538 F.3d 478 (6th Cir. 2008), 02-3505, Jells v. Mitchell

Docket Nº:02-3505.
Citation:538 F.3d 478
Party Name:Reginald JELLS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Betty MITCHELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:August 18, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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538 F.3d 478 (6th Cir. 2008)

Reginald JELLS, Petitioner-Appellant,


Betty MITCHELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 02-3505.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

August 18, 2008

Argued: March 19, 2008.

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Alan C. Rossman, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

Laurence R. Snyder, Office of the Ohio Attorney General, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.


Alan C. Rossman, Office of the Federal Public Defender, Cleveland, Ohio, William T. Doyle, Law Offices, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant.

Lisa Marie Stickan, Daniel R. Ranke, Office of the Ohio Attorney General, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellee.

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

COLE, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which CLAY, J., joined. BATCHELDER, J. (pp. 513-24), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.


COLE, Circuit Judge.

A Cuyahoga County, Ohio three-judge panel convicted Reginald Jells for the murder of Ruby Stapleton and sentenced him to death on October 6, 1987. After exhausting direct and post-conviction remedies in the State of Ohio, Jells timely filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio on October 27, 1998. The district court denied his petition on March 18, 2002. For the reasons below, we REVERSE the judgment of the district court.


A. Facts

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), Jells has “the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness [accorded to a state court's finding of facts] by clear and convincing evidence." Jells has failed to rebut this presumption, and we therefore adopt the facts, but not the legal conclusions, as detailed by the Supreme Court of Ohio:

On April 18, 1987, at about 10:30 to 11:00 p.m., the victim Ruby Stapleton and her four-year-old son Devon Stapleton were kidnapped in front of several witnesses at the intersection of Lakeview and Euclid Avenues in Cleveland. Three witnesses to the kidnapping and Devon identified appellant Reginald Jells as the kidnapper. Also, the witnesses identified the victim as the woman the appellant picked up and threw into a van. Moreover, the witnesses identified the van used by the appellant during the kidnapping.

Owen Banks, a witness to the abduction, testified that while he was a passenger in a car driven by his daughter, Camila Banks, he heard a woman's screams and saw the victim and appellant “tussling." He also noted that the van used to abduct the victim and her child had a sign which read “Keep on Trucking," although the van which was linked to the appellant was found to display a sign which read “Keep on Vannin." During the abduction, Owen jumped out of the car and told his daughter to write down the license plate number of the van because he “sensed something was wrong." Furthermore, Owen observed appellant pick up a little

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boy, later identified as Devon, and put him into the van.

Owen approached appellant, who told him that the victim was drunk. Owen stated that he had a good look at appellant, since Owen was at the driver's side of the van looking straight at him. At trial, Owen identified a photograph of the victim as the person who was struggling with appellant, and identified appellant as the perpetrator.

Camila Banks, another witness to the abduction, testified that she was driving her father home when she heard a woman screaming “help me." She observed the appellant as he dragged a woman, whom she later identified as the victim, to the van and “shoved her inside." Next, she saw appellant pick up a little boy (Devon) and put him inside the van. Camila testified that the woman was trying to fight off the man.

Camila recorded the license number of the van, “149 MJV." Although the license number was listed in the name of “Reginald Gills," appellant later acknowledged ownership of the van. At trial Camila identified the van from a photograph, and she identified the appellant as the kidnapper.

Edward Wright, a third witness to the abduction, testified that at about 11:00 p.m., as he was concluding his shift as a security guard at Hough Bakery, he heard a woman scream. He walked to where he heard the screaming and observed a man with his arm around the waist of the screaming woman. He then saw the man throw the woman and the child into the van. Wright gave the Cleveland police a partial license number, “Y 169 or 165." He was able to pick the appellant out of a lineup, and identify him at trial. Further, he identified Devon Stapleton and a photo of the victim.

The testimony of Devon Stapleton, the son of the victim, indicates that he and his mother had entered appellant's van and later they exited the van. It is not clear from his testimony exactly how they initially came to be in the van or how they later came to be out of the van at Lakeview and Euclid Avenues. He further testified that appellant put Devon's mother back into the van, and that while they were in the van appellant hit the victim on the right side of her face with a circular object, causing her to bleed. Devon also stated that his mother was knocked out by the blows. As a result of the attack upon his mother, the hood and sleeve of Devon's coat were wet with blood.

Devon explained that appellant took his mother to a junkyard. There appellant removed his mother's body from the van, carried her into the junkyard, and abandoned her. Then appellant drove to a gas station, purchased gas, and dropped off Devon at another junkyard. Later, Clyde Smith found Devon at this junkyard crying for his mother, so he picked him up and took him to his house and called the police.

On April 26, 1987, appellant was arrested by Cleveland police. The van was identified by the license plate number that was given to police by Camila Banks. An examination of the van revealed appellant's fingerprints. A transmission jack found in the van matched marks found on the victim's body. A tennis shoe print was found on the inside of the van's windshield. The shoe print was compared with the victim's left tennis shoe and was believed to have been made by the shoe.

On April 28, 1987, an off-duty Cleveland police officer found the victim's body partially concealed by a barrel in a junkyard at East 84th and Grand Avenue

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in Cleveland. The body was partially nude with the pants and panties pulled down and the blouse in disarray.

A piece of cardboard with a muddy shoe print was found near the body. The shoe print matched appellant's right shoe.

The coroner testified that the victim died as a result of multiple blunt impacts to the head, neck, trunk and extremities with multiple injuries to the brain and other internal organs. Altogether the victim suffered over ninety separate blows to her body.

State v. Jells, 53 Ohio St.3d 22, 559 N.E.2d 464, 466-67 (1990).

B. Procedural History

On August 31, 1987, a three-judge panel of the Cuyahoga County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas convicted Jells on two counts of kidnapping, in violation of Ohio Rev.Code § 2904.01, and one count of aggravated felony murder with a kidnapping specification, in violation of Ohio Rev.Code § 2903.01(B). On September 18, 1987, the same panel sentenced Jells to five to twenty-five years imprisonment on each of the kidnapping charges and death on the aggravated felony murder charge. State v. Jells, No. CR-217570 (Ohio Ct of Common Pleas, Oct. 6, 1987). On direct review, the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed Jells's convictions and sentence, State v. Jells, No. 54733, 1989 WL 43401 (Ohio Ct.App. Apr. 20, 1989), as did the Ohio Supreme Court, State v. Jells, 53 Ohio St.3d 22, 559 N.E.2d 464 (1990).

Jells filed his initial petition for post-conviction relief in the state trial court in November 1991 and an amended petition in April 1995. The trial court reviewed and denied Jells's amended petition, and the Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed. State v. Jells, No. 72484, 1998 WL 213175 (Ohio Ct.App. Apr. 30, 1998). Jells filed a motion in support of jurisdiction for review by the Ohio Supreme Court on June 29, 1998. The Ohio Supreme Court declined to exercise jurisdiction and dismissed the case on September 23, 1998. State v. Jells, 83 Ohio St.3d 1431, 699 N.E.2d 946 (1998). On March 11, 1999, Jells filed an application to reopen his direct appeal in the Ohio Court of Appeals. That court denied his application, State v. Jells, No. 54733, 2000 WL 545963 (Ohio Ct.App. Apr. 26, 2000), and the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed, State v. Jells, 90 Ohio St.3d 454, 739 N.E.2d 345 (2000).

On September 21, 1999, Jells filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, alleging twenty-three grounds for relief. On March 18, 2002, the district court concluded that Jells's claims were without merit and dismissed his habeas petition. The district court issued Jells a certificate of appealability (“COA" ) on whether trial counsel rendered constitutionally ineffective assistance at sentencing. On appeal, this Court, on October 3, 2006, granted Jells a COA on the following additional issues: (1) whether the prosecution withheld material, exculpatory information from Jells in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963); (2) whether trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel by encouraging Jells to waive his right to a jury trial without properly informing him of the consequences of the waiver; (3) whether the trial court...

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