71 F.3d 1502 (10th Cir. 1995), 94-6430, Castro v. State of Okl.

Docket Nº:94-6430.
Citation:71 F.3d 1502
Party Name:John Walter CASTRO, Sr., Petitioner-Appellant, v. STATE OF OKLAHOMA; Daniel Reynolds, Warden, Oklahoma State Penitentiary; and Larry Fields, Director, Oklahoma Department of Corrections, Respondents-Appellees.
Case Date:December 04, 1995
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit

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71 F.3d 1502 (10th Cir. 1995)

John Walter CASTRO, Sr., Petitioner-Appellant,


STATE OF OKLAHOMA; Daniel Reynolds, Warden, Oklahoma State

Penitentiary; and Larry Fields, Director,

Oklahoma Department of Corrections,


No. 94-6430.

United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit

December 4, 1995

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Vicki Ruth Adams Werneke (Benjamin McCullar with her on the briefs), Oklahoma Indigent Defense System, Norman, Oklahoma, for petitioner-appellant.

A. Diane Blalock (W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General of Oklahoma, with her on the brief), Assistant Attorney General, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for respondents-appellees.

Before MOORE, ANDERSON, and BRORBY, Circuit Judges.

JOHN P. MOORE, Circuit Judge.

John Walter Castro, Sr. was found guilty by a jury in Kay County, Oklahoma, on April 17, 1984, of armed robbery and felony-murder. He received sentences of death for the felony-murder and life imprisonment for the armed robbery. Mr. Castro's direct appeal and state post-conviction review of his felony-murder conviction and death sentence were

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denied by the Oklahoma courts. 1 Mr. Castro filed a 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254 petition for habeas corpus in which he raised thirteen claims for relief and requested an evidentiary hearing. The district court considered Mr. Castro's objections to the Magistrate Judge's findings and recommendations and denied the petition without holding a hearing, however, the court issued a certificate of probable cause. This appeal ensued.

We address only one of the issues Mr. Castro raises on appeal. Mr. Castro argues the district court erred in holding the State had no obligation to provide him with expert psychiatric assistance. Because we agree with this contention, we vacate Mr. Castro's death sentence. Our resolution renders it unnecessary for us to consider Mr. Castro's remaining grounds of appeal and we decline to do so. 2


The underlying facts concerning Mr. Castro's crime are undisputed. On June 6, 1983, Mr. Castro entered Hobo-T's restaurant in Ponca City, Oklahoma. He purchased a soft drink, played a video game, and spoke with the employee-manager Rhonda Pappan. Later that same afternoon, Mr. Castro returned to the restaurant. After again talking to Ms. Pappan, he asked her if they "needed help." When she turned around to retrieve a job application, Mr. Castro pulled an unloaded .25 pistol from his pocket and demanded she open the cash register. According to Mr. Castro, while he was rummaging through either the register or Ms. Pappan's purse, she pulled a knife on him and they struggled. During the struggle, Mr. Castro stabbed Ms. Pappan multiple times killing her.

That night, the police apprehended Mr. Castro at his home. After he consented to a search, the police found a .25 pistol, bloody clothing, and other forensic evidence of the crime. At the police station, after changing his story three times, Mr. Castro ultimately confessed to Ms. Pappan's murder.

Mr. Castro presented no witnesses in his defense during the guilt/innocence stage of his trial. However, Mr. Castro's trial counsel challenged the voluntariness of his confession. After conducting a hearing, the trial court admitted the confession into evidence. During his closing argument, counsel argued Mr. Castro was only guilty of second degree murder because he never formed the requisite intent to kill Ms. Pappan. The jury rejected this argument, finding Mr. Castro guilty of armed robbery and first degree felony-murder.

In contrast, Mr. Castro actively contested the State during the bifurcated penalty phase of his trial. 3 The State presented evidence of

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two aggravating factors to justify the imposition of a death sentence: (1) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; and (2) Mr. Castro constituted a continuing threat to society. Okla.Stat.Ann. tit. 21, Secs. 701.12(4) and (7) (West 1995).

On direct appeal, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals struck down the especially heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravating circumstance on insufficient evidence grounds. Castro v. State, 745 P.2d 394, 408 (Okla.Crim.App.1987). However, after reweighing the evidence, the court upheld Mr. Castro's death sentence. Id. at 408-09; see also Castro v. State, 749 P.2d 1146, 1148-49 (Okla.Crim.App.1987), cert. denied, 485 U.S. 971, 108 S.Ct. 1248, 99 L.Ed.2d 446 (1988).

The State relied on three factors to support the continuing threat aggravating circumstance: Mr. Castro's pretrial escape from Kay County Jail; his confession to committing a prior murder; 4 and his confession to committing two earlier armed robberies in Ponca City. Mr. Castro testified extensively during the penalty phase of his trial, admitting killing Ms. Pappan, the prior murder of Beulah Grace Cox, and his two prior armed robberies.

Mr. Castro also testified about his lack of motivation for killing Ms. Pappan. Counsel's strategy during the penalty phase was to have Mr. Castro admit to murder but to avoid a death sentence by having him accept his culpability and attempt to explain why he committed the crime. To facilitate this strategy, Mr. Castro testified he did not know why he murdered Ms. Pappan. He offered the potential explanation "that he thought there was something wrong with his mind." Castro, 745 P.2d at 398. Mr. Castro described his troubled youth, including being raised by poor grandparents, discovering his mother was a prostitute, being seduced by his mother as an adolescent, and witnessing his brother bludgeon his father to death. Mr. Castro expressed remorse for the killings and told the jury, "I think I deserve to die." Id. Mr. Castro's great aunt, Laura Tucker, testified about his traumatic childhood, his experiences with the police as a youth, and his placement four times in juvenile reform institutions. Id.

Because an understanding of Mr. Castro's mental health history is crucial to the resolution of this appeal, we describe it in detail. Initially, on July 6, 1983, counsel filed a motion titled, "Motion to Obtain Medical Examination of Defendant." In this motion, counsel delineated his concerns.

[W]hile the Defendant was incarcerated in the County Jail of Kay County Oklahoma and from said interview [counsel] developed serious doubts as to the ability of the Defendant to assist counsel in the preparation of the Defendant's defense herein because the Defendant's extremely depressed emotional condition and general confusion relating to the alleged acts with which he has been accused.

In addition, at a pretrial hearing Mr. Castro acted bizarrely. In response to counsel's request and Mr. Castro's outbursts, the trial court ordered him transferred to Eastern State Hospital in Vinita, Oklahoma, for a psychiatric evaluation. Although he did not personally examine Mr. Castro, Dr. R.D. Garcia, the hospital's chief forensic psychiatrist, reported the hospital staff's consensus Mr. Castro was competent to stand trial because he was able to comprehend both the proceedings and the charges against him.

However, Dr. Sandra Petrick, Ph.D., a staff psychologist and a member of the team that examined Mr. Castro, reached a somewhat different conclusion. Dr. Petrick noted Mr. Castro exhibited "symptoms of depression, if not alleviated to some extent, could render [him] unable to actively assist counsel

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in the preparation of a defense." She concluded his competency was "dependent upon him receiving information from his lawyer re: court procedures." Dr. Petrick's analysis was not included in Dr. Garcia's report. Although her notes were contained in Mr. Castro's hospital records, they were not submitted to the trial court. 5 Based on Dr. Garcia's report, the trial court ultimately found Mr. Castro competent to stand trial. However, the court never held a formal competency hearing.

Mr. Castro continued to exhibit bizarre behavior potentially indicative of an unbalanced emotional or psychological state prior to trial. According to the district court:

On July 15, 1983, just prior to being admitted to Eastern State Hospital, the Petitioner began a 3-day fast as a suicide attempt. On July 20, 1983, after his admission to the hospital, the Petitioner made suicide threats. The next day he refused to eat or take medication. On July 22, 1983 the Petitioner became combative over cigarettes and was placed in four-point restraints. The Petitioner was also administered Vistaril, a drug used for relief of anxiety and tension associated with psychoneurosis. On July 27, 1983 the Petitioner was involved in an escape attempt at Eastern State Hospital, and was again placed in four point restraints, and was given two injections of Thorazine.

Originally, Mr. Castro pled guilty to the charges against him. The trial court conducted a hearing to determine whether Mr. Castro understood those charges, their factual predicate, and that by pleading guilty he would be waiving all his legal defenses. The trial court allowed Mr. Castro to enter the guilty plea, specifically finding him competent to waive his Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. Subsequently, however, Mr. Castro was allowed to withdraw his guilty plea, and the trial began.

As the case before us unfolds, the nature of the initial request for expert psychiatric assistance becomes critical. From the beginning, Mr. Castro's mental status and the need for him to be examined by a psychiatrist was an issue. Indeed, during the December 14, 1983 pretrial motion hearing, the matter was squarely presented to the trial court. Counsel explained:

COUNSEL: This is a very complex situation requiring a great deal of work on the part of Counsel. You are aware that I am court-appointed in this case. No expense money has been provided with which to pursue the defense of the Defendant. What funds are being used are being expended directly from my own pocket or...

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