Coleman v. State, 45S00-9203-PD-158

Decision Date29 December 1998
Docket NumberNo. 45S00-9203-PD-158,45S00-9203-PD-158
Citation703 N.E.2d 1022
PartiesAlton COLEMAN, Appellant (Petitioner Below), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Respondent Below).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Susan K. Carpenter, Public Defender, Kathleen Cleary, Robert E. Lancaster, Deputy Public Defenders, Indianapolis, for Appellant.

Jeffrey Modisett, Attorney General, Christopher L. Lafuse, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, for Appellee.

Charles A. Asher, South Bend, for Amicus Curiae Indiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

SHEPARD, Chief Justice.

A jury found Alton Coleman guilty of murder, attempted murder, and child molesting. Following the jury's recommendation, the court sentenced Coleman to death. We affirmed on direct appeal. Coleman v. State, 558 N.E.2d 1059 (Ind.1990). Coleman filed a petition for post-conviction relief challenging his convictions and death sentence. Judge Richard J. Conroy denied the petition, and Coleman now appeals that ruling. We affirm.

Statement of Facts

Our earlier opinion summarizes the facts of Coleman's crime:

In June 1984, Coleman and his companion Debra Brown approached two young girls in Gary. The girls were ten-year-old A.H. and her seven-year-old niece, Tamika Turk. They enticed the girls into a wooded area with a friendly offer of clothing. Once there, Coleman told the girls that he was going to play a game. He then took off Tamika Turk's pink shirt, cut it into shreds with a pocket knife, and tied both girls' hands, mouth and legs.

Tamika began crying. Coleman responded by stomping viciously on her face, chest and stomach with his foot. Afterward, Coleman and Brown carried Tamika away. Tamika's body was later discovered with a piece of bed clothing tied around her neck.

Coleman next forced A.H. to perform oral sex on him and on Brown. While A.H. was performing oral sex on Brown, Coleman raped A.H. Finally, Coleman and Brown simultaneously strangled A.H. with their belts until she passed out. Incredibly, A.H. regained consciousness and walked out of the wooded area. A young woman and her mother noticed A.H., took her in, and eventually called an ambulance. At the hospital, doctors discovered cuts so deep in A.H.'s vaginal area that her intestines were protruding into her vagina.

Coleman, 558 N.E.2d at 1060-61.

I. Statement of the Issues

Coleman enumerates fourteen issues in this appeal. Some of those claims are barred by res judicata and some are waived. Of the remaining issues, we restate several and address them each. Coleman's arguments fall under these main categories:

1. Whether Coleman received ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) at trial;

2. Whether Coleman received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel;

3. Whether Coleman's trial counsel suffered under an actual conflict of interest which adversely affected his performance;

4. Whether Coleman's jury was exposed to extraneous influences during trial thereby violating Coleman's right to a fair and impartial jury and his right to due process;

5. Whether the trial court erred in denying Coleman funds for an expert on eyewitness identification at trial;

6. Whether the trial court denied Coleman due process by not providing a competent mental health examination before Coleman's decision not to testify 7. Whether the trial court improperly instructed the jury;

8. Whether Magistrate T. Edward Page's involvement in the proceedings denied Coleman his rights of due process, equal protection, and to a full and fair post-conviction hearing;

9. Whether the post-conviction court erred in refusing to hear Coleman's arguments on systemic deficiencies in the Lake County Public Defender System;

10. Whether the trial court properly sentenced Coleman.

II. Petitioner's Burdens in Post-Conviction Proceedings

Post-conviction procedures do not afford convicts the opportunity for a "super-appeal." Bailey v. State, 472 N.E.2d 1260, 1263 (Ind.1985) (citing Langley v. State, 256 Ind. 199, 210, 267 N.E.2d 538, 544 (1971)). Rather, they create a narrow remedy for subsequent collateral challenges to convictions. Weatherford v. State, 619 N.E.2d 915, 916-17 (Ind.1993). Petitioners must establish their grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence. Ind.Post-Conviction Rule 1, § 5. A petitioner appealing the denial of post-conviction relief, moreover, labors under a heavier burden:

On appeal [from the denial of post-conviction relief], petitioner stands in the position of one appealing from a negative judgment. In such cases, it is only where the evidence is without conflict and leads to but one conclusion, and the trial court has reached the opposite conclusion, that the decision will be disturbed as being contrary to law.

Fleenor v. State, 622 N.E.2d 140, 142 (Ind.1993), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 999, 115 S.Ct. 507, 130 L.Ed.2d 415 (1994). Such a petitioner must show that the evidence, taken as a whole, "leads unerringly and unmistakenly to a conclusion opposite to that reached by the trial court." Weatherford, 619 N.E.2d at 917; see Lowe v. State, 455 N.E.2d 1126 (Ind.1983).

In the present case, the post-conviction court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law in accordance with Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1, § 6. When the post-conviction court enters such findings, the reviewing court "will affirm if the court's findings are sufficient to support the judgment." Lile v. State, 671 N.E.2d 1190, 1192 (Ind.Ct.App.1996); Neville v. State, 663 N.E.2d 169, 172 (Ind.Ct.App.1996). A post-conviction court's findings and judgment will be reversed only if clearly erroneous; "to determine whether the findings or judgment are clearly erroneous, we consider only the evidence favorable to the judgment and all reasonable inferences flowing therefrom...." Douglas v. State, 634 N.E.2d 811, 815 (Ind.Ct.App.1994). In short, the question before us is only "whether there is no way the court could have reached its decision." Spranger v. State, 650 N.E.2d 1117, 1120 (Ind.1995).

III. Ineffective Assistance of Trial Counsel

The post-conviction court deemed Coleman's claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel waived for not having been raised on direct appeal. (P-C.R. at 1746.) 1 As a general rule, "[t]he post-conviction relief process is open to the raising of issues not known at the time of the original trial and appeal or for some reason not available to the defendant at that time." Howey v. State, 557 N.E.2d 1326, 1328 (Ind.1990). The post-conviction court held, and the State now argues, that the issue of ineffective assistance of trial counsel was available on direct appeal, and since it was not raised then, it was therefore waived. On behalf of Coleman, amicus 2 argues that current Indiana case law regarding the proper time for an appellant to bring trial IAC claims presents a "Hobson's choice." (Amicus Br. at 13.) The gestalt of our law on the availability of such claims has recently been scrutinized. While this case has been under review, we have decided that claims of ineffective assistance of counsel may be presented for the first time in a petition for post-conviction relief. Woods v. State, 701 N.E.2d 1208 (Ind.1998). Nevertheless, Coleman does not prevail on this claim, because his offers of proof do not establish ineffective assistance of trial counsel as a matter of law, 3 and the action of the trial court may be sustained "on any legal ground on the record." Cain v. State, 261 Ind. 41, 45-46, 300 N.E.2d 89, 92 (1973).

A. Standard of Review for IAC Claims. To make a successful ineffective assistance claim, a convict must demonstrate both deficient performance and resulting prejudice. One must show his attorney's performance "fell below an objective standard of reasonableness," Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 688, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); see also Douglas v. State, 663 N.E.2d 1153, 1154 (Ind.1996), and that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different," Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052; see also Cook v. State, 675 N.E.2d 687, 692 (Ind.1996). Of course, "a different outcome but for counsel's error will not constitute prejudice if the ultimate result reached was fair and reliable." Smith v. State, 689 N.E.2d 1238, 1245 (Ind.1997) (quoting Games v. State, 684 N.E.2d 466, 469 (Ind.1997) (citing Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 369-70, 113 S.Ct. 838, 122 L.Ed.2d 180)). We need not determine whether counsel's performance was deficient before examining the prejudice suffered as a result of the alleged deficiencies. Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697, 104 S.Ct. 2052 ("If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed.").

Finally, counsel's performance is presumed effective. Douglas, 663 N.E.2d at 1154; Butler v. State, 658 N.E.2d 72, 78 (Ind.1995). To be successful, Coleman's offers of proof must rebut that presumption. They do not. We will review each of Coleman's major arguments about ineffective assistance of trial counsel.

B. Mystery Hairs. After the crime was committed, a rape kit analysis, including a pubic combing, was performed on A.H. Sergeant Michael T. Oliver of the Indiana State Police analyzed the samples from the victim's rape kit. The kit revealed two questioned hairs, one of which was retrieved from the pubic hair combing. Oliver's first analysis of the hairs revealed that they did not belong to A.H. Oliver's second analysis revealed that the hairs were also not Coleman's or Brown's. Both reports were provided to the defense. Oliver could not recall ever being contacted by Coleman's defense counsel, nor was he subpoenaed to testify at trial. Defense counsel Lonnie Randolph vaguely recalled an assault kit having been prepared on A.H., though he could not recall whether he discussed the results with anyone at the State Police Laboratory.

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