Coleman v. Binion

Decision Date10 June 2019
Docket NumberNo. 17-0566,17-0566
Parties Mark T. COLEMAN, Petitioner Below, Petitioner v. J.T. BINION, Superintendent, Huttonsville Correctional Center, Respondent Below, Respondent
CourtWest Virginia Supreme Court

Kevin D. Mills, Shawn R. McDermott, Mills McDermott, PLLC, Martinsburg, West Virginia, Attorneys for the Petitioner

Patrick Morrisey, Attorney General, Scott E. Johnson, Assistant Attorney General, Charleston, West Virginia, Attorneys for the Respondent

Jenkins, Justice:

In this case, Mark T. Coleman ("Mr. Coleman") appeals an order of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County denying his petition for writ of habeas corpus, which asserted numerous grounds to support his claims of ineffective assistance of both trial and appellate counsel.1 After reviewing the parties' briefs, the legal authority cited, and the record submitted for our consideration; as well has hearing the oral arguments presented, we affirm the circuit court's denial of Mr. Colman's habeas petition.


In the case underlying the instant habeas corpus proceeding, Mr. Coleman was tried by a jury and convicted of murder in the first degree for fatally shooting his wife, Trina Coleman ("Mrs. Coleman"). He was sentenced to life with mercy.

The evidence presented at trial established that, on March 2, 2006, in the course of a dispute over Mrs. Coleman's marital fidelity, Mr. Coleman shot his wife in the face with a rifle. Mr. Coleman never disputed that he shot his wife; thus, the primary issue of contention during the trial was Mr. Coleman's intent. The State presented evidence to establish that Mr. Coleman shot his wife with the specific intent to end her life because he believed she was having an extramarital affair, and further believed that she was conspiring with her alleged paramour, David, to harm or kill Mr. Coleman and other members of his family. Mr. Coleman's counsel 2 presented a defense based upon the theory that the shooting had been accidental in that Mr. Coleman did not believe the rifle was loaded. The defense also contended that, at the time of the shooting, Mr. Coleman was suffering from diminished capacity due to methamphetamine psychosis

and was, therefore, unable to form the intent to commit murder.

The evidence supporting the jury verdict with respect to Mr. Coleman's intent included numerous letters written by Mr. Coleman accusing Mrs. Coleman of infidelity. Some of the letters contained threats against Mrs. Coleman. Also, on the coffee table in the room where Mrs. Coleman was shot, was a date book belonging to Mrs. Coleman. The date book contained several entries of the name "David," and each entry was accompanied by a drawing of a heart.

There also was evidence of prior physical violence involving Mr. and Mrs. Coleman, including an incident that resulted in each of them obtaining a domestic violence protective order against the other and caused Mrs. Coleman to move out of the marital home. The Coleman's daughter testified to another incident that occurred within two or three months of her mother's death. The daughter had overheard an argument between her parents during which Mr. Coleman, while holding a rock in his hand, threatened to kill Mrs. Coleman. There was additional testimony from the Coleman's daughter that Mr. Coleman was a hunter who was knowledgeable about firearms, thus refuting Mr. Coleman's claim that he was mistaken about whether the murder weapon was loaded. She further stated that Mr. Coleman stored all of his rifles, including the murder weapon, unloaded in a gun cabinet located in the couple's bedroom. The State also presented testimony from a firearm examiner, Phillip Cochran, who had tested the murder weapon. Mr. Cochran testified that the rifle was equipped with a trigger safety device that prevented it from discharging without the trigger being pulled. Testing confirmed that the trigger safety device on the rifle was functioning as designed, so that the weapon would not fire without the trigger being pulled.

Other testimony established that Mrs. Coleman was working at a local convenience store on the evening of her death when she received a phone call from Mr. Coleman. After the call, Mrs. Coleman was visibly upset and informed the store manager that she needed to go home. Shortly thereafter, while in a back room of their marital home, Mr. Coleman shot Mrs. Coleman in the face from a close distance, estimated to be between six and twelve inches. Mrs. Coleman sustained a massive head wound

from the shot, and also suffered a defensive wound that nearly severed one of her fingers.

With respect to Mrs. Coleman's injuries, a State medical examiner, Dr. Boiko, testified on behalf of the prosecution regarding his autopsy of the victim and his resulting report. The medical examiner explained that an injury to Mrs. Coleman's left ring finger was a defensive wound

and indicated that the bullet had first hit her finger before entering her head through her mouth. Although the medical examiner's report stated that there was no gun powder residue on the victim's left ring finger, upon viewing a picture of the injured finger during his testimony, the medical examiner observed that there was, in fact, gun powder soot on the finger. The presence of this soot indicated that Mrs. Coleman's hand had been in close proximity to the rifle's muzzle at the time it discharged. Thus, the medical examiner's written report had been incorrect, but he corrected his conclusion during his testimony. While Dr. Boiko opined that Mrs. Coleman's finger was in close proximity to the rifle when it was discharged, he stated that he could neither conclude nor rule out the possibility that her finger had come into contact with the rifle.

Although Mr. Coleman exercised his right to not testify, during the course of the trial, the jury nevertheless heard evidence from several sources that, following the shooting, Mr. Coleman repeatedly claimed that the shooting was an accident. Mr. Coleman contended that he had waived the rifle at Mrs. Coleman in an attempt to scare her and he did not believe that it was loaded.3 During the defense case-in-chief, Mr. Coleman's ballistics expert opined that the presence of soot on Mrs. Coleman's finger and the location of bullet fragments found at the scene were consistent with a scenario where Mrs. Coleman pushed or swatted the muzzle of the rifle causing it to discharge. The expert testified that, if Mr. Coleman had the trigger squeezed and his thumb on the hammer, simultaneous contact with the muzzle by Mrs. Coleman could have caused the rifle to discharge.

The jury ultimately found Mr. Coleman guilty of first-degree murder and recommended mercy. Mr. Coleman filed post-trial motions, which were denied by the circuit court. Mr. Coleman then appealed his conviction to this Court4 and was granted oral presentation of the sole issue raised, i.e. , the sufficiency of the evidence. This Court, by order entered on October 9, 2008, refused the petition for appeal.5 Thereafter, in November 2014, Mr. Coleman filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court of Kanawha County. Following an omnibus hearing, the circuit court denied the petition by order entered on May 26, 2017. This appeal followed. Additional facts specifically related to the assignments of error herein raised will be set out in our discussion of the particular issues to which they pertain.


The instant appeal is before this Court from a circuit court's denial of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The proper standard for our review of such an appeal has been set out as follows:

In reviewing challenges to the findings and conclusions of the circuit court in a habeas corpus action, we apply a three-prong standard of review. We review the final order and the ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion standard; the underlying factual findings under a clearly erroneous standard; and questions of law are subject to a de novo review.

Syl. pt. 1, Mathena v. Haines , 219 W. Va. 417, 633 S.E.2d 771 (2006). Moreover, each of the grounds asserted by Mr. Coleman as entitling him to a writ of habeas corpus are asserted as a basis for his claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. In reviewing a circuit court's ruling as to a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, we are mindful of the following standard:

In the West Virginia courts, claims of ineffective assistance of counsel are to be governed by the two-pronged test established in Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984) : (1) Counsel's performance was deficient under an objective standard of reasonableness; and (2) there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceedings would have been different.

Syl. pt. 5, State v. Miller , 194 W. Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d 114 (1995). We also have clarified that if either prong of the test is absent, ineffective assistance is not established:

In deciding ineffective ... assistance [of counsel] claims, a court need not address both prongs of the conjunctive standard of Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 104 S. Ct. 2052, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1984), and State v. Miller , 194 W. Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d 114 (1995), but may dispose of such a claim based solely on a petitioner's failure to meet either prong of the test.

Syl. pt. 5, State ex rel. Daniel v. Legursky , 195 W. Va. 314, 465 S.E.2d 416 (1995). Further,

[i]n reviewing counsel's performance, courts must apply an objective standard and determine whether, in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions were outside the broad range of professionally competent assistance while at the same time refraining from engaging in hindsight or second-guessing of trial counsel's strategic decisions. Thus, a reviewing court asks whether a reasonable lawyer would have acted, under the circumstances, as

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2 cases
  • Commonwealth v. Hamlett, No. 8 WAP 2019
    • United States
    • Pennsylvania Supreme Court
    • 21 Julio 2020
    ...of demonstrating harmlessness is on the party benefiting from the error, which, in this case, is the State."); Coleman v. Binion , 242 W.Va. 1, 829 S.E.2d 1, 26 (2019) ("In a criminal case, the burden is upon the beneficiary of a constitutional error to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that ......
  • Thomas B. v. Ames, No. 18-0980
    • United States
    • West Virginia Supreme Court
    • 23 Marzo 2020
    ...Syllabus point 6, State ex rel. Daniel v. Legursky, 195 W. Va. 314, 465 S.E.2d 416 (1995).Syl. Pts. 2, 3, and 4, Coleman v. Binion, 242 W. Va. 1, 829 S.E.2d 1 (2019). Petitioner contends that his counsel was ineffective because counsel failed to request the severance of the various charges ......

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