703 F.2d 959 (6th Cir. 1983), 81-3117, Walker v. Engle

Docket Nº:81-3117, 81-3260.
Citation:703 F.2d 959
Party Name:Raymond WALKER, Petitioner-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. Ted ENGLE, Respondent-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.
Case Date:March 23, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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Page 959

703 F.2d 959 (6th Cir. 1983)

Raymond WALKER, Petitioner-Appellee, Cross-Appellant,

v.

Ted ENGLE, Respondent-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.

Nos. 81-3117, 81-3260.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

March 23, 1983

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Argued Dec. 3, 1981.

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Dale T. Evans, Asst. Prosecuting Atty., Chief Appellate Div., Canton, Ohio, for respondent-appellant, cross-appellee.

Ernest T. Mansour (argued), David B. Cathcart, Mansour, Gavin, Gerlack & Manos, Gerald Messerman, Messerman & Messerman Co., Cleveland, Ohio, Stanley E. Tolliver, East Cleveland, Ohio, for petitioner-appellee, cross-appellant.

Before KEITH and JONES, Circuit Judges, and BROWN, Senior Circuit Judge. [*]

NATHANIEL R. JONES, Circuit Judge.

The State of Ohio appeals the district court's grant of a writ of habeas corpus to Raymond Walker. Walker cross-appeals from the failure of the district court to hold that a retrial on the charge of first-degree murder was precluded by an insufficiency of the evidence. We affirm the order of the district court granting the writ of habeas corpus and the remand for a new trial.

On July 22, 1972, a robbery occurred at an A & P supermarket in Canton, Ohio. Guy Mack, an off-duty detective with the Canton City Police Department, was shot and killed during the robbery.

The robbery was committed by four men, three of whom entered the store while the other remained outside. In 1973, Warren Davidson and Fred Ogletree were convicted as aiders and abettors in the robbery and homicide and sentenced to life imprisonment. Neither man, however, was believed to be the triggerman.

In late 1975, while incarcerated, Davidson and Ogletree contacted Stark County authorities and implicated Walker as the triggerman in the killing. In return for their testimony against Walker, Stark County officials recommended leniency to the Governor of Ohio.

Walker was indicted on March 12, 1976. The first trial ended with a hung jury. 1 At his second trial, Walker contended by way of alibi that he was confined in the Cuyahoga County Jail on July 22, 1972, the day of the robbery and killing. The official records of the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Department, which were stipulated to by counsel, reflected that Walker was indeed confined in the Cuyahoga County Jail from April 14, 1972 to August 1, 1972. In response the state introduced an abundance of evidence attempting to show that the officers charged with running the Cuyahoga County Jail were so corrupt and/or inefficient

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that Walker could have gotten out of jail before July 22 and then returned to jail before August 1.

After his second trial, Walker was convicted of first-degree murder. His conviction was affirmed by the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals in June 1977. Walker appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court which, in a divided vote, affirmed his conviction. State v. Walker, 55 Ohio St.2d 208, 378 N.E.2d 1049 (1978). In April 1979, the United States Supreme Court denied Walker's petition for a writ of certiorari. Walker v. Ohio, 441 U.S. 924, 99 S.Ct. 2033, 60 L.Ed.2d 397 (1979).

In November 1979, Walker filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254. The petition listed three grounds for relief: (1) that the Ohio appellate courts erred in failing to apply the standard of review enunciated by Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979); (2) that under the Jackson standard, no rational trier of fact could have found Walker guilty of the Mack killing beyond a reasonable doubt; and (3) that numerous trial errors resulting in the admission of irrelevant and inflammatory evidence cumulatively operated to deny Walker a fair trial.

The magistrate filed a 108-page recommended report and decision in which he carefully reviewed the testimony of the forty trial witnesses and examined the conduct of the prosecutor in questioning witnesses and delivering his closing argument. 2 The magistrate ultimately agreed with Walker that the state's evidence regarding corruption and inefficiency at the Cuyahoga County Jail went so far beyond meeting the legitimate issues that the focus of the trial was no longer on Walker's guilt or innocence, but rather on the allegedly unlawful conduct of the officials running the jail. He concluded that the cumulative effect of the evidentiary errors was to deny Walker fundamental fairness. Having determined that a writ of habeas corpus should issue, the magistrate then analyzed the sufficiency of the evidence and concluded that a retrial of Walker was precluded by Jackson because of evidentiary insufficiency.

The district court then issued an opinion which, for reasons "independently reach[ed]," concluded that Walker was denied a fair trial in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. However, the district court disagreed with the magistrate's conclusion that Jackson precluded a retrial, holding that apart "from the prejudicial evidence, the prosecution produced sufficient other evidence which, viewed in the light most favorable to the prosecution, would permit a reasonable trier of fact to find Walker guilty beyond a reasonable doubt." 3

These appeals followed.

I

The major questions we are required to decide are (1) whether the district court was correct in concluding that the admission of certain evidence by the state operated to deny Walker due process of law; and (2) whether the evidence against Walker was so insufficient as to preclude a retrial.

We begin our discussion with the proposition that errors in application of state law, especially with regard to the admissibility of evidence, are usually not cognizable in federal habeas corpus. Bell v. Arn, 536 F.2d 123 (6th Cir.1976); Reese v. Cardwell, 410 F.2d 1125 (6th Cir.1969). Yet, errors of state law, including evidentiary rulings, which result in a denial of fundamental fairness will support relief in habeas corpus. Handley v. Pitts, 491 F.Supp. 597, 599, aff'd., 623 F.2d 23 (6th Cir.1980); Maglaya v. Buckhoe, 515 F.2d 265 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 931, 96 S.Ct. 282, 46 L.Ed.2d 260 (1975); Gemel v. Buchkoe, 358 F.2d 338 (6th Cir.1966).

The magistrate, in concluding that the cumulative effect of the evidentiary errors denied Walker due process, relied on the entire record. A condensation of his lengthy and excellent analysis would not

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now be fruitful, since the district court based its findings on six specific aspects of the trial. It should be noted that even these six alleged errors must be considered for their cumulative effect. Errors that might not be so prejudicial as to amount to a deprivation of due process when considered alone, may cumulatively produce a trial setting that is fundamentally unfair. United States v. Jones, 482 F.2d 747 (D.C.Cir.1973); Newsom v. United States, 311 F.2d 74 (5th Cir.1962); United States v. Maroney, 373 F.2d 908 (3rd Cir.1967). It will suffice for our consideration to assess the six alleged trial errors and their cumulative effect.

II

A. Evidence of criminal conviction of Major Payne. 4

Payne had been Warden of the Cuyahoga County Jail before and after, but not during, Walker's recorded period of confinement. The prosecution, over defense counsel's strenuous and continuing objections, was allowed to question two defense witnesses about Payne's criminal conviction (which came well after Walker's recorded period of detention) for theft of property from the jail. When a defense witness stated that "I think it was something about two guns that were missing," the prosecutor asked, "What was it, evidence?" Defense counsel once again objected on grounds of relevancy, but the trial court ruled, "No, it's very relevant in this case. Overruled." The prosecutor then continued his attack on the integrity of the Sheriff's Office personnel.

The district court held that the testimony regarding Major Payne's conviction: 5

bore no relevance to the state's case or any issue concerning the accuracy of jail records or record keeping procedures, or, more generally, to the reliability of jail security. Contrary to the trial judge's on-the-record conclusion that Paine's [sic] testimony was "very relevant in this case," it had no tendency to make the truth or falsity of Walker's alibi more or less probable than it would be without the evidence .... Its sole purpose and clear effect was to prejudice the jury's consideration of Walker's alibi.

The state replies that: 6

It is submitted that the relevance of the testimony concerning Major Payne may be said to arise from the quality of the supervisory personnel selected to keep and maintain the Cuyahoga County Jail records upon which the alibi was dependent. To this extent it should make no difference whether the record indicates an act of supervisory capacity at the exact time of Walker's incarceration .... The question with regard to Major Payne relfect [sic] on the security of evidence held at the jail, and jail security was a major issue in the trial of a case in which it appears that a supposed inmate was able to commit a crime in a town sixty miles away.

We agree with the district court that (1) the record is clear that Major Payne was not employed at the jail during Walker's incarceration, and (2) testimony regarding "the security of evidence held at the jail" has no apparent connection to the issue whether a prisoner could leave the jail and return undetected.

B. Testimony of State Auditor.

Walker introduced jail commissary records to show that he made numerous transactions during his confinement, including one on the day of the crime. The prosecutor endeavored to undermine this circumstantial evidence by testimony of jail deputies that inmates other...

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