Achelles v. Vannoy, Civil Action 20-715

CourtUnited States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Louisiana)
Docket NumberCivil Action 20-715
Decision Date08 September 2021



Civil Action No. 20-715

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

September 8, 2021




This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge to conduct a hearing including an evidentiary hearing if necessary, and to submit proposed findings and recommendations for disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and (C), and as applicable, Rule 8(b) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Courts. Upon review of the entire record, the Court has determined that this matter can be disposed of without an evidentiary hearing. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2). For the following reasons, IT IS RECOMMENDED that the petition for habeas corpus relief be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

Procedural History

Petitioner, Garard Achelles, is a convicted inmate currently incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana. On April 17, 2014, Achelles was charged by bill of indictment with two counts of second-degree murder of Tacara William-Moss and Demektric Anderson, one count of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and one count of pandering by transporting two females for purposes of promoting the practice of prostitution in violation of La. Rev. Stat. §§ 14:30.1, 14:95.1, and 14:84.[1] After the first trial


ended in a mistrial, the case against co-defendant Jason Thomas was severed for the second trial.[2] After a four-day trial, on March 19, 2015, a jury found Achelles guilty as charged as to all counts.[3] Achelles's motion for a new trial and judgment of acquittal was denied.[4]On April 6, 2015, Achelles was sentenced life imprisonment as to counts one and two, 20 year as to count three, and five years as to count four, all sentences to be served at hard labor, and the sentences as to counts one, two and three to be served without benefit of parole, probation, or suspension of sentence.[5]

On direct appeal, Achelles's appointed counsel asserted that the trial court erred by denying his Batson challenges because the State exercised its peremptory challenges in a discriminatory manner to exclude five prospective jurors.[6] Achelles filed a pro se brief and a reply brief asserting the following claims: (1) the trial court abused its discretion in qualifying Lawrence Brookes as an expert in mechanical engineering and automotive design without conducting a Daubert hearing and (2) the trial court erred in denying his motion to sever offenses.[7]


On December 21, 2016, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed his convictions and sentences on all four charges.[8] The court informed Achelles of the two-year prescriptive period for filing an application for post-conviction relief as required by La. Code Crim. P. art. 930.8 and remanded the case to correct errors patent in the uniform commitment order to reflect the correct offense dates.[9] On January 17, 2017, the trial court corrected petitioner's uniform commitment order as directed by the Louisiana Fifth Circuit.[10]On May 1, 2017, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied the related writ application without reasons.[11]

On July 27, 2017, Achelles filed an application for post-conviction relief with the trial court.[12] In that application, he asserted (1) his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise on appeal issues relating to the Confrontation Clause and sufficiency of the evidence; (2) his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to conduct pretrial investigation, interview eyewitnesses, summon critical defense witnesses, and prepare an adequate defense; (3) his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to retain an expert witness in the field of toxicology;


and (4) his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to request a mistrial after a State witness made a prejudicial comment in the jury's presence. Achelles also filed a request for an evidentiary hearing and a motion for leave to file supplemental post-conviction relief claims.[13] The trial court denied Achelles's requests for an evidentiary hearing appointment of counsel, and to supplement his application and ordered the State to respond to petitioner's application.[14]

Achelles filed a supplement asserting numerous additional ineffective assistance of counsel claims.[15] On September 10, 2018, the trial court denied the supplemental application for post-conviction relief.[16] On November 21, 2019, Achelles again filed supplemental claims, nearly identical to his first supplement.[17] On December 3, 2018, the trial court denied the second supplemental application finding that post-conviction applications are not meant to be filed in a piecemeal fashion.[18] On January 31, 2019, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit denied petitioner's writ application related to the trial court's August 13 and September 10, 2018 orders.[19]

On December 17, 2018, the trial court denied the claims in petitioner's first


application finding that petitioner failed to prove his appellate and trial counsel were ineffective.[20] On December 27, 2018, petitioner filed a rebuttal, which the trial court denied on January 7, 2019.[21]

On April 12, 2019, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit denied Achelles's writ application finding the trial court did not err by denying an evidentiary hearing and that petitioner failed to satisfy the requisite burden of proof to establish his claims regarding ineffective assistance of appellate and trial counsel.[22]

On May 16, 2019, Achelles filed a writ application with the Louisiana Supreme Court.[23]On February 18, 2020, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied Achelles's writ application finding he failed to show he received ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d. 674 (1984).[24]

In the interim, on May 16, 2019, Achelles filed a second application for post-conviction relief based on newly discovered evidence.[25] He also filed a motion for new trial and a request for production of documents.[26] For a third time he filed, his supplemental


claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.[27]

On June 18, 2019, the trial court once again denied the supplemental claims.[28] On that same date, the court denied petitioner's motion for new trial, finding that a statement from a convicted felon was not exculpatory, did not contradict the testimony at trial, and would not have changed the verdict.[29] In denying the second application for post-conviction relief, the court found that an exhibit submitted by petitioner, a statement by Glenn Lemon, was procedurally flawed and did not meet the requirements of La. Rev. Stat. § 35:12.[30] The court found relief on the merits unwarranted as the "new evidence" was not exculpatory and did not support relief.[31] The court also denied petitioner's request for production of documents, finding that petitioner failed to provide a particularized need for the documents.[32]

On October 28, 2019, the Louisiana Fifth Circuit denied petitioner's writ application.[33]The Louisiana Supreme Court denied petitioner's related writ application as untimely, citing Louisiana Supreme Court Rule X, § 5(a).[34]


On February 24, 2020, Achelles filed the instant application for habeas corpus relief.[35]In that application, Achelles claims: (1) ineffective assistance of appellate counsel based on the failure to raise on appeal violation of the Confrontation Clause and sufficiency of the evidence; (2) ineffective assistance of counsel as a result of failure to investigate, interview and subpoena witnesses for trial, secure an expert witness in drug side effects, request a mistrial, and prepare an adequate defense; (3) the trial court erred in denying his Batson challenge to the use of the State's peremptory challenges, it abused its discretion in failing to ensure that Daubert's "gatekeeping obligation" was properly applied, and it abused its discretion in denying the defense motion to sever offenses; and (4) ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to call a favorable defense witness. Achelles only briefed his first two claims and asked to brief his remaining claims at a later date due to lockdowns in the prison and the lack of access to legally trained inmate counsel.[36]

The State appears to concede that Achelles has exhausted his state-court remedies with respect to the claims he briefed, and that his petition is timely.[37] The State claims that petitioner's first two claims, the only claims the State addresses, are procedurally barred pursuant to La. Code Crim. P. art. 926(B)(3) and Rule 2(C) of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Cases in the United States District Court because they lack specificity and fail to state the facts supporting each ground for relief. The State alternatively claims that the claims


are meritless. Achelles filed a traverse objecting to the State's response as untimely.[38]On June 17, 2021, he filed a second traverse addressing the State's response, although he still did not brief claims three and four.[39] For the following reasons, the Court rejects the State's argument that the claims are procedurally barred and will therefore review the merits of the claims.

Preliminary Review

As a preliminary matter, the Court considers the State's assertion that Achelles's first two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were procedurally barred under state law by the state courts, and thus procedurally defaulted on federal review. Here, as the State asserts, the trial court agreed that the claims lacked the required specificity under Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure article 926(B)(3).[40] However, the trial court also addressed the merits of the claims and found Achelles had not met his burden under Strickland.[41]More significantly, the Louisiana Supreme Court then denied relief, stating that...

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