two murder counts or the felony-murder death-penalty specifications in assessing the penalty.

At the outset of the defense's penalty-phase case, a forensic toxicologist explained the effect that alcoholism has on a person's body, mind, and behavior. Wilson's mother, younger brother, grandfather, and aunt testified as to Wilson's childhood.

The witnesses explained that Wilson's alcoholic father brutalized his wife and three sons throughout Wilson's childhood. Wilson's father would lock his sons in their bedroom at night and refuse to let them out, even to go to the bathroom. The father teased and belittled his sons. In drunken rages, Wilson's father would call his sons, "liars, cheats, and thieves," accuse them of stealing things he could not find, and hit them on their bare backsides with a leather belt. Wilson's mother, Linda Wilson, testified that her husband frequently slapped and terrorized her. When Wilson was twelve, he was arrested for vandalizing a friend's house. A year or so later, his mother moved out of the family home. She took Wilson's younger brother Donald with her, and left Wilson and his other brother David with their father.

Wilson's father did not properly care for his sons, even failing to buy food. Wilson and David were forced to steal to survive. They regularly broke into neighbors' homes to steal food or money. When he was fourteen years old, Wilson broke into an elderly neighbor's home. When the neighbor surprised him, Wilson struck the elderly man, causing him to fall and break his hip. Wilson then ripped the phone cord out of the wall and left. The neighbor was...

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