Burger v. Zant, No. 81-7419

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore VANCE and JOHNSON; VANCE; Stewart's; JOHNSON
Citation718 F.2d 979
PartiesChristopher A. BURGER, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. Walter A. ZANT, Warden, Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Center, Defendant-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 81-7419
Decision Date13 October 1983

Page 979

718 F.2d 979
Christopher A. BURGER, Plaintiff-Appellee, Cross-Appellant,
v.
Walter A. ZANT, Warden, Georgia Diagnostic and
Classification Center, Defendant-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.
No. 81-7419.
United States Court of Appeals,
Eleventh Circuit.
Oct. 13, 1983.

Page 980

William B. Hill, Jr., Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Ga., for defendant-appellant, cross-appellee.

Millard Farmer, Joe Nursey, Andrea I. Young, Pamela L.J. Arangno, Atlanta, Ga., for plaintiff-appellee, cross-appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia.

Before VANCE and JOHNSON, Circuit Judges, and ALLGOOD *, District Judge.

VANCE, Circuit Judge:

The state of Georgia appeals the district court's grant of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus setting aside the death sentence of Christopher Burger.

The facts in this case are set out in the district court's opinion. Burger v. Zant, 513 F.Supp. 772, 788-89 (S.D.Ga.1981). Briefly, Christopher Burger and Thomas Stevens, both soldiers at Fort Stewart, Georgia, were indicted for the murder of Roger Honeycutt, also a soldier. On September 4, 1977, Burger and Stevens decided to rob a taxicab driver. The victim, who supplemented his military income by driving a taxi, picked up the two men. Burger and Stevens threatened Honeycutt with knives, forced him to stop the cab and robbed him of sixteen dollars. The victim was placed in the back seat of the cab with Stevens. As Burger drove the vehicle, Stevens forced Honeycutt to disrobe and then to participate in acts of oral and anal sodomy. The victim, nude and bound, was then placed in the trunk of the cab.

Page 981

With Honeycutt still in the trunk, Burger drove the cab to the local airport, where he and Stevens met a friend and fellow soldier, James Botsford. As they drove back to Fort Stewart, Burger and Stevens explained what they had done, confirming their story by exchanging remarks with Honeycutt in the trunk. After some discussion, Botsford convinced his friends to promise to release Honeycutt unharmed. They dropped Botsford off at the post.

Burger and Stevens then drove to a nearby "borrow pit" which was filled with water. After removing their fingerprints from the cab and removing its radio, Burger raised the trunk and asked Honeycutt if he was all right. Honeycutt responded affirmatively. Burger then closed the trunk, started the car and drove it into the pond, jumping out as it entered the water. The victim died by drowning.

Christopher Burger was convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Stevens was tried separately, convicted, and also sentenced to death. Stevens v. State, 242 Ga. 34, 247 S.E.2d 838 (1978). On direct appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, Burger's conviction was affirmed but his death sentence was vacated and the case remanded for resentencing. Burger v. State, 242 Ga. 28, 247 S.E.2d 834 (1978).

On remand, Burger was once again sentenced to death and the sentence was affirmed by the Supreme Court of Georgia. Burger v. State, 245 Ga. 458, 265 S.E.2d 796 (1980). The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. 448 U.S. 913, 101 S.Ct. 31, 65 L.Ed.2d 1175 (1980).

After unsuccessfully exhausting available state post-conviction remedies, Burger filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court. The district judge granted the writ insofar as it vacated Burger's death sentence.

The state of Georgia as appellant and Burger as appellee/cross-appellant raise five issues before this court: whether Burger was denied effective assistance of counsel; whether the jury instructions impermissibly shifted the burden of proof onto the defendant; whether Miranda violations occurred; whether the district court properly vacated Burger's death sentence where the jury instructions concerning two of the three aggravating circumstances upon which it was based were insufficient; and whether the jury instruction on the aggravating circumstance set out in Ga.Code Ann. Sec. 27-2534.1(b)(7) sufficiently channeled the discretion of the jury to impose the death sentence. 1 All of these questions were carefully analyzed in District Judge Edenfield's opinion. 513 F.Supp. at 788-803. As to the first three issues, we adopt Judge Edenfield's opinion as our own. The final two issues require discussion.

(1)

The Stephens Issue

Christopher Burger's sentencing jury based its death sentence upon three statutory aggravating circumstances: (a) the "offense of murder was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of another capital felony, kidnapping"; (b) the "offense of murder was committed while the offender was engaged in the commission of another capital felony, armed robbery"; (c) the offense of murder was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture and depravity of mind." On direct review, the Georgia Supreme Court held that the trial court had erroneously failed to instruct the jury on the definitions of kidnapping and robbery. The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the death sentence, however, based on the single remaining aggravating circumstance. Burger v. State, 265 S.E.2d at 800.

The district court vacated Burger's death sentence, holding that the Supreme Court of Georgia's disposition of the first two aggravating circumstances rendered the entire verdict invalid. The district judge

Page 982

based his decision on our opinion in Stephens v. Zant, 631 F.2d 397, modified on panel rehearing, 648 F.2d 446 (5th Cir.1981), 2 and Burger and Georgia agree that Stephens controls this issue in the present case. Certiorari was granted in the United States Supreme Court in Zant v. Stephens, 454 U.S. 814, 102 S.Ct. 90, 70 L.Ed.2d 82 (1981), question certified to the Georgia Supreme Court, 456 U.S. 410, 102 S.Ct. 1856, 72 L.Ed.2d 222, question answered, 250 Ga. 97, 297 S.E.2d 1 (1982).

On June 22, 1983, the United States Supreme Court decided Zant v. Stephens, --- U.S. ----, 103 S.Ct. 2733, 77 L.Ed.2d 235 (1983), reversing the judgment rendered by a panel of the former fifth circuit. The Court held that under the Georgia capital punishment statute the invalidity of one of a plurality of statutory aggravating circumstances does not require that the entire death sentence be vacated. The Court found the death penalty in that case permissible because there were two remaining aggravating circumstances that "adequately differentiate[d that] case in an objective, evenhanded, and substantively rational way from the many Georgia murder cases in which the death penalty may not be imposed." Id. at ----, 103 S.Ct. at 2744. So long as "at least one of a plurality of aggravating circumstances found by the jury is valid and supported by the evidence," Zant v. Stephens, 456 U.S. 410, 414, 102 S.Ct. 1856, 1857, 72 L.Ed.2d 222 (1982), the death sentence may stand. We thus reverse the district court's order compelling resentencing based on our opinion in Stephens.

(2)

The Godfrey Issue

Burger also challenged the adequacy of the trial court's charge on the sole remaining aggravating circumstance that was applied in his case. Under Ga.Code Ann. Sec. 17-10-30(b)(7), a jury may impose the death penalty if it finds that the defendant's crime was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman in that it involved torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim." Since "[i]t is, of course, arguable that any murder involves depravity of mind or an aggravated battery," Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 201, 96 S.Ct. 2909, 2938, 49 L.Ed.2d 859 (1976), the potential subjectivity of Sec. (b)(7) has made it the target of numerous constitutional challenges. Although the Supreme Court ruled that Sec. (b)(7) was not unconstitutional on its face in Gregg, the Court conceded that the statutory language might be subject to abuse if the Georgia Supreme Court were to adopt "an open-ended construction" of its terms. Id. Four years later, the Court re-examined the operation of Sec. (b)(7) in Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U.S. 420, 100 S.Ct. 1759, 64 L.Ed.2d 398 (1980), and concluded that the Georgia courts had strayed from the straight and narrow path marked out in Gregg. In Godfrey, there was no allegation that the murders committed by the defendant involved either torture or an aggravated battery, and the sentencing jury based its imposition of the death penalty on the simple grounds "that the offense of murder was outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible and inhuman." The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the sentence on review, but the Supreme Court reversed. Writing for a plurality of the Court, Justice Stewart held that the jury's findings were an insufficient basis for imposing the death penalty, because "nothing in these few words, standing alone ... implies any inherent restraint on the arbitrary and capricious infliction of the death sentence." Id. at 428, 100 S.Ct. at 1765. Although Justice Stewart found that the Georgia Supreme Court in Godfrey had ignored its responsibility "to keep Sec. (b)(7) within constitutional bounds," id. at 429, 100 S.Ct. at 1765, he noted that other decisions by that court had placed a limiting construction on the statute

Page 983

that was sufficient to bring Sec. (b)(7) within the ambit of constitutional acceptability:

The Harris [v. State, 237 Ga. 718, 230 S.E.2d 1] and Blake [v. State, 239 Ga. 292, 236 S.E.2d 637] opinions suggest that the Georgia Supreme Court had by 1977 reached three separate but consistent conclusions respecting the Sec. (b)(7) aggravating circumstance. The first was that the evidence that the offense was "outrageously or wantonly vile, horrible or inhuman" had to demonstrate "torture, depravity of mind, or an aggravated battery to the victim." The second was that the phrase, "depravity of mind," comprehended only the kind of mental state that led the murderer to torture or to commit an aggravated battery before killing his victim. The third, derived from Blake alone, was that the word,...

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14 practice notes
  • Collins v. Francis, No. 83-8097
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • March 15, 1984
    ...Supreme Court to avoid arbitrariness and to ensure proportionality." 103 S.Ct. at 2749. We recently applied Stephens in Burger v. Zant, 718 F.2d 979 (11th Cir.1983). There, too, the Georgia Supreme Court had invalidated all but one of the statutory aggravating circumstances charged; yet it ......
  • Burger v. Kemp, No. 86-5375
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 26, 1987
    ...Zant, 513 F.Supp. 772 (1981). The Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and reinstated the death penalty. Burger v. Zant, 718 F.2d 979 (CA11 1983). On the issue of Leaphart's competence, it adopted the District Court's opinion as its own over the dissent of Judge Johnson. The......
  • Strickland v. Washington, No. 82-1554
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 14, 1984
    ...to present a case in mitigation at the capital sentencing hearing." Comment, 83 Colum.L.Rev. 1544, 1549 (1983). See, e.g., Burger v. Zant, 718 F.2d 979 (CA11 1983) (defendant, 17 years old at time of crime, sentenced to death after counsel failed to present any evidence in mitigation), stay......
  • Poyner v. Com., Nos. 841434
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 26, 1985
    ...the existence of psychological torture. In support of its psychological torture argument, the Attorney General cites Burger v. Zant, 718 F.2d 979, 987 (11th Cir.1983), vacated on other grounds, 467 U.S. 1212, 104 S.Ct. 2652, 81 L.Ed.2d 360 (1984), where the court held as follows: Page 832 A......
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14 cases
  • Collins v. Francis, No. 83-8097
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • March 15, 1984
    ...Supreme Court to avoid arbitrariness and to ensure proportionality." 103 S.Ct. at 2749. We recently applied Stephens in Burger v. Zant, 718 F.2d 979 (11th Cir.1983). There, too, the Georgia Supreme Court had invalidated all but one of the statutory aggravating circumstances charged; yet it ......
  • Burger v. Kemp, No. 86-5375
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 26, 1987
    ...Zant, 513 F.Supp. 772 (1981). The Court of Appeals affirmed in part, reversed in part, and reinstated the death penalty. Burger v. Zant, 718 F.2d 979 (CA11 1983). On the issue of Leaphart's competence, it adopted the District Court's opinion as its own over the dissent of Judge Johnson. The......
  • Strickland v. Washington, No. 82-1554
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • May 14, 1984
    ...to present a case in mitigation at the capital sentencing hearing." Comment, 83 Colum.L.Rev. 1544, 1549 (1983). See, e.g., Burger v. Zant, 718 F.2d 979 (CA11 1983) (defendant, 17 years old at time of crime, sentenced to death after counsel failed to present any evidence in mitigation), stay......
  • Poyner v. Com., Nos. 841434
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • April 26, 1985
    ...the existence of psychological torture. In support of its psychological torture argument, the Attorney General cites Burger v. Zant, 718 F.2d 979, 987 (11th Cir.1983), vacated on other grounds, 467 U.S. 1212, 104 S.Ct. 2652, 81 L.Ed.2d 360 (1984), where the court held as follows: Page 832 A......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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