65 F.3d 1258 (5th Cir. 1995), 91-4606, Beets v. Scott

Docket Nº:91-4606.
Citation:65 F.3d 1258
Party Name:Betty Lou BEETS, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Wayne SCOTT, Director Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Institutional Division, Respondent-Appellant.
Case Date:September 22, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 1258

65 F.3d 1258 (5th Cir. 1995)

Betty Lou BEETS, Petitioner-Appellee,


Wayne SCOTT, Director Texas Department of Criminal Justice,

Institutional Division, Respondent-Appellant.

No. 91-4606.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

September 22, 1995

Page 1259

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1260

William C. Zapalac, Asst. Atty. Gen., Dan Morales, Atty. Gen., Austin, TX, for Scott.

John H. Blume, Joe Margulies, South Carolina Resource Center, Columbia, SC, Robert L. McGlasson, Texas Resource Center, Austin, TX, for Betty Lou Beets.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.


EDITH H. JONES, Circuit Judge:

The issue that provoked en banc rehearing of this capital murder case is whether a habeas corpus petitioner was deprived of her Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel because her attorney committed arguable ethical violations when he obtained a contract for media rights to her story and failed to withdraw and testify as a defense witness. More precisely, the court has divided over the issue whether these facts should be measured by the Strickland standard for an attorney's deficient performance 1 or by the Cuyler standard adopted for the special case of attorney conflicts in cases of multiple client representation. 2 On reconsideration, we approve Judge Higginbotham's analysis in a concurrence to the panel opinion that Strickland more appropriately gauges an attorney's conflict of interest that springs not from multiple client representation but from a conflict between the attorney's personal interest and that of his client. Judged under Strickland, the attorney's actions in this case were neither deficient nor prejudicial. Alternatively, however, even if the Cuyler standard applies, we find that only a potential and not an actual conflict arose between Beets and her lawyer. On either ground, the writ must be denied. 3

Page 1261

Because our analysis of the Sixth Amendment issue depends upon a thorough recapitulation of the history of the case, the background is described with more than usual detail.


A. Summary of Proceedings

On October 11, 1985, petitioner Betty Lou Beets (Beets) was convicted of the capital murder of her fifth husband, Jimmy Don Beets (Jimmy Don). She was sentenced to death. Beets appealed unsuccessfully to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, see Beets v. State, 767 S.W.2d 711 (Tex.Crim.App.1988), cert. denied, 492 U.S. 912, 109 S.Ct. 3272, 106 L.Ed.2d 579 (1989). Her request for a state writ of habeas corpus having been denied, Beets sought similar relief in federal court. 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254. The district court granted the writ on finding that Beets's defense counsel at trial was a material witness who should have resigned to testify rather than represent her. On appeal, this court rejected Beets's claims that her attorney labored under an actual conflict of interest stemming from either his status as a witness or the media rights contract. The panel majority applied the Cuyler standard to the case and, while Judge Higginbotham agreed with the conclusion of no actual conflict, he maintained in a separate opinion that Strickland should be applied instead.

B. The Murder Case

Beets's fifth husband, Jimmy Don, disappeared on August 6, 1983. See Beets v. State, 767 S.W.2d 711 (Tex.Crim.App.1988) (lengthy recitation of the evidence). His fishing boat was found drifting on Lake Athens, Texas, suggesting that he had drowned. 4 More than a year later, a house that was Jimmy Don's separate property before his death was destroyed by fire. When the insurer, suspecting arson, refused Beets's claim for the loss, Beets sought the counsel of E. Ray Andrews, an attorney who had represented Beets since 1981 or '82. During their discussions, it was decided that Andrews would pursue any of Jimmy Don's insurance or pension benefits to which Beets might be entitled.

Beets and Andrews entered into a contingent fee arrangement covering these matters. Andrews preliminarily determined that certain benefits existed and then sought the assistance of two attorneys more experienced in collecting such benefits. Andrews arranged a meeting in his office with Beets and Randell Roberts, one of the other attorneys. Roberts agreed to associate his firm in the matter. Roberts's brother, attorney Bruce Roberts, eventually took over responsibility for Beets's claims. Through his efforts, Jimmy Don's former employer, the City of Dallas Fire Department, agreed to provide benefits to Beets.

Before Beets received the first check from the Fire Department, she was arrested on June 8, 1985, and was charged with the capital murder of Jimmy Don. Beets was charged with shooting and killing her husband and, with the assistance of her son, Robbie Branson, burying him in a sleeping bag under a planter in her front yard. 5 The body of Beets's fourth husband, Doyle Wayne Barker, was also found in a sleeping bag buried in the back yard underneath a patio upon which a storage shed had been erected. Beets had also shot another former husband, Bill Lane, although he survived.

Andrews, described by the federal district judge as a "competent and tenacious criminal defense lawyer," agreed to represent Beets on the capital murder charge. The case generated significant local and national media interest. On October 8, just after Beets's trial commenced, she signed a contract transferring all literary and media rights in her case to Andrews's son. Andrews testified at the federal habeas hearing that this contract was signed after negotiations fell through to

Page 1262

obtain his fee from Beets's children. The media rights contract later apparently became the subject of a State Bar grievance proceeding, but Andrews was not disciplined for it.

The trial judge did not become aware of the media rights contract during trial, although he learned of it three months later during a hearing on Beets's motion to appoint counsel for appeal when the prosecutor asked Beets if she had signed over the book rights to her case to Andrews's son. The judge did not inquire whether Beets was willing to waive her Sixth Amendment right to conflict-free counsel.

Beets was convicted of murder for remuneration and the promise of remuneration on the theory that she killed her husband in order to obtain his insurance and pension benefits and his estate. See Tex.Penal Code Ann. Sec. 19.03(a)(3) (Vernon Supp.1991). The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals later held that "a person commits a murder for remuneration ... where the actor kills a victim in order to receive a benefit or financial settlement paid upon the death of the victim, such as proceeds of insurance and retirement benefits as in the present case." Beets v. State, 767 S.W.2d at 737. In other words, the state was required to show that Beets had the specific intent to receive remuneration in the form of insurance or pension benefits or other property upon the death of Jimmy Don.

Andrews defended Beets primarily on the ground that her son Robbie actually murdered Jimmy Don and, second, by disputing that the murder was for remuneration. Andrews, his co-counsel Hargrave, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals and the federal district court all concur that this was the order of Andrews's strategy. It was a good strategy, as the federal district judge explained:

The court has carefully reviewed the record. It is apparent that the defense counsel, E. Ray Andrews, fought for his client to the full extent of his ability and energy. This case was vigorously prosecuted and vigorously defended before a careful and learned trial judge. Andrews put forth the only evidence available to him that had evidence that a jury could conclude had scientific corroboration--the results of the pathology report which raised the issue of an altercation and head injury unrelated to the gun shot. Such evidence, if believed, would be consistent with the defense position that Jimmy Don Beets was killed by petitioner's son, Robert F. Branson, II.

Andrews strenuously cross-examined Robbie Branson, one of Beets's children, who was at the time of the offense a teenager living with her and Jimmy Don. Several times, he had quarrelled heatedly with his stepfather, and he had damaged some of Jimmy Don's property and taken money from him. Robbie had a criminal record for burglary and was accused of trying to pass stolen checks. Although Robbie denied killing his stepfather, Beets testified that Robbie and Jimmy Don fought on the night of the murder and, when she was in another room, she heard a shot fired in the bedroom. She found Jimmy Don dead on the floor. Beets said she helped Robbie dispose of the body. Together, they planned the boating accident ruse, and Beets went off to shop in Dallas with her daughter the next day.

Beets denied being the murderer. She said she loved Jimmy Don and he had treated her well.

Supporting the theory that Robbie committed the murder, the forensic pathologist, Dr. Petty, testified that Jimmy Don's fractured cheek bone, otherwise unexplainable by his head wound from the pistol, could have been inflicted in a fight with another man.

Critical to the success of the non-triggerperson defense was Beets's motion in limine to prevent the state from introducing evidence of Barker's body, which had been dug up at the same time as Jimmy Don's. The state trial judge initially granted this motion but changed his mind near the end of trial. This change made it possible for Beets's daughter Shirley Stegner to testify for the State that Beets had killed...

To continue reading