550 F.3d 542 (6th Cir. 2008), 05-5132, West v. Bell

Docket Nº:05-5132, 05-6219.
Citation:550 F.3d 542
Party Name:Stephen Michael WEST, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Ricky BELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:December 18, 2008
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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550 F.3d 542 (6th Cir. 2008)

Stephen Michael WEST, Petitioner-Appellant,


Ricky BELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

Nos. 05-5132, 05-6219.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

December 18, 2008

Argued: Feb. 7, 2008.

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Stephen Alan Ferrell, Federal Defender Services, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

Jennifer Lynn Smith, Office of the Tennessee Attorney General,

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Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.


Stephen Alan Ferrell, Federal Defender Services, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant.

Jennifer Lynn Smith, Office of the Tennessee Attorney General, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

Before: BOGGS, Chief Judge; and NORRIS and MOORE, Circuit Judges.

BOGGS, C.J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which NORRIS, J., joined. MOORE, J. (pp. 567-70), delivered a separate opinion dissenting in part and concurring in the judgment only in part.


BOGGS, Chief Judge.

Stephen Michael West appeals the district court's dismissal of his petition for habeas corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. West argues that the state trial court erred by refusing to admit two exculpatory pieces of evidence, that the trial was pre-judiced by prosecutorial misconduct, and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of his trial. We reject these arguments and affirm the district court.


A. Factual and Procedural History

1. The crime

We briefly summarize the facts of the two murders that led to West's arrest. On March 17, 1986, twenty-three year-old West and seventeen year-old Ronnie Martin left their jobs at a McDonald's in Lake City, Tennessee. They had known each other only about two weeks. After driving around and drinking in Martin's car for several hours, Martin told West that he knew a girl who would “ give them some sex." Martin was referring to fifteen year-old Sheila Romines, a classmate of Martin who had previously rebuffed his advances and embarrassed him in front of other students. Martin and West went to the Romineses' house, but did not approach it. Instead the two laid in wait until around 5:20 A.M., when Mr. Romines left for work. They knocked on the door and Wanda Romines, Sheila's mother, let the two into the house. Sometime between 6:00 A.M. and 8:30 A.M., Wanda and Sheila were brutally murdered. Dr. Cleland Blake, a forensic pathologist, testified that Sheila had been raped prior to being stabbed seventeen times in the abdomen. Fourteen of those wounds were torture-type cuts. Wanda Romines had also suffered a large number of deep stab wounds, including torture-type wounds. West and Martin were arrested the next day.

2. The trial

Both West and Martin were charged with the rape and double homicide, but the trials of the two defendants were severed and the state prosecuted West first. During West's initial criminal trial in the Criminal Court of Union County he was represented by two attorneys: Richard McConnell, who was hired by West's family and was the lead counsel, and Thomas K. McAlexander, a court appointed co-counsel. At trial, the defense argued that though West was present during the murders, Martin was the architect of the crime and that West participated only because Martin threatened to kill him and his then-pregnant wife. Dr. Blake, however, testified that (1) two different knives were used; (2) two people were involved in the infliction of the wounds. Martin did not testify at West's trial. On March 24, 1987, a jury convicted West of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of aggravated kidnaping, one count of aggravated rape, and one count of larceny.

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During the sentencing phase, six people testified on West's behalf. Three of them were family friends who had known West for three, twelve, and fourteen years respectively. The sheriff testified that West had not caused any problems during the year he was incarcerated awaiting trial. West's sister testified that West was the baby in the family and had never been in trouble, and that his mother could not come to court because she had recently suffered a heart attack. West's wife testified that they had a good relationship and that West was a good father to their eleven-month-old daughter. Finally, West himself testified. He admitted to being present during the crimes but denied that he had participated in the murders of the two victims. He also stated that he had no prior criminal record, had been an honor student in school, and had never had any disciplinary problems. Despite West's mitigating evidence, the jury ultimately sentenced him to death.

West directly appealed his conviction and sentence to the Tennessee Supreme Court. West asserted numerous claims, including prosecutorial misconduct and that the trial court erred in excluding two pieces of evidence. West did not claim ineffective assistance of counsel. On February 6, 1989, the Tennessee Supreme Court rejected all of his arguments. State v. West, 767 S.W.2d 387 (Tenn.1989).

3. Post-conviction attack on prosecutorial misconduct and ineffective assistance of counsel

On October 23, 1990, West filed for post-conviction relief in the Criminal Court of Union County, Tennessee. West argued that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the sentencing phase of his trial because his counsel should have discovered existing mitigating evidence. Judge John K. Byers held evidentiary hearings on September 24 and October 22, 1996. The federal district court and state court of criminal appeals summarized the evidence introduced in the evidentiary hearings, so we review it only briefly here. West, No. 3:01-cv-91, slip op. at 17-36; West v. Tennessee, 04C01-9708-CR-00321, slip op. at 3-14.

Dr. Eric Engum, a clinical psychologist, conducted a two-day comprehensive psychological and neuropsychological evaluation of West. He testified that the test results did not indicate any signs of brain damage or cognitive compromise and that West's intelligence, memory, and other skills were within normal limits. Dr. Engum also testified that West suffered from chronic, significant depression and that West had a severe mixed-personality disorder with self-defeating, avoidant, dependant, and schizoid features. According to Dr. Engum, West's test results indicated that he was somewhat unstable, moody, changeable, and lacked a strong sense of self. Dr. Engum also stated that West's test results demonstrated that he was withdrawn, introverted, brooding, a loner, and stayed to himself, and also that he had a lot of bottled-up anger. Dr. Engum was asked whether there was any indication that West had been abused as a child. He responded that while there was no test that could “ specifically tell what somebody experienced or what events occurred in somebody's life" West's “ personality characteristics or behavioral or emotional characteristics" were “ consistent with or reflect[ed] prior abuse." West, No. 3:01-cv-91, slip op. at 18.

West's oldest sister, Debbie West, testified that West was born on September 16, 1962, in a mental institution in Anderson, Indiana and that her mother abused West. Id. at 21. Debbie West described the abuse as follows:

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I can remember when Steve was a baby, and he was kept in the back bedroom, and I would get a whipping for going and giving him a bottle. If he cried, he was picked up by one arm and one leg and slammed against the wall to shut him up. If my other brother did something wrong, Steve got beat for it. My sister and I would try to get between them, and we would get beat, and then his beating was finished, and this was not just one or two times. This was from the time I can remember Steve coming home from the hospital.

Ibid. Debbie West also testified that West was slapped in the head, hit with shoes, and received a blow to the head which caused him to become cross-eyed. Debbie West described her father as a violent alcoholic who became more violent when he drank. Finally, Debbie West claimed that prior to West's criminal trial she told West's attorney, Mr. McConnell, about the abuse; however, according to Ms. West, he told her the information about the alleged abuse was not relevant, and that, furthermore, her parents were paying him and would not admit to the abuse.

Two other family members, West's older sister, Patricia Depew, and his aunt Ruby West, also testified as to the abuse West suffered. Patricia was present at some of the meetings with the trial attorneys, but she said that she was never asked about the abuse, and she never offered any information about the abuse. Ruby testified that she was not contacted by the trial attorneys.

McAlexander, West's court-appointed co-counsel, testified that he: (1) did a tremendous amount of research in preparing different motions which were filed on Petitioner's behalf; (2) met with West many times to discuss all aspects of the case; (3) met with West's family on more than one occasion; (4) met at least thirty-five times with McConnell in preparing for trial; and (5) spent 547.4 hours on West's case. McAlexander also testified that to the best of his recollection, West's sister, did not tell him that West had been abused and that there was nothing that raised “ any kind of red flag in my mind about that being a factor that should have been inquired into." West, No. 3:01-cv-91, slip op. at 22. McAlexander also explained that while they had hired a mental health expert, Dr. Ben Bursten, to explore West's competency and the possibility of an insanity defense, the court had rejected the defense's request for funds to hire an expert to explore a...

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