829 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2016), 13-99005, Ayala v. Chappell

Docket Nº:13-99005
Citation:829 F.3d 1081
Opinion Judge:Morgan Christen, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:REYNALDO MEDRANO AYALA, Petitioner-Appellant, v. KEVIN CHAPPELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee
Attorney:D. Jay Ritt (argued), Ritt, Tai, Thvedt & Hodges, Pasadena, California; Michael R. Belter (argued), Law Offices of Michael R. Belter, Pasadena, California; for Petitioner-Appellant. Michael T. Murphy (argued) and Robin Urbanski, Deputy Attorneys General; Holly D. Wilkins, Supervising Deputy Attor...
Judge Panel:Before: Alex Kozinski, Jay S. Bybee, and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 20, 2016
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
SUMMARY

Petitioner, convicted of triple homicide and sentenced to death, appealed the district court's denial of his petition for habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. 2254. The court concluded that the procedural bar doctrine does not prevent the court from reaching the merits of petitioner's claims; the state court's conclusion that defense counsel was not constitutionally ineffective by failing to call into... (see full summary)

 
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Page 1081

829 F.3d 1081 (9th Cir. 2016)

REYNALDO MEDRANO AYALA, Petitioner-Appellant,

v.

KEVIN CHAPPELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee

No. 13-99005

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

July 20, 2016

Argued and Submitted December 10, 2015, San Francisco, California

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. Barry Ted Moskowitz, Chief District Judge, Presiding.

AFFIRMED.

SUMMARY[*]

Habeas Corpus / Death Penalty

The panel affirmed the district court's denial of California state prisoner Reynaldo Medrano Ayala's 28 U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition challenging his conviction and death sentence for triple homicide.

Ayala argued that his defense team was constitutionally ineffective because his lawyers failed to present evidence that would have called into question the credibility of two key prosecution witnesses. The panel agreed with the district court that the California Supreme Court reasonably deferred to defense counsel's choices regarding exclusion of gang affiliation evidence. The panel held that defense counsel's initial decision not to present an inmate's testimony to impeach prosecution witness Juan Manuel Meza did not fall below an objective standard of reasonableness. The panel also agreed with the district court's analysis of counsel's decision not to reopen the defense case after witness Rafael Mendoza Lopez (" Rafa" ) recanted his exonerating testimony. The panel explained that in light of the risks and difficulties presented by pivoting away from a " no-gang" strategy, the decision not to make such a dramatic transition did not fall below an objectively reasonable standard of care. The panel held that the California Supreme Court likewise did not unreasonably deny Ayala's ineffective-assistance claims as they relate to calling " other witnesses," whom Ayala admitted counsel believed were gang-affiliated. The panel held that the California Supreme Court reasonably rejected Ayala's claim that counsel failed to independently investigate the gang affiliation of numerous witnesses before deciding not to call them. The panel explained that even if it reviewed this claim de novo, Ayala would not be eligible for relief. Agreeing with the district court that evidence Ayala first presented in the federal proceedings does not strengthen his ineffective-assistance claims, the panel declined to stay his federal case so that he can seek reconsideration of those claims in the California Supreme Court. The panel held that it was not unreasonable for the California Supreme Court to resolve his ineffective-assistance claims without first granting him an evidentiary hearing.

The panel denied on the merits an uncertified and unexhausted claim under Brady v. Maryland that the state failed to disclose impeachment evidence about Meza, and denied as moot Ayala's request for a certificate of appealability as to that claim. Because Ayala did not establish that the state suppressed the information that underpins his certified Brady claims relating to Meza, the panel held that the state court's summary denial of them was not unreasonable. The panel held that the California Supreme Court's application of Brady, in summarily denying Ayala's claim that the state concealed evidence that Detective Carlos Chacon had a longstanding bias against Ayala and his brother, was reasonable.

The panel held that the California Supreme Court's rejection of Ayala's witness intimidation claim -- that Rafa recanted his exonerating testimony as a result of threats and intimidation by Detective Chacon -- was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of Webb v. Texas. The panel held that the California Supreme Court did not misapply federal law when it rejected Ayala's claim that the state violated Napue v. Illinois by failing to correct Rafa's testimony that Detective Chacon did not threaten him.

The panel held that the California Supreme Court's rejection of Ayala's claim that the trial court committed constitutional error when it refused to strike a juror for cause was not contrary to or an unreasonable application of Morgan v. Illinois. The panel could not say that the California Supreme Court's denial of Ayala's claim that the trial court violated his constitutional right to present a defense when it excluded under California hearsay rules the exculpatory statements of a deceased witness was an unreasonable application of Chambers v. Mississippi. The panel held that the California Supreme Court's rejection of Ayala's claim of prosecutorial misconduct during closing argument was not an unreasonable application of Darden v. Wainwright, and that the rejection of Ayala's related ineffective-assistance claim was likewise not unreasonable. The panel held that Ayala's inability to show prejudice is fatal to his due-process challenge to the penalty-phase admission of evidence that nearly ten years before trial Ayala murdered a fellow inmate.

The panel held that Ayala has not suffered the prejudice that would rise to the level of a constitutional violation based on cumulative error.

The panel held that Ayala does not meet the high threshold of proof that would be required to support a freestanding claim, if cognizable on federal habeas review, of actual innocence.

D. Jay Ritt (argued), Ritt, Tai, Thvedt & Hodges, Pasadena, California; Michael R. Belter (argued), Law Offices of Michael R. Belter, Pasadena, California; for Petitioner-Appellant.

Michael T. Murphy (argued) and Robin Urbanski, Deputy Attorneys General; Holly D. Wilkins, Supervising Deputy Attorney General; Julie L. Garland, Senior Assistant Attorney General; Gerald A. Engler, Chief Assistant Attorney General; Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General; Office of the Attorney General, San Diego, California; for Respondent-Appellee.

Before: Alex Kozinski, Jay S. Bybee, and Morgan Christen, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Morgan Christen, Circuit Judge:

Reynaldo Medrano Ayala appeals from the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Ayala was convicted of triple homicide in 1988, and he is currently on death row in California. He argues that his trial was fundamentally unfair, and federal habeas relief is therefore warranted, primarily because his lawyer unreasonably failed to impeach the prosecution's key witnesses with evidence that would have undermined their credibility. Ayala also claims that the State concealed evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963), that a San Diego police officer threatened and intimidated witnesses, and that the trial court committed several constitutional errors. Because we conclude the California Supreme Court's resolution of Ayala's claims was not contrary to clearly established federal law, we affirm the district court's denial of the petition for writ of habeas corpus.1

BACKGROUND

I. Facts

On April 26, 1985, Jose Rositas, Marcos Zamora, and Ernesto Dominguez Mendez (" Dominguez" ) were murdered execution-style in an auto body shop located on 43rd Street in San Diego, California.2 People v. Ayala, 23 Cal.4th 225, 96 Cal.Rptr.2d 682, 1 P.3d 3, 11-12 (Cal. 2000). Pedro " Pete" Castillo was shot at the same time, but not fatally. He claimed to have been an intended fourth victim who got away. The 43rd Street body shop was a hub for drug distribution, and Dominguez--the owner of the shop--was an active heroin distributor who may have had connections with heroin suppliers in Mexico. According to Castillo, the 43rd Street murders were a drug robbery gone wrong.

The murders occurred around 8 p.m. Within a few hours, San Diego gang intelligence detective Carlos Chacon urged his counterparts in the San Diego homicide unit to investigate brothers Hector and Reynaldo Ayala and their associate Juan Manuel Meza as potential suspects.3 Two days later, Pete Castillo identified Ayala, Hector, and Joe Moreno as the perpetrators of the triple homicide. Id. at 14.

Ayala was arrested in June of 1985 and charged with three counts of murder, one count of attempted murder, one count of robbery, and three counts of attempted robbery. See Cal. Penal Code § § 187 (murder), 664 (attempt), 211 (robbery). Hector and Joe Moreno were arrested and charged around the same time.

In February 1987, San Diego police officers arrested Juan Manuel Meza for drug distribution. Meza pleaded guilty to possession of cocaine several weeks after his arrest and entered into a plea agreement that provided he would serve four years in prison. Detective Chacon, who knew Meza from childhood, visited Meza in jail several times during the spring of 1987. Meza admitted to Chacon that he helped the Ayalas plan the 43rd Street murders, even though he ultimately did not participate. Meza met with the district attorneys involved in Ayala's case in April or May 1987 and agreed to testify against Ayala, Hector, and Moreno. In the summer of 1987, a district attorney appeared at Meza's sentencing on the drug possession charge. The D.A. asked the judge to sentence Meza pursuant to Cal. Penal Code § 1170(d) so he could " recall the sentence and commitment previously ordered and resentence the defendant" if Meza testified in court proceedings relating to the 43rd Street murders. Cal. Penal Code § 1170(d)(1).

A. Gang affiliation evidence

Ayala and Hector were believed to be members of the Mexican Mafia--or EME--a prison gang with an active street program that operated throughout southern California, but all parties agreed that the 43rd Street murders were not gang related. Ayala's lawyers filed a pretrial motion in limine in which they argued that mention of the Mexican Mafia or Ayala's gang affiliation at trial would be unduly...

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