525 F.3d 742 (9th Cir. 2008), 03-99003, Pinholster v. Ayers

Docket Nº:03-99003, 03-99008.
Citation:525 F.3d 742
Party Name:Scott Lynn PINHOLSTER, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Robert L. AYERS,[*] Warden, of the California State Prison at San Quentin, Respondent-Appellant. Scott Lynn Pinholster, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Robert L. Ayers, Warden, of the California State Prison at San Quentin, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:May 02, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Page 742

525 F.3d 742 (9th Cir. 2008)

Scott Lynn PINHOLSTER, Petitioner-Appellee,


Robert L. AYERS, [*] Warden, of the California State Prison at San Quentin, Respondent-Appellant.

Scott Lynn Pinholster, Petitioner-Appellant,


Robert L. Ayers, Warden, of the California State Prison at San Quentin, Respondent-Appellee.

Nos. 03-99003, 03-99008.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

May 2, 2008

Argued and Submitted April 11, 2007.

Page 743

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 744

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 745

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 746

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 747

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 748

Kristofer Jorstad, Deputy Attorney General, Los Angeles, CA, for the respondent-appellant, cross-appellee.

Sean K. Kennedy, Federal Public Defender, Los Angeles, CA, for the petitioner-cross appellant/appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California; Gary L. Taylor, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-95-06240-GLT.

Before: ALEX KOZINSKI, Chief Judge, RAYMOND C. FISHER and RICHARD C. TALLMAN, Circuit Judges.


TALLMAN, Circuit Judge:

Scott Lynn Pinholster faces a death sentence in California for murdering Thomas Johnson and Robert Beckett on January 9, 1982, robbing Johnson and Beckett with intentional infliction of great bodily injury and with personal use of a knife, robbing Todd Croutch with a firearm, and burglarizing Michael Kumar's residence. The jury found two special circumstances: Pinholster, in the same proceeding, was convicted of more than one murder, Cal. Penal Code § 190.2(a)(3) (1984), and he committed the murders during a robbery and a burglary, id. § 190.2(a)(17)(i), (vii). The jury fixed Pinholster's penalty at death, and on June 4, 1984, the Los Angeles County Superior Court so sentenced him.

On automatic appeal, the California Supreme Court, in an opinion written by Justice Stanley Mosk, set aside one multiple-murder special-circumstance finding but otherwise affirmed the judgment. See People v. Pinholster, 1 Cal.4th 865, 4 Cal.Rptr.2d 765, 824 P.2d 571 (1992). Pinholster sought a writ of habeas corpus. He challenged his convictions and death sentence. The California Supreme Court summarily denied Pinholster's state petition for habeas corpus. Pinholster filed a federal habeas corpus petition but the district court dismissed it when the parties stipulated that the petition contained unexhausted claims. Pinholster returned to state court to exhaust those claims. On October 1, 1997, the California Supreme Court denied Pinholster's second habeas petition.

Pinholster then filed an amended federal habeas petition and requested an evidentiary hearing on several claims. The district court granted the State's motion for summary judgment on Pinholster's claims challenging the constitutionality of his convictions. Pinholster appeals the district court's denial of his request for an evidentiary hearing on his guilt phase ineffective assistance of counsel claims. However, the district court concluded that his counsel inadequately investigated and deficiently presented mitigating evidence at the penalty phase and granted Pinholster's habeas petition with respect to the death penalty. The State cross-appeals the district court's judgment setting aside Pinholster's death sentence.

Page 749

We affirm the district court's denial of an evidentiary hearing on Pinholster's claims of ineffective assistance during the guilt phase. We reverse the district court's grant of habeas relief on Pinholster's death sentence.



On January 9, 1982, Pinholster fatally stabbed the victims, Johnson and Beckett, during Pinholster's burglary of Kumar's residence.1 Pinholster, 4 Cal.Rptr.2d 765, 824 P.2d at 582. Kumar was a known drug dealer and acquaintance of Pinholster. Charles Kempf, another acquaintance of Pinholster, testified that in mid-December 1981, Pinholster suggested to Kempf and three others that they rob Kumar of his drug stash.2 Id. According to Kempf, Pinholster considered Kumar "an easy mark." Id. The five went to Kumar's home, but soon aborted the plan. Kumar was not home during the December visit, and they preferred to gain access through Kumar rather than break in. Id. Kempf testified that Pinholster carried a buck knife, and Pinholster claimed he would get Kumar's drugs "one way or the other." In addition, Kempf testified that Pinholster bragged about having stabbed someone in the rectum during a previous robbery. Id.

Art Corona--an accomplice in the crimes--served as the State's primary witness. He testified that on January 8, 1982, he attended a social gathering at Pinholster's apartment complex. Id. Corona agreed to help Pinholster and co-defendant Brown rob Kumar. Id. En route, Corona drove the two in his car and stopped at Lisa Tapar's residence. Id. Pinholster wanted Tapar to help them gain access to Kumar's residence. Id. After Tapar refused to allow Pinholster into her apartment, he used his buck knife to vandalize the door of her apartment and the hood of her car. Id. Tapar, her father, and another witness corroborated Corona's version of this incident. The group then left Tapar's apartment to burglarize Kumar's residence.

Corona testified about the events that took place during the burglary. Pinholster gained entry by breaking a window in the rear of the home and Brown entered through an open sliding-glass door. Id. at 582-83. The three ransacked the house. Id. at 583. Pinholster found marijuana in a bedroom and spilled a green substance in the kitchen. Id. At this time, victims Johnson and Beckett (Kumar's housesitters) arrived, opened the front door, discovered the crime, and shouted they would call the police. The three burglars attempted to leave through the rear sliding-glass door, but Johnson and Beckett came around to the back. As Johnson tried to enter, Pinholster stabbed Johnson in the chest three to four times with the knife. The California Supreme Court summarized Corona's description of the robbery, stabbing, and murders as follows:

[Pinholster] backed [Johnson] out of the house and onto the patio, demanding drugs and money and repeatedly striking him. Johnson dropped his wallet on

Page 750

the ground and obeyed [Pinholster's] order to sit. Then Beckett approached, and [Pinholster] attacked him. Corona saw that [Pinholster] was stabbing Beckett, striking him in the chest as Corona had seen [Pinholster] strike Johnson. [Pinholster] repeatedly stabbed Beckett, again demanding money and drugs. [Pinholster] picked up Johnson's wallet and took a wallet from Beckett's pocket. [Pinholster] repeatedly kicked Beckett in the head. Corona then saw codefendant Brown stabbing Johnson in the chest. The three men withdrew, and Corona drove them back to [Pinholster's] apartment. Brown and [Pinholster] commented that they had "gotten them good," and Brown said he had "buried his knife to the hilt" in Johnson.


After the murders, the three returned to Pinholster's apartment and split the proceeds. Pinholster washed his knife and a woman named Debbie washed Brown's knife. Id. The next day, Pinholster telephoned Corona and told him to "lie low." Two weeks later, Corona turned himself in and gave a statement to the police. Corona testified at trial consistent with his earlier statement except that at trial he also mentioned seeing Brown stab Johnson and that he, Brown, and Pinholster divided the proceeds. Id.

Casey Corona, Art Corona's wife, was at Pinholster's apartment when Pinholster, Brown, and Art Corona returned from Kumar's house. At trial, Casey corroborated Corona's testimony about the planning, execution, and cover up of the robbery/murders. She testified that she saw Pinholster wash blood off his knife and she heard him say: "It had to be done the way it was done. We had to do what we had to do." Id. Police had recently arrested Casey on a drug charge, and she testified that the prosecution assisted her entry into a diversion program.

Art Corona also testified that Pinholster had threatened him on numerous occasions. Specifically, prior to the preliminary hearing, Pinholster threatened to "blow up" Corona on his way to court if Corona testified against him. Pinholster impeached Corona with Corona's prior burglary conviction and Corona's admission that he was a professional burglar. Id.

The State introduced physical evidence to corroborate Pinholster's presence in Kumar's residence after it had been ransacked. Corona testified that Pinholster wore jeans and boots on the night of the murders. Police found boots with microscopic blood stains and a towel with a blood stain in Pinholster's apartment. Police also found a pair of jeans with a blood stain; however, investigators could not confirm whether the blood was human. In addition, when police arrested Brown, he had a buck knife with dimensions that corresponded to one of Johnson's stab wounds. Id. at 583-84. Investigators also discovered traces of human blood near the hilt of Brown's knife. The police found human blood on the inside forearm of the sleeve of Corona's shirt, but they found no blood on his knife. Id. at 584.

Pinholster presented an alibi when he testified in his own defense at trial. He characterized himself as a "professional robber" who used guns while preying on drug dealers, not a murderer who used knives. He boasted of being a "very good robber," claiming that he had committed "hundreds" of robberies and that he had only been caught by the authorities one time. To support his defense, Pinholster admitted to robbing Thomas Croutch at gunpoint on another occasion, and having planned to rob Kumar, but denied having recruited Kempf and the three other individuals


To continue reading