51 F.3d 942 (11th Cir. 1995), 92-2812, Stano v. Butterworth

Docket Nº:92-2812, 92-3052 and 93-3269.
Citation:51 F.3d 942
Party Name:Gerald Eugene STANO, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Robert A. BUTTERWORTH, Harry K. Singletary, Respondents-Appellees.
Case Date:April 20, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

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51 F.3d 942 (11th Cir. 1995)

Gerald Eugene STANO, Petitioner-Appellant,


Robert A. BUTTERWORTH, Harry K. Singletary, Respondents-Appellees.

Nos. 92-2812, 92-3052 and 93-3269.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

April 20, 1995

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Mark Evan Olive, Tallahassee, FL, for appellant.

Margene A. Roper, Asst. Atty. Gen., Office of the Atty. Gen., Dept. of Legal Affairs, Daytona Beach, FL, for appellees.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before ANDERSON, EDMONDSON and CARNES, Circuit Judges.

CARNES, Circuit Judge:

Gerald Eugene Stano was convicted and sentenced to death in 1983 for the 1974 murder of Cathy Scharf. The lengthy factual and procedural history of this case is set out in our previous en banc and panel opinions. See Stano v. Dugger, 901 F.2d 898 (11th Cir.1990) (en banc); Stano v. Dugger, 883 F.2d 900 (11th Cir.1989). In that en banc opinion, we remanded the case to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on specified issues. The district court conducted a hearing that lasted ten days. We are indebted to that court for the thoroughness with which it explored the relevant factual issues and for

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its meticulous findings of fact. A copy of the district court's order, containing its factfindings, is reproduced as Appendix A hereto.

After the district court had issued its order on remand but before the case had been briefed to this Court, Stano filed a Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) motion raising additional but related issues. The district court's order denying that motion is reproduced as Appendix B hereto.

Stano appeals from the district court's adverse rulings on the issues we remanded to it, and he also appeals from the court's denial of his Rule 60(b) motion. We consolidated the two appeals, and for the reasons that follow we affirm the denial of relief in each.


Initially, we address Stano's assertion that the clearly erroneous standard of review does not apply to the district court's findings of fact. In support of his contention, Stano cites a portion of our opinion in Jurek v. Estelle, 623 F.2d 929 (5th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 450 U.S. 1001 & 1014, 101 S.Ct. 1709 & 1724, 68 L.Ed.2d 203 & 214 (1981), in which we state, "In passing on the ultimate issue of voluntariness, we may substitute our own judgment even in the absence of a conclusion that the district court's ruling was clearly erroneous." Id. at 932. Stano misreads our precedent and misapprehends the limited nature of our review of factfindings. It is clear from the statement itself and certainly from the context of the discussion in Jurek that the statement Stano relies upon was referring to the "ultimate" determination of the voluntariness of a confession, a mixed question of law and fact that is subject to de novo review. See id. Indeed, just before the sentence quoted by Stano, we stated that "We will not disregard or overturn findings of fact made by the district court unless they are clearly erroneous." Id.

The Supreme Court subsequently clarified the meaning of the clearly erroneous standard of review of a district court's findings of fact in Anderson v. City of Bessemer City, North Carolina, 470 U.S. 564, 105 S.Ct. 1504, 84 L.Ed.2d 518 (1985), where it held:

If the district court's account of the evidence is plausible in light of the record viewed in its entirety, the court of appeals may not reverse it even though convinced that had it been sitting as the trier of fact, it would have weighed the evidence differently. Where there are two permissible views of the evidence, the factfinder's choice between them cannot be clearly erroneous.

Id. at 573-74, 105 S.Ct. at 1511; see also Spaziano v. Singletary, 36 F.3d 1028, 1032 (11th Cir.1994), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 115 S.Ct. 911, 130 L.Ed.2d 793 (1995).

Stano also cites the Jurek opinion for the proposition that we will not defer to the district court's factfindings based on documentary evidence where those findings do not rest upon credibility evaluations of live witnesses. That is what we held in Jurek, 623 F.2d at 932, but it is no longer good law. Five years after Jurek, the Supreme Court in Anderson squarely held that the clearly erroneous standard of review applies "even when the district court's findings do not rest on credibility determinations, but are based instead on physical or documentary evidence or inferences from other facts." 470 U.S. at 574, 105 S.Ct. at 1511-12; see also Spaziano, 36 F.3d at 1032.

Accordingly, we apply the clearly erroneous standard of review to the district court's factfindings--whether those findings are based on witness testimony or on documentary evidence. Moreover, as mandated by the Supreme Court, we will give even "greater deference" to factfindings of the district court that are based on determinations of the credibility of witnesses, as is largely the case here. Anderson, 470 U.S. at 575, 105 S.Ct. at 1512.

As to the denial of Stano's Rule 60(b) motion, this Court "will overturn a district court's denial of a motion to set aside a judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b) only if the district court has abused its discretion." Delancy v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 947 F.2d 1536, 1545 n. 21 (11th Cir.1991).

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We will first address Stano's appeal from the district court's denial of habeas relief following its evidentiary hearing on the issues remanded by this Court's en banc opinion. Then we will discuss his appeal from the district court's denial of his Rule 60(b) motion.


    The en banc opinion of this Court remanded four issues to the district court, each of which we will address in turn.

    1. The Brady Claim

      As stated in the en banc opinion, "Stano has alleged that the prosecution suppressed evidence that there was collusion between [Sergeant Paul] Crow, the police investigator; Donald Jacobson, Stano's defense attorney during the investigative stage; and Dr. Ann McMillan, the defense psychologist during the investigative stage. The alleged purpose of this collusion was to exploit Stano's mental vulnerabilities in order to coerce murder confessions, including confessions to the Scharf killing." 901 F.2d at 899.

      The district court made the following findings of fact based on the evidence adduced at the evidentiary hearing: Attorney Jacobson did not tell Crow what Stano had confessed to him until Stano entered his plea agreement with the State's Attorney's Office in the Seventh Judicial Circuit of Florida (consisting of Volusia, Flagler, Putnam, and St. Johns Counties). Crow did not ask Jacobson or Warren Walker, an investigator for the defense, for details about any murders or request that they ask Stano for any details. Stano and his parents encouraged Jacobson to obtain a plea agreement for Stano that would avoid a sentence of death. Because Jacobson knew that Stano had committed multiple murders, he arranged a plea agreement with the Seventh Judicial Circuit prosecutor that would prevent Stano from receiving the death penalty for any murders to which he confessed before a plea of guilty was entered and in which the victim's body was found within the jurisdiction of the Seventh Judicial Circuit. Jacobson permitted Crow to talk to Stano about murders within the scope of the plea agreement in order to comply with the agreement. Jacobson told Stano that he should confess to all the murders in which he left the bodies of the victims within the Seventh Judicial Circuit, because any murders revealed after the plea of guilty was entered would not be covered by the plea agreement and could result in a death sentence. Moreover, Jacobson explained to Stano that because the plea agreement was limited to the Seventh Judicial Circuit, Stano was not to talk about any murders in which a body was left outside that jurisdiction--which would include the murder of Cathy Scharf in Brevard County.

      The district court also found that Dr. McMillan did not instruct Crow about how to question Stano, or even talk with Crow about his methods of interrogation, and that there was no evidence that any statements made by Dr. McMillan influenced Crow's method of interrogating Stano. Crow did not receive a "covert" copy of a July 12, 1992, letter from Jacobson to Stano. Jacobson did not reveal information he had learned from Stano concerning homicides committed outside the Seventh Judicial Circuit beyond the six murders within the scope of the plea agreement and the September 2, 1981, plea of guilty. Crow did not deprive others of contact with Stano. Crow had no intention of writing a book while his investigation of Stano was ongoing, and Crow did not "feed" information to Stano in order to cause Stano to confess to homicides that he did not commit.

      Based upon our review of the record, we hold that the district court's factfindings, which we have summarized in the preceding two paragraphs, are not clearly erroneous. Those findings fully support, indeed compel, the district court's conclusion that "there was no collusion between Crow, Jacobson and McMillan." That alone is a sufficient basis upon which to affirm the district court's rejection of Stano's Brady claim, because there cannot have been suppression of nonexistent evidence.

      The district court went further and held, as an alternative basis for rejecting the Brady claim, that Sergeant Crow, who was a member of the Daytona Beach Police Department

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      in Volusia County, was not part of the Brevard County prosecution team that prosecuted Stano for the Scharf murder. That holding was based upon factfindings that: Crow did not do any investigation for Dean Moxley, the Brevard County prosecutor in the Scharf case; Crow was not under Moxley's...

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