Campbell v. Polk

Decision Date10 May 2006
Docket NumberNo. 04-2.,04-2.
Citation447 F.3d 270
PartiesJames Adolph CAMPBELL, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Marvin POLK, Warden, Central Prison, Raleigh, North Carolina, Respondent-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fourth Circuit

ARGUED: Milton Gordon Widenhouse, Jr., Rudolf, Widenhouse & Fialko, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for Appellant. Edwin William Welch, Special Deputy Attorney General, North Carolina Department of Justice, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: William L. Livesay, Graham, North Carolina, for Appellant. Roy Cooper, North Carolina Attorney General, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

Before WILKINSON and MICHAEL, Circuit Judges, and HAMILTON, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge WILKINSON wrote the opinion, in which Senior Judge HAMILTON joined. Judge MICHAEL wrote a separate opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment.


WILKINSON, Circuit Judge.

Petitioner James Campbell was convicted by a North Carolina jury of first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree rape, kidnapping, armed robbery, and the burning of personal property. He was sentenced to death for the murder conviction. The state courts rejected both his arguments on direct appeal and his subsequent request for collateral relief. Campbell now brings a federal habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (2000), challenging his convictions and sentence. We have reviewed his claims with care and find them to be without merit. We therefore affirm the district court's dismissal of his petition.


On September 11, 1992, the body of Katherine Price was found in a field in Rowan County, North Carolina. Price had sustained twenty-two knife wounds to her neck. Five days later, North Carolina police officers arrested James Campbell for the murder. He confessed, and directed the police to various pieces of physical evidence, including the knife used to kill Price.

Campbell's confession to police was both extensive and specific. He admitted to the following: Campbell initially met Price on September 8, 1992. On this day, he was searching for a weapon to kill himself and his ex-girlfriend, Tina Cline, whom he had raped two days earlier. The next morning, Price saw Campbell walking on the street, and she offered him a ride. He accepted her invitation. While she was driving, he placed a knife to her throat and forced her to a secluded area. Campbell concluded that he would kill Price because he "couldn't leave the girl there and [he] couldn't take her with [him]." He asked her to have sex with him, and although she allegedly agreed, he explained that under the circumstances "you could call it rape."

After raping her twice, Campbell began choking Price in her car with such strength that one of his thumbs went numb. He then switched to strangling Price with a piece of her shirt. This, however, proved inadequate to kill Price, as her shirt ripped and she was still breathing. Campbell thus removed Price from the vehicle, placed her where her body was later discovered, and "took [his] knife and stabbed her in the side of her throat. [He] sat and watched the blood come out of her throat and she was still moaning and groaning. [He] stabbed her many more times because [he] wanted her to die." Price finally succumbed. Campbell then took Price's car and continued his search for a gun. In the evening, he visited Teresa Allman, a woman with whom he had carried on a relationship since July. They drove to where Campbell had left Price's car, and he set it ablaze. Later, in the presence of police, Campbell confessed that he killed Price because he had been unable to kill Cline.

On October 26, 1992, Campbell was indicted on several counts stemming from Price's murder. He was charged with first-degree murder, see N.C. Gen.Stat. § 14-17 (1986 & Supp.1991), two counts of first-degree rape, see id. § 14-27.2(a)(2), first-degree kidnapping, see id. § 14-39, the burning of personal property, see id. § 14-66, and armed robbery, see id. § 14-87. A jury trial was held beginning in May 1993.

At trial, the state introduced substantial evidence of Campbell's guilt, in addition to his confession to police. A doctor testified that stab wounds to Price's neck caused her death, and that blood found on Price matched Campbell's blood and her own. Campbell's brother-in-law testified that Campbell told him both that he killed an innocent person, and that he needed to dispose of his knife and tennis shoes. Teresa Allman averred that she was with Campbell when he burned a car, and that, after he was arrested, he admitted to her that he had killed a girl. Campbell's former girlfriend, Tina Cline, asserted that three days before Campbell killed Price, he had forced Cline to drive to a wooded area and had raped her there. Cline further testified that she had not gone to the police out of fear of Campbell. Finally, three other women testified about prior crimes that Campbell had committed against them. He had kidnapped one of them, and raped the other two.

Campbell testified at trial that he did not murder Price. He claimed that he had previously confessed to killing her to protect Allman, who actually committed the murder. According to Campbell, on the day of the murder he drove with Price to an area where he often took Allman, and the two had consensual sex. Allman subsequently arrived on the scene, saw the two of them together, and killed Price in a jealous rage. Campbell further declared that he had neither raped nor kidnapped the three women who testified for the prosecution about Campbell's prior crimes.

On June 29, 1993, the jury convicted Campbell on all counts. A sentencing hearing was held from June 29 to July 8. At the hearing, six witnesses testified for Campbell. Campbell and his two sisters testified, inter alia, about his abusive childhood. A former employer discussed Campbell's good work habits, and Allman described his capacity to love. Finally, Dr. Robert Rollins opined extensively on Campbell's mental state. The prosecution, in addition to the evidence presented at the guilt phase, introduced the testimony of two more women who had been accosted by Campbell. Campbell had put scissors to the throat of one, and had taken the other to a field, tied her to a tree, and abandoned her.

The jury recommended that Campbell be sentenced to death. It found four aggravating circumstances: that Campbell was previously convicted of four felonies involving the use or threat of violence, see N.C. Gen.Stat. § 15A-2000(e)(3) (1988), that he murdered Price to avoid arrest, see id. § 15A-2000(e)(4), that the murder was committed while Campbell was engaged in rape and kidnapping, see id. § 15A-2000(e)(5), and that the murder "was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel," id. § 15A-2000(e)(9).

At least one juror determined that a statutory mitigating circumstance was present, namely, that the murder was committed while Campbell "was under the influence of mental or emotional disturbance." Id. § 15A-2000(f)(2). Also, at least one juror found two non-statutory mitigating circumstances: that Campbell was "emotionally neglected and ha[d] chronic feelings of deprivation, inadequacy and anger," and that Campbell had "a history of substance abuse which began at a very early age as a consequence of a lack of supervision and a lack of family structure." All the jurors concluded, however, that the aggravating circumstances outweighed any mitigating ones, and were sufficiently substantial to call for the death penalty.

The trial court accepted the jury's recommendation, and sentenced Campbell to death for first-degree murder. It also sentenced him to life imprisonment for each of the two counts of rape, thirty years for kidnapping, forty years for armed robbery, and ten years for the burning of personal property. The Supreme Court of North Carolina affirmed Campbell's convictions and sentences on direct appeal. See State v. Campbell, 340 N.C. 612, 460 S.E.2d 144, 163 (1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1128, 116 S.Ct. 946, 133 L.Ed.2d 871 (1996).

On December 18, 1996, Campbell filed a motion for appropriate relief in North Carolina Superior Court (the MAR court). An evidentiary hearing was held over six days in August 1997. On March 22, 1999, the MAR court issued a written order rejecting Campbell's motion, and the Supreme Court of North Carolina denied certiorari. See State v. Campbell, 351 N.C. 362, 543 S.E.2d 137 (2000).

On July 19, 2000, Campbell filed a petition for a federal writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (2000). A magistrate judge recommended that the district court reject all of Campbell's claims. The district court accepted this recommendation, and dismissed Campbell's petition. Campbell appealed, and we granted a certificate of appealability. See id. § 2253(c). He now makes six arguments, challenging aspects of both the guilt and sentencing phases of his trial. We will examine each of his claims in turn, but first set forth the appropriate standard of review.


Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), we review state court decisions under "a highly deferential standard." Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455, 125 S.Ct. 847, 160 L.Ed.2d 881 (2005) (per curiam). If a state court has adjudicated a petitioner's claim on the merits, we can only grant habeas relief in two circumstances.

First, we can grant the writ if the state adjudication "resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Clearly established federal law consists of the Supreme Court's holdings, not its dicta, at the time of the relevant state decision. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). A state decision is "contrary to" clearly established Supreme Court precedent if it ...

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