915 F.3d 1071 (6th Cir. 2019), 17-5824, Thomas v. Meko

Docket Nº17-5824
Citation915 F.3d 1071
Opinion JudgeKETHLEDGE, Circuit Judge.
Party NameYaqob Tafan THOMAS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Joseph P. MEKO, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
AttorneyKevin M. Lamb, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. James C. Shackelford, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF KENTUCKY, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellee. Kevin M. Lamb, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. James C. Shack...
Judge PanelBefore: COLE, Chief Judge; GRIFFIN and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges.
Case DateFebruary 14, 2019
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Page 1071

915 F.3d 1071 (6th Cir. 2019)

Yaqob Tafan THOMAS, Petitioner-Appellant,

v.

Joseph P. MEKO, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 17-5824

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

February 14, 2019

Argued: December 6, 2018

Page 1072

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1073

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Lexington. No. 5:11-cv-00148— William O. Bertelsman, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Kevin M. Lamb, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

James C. Shackelford, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF KENTUCKY, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Kevin M. Lamb, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

James C. Shackelford, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF KENTUCKY, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellee.

Before: COLE, Chief Judge; GRIFFIN and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judge.

Yaqob Thomas was convicted of murder in Kentucky state court. He now seeks federal habeas relief, arguing that the Kentucky definition of murder violates due process because it prescribes two mental states— intent to kill and extreme indifference to human life— as alternative means for the mens rea element of that offense. The district court rejected that argument, and so do we.

I.

In 2002, Thomas and Gregory Baltimore arranged to buy cocaine from Dionte Burdette at a Waffle House in Lexington, Kentucky. The three men ate a meal and then got into Burdette’s car, with Thomas in the back seat and the others up front. Soon Thomas grabbed Burdette from behind, held a gun to his head, and demanded the cocaine. When Burdette refused, Thomas shot him in the leg. Burdette then said the cocaine was across the street with his partner. Thomas shot Burdette three more times, after which both Thomas and Baltimore fled from the scene. Burdette died soon afterward.

Thomas was thereafter charged with murder, and a jury found him guilty. The trial court sentenced him to 40 years’ imprisonment. The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Kentucky courts otherwise denied post-conviction relief.

Thomas later filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the district court. Among his claims was that his appellate counsel had been ineffective for failing to challenge the trial court’s instruction to the jury on the murder charge. The district court found the petition untimely, but

Page 1074

we reversed. On remand, the district court rejected Thomas’s claims on the merits. This appeal followed.

II.

Thomas’s only claim here is that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that one of the trial court’s jury instructions had violated due process. We review the district court’s denial of relief on that claim de novo. See Babick v. Berghuis, 620 F.3d 571, 576 (6th Cir. 2010). The State argues that Thomas’s claim is procedurally defaulted, but we cut to the merits because an analysis of cause and prejudice would only complicate this case. See Storey v. Vasbinder, 657 F.3d 372, 380 (6th Cir. 2011).

The instruction at issue concerned the mental state required to commit murder. Kentucky law recites two mental states— intent to kill and extreme indifference to human life— as alternative means that satisfy the element of mens rea for murder. See Craft v. Commonwealth, 483 S.W.3d 837, 841-42 (Ky. 2016); KRS § 507.020. That recitation is unremarkable: "legislatures frequently enumerate alternate means of committing a crime." Schad v. Arizona, 501 U.S. 624, 636, 111 S.Ct. 2491, 115 L.Ed.2d 555 (1991) (plurality opinion). Accordingly, the trial court instructed the jury that it could convict Thomas of murder if it found that Thomas had possessed either of the alternative mental states (intent to kill or extreme indifference to human life) that satisfied the element of mens rea for murder.

When a statute specifies alternative means for satisfying a single element of an offense, the jury need not agree upon or even specify which of those means the defendant employed. See Mathis v. United States, __ U.S. __, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2249, 195 L.Ed.2d 604 (2016). Thus, if a statute required use of a "deadly weapon" as an element of a crime, and further provided that "use of a ‘knife, gun, bat, or similar weapon’ " would qualify, then a "jury could convict even if some jurors ‘concluded that the defendant used a knife while others concluded he used a gun’ "— so long as they all agreed that the element was met. Id. (brackets omitted). Accordingly, the trial court here did not instruct the jury that it needed to agree unanimously as to which of the two alternative mental states Thomas had possessed.

Thomass claim therefore is not...

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6 practice notes
  • __ U.S. __, 18-9219, Thomas v. Meko
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2019
    ...2726 Yaqob Tafan THOMAS, petitioner, v. Joseph P. MEKO, Warden. No. 18-9219 United States Supreme Court June 17, 2019 Case below, 915 F.3d 1071. Petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied. ...
  • Manuel v. Hoffner, 073120 MIEDC, 17-cv-11655
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Eastern District of Michigan
    • July 31, 2020
    ...errors and “cut[s] to the merits, ” because a procedural-default analysis would only complicate the case. Thomas v. Meko, 915 F.3d 1071, 1074 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 2726 III. Standard of Review The Court's review of Petitioner's habeas claims is go......
  • Jamison v. Mackie, 021120 MIEDC, 17-cv-10035
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Eastern District of Michigan
    • February 11, 2020
    ...error and "cut[s] to the merits," as a procedural-default analysis would only complicate this case. Thomas v. Meko, 915 F.3d 1071, 1074 (6th Cir.) (citing Storey v. Vasbinder, 657 F.3d 372, 380 (6th Cir. 2011)), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 2726 1. The Tri......
  • Rembish v. Hoffner, 010620 MIEDC, 2:17-cv-10600
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Eastern District of Michigan
    • January 6, 2020
    ...procedural error and “cut[s] to the merits, ” as a procedural-default analysis would only complicate this case. Thomas v. Meko, 915 F.3d 1071, 1074 (6th Cir.) (citing Storey v. Vasbinder, 657 F.3d 372, 380 (6th Cir. 2011)), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 2726 1. Clear......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 cases
  • __ U.S. __, 18-9219, Thomas v. Meko
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States Supreme Court
    • June 17, 2019
    ...2726 Yaqob Tafan THOMAS, petitioner, v. Joseph P. MEKO, Warden. No. 18-9219 United States Supreme Court June 17, 2019 Case below, 915 F.3d 1071. Petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit denied. ...
  • Manuel v. Hoffner, 073120 MIEDC, 17-cv-11655
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Eastern District of Michigan
    • July 31, 2020
    ...errors and “cut[s] to the merits, ” because a procedural-default analysis would only complicate the case. Thomas v. Meko, 915 F.3d 1071, 1074 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 2726 III. Standard of Review The Court's review of Petitioner's habeas claims is go......
  • Jamison v. Mackie, 021120 MIEDC, 17-cv-10035
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Eastern District of Michigan
    • February 11, 2020
    ...error and "cut[s] to the merits," as a procedural-default analysis would only complicate this case. Thomas v. Meko, 915 F.3d 1071, 1074 (6th Cir.) (citing Storey v. Vasbinder, 657 F.3d 372, 380 (6th Cir. 2011)), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 2726 1. The Tri......
  • Rembish v. Hoffner, 010620 MIEDC, 2:17-cv-10600
    • United States
    • Federal Cases United States District Courts 6th Circuit Eastern District of Michigan
    • January 6, 2020
    ...procedural error and “cut[s] to the merits, ” as a procedural-default analysis would only complicate this case. Thomas v. Meko, 915 F.3d 1071, 1074 (6th Cir.) (citing Storey v. Vasbinder, 657 F.3d 372, 380 (6th Cir. 2011)), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 2726 1. Clear......
  • Request a trial to view additional results