679 F.2d 381 (5th Cir. 1982), 81-3159, Williams v. Maggio

Docket Nº:81-3159.
Citation:679 F.2d 381
Party Name:Robert Wayne WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Ross MAGGIO, Jr., Warden and The Attorney General of the State of Louisiana, Respondents-Appellees.
Case Date:June 21, 1982
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Page 381

679 F.2d 381 (5th Cir. 1982)

Robert Wayne WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellant,


Ross MAGGIO, Jr., Warden and The Attorney General of the

State of Louisiana, Respondents-Appellees.

No. 81-3159.

Unit A

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

June 21, 1982

Page 382

Richard E. Shapiro, New Orleans, La., for petitioner-appellant.

Barbara B. Rutledge, Asst. Atty. Gen., New Orleans, La., John Sinquefield, Kay Kirkpatrick, Asst. Dist. Attys., Baton Rouge, La., for respondents-appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.


GARZA, Circuit Judge:

We begin our consideration of this case by tracing the steps that led petitioner to this Court. Petitioner Robert Wayne Williams was tried by a jury in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, and convicted of the crime of first degree murder on April 19, 1979. The following day, the jury sentenced Williams to death. On direct appeal, petitioner's conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Louisiana Supreme Court, State v. Williams, 383 So.2d 369 (La.1980), and certiorari was denied by the United States Supreme Court. Williams v. Louisiana, 449 U.S. 1103, 101 S.Ct. 899, 66 L.Ed.2d 828 (1981). This failure to obtain relief on direct appeal led petitioner to apply for a writ of habeas corpus from the Louisiana state court. After this avenue proved equally unsuccessful, petitioner filed an application for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana. That court ruled adversely to petitioner, and so he appealed to this Court. A panel of this Court upheld

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the lower court decision, Williams v. Blackburn, 649 F.2d 1019 (5th Cir. 1981), but petitioner successfully petitioned for rehearing en banc. Today, for reasons expressed herein, we uphold the original panel decision and find that the death penalty was properly imposed in this case.

Before proceeding to a discussion of the specific errors complained of by petitioner, we briefly describe the sequence of events that culminated in the senseless murder of which petitioner was convicted. On January 5, 1979, Ralph Holmes and Robert Wayne Williams approached a Baton Rouge A & P Supermarket which they intended to rob. Prior to entering, they pulled ski masks over their faces to protect their identities from recognition, and Williams prepared his 12-gauge sawed-off shotgun for use. When they walked inside the store, they spotted the security guard, Willie Kelly, age 67, bagging groceries instead of performing his customary duties. The two men approached Kelly and Holmes attempted to remove the guard's pistol from its holster. He had some difficulty doing this, so Kelly made a move toward the pistol in an effort to free it and thereby aid Holmes. Williams responded to Kelly's move by firing the shotgun in the guard's face at point blank range. The resulting blast severed much of Kelly's head from his body. Police detectives on the scene observed bone fragments, blood, hair, and pieces of skin spread throughout the front of the store. After killing the guard, the two men proceeded to complete the robbery. Before fleeing the scene, however, Holmes pistol-whipped one customer, and Williams accidentally shot two more in the feet.

Six issues are raised by petitioner on rehearing en banc. He contends that: (1) his right to an impartial jury under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments was violated by the dismissal for cause of three jurors who never stated their irrevocable opposition to capital punishment; (2) his death sentence violates the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because there was insufficient evidence to support two of the three aggravating circumstances found by the jury, namely, (a) that the petitioner knowingly created a risk of death or great bodily harm to more than one person and (b) that the offense was committed in an especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel manner; (3) the Supreme Court of Louisiana violated his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments by reviewing the evidentiary sufficiency of only one of the three aggravating circumstances found by the sentencing jury; (4) the district court erred in denying petitioner an evidentiary hearing on the allegation that he was deprived of the effective assistance of counsel at the guilt and sentencing phases of his capital trial; (5) the district court failed to specifically scrutinize each federal constitutional claim made in the habeas petition; and (6) the comparative review of first degree murder convictions on a judicial district, rather than statewide basis, violates the Eighth Amendment and Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 92 S.Ct. 2726, 33 L.Ed.2d 346 (1972), because of its failure to ensure the fair and evenhanded administration of Louisiana's capital punishment statute.


The first point of appeal raised by Williams concerns the exclusion for cause of jurors who, in petitioner's estimation, never demonstrated their irrevocable opposition to capital punishment. He argues that his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to an impartial jury was violated by these dismissals.

The seminal case in this area, Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968), recognized the unconstitutionality of a death sentence imposed by a jury from which veniremen had been excused for cause simply because they expressed general objections to the death penalty or had conscientious or religious scruples against its infliction. The Court held that "(w)hatever else might be said of capital punishment, it is at least clear that its imposition by a hanging jury cannot be squared with the Constitution." Id. at 523, 88 S.Ct. at 1777. The requirements set out

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in Witherspoon have been echoed by a plethora of subsequent Supreme Court and Fifth Circuit cases. Adams v. Texas, 448 U.S. 38, 100 S.Ct. 2521, 65 L.Ed.2d 581 (1980); Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 98 S.Ct. 2954, 57 L.Ed.2d 973 (1978); Davis v. Georgia, 429 U.S. 122, 97 S.Ct. 399, 50 L.Ed.2d 339 (1976); Maxwell v. Bishop, 398 U.S. 262, 90 S.Ct. 1578, 26 L.Ed.2d 221 (1970); Boulden v. Holman, 394 U.S. 478, 89 S.Ct. 1138, 22 L.Ed.2d 433 (1969); Alderman v. Austin, 663 F.2d 558 (5th Cir. 1981); Granviel v. Estelle, 655 F.2d 673 (5th Cir. 1981), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 102 S.Ct. 1636, 71 L.Ed.2d 870, --- U.S. ----, 102 S.Ct. 1644, 71 L.Ed.2d 875 (1982); Burns v. Estelle, 592 F.2d 1297 (5th Cir. 1979). Both Courts accept the state's power to exclude veniremen from a jury on the ground

(1) that they would automatically vote against the imposition of capital punishment without regard to any evidence that might be developed at the trial of the case before them, or (2) that their attitude toward the death penalty would prevent them from making an impartial decision as to the defendant's guilt.

Witherspoon, supra, at 522-23, 88 S.Ct. at 1777 (emphasis in original). At the same time, however, they also recognize that improper exclusion of even one juror on Witherspoon grounds removes from the state the power to impose a sentence of death.

Petitioner asserts that three jurors were incorrectly excluded on the basis of their opposition to the death penalty. 1 Close scrutiny of the voir dire examination of each juror is necessary for the resolution of this issue. Two of the jurors in question, Ms. Gooden and Mr. Martin, were interviewed together. The following excerpt of the district attorney's preliminary remarks and the jurors' responses to his inquiries about capital punishment clearly demonstrates the automatic opposition to the death penalty which justifies exclusion on Witherspoon grounds.

The State is entitled to a juror that can state that if the case is proven and the statutory requirements involving the aggravating circumstances are shown, and you don't feel that the mitigating circumstances outweigh it, that you be able to return a verdict that would carry the mandatory death penalty. Death in Louisiana is still by electrocution. You may have read that some States have passed lethal injection and this type of thing, but that hasn't been passed in Louisiana. Death is still by electrocution. So I guess my next question is, hearing this explanation and knowing that the State will request the death sentence, if you were satisfied that the State had proved its case, could you return a verdict that would require this defendant to be put to death? ...

Q: Could you Mrs. Gooden?

A: (Ms. Gooden) I don't think I could.

Q: Even if I proved the case, you wouldn't want to return a verdict that would require the defendant to be put to death?

A: (Ms. Gooden) No, sir.

Q: Mr. Martin, could you return the verdict?

A: (Mr. Martin) Sir, with the degree that I hold by being an officer of the church and I'm representing God, I wouldn't want to do it.

Q: It's my understanding, of course, that all citizens would hesitate. I'm sure you would want to look at the case closely before you return a verdict that would require the defendant to be electrocuted, but it's my understanding that you Mr. Green, Mrs. Gooden and Mr. Martin, could not return a verdict that would require this defendant to be put to death....

A: (Ms. Gooden) No.

A: (Mr. Martin) No.

Trial Transcript, vol. 1, at 83-84.

Both Martin and Gooden unequivocally stated their inability to consider the death penalty in this case and thereby disqualified

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themselves from jury service. Coexisting with the petitioner's right to an impartial jury, after all, is the State's right to have a jury that is willing to consider all penalties prescribed by law. A refusal to strike said jurors clearly would have infringed this right.

Next, we turn to the voir dire examination of the third juror, Ms. Brou. After the district...

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