545 U.S. 175 (2005), 04-637, Bradshaw v. Stumpf

Docket Nº:No. 04-637
Citation:545 U.S. 175, 125 S.Ct. 2398, 162 L.Ed.2d 143, 73 U.S.L.W. 4463
Party Name:Margaret Bradshaw, Warden, Petitioner v. John David Stumpf
Case Date:June 13, 2005
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 175

545 U.S. 175 (2005)

125 S.Ct. 2398, 162 L.Ed.2d 143, 73 U.S.L.W. 4463

Margaret Bradshaw, Warden, Petitioner


John David Stumpf

No. 04-637

United States Supreme Court

June 13, 2005

Argued April 19, 2005.



Respondent Stumpf and his accomplice Wesley committed an armed robbery that left Mr. Stout wounded and Mrs. Stout dead. Stumpf admitted shooting Mr. Stout but has always denied killing Mrs. Stout. In Ohio state court proceedings, Stumpf pleaded guilty to, among other things, aggravated murder and one of three capital murder specifications charged in his indictment. This left Stumpf eligible for the death penalty. In a contested penalty hearing before a three-judge panel, Stumpf 's principal mitigation arguments were that he had participated in the robbery at Wesley's urging, that Wesley had killed Mrs. Stout, and that Stumpf 's minor role in the murder counseled against the death sentence. The State, however, claimed that Stumpf had shot Mrs. Stout, and that he therefore was the principal offender in her murder. In the alternative, the State noted that even an accomplice can be sentenced to death under Ohio law if he acted with the specific intent to cause death, and the State argued that such intent could be inferred from the circumstances of the robbery regardless of who actually shot Mrs. Stout. The panel concluded that Stumpf was the principal offender and sentenced him to death. At Wesley's subsequent jury trial, however, the State presented evidence that Wesley had admitted to shooting Mrs. Stout. But Wesley argued that the prosecutor had taken a contrary position in Stumpf's trial, and Wesley was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole. After Wesley's trial, Stumpf moved to withdraw his own plea or vacate his death sentence, arguing that the evidence endorsed by the State in Wesley's trial cast doubt on Stumpf 's conviction and sentence. This time, however, the prosecutor emphasized other evidence confirming Stumpf as the shooter and again raised, in the alternative, the aider-and-a bettor theory. The court denied Stumpf 's motion, and Ohio's appellate courts affirmed. Subsequently, the Federal District Court denied Stumpf habeas relief, but the Sixth Circuit reversed on two grounds. First, the Sixth Circuit found that Stumpf had not understood that specific intent to cause death was a necessary element of the aggravated murder charge, and that his guilty plea therefore had not been knowing, voluntary, and intelligent. Second, the court found that the conviction and sentence could not stand

Page 176

because the State had secured convictions of both Stumpf and Wesley for the same crime, using inconsistent theories.


1. The Sixth Circuit erred in concluding that Stumpf was uninformed of the aggravated murder charge's specific intent element. While a guilty plea is invalid if the defendant has not been informed of the crime's elements, Stumpf 's attorneys represented at his plea hearing that they had explained the elements to their client, and Stumpf confirmed that the representation was true. This Court has never held that the judge must himself explain a crime's elements to the defendant. Rather, constitutional requirements may be satisfied where the record accurately reflects that the charge's nature and the crime's elements were explained to the defendant by his own, competent counsel. Stumpf argues that his plea was so inconsistent with his denial of having shot Mrs. Stout that he could only have pleaded guilty out of ignorance of the aggravated murder charge's specific intent element. But that argument fails because Stumpf's conviction did not require a showing that Stumpf had shot Mrs. Stout. Ohio law also considers aiders and abettors who act with specific intent to cause death liable for aggravated murder. Stumpf and Wesley entered the Stout home with guns, intending to commit armed robbery, and Stumpf admitted shooting Mr. Stout. Taken together, these facts could show that the two men had agreed to kill both Stouts, which in turn could make both men guilty of aggravated murder regardless of who shot Mrs. Stout. Stumpf 's claim that he and his attorneys were confused about the relevance and timing of defenses that they planned to make is not supported by the record. Finally, the plea's validity may not be collaterally attacked on the ground that Stumpf made what he now claims was a bad deal. Pp. 182 – 186.

2. The Sixth Circuit was also wrong to hold that prosecutorial inconsistencies between the Stumpf and Wesley cases required voiding Stumpf 's guilty plea. The precise identity of the triggerman was immaterial to Stumpf 's aggravated murder conviction, and Stumpf has never explained how the prosecution's postplea use of inconsistent arguments could have affected the knowing, voluntary, and intelligent nature of his plea. Pp. 186-187.

3. The prosecutor's use of allegedly inconsistent theories may have a more direct effect on Stumpf 's sentence, however, for it is arguable that the sentencing panel's conclusion about his role was material to its sentencing determination. The opinion below leaves some ambiguity as to the overlap between how the lower court resolved Stumpf's due process challenge to his conviction and how it resolved his challenge to his sentence. It is not clear whether the Court of Appeals would have found

Page 177

Stumpf entitled to resentencing had it not also considered the conviction invalid. Likewise, the parties' briefing here, and the question on which this Court granted certiorari, largely focused on the conviction. In these circumstances, it would be premature for this Court to resolve the merits of Stumpf's sentencing claim before giving the Sixth Circuit the opportunity to consider in the first instance the question of how the prosecutor's conduct in the Stumpf and Wesley cases related to Stumpf 's death sentence in particular. Pp. 187-188.

367 F.3d 594, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded.

Douglas R. Cole, State Solicitor of Ohio, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Jim Petro, Attorney General, Diane Richards Brey, Deputy Solicitor, and Charles L. Wille, Henry G. Appel, Stephen E. Maher, and Franklin E. Crawford, Assistant Solicitors.

Alan M. Freedman, by appointment of the Court, 543 U.S. 1143, argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Carol R. Heise, Laurence E. Komp, Gary Prichard, and Michael J. Benza[*]

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. SOUTER, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which GINSBURG, J., joined, post, p. 188. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 190.


O'Connor, Justice.

This case concerns respondent John David Stumpf's conviction and death sentence for the murder of Mary Jane Stout. In adjudicating Stumpf 's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit granted him relief on two grounds: that his guilty plea was not knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, and that his conviction and sentence could not stand because the State, in a later trial of Stumpf 's accomplice, pursued a theory of the case inconsistent with the theory it had advanced

Page 178

in Stumpf 's case. We granted certiorari to review both holdings. 543 U.S. 1042 (2005).


On May 14, 1984, Stumpf and two other men, Clyde Daniel Wesley and Norman Leroy Edmonds, were traveling in Edmonds' car along Interstate 70 through Guernsey County, Ohio. Needing money for gas, the men stopped the car along the highway. While Edmonds waited in the car, Stumpf and Wesley walked to the home of Norman and Mary Jane Stout, about 100 yards away. Stumpf and Wesley, each concealing a gun, talked their way into the home by telling the Stouts they needed to use the phone. Their real object, however, was robbery: Once inside, Stumpf held the Stouts at gunpoint, while Wesley ransacked the house. When Mr. Stout moved toward Stumpf, Stumpf shot him twice in the head, causing Mr. Stout to black out. After he regained consciousness, Mr. Stout heard two male voices coming from another room, and then four gunshots—the shots that killed his wife. Edmonds was arrested shortly afterward, and his statements led the police to issue arrest warrants for Stumpf and Wesley. Stumpf, who surrendered to the police, at first denied any knowledge of the crimes. After he was told that Mr. Stout had survived, however, Stumpf admitted to participating in the robbery and to shooting Mr. Stumpf. But he claimed not to have shot Mrs. Stout, and he has maintained that position ever since.

The proceedings against Stumpf occurred while Wesley, who had been arrested in Texas, was still resisting extradition to Ohio. Stumpf was indicted for aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, and two counts of grand theft. With respect to the aggravated murder charge, the indictment listed four statutory "specifications"—three of them aggravating circumstances making Stumpf eligible for the death penalty.

Page 179

See App. 117-118; Ohio Rev. Code Ann. §2929.03 (Anderson 1982).[*] The case was assigned to a three-judge panel in the Court of Common Pleas.

Rather than proceed to trial, however, Stumpf and the State worked out a plea agreement: Stumpf would plead guilty to aggravated murder and attempted aggravated murder, and the State would drop most of the other charges; with respect to the aggravated murder charge, Stumpf would plead guilty to one of the three capital specifications, with the State dropping the other two. The plea was accepted after a colloquy with the presiding judge, and after a hearing in which the panel satisfied itself as...

To continue reading