Coleman v. Binion

Decision Date07 June 2019
Docket NumberNo. 17-0566,17-0566
PartiesMark T. Coleman, Petitioner Below, Petitioner v. J.T. Binion, Superintendent, Huttonsville Correctional Center, Respondent Below, Respondent
CourtSupreme Court of West Virginia

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Kanawha County

Honorable Charles E. King, Judge

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


Charleston, West Virginia

Attorneys for the Respondent

JUSTICE JENKINS delivered the Opinion of the Court.


1. "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." Syllabus point 1, Mathena v. Haines, 219 W. Va. 417, 633 S.E.2d 771 (2006).

2. "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." Syllabus point 5, State v. Miller, 194 W. Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d 114 (1995).

3. "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 failureto meet either prong of the test." Syllabus point 5, State ex rel. Daniel v. Legursky, 195 W. Va. 314, 465 S.E.2d 416 (1995).

4. "In 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 defense counsel acted in the case at issue." Syllabus point 6, State ex rel. Daniel v. Legursky, 195 W. Va. 314, 465 S.E.2d 416 (1995).

5. "A judgment of conviction will not be reversed because of improper remarks made by a prosecuting attorney to a jury which do not clearly prejudice the accused or result in manifest injustice." Syllabus point 5, State v. Ocheltree, 170 W. Va. 68, 289 S.E.2d 742 (1982).

6. "Jury instructions are reviewed by determining whether the charge, reviewed as a whole, sufficiently instructed the jury so they understood the issues involved and were not misled by the law. A jury instruction cannot be dissected on appeal; instead, the entire instruction is looked at when determining its accuracy. The trial court, therefore, has broad discretion in formulating its charge to the jury, so long as it accurately reflectsthe law. Deference is given to the circuit court's discretion concerning the specific wording of the instruction, and the precise extent and character of any specific instruction will be reviewed for an abuse of discretion." Syllabus point 15, State v. Bradshaw, 193 W. Va. 519, 524, 457 S.E.2d 456, 461 (1995).

7. "'"In a homicide trial, malice and intent may be inferred by the jury from the defendant's use of a deadly weapon, under circumstances which the jury does not believe afforded the defendant excuse, justification or provocation for his conduct. Whether premeditation and deliberation may likewise be inferred, depends upon the circumstances of the case." Point 2, Syllabus, State v. Bowles, 117 W. Va. 217[, 185 S.E. 205 (1936)].' Syllabus, State v. Johnson, 142 W. Va. 284, 95 S.E.2d 409 (1956)." Syllabus point 5, State v. Jenkins, 191 W. Va. 87, 443 S.E.2d 244 (1994).

8. "Where a counsel's performance, attacked as ineffective, arises from occurrences involving strategy, tactics and arguable courses of action, his conduct will be deemed effectively assistive of his client's interests, unless no reasonably qualified defense attorney would have so acted in the defense of an accused." Syllabus point 21, State v. Thomas, 157 W. Va. 640, 203 S.E.2d 445 (1974).

9. "Where an offer of evidence is made under Rule 404(b) of the West Virginia Rules of Evidence, the trial court, pursuant to Rule 104(a) of the West VirginiaRules of Evidence, is to determine its admissibility. Before admitting the evidence, the trial court should conduct an in camera hearing as stated in State v. Dolin, 176 W. Va. 688, 347 S.E.2d 208 (1986). After hearing the evidence and arguments of counsel, the trial court must be satisfied by a preponderance of the evidence that the acts or conduct occurred and that the defendant committed the acts. If the trial court does not find by a preponderance of the evidence that the acts or conduct was committed or that the defendant was the actor, the evidence should be excluded under Rule 404(b). If a sufficient showing has been made, the trial court must then determine the relevancy of the evidence under Rules 401 and 402 of the West Virginia Rules of Evidence and conduct the balancing required under Rule 403 of the West Virginia Rules of Evidence. If the trial court is then satisfied that the Rule 404(b) evidence is admissible, it should instruct the jury on the limited purpose for which such evidence has been admitted. A limiting instruction should be given at the time the evidence is offered, and we recommend that it be repeated in the trial court's general charge to the jury at the conclusion of the evidence." Syllabus point 3, State v. McGinnis, 193 W. Va. 147, 455 S.E.2d 516 (1994).

10. "Before a trial court can determine that evidence of collateral crimes is admissible under one of the exceptions, an in camera hearing is necessary to allow a trial court to carefully consider the admissibility of collateral crime evidence and to properly balance the probative value of such evidence against its prejudicial effect." Syllabus point3, State v. Dolin, 176 W. Va. 688, 347 S.E.2d 208 (1986), overruled on other grounds by State v. Edward Charles L., 183 W. Va. 641, 398 S.E.2d 123 (1990).

11. "Errors involving deprivation of constitutional rights will be regarded as harmless only if there is no reasonable possibility that the violation contributed to the conviction." Syllabus point 20, State v. Thomas, 157 W. Va. 640, 203 S.E.2d 445 (1974).

12. "In a criminal case, the burden is upon the beneficiary of a constitutional error to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained." Syllabus point 3 State v. Frazier, 229 W. Va. 724, 725, 735 S.E.2d 727, 728 (2012).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 counsel2 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...

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