63 F.3d 999 (11th Cir. 1995), 88-3945, Mills v. Singletary

Docket Nº:88-3945.
Citation:63 F.3d 999
Party Name:John MILLS, Jr., Petitioner-Appellant, v. Harry K. SINGLETARY, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, Respondent-Appellee.
Case Date:August 15, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Page 999

63 F.3d 999 (11th Cir. 1995)

John MILLS, Jr., Petitioner-Appellant,


Harry K. SINGLETARY, Secretary, Florida Department of

Corrections, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 88-3945.

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

August 15, 1995

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Larry H. Spalding, Capital Collateral Representative, Billy H. Nolas, Judith J. Dougherty, Gail E. Anderson, Tallahassee, FL, for appellant.

Mark Menser, Asst. Atty. Gen., Dept. of Legal Affairs, Tallahassee, FL, for appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida.

Before TJOFLAT, Chief Judge, KRAVITCH and COX, Circuit Judges.

TJOFLAT, Chief Judge:

John Mills, Jr. is a Florida prison inmate. In 1982, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder, first-degree arson, kidnapping, burglary of a dwelling while armed, and grand theft. The trial court, following the jury's recommendation, sentenced Mills to death on the murder conviction; the court sentenced him to terms of imprisonment for the other crimes. After his conviction became final and he failed to obtain post-conviction relief in the state courts, Mills brought the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida seeking the vacation of his convictions and his death sentence. In his petition, Mills presented twenty federal constitutional challenges to his convictions and sentence; the district court rejected nineteen of the claims as legally insufficient and, following an evidentiary hearing, denied relief on the remaining claim. Mills appeals the district court's disposition of several of his claims. We hold that the district court properly declined to issue the writ. Accordingly, we affirm.



On the morning of March 5, 1982, Mills picked up Michael Fredrick at Fredrick's residence in Wakulla County, Florida. 1 Mills was driving an orange 1982 Dodge pickup truck that belonged to his mother. Mills and

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Fredrick went to Mills' mother's house for a short while; after they stepped outside the house to leave, Mills went back inside and retrieved a single-barrel, single-shot, 12-gauge shotgun that Fredrick had given Mills earlier in the week and placed it behind the seat of the truck. Following a brief stop, the two set out to burglarize a house. 2

Mills and Fredrick then drove around Panacea, Florida in search of a target. After stopping at a trailer that appeared to be unoccupied but discovering that an elderly woman was at home, Mills and Fredrick left Panacea and drove into the Lake Ellen area. At some point, Mills became disoriented in some heavy rain and turned the truck around in front of a house; Fredrick later identified the house for the authorities. Sometime after turning around, Mills and Fredrick arrived at the trailer home of Les and Shirley Lawhon; because Shirley had gone to work in Tallahassee earlier that day in the Lawhons' only car, the trailer appeared unoccupied. Mills parked the truck, went to the door, and knocked. Les Lawhon answered the door and let Mills in; shortly thereafter Mills reappeared at the door and motioned Fredrick inside. 3

When Fredrick entered the trailer, Mills was using the Lawhons' kitchen phone while Lawhon was rummaging through what appeared to Fredrick to be a phone book or a newspaper. Soon after Fredrick entered, Mills dropped the phone, grabbed a kitchen knife, and held it to Lawhon's throat. Lawhon said, "Please don't hurt me. Y'all take what you all want." Mills replied, "Shut up, cracker." Mills instructed Fredrick to check out the rest of the trailer; Fredrick looked into the trailer's bedrooms; no one was there. Mills then told Fredrick to check outside. Lawhon, apparently realizing that he would be forced to leave with his assailants, asked if he could put on his shoes. Mills told him he would not need his shoes where he was going.

Fredrick left the trailer to check outside; Mills and Lawhon soon exited the trailer as well. Mills had taken a double-barrel, 12-gauge shotgun from the trailer and walked behind Lawhon with the shotgun to Lawhon's head. Mills threw the truck keys to Fredrick and asked him to drive. Lawhon sat in the passenger's seat; Mills sat in the small space in the cab directly behind him, kept the shotgun trained on him, and gave Fredrick directions. Lawhon was trembling. Near the end of the drive, Lawhon asked what Fredrick and Mills were going to do to him. Mills told him, "I'm going to do to you what your forefathers did to my forefathers."

After driving approximately seven miles, Mills, Fredrick, and Lawhon arrived at an abandoned airstrip. Mills forced Lawhon out of the truck, ordered him to his knees, and tied his hands behind his back with a belt. Then, while Lawhon was on his knees, Mills struck him on the back of his head with a tire iron. Lawhon fell forward, bleeding from the back of his head. Mills watched Lawhon for a few moments and then turned to leave, saying, "Let's go." When Mills spoke, Lawhon sprang up and ran. Mills, shotgun in hand, chased him. Mills caught up with Lawhon in a nearby canal and grabbed his arm; Lawhon butted Mills in the stomach with his head and fled up the far bank of the canal, disappearing into thick underbrush. Mills, still pursuing Lawhon, vanished into the underbrush as well. Shortly after Fredrick lost sight of both men, he heard two gunshots. Mills returned to the truck; Lawhon did not. Mills' shirt was bloodied in the stomach area. He warned Fredrick not to say "anything about this" and suggested that they "go back to the house and clean it out and get everything we can sell."

Fredrick and Mills got back into the truck; Mills drove. At some point, Mills took off the bloody shirt and threw it on the passenger-side floorboard. Shortly thereafter,

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Mills stopped the truck and discarded the shirt in the bushes beside the road.

When Mills and Fredrick arrived at the Lawhons' trailer, they removed virtually everything of value, including Shirley Lawhon's jewelry and several guns. Mills exited the trailer last; he wiped the doorknob of the trailer as he left. Although Fredrick was not aware of it at the time, Mills had set the trailer on fire. Mills and Fredrick stopped at a nearby lake to better secure a cover concealing the stolen property. At that time, Fredrick took Shirley Lawhon's high school class ring from her jewelry box. After dropping Fredrick off near his house, Mills brought the stolen property to his mother's house, where he lived with his girlfriend, Fawndretta Galimore. He and Galimore put most of the property in a shed behind the house. Unbeknownst to Galimore, Mills put some of the property, including the firearms, in the house.

Meanwhile, the Lawhons' neighbors discovered that the Lawhon trailer was on fire and called the fire department. By the time the fire was extinguished, most of the trailer had burned. The authorities soon realized that Les Lawhon was missing and began an intensive search for him.

On March 9, four days after Les Lawhon's murder, Fredrick sold Shirley Lawhon's high school ring to a Tallahassee pawn shop; he filled out a receipt identifying himself and left a thumb print in doing so. Shirley Lawhon's initials were inscribed on the inside of the ring and were noted in the ring's description on the receipt.

About a week after the Lawhon murder, Mills and Galimore were at the Wakulla County courthouse to settle Mills' father's estate. A Wakulla County deputy sheriff recognized Mills and arrested him on an outstanding parole violation warrant. The deputy allowed Mills to say goodbye to Galimore before he was taken away. As Mills embraced Galimore, he quietly told her to get "rid of the property and stuff out of the shed and in the bedroom," instructing her to look for the firearms under the bed. About five minutes later, while in the booking room of the county jail, Mills again whispered to Galimore to "[m]ake sure you get everything out of the shed and in the back room and under the bed." Galimore did as Mills instructed, moving the property to her mother's house in Tallahassee.

The case remained unsolved, and Lawhon's body undiscovered, for two months. On May 4, Gary Lassiter, an investigator in the Tallahassee Police Department, discovered that Fredrick, for whom an arrest warrant had issued on a burglary charge in an unrelated case, had pawned Shirley Lawhon's ring. 4 Lassiter promptly informed the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office, and, on May 6, Fredrick was arrested in Leon County. After he had been transported to Wakulla County, Lassiter and Sergeant Roxie Vause of the Wakulla County Sheriff's Office began questioning Fredrick about the burglary for which he had been arrested. They asked him whether he had obtained the ring in that burglary; they knew, of course, that it had been taken in the Lawhon burglary but said nothing about that case. Fredrick lied about where he had gotten the ring, and Lassiter and Vause did not press the issue. They did so the next day, though, when they began questioning Fredrick about Les Lawhon's disappearance, but Fredrick offered another lie about the ring's origin.

On May 8, prior to confessing his involvement in Les Lawhon's murder, Fredrick led Ray Fredericks, an agent of the FDLE, and Al Gandy, an investigator from the state prosecutor's office, to the abandoned airstrip where Mills shot Lawhon. Fredrick told Ray Fredericks and Gandy that Mills had brought him to the airstrip and asked him to guard someone, but he had refused. An extensive search of the area soon led to the discovery of Lawhon's remains.

Despite the discovery of the victim's body and his obvious involvement in the...

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