Davis v. Bowen

Decision Date04 November 2022
Docket Number2:10-cv-107
PartiesROLAND DAVIS, Petitioner, v. RICHARD A. BOWEN, JR., Warden, Ohio State Penitentiary, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

Kimberly A. Jolson, Magistrate Judge.


Sarah D. Morrison, United States District Judge

This capital habeas corpus case is before the Court for decision on the merits on the Petitioner Roland Davis's Third Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus Under 28 U.S.C § 2254 (“Petition,” ECF No. 133.)

In 2005, Petitioner was convicted of aggravated murder and sentenced to death for the killing of Elizabeth Sheeler. State v. Davis, 110 Ohio St.3d 408, 2008-Ohio-2 (Davis I), ¶¶ 1-2. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Ohio rejected all eighteen of Petitioner's propositions of law and affirmed his conviction and death sentence in 2008. Id. at ¶ 405. Petitioner's conviction became final on October 6 2008, when the United States Supreme Court denied his petition for certiorari. Davis v. Ohio, 555 U.S. 861, 129 S.Ct. 137 (Mem.) (2008). On June 15, 2010 Petitioner filed his initial petition for writ of habeas corpus (ECF No. 15), and on October 18, 2017, filed the instant Third Amended Petition (ECF No. 133.) For the reasons set forth below, the Petition is DENIED and the action is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

A. Pretrial and Trial

The factual background has been extensively set forth in previous opinions by this Court and elsewhere, most notably this Court's September 29, 2015, Opinion and Order dismissing the Substitute Second Amended Petition in part. (ECF No. 94, PageID 10624-30, quoting Davis I, 2008-Ohio-2, ¶¶ 1-41.) The Court incorporates that discussion by reference, and the summary discussion below is limited to those facts germane to the Claims for Relief in the instant Petition.

Elizabeth Sheeler, an elderly woman, was found dead in her apartment on July 12, 2000. (Petition, ECF No. 133, PageID 11626, ¶ 41, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7174.) Petitioner's ex-girlfriend testified that the next day, Petitioner showed up at her house “in a new car with two envelopes full of cash” and told her that he had been running drugs. (Id. at PageID 11626-27, ¶ 46, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7358-60.) Another ex-girlfriend stated that Petitioner always carried a pocketknife and bought her son a $1200 drum set the same month as the murder. (Id. at PageID 11627, ¶ 47, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7419, 7423, 7429-30.) Sheeler had asked for Petitioner to be her taxi driver in the past. (Id., ¶ 48.) In 2003, Petitioner went to a restaurant called Annie's Place and asked if there were any leads in the case. (Id., ¶ 49, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7459-60, 7485-88.) Detective Steven Vanoy eventually identified Petitioner as a suspect, claiming that the DNA on the towel found in Sheeler's apartment matched that of Petitioner. (Id. at PageID 11628, ¶¶ 50-51, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7519-20, 7531.) Vanoy interviewed Petitioner once pre-arrest and once post-arrest. Petitioner did not confess either time. (Id., ¶¶ 52-54, citing State Court Record, ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7533-63, 7580-81.)

Petitioner was indicted on one count of aggravated murder of Elizabeth Sheeler, along with four statutory aggravating circumstances, and separate counts of murder, kidnapping, aggravated robbery, and aggravated burglary (Petition, ECF No. 133, PageID 11611, ¶ 5.) The trial began on June 27, 2005, in Licking County, Ohio, Court of Common Pleas. (Id. at ¶ 6.) During the trial, Richard Hummel, in Licking County Jail for a drunken driving offense, testified that Petitioner informed him that Petitioner had stabbed Sheeler. (Id. at PageID 11629, ¶ 55, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7593, 7598.) Detective Timothy Elliget testified that none of the fingerprints was a match for Petitioner. (Id. at PageID 11629-30, ¶¶ 56-57, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7633, 7635, 7651-53, 7702-03.) Meghan Clement, “the technical director in the forensic identity testing department at Laboratory Corporation of America Holdings, Incorporated[,] testified that the DNA found on the victim was male, and that neither Petitioner nor his male relatives could be ruled out as the perpetrator. (Id. at PageID 11630, ¶ 59, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 7861, 7889-93.) The jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts and specifications on July 7, 2005. (Id. at PageID 11631, ¶ 61, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-3, PageID 8186-89.)

“The penalty phase began on Monday, July 11, 2005. The Court merged the escaping detection specification with the remaining specifications but refused to merge the kidnapping specification with the aggravated robbery specification.” (Petition, ECF No. 133, PageID 11631, ¶ 62, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-5, PageID 8210.) The state moved to admit all evidence, testimony and exhibits from the trial phase into evidence and then rested.” (Id., citing Trial Tr., ECF No 52-3, PageID 8239.) Petitioner presented the testimony of his aunt, Ruth Cummings, who described the physical and emotional abuse of Petitioner's father against his mother. (Id. at ¶ 63, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-5, PageID 8248, 8254-55.) Cummings further testified that Petitioner was placed in an orphanage for a time as a child. (Id. at PageID11632, ¶ 64, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-5, PageID 8262-63.) Dana Davis, Petitioner's younger brother, corroborated the stories of abuse against their mother and recounted abuse against Petitioner by their father. (Id. at PageID 11632-33, ¶ 67, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-5, PageID 8296-97.) Petitioner's mother, Rose Weimer, testified that “after years of abuse and threats she left for Florida. Roland helped with the younger kids and helped for a long time to help pay bills. He would buy food and pay the rent and was always available if she needed him.” (Id. at PageID 11635, ¶ 72.) Despite this evidence, the jury returned a verdict of death on July 12, 2005 (id. at ¶ 74, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-5, PageID 8524-25), and [o]n July 15, 2005, the court sentenced Davis to death and ten years consecutive sentences on the other felonies.” (Id. at ¶ 75, citing Trial Tr., ECF No. 52-5, PageID 8565-66.)

B. Direct Appeal
Petitioner undertook a direct appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio, raising eighteen Propositions of Law.

(Petition, ECF No. 133, PageID 11613-17.) The court rejected all eighteen propositions and, after conducting an independent review of Petitioner's sentence, affirmed his conviction and death sentence. Davis I, 2008-Ohio-2, at ¶ 405.

The court rejected subclaim one of Petitioner's First Proposition, that he had been denied a fair and impartial jury, concluding that the voir dire done by the trial judge as to pretrial publicity was comprehensive. Id. at ¶¶ 42, 45. The court also rejected Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim contained therein. Id. at ¶ 46. The court agreed that trial counsel's voir dire regarding pretrial publicity was brief, but concluded that that did not constitute ineffective assistance, as counsel was not required to repeat topics already covered by the trial judge. Id. at ¶ 47. Due to the overall comprehensiveness of the voir dire, it was also not ineffective assistance for counsel to fail to seek a change of venue or develop the record regarding pretrial publicity. Id. at ¶¶ 49-50. Moreover, as Petitioner did not identify the information that should have been obtained, it was not ineffective assistance for failing to develop the record to support for cause and peremptory challenges of venire members. Id. at ¶ 51. Finally, the court's decision to continue voir dire past regular court hours, even if improper, was not prejudicial, because none of the venire members questioned during that time actually served on the jury. Id. at ¶ 54.

In subclaim two of Proposition I, Petitioner claimed that the trial court applied the improper standard for excusing jurors who were reticent about capital punishment; the trial court applied the standard set forth in Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412 (1985), rather than that set forth in Ohio Rev. Code § 2945.25(C). Davis I, 2008-Ohio-2, ¶ 55. The Supreme Court of Ohio rejected that argument, concluding that Witt enunciates the correct standard for determining when a prospective juror may be excluded for cause based on his or her opposition to the death penalty.” Id., citing State v. Rogers, 17 Ohio St.3d 174, 478 N.E.2d 984 (1985), paragraph three of the syllabus, vacated on other grounds in Rogers v. Ohio, 474 U.S. 1002 (1985). As the proper standard was applied, counsel could not have been ineffective in failing to object. Id.

In subclaim three, Petitioner claimed that counsel was ineffective in failing to question fully and rehabilitate five prospective jurors who expressed opposition to capital punishment and indicated that they could not sign a death warrant. Davis I, 2008-Ohio-2, ¶¶ 56-57. The court rejected this argument, noting that counsel had attempted to rehabilitate each of the potential jurors and had objected to the removal for cause of four of the five potential jurors. Id. at ¶ 58. In subclaim four, the court rejected both of Petitioner's arguments as to the extent of questioning jurors as to their willingness to consider mitigation evidence, finding the voir dire by counsel to be within the broad range of acceptable conduct. Id. at ¶¶ 59-67. In subclaim five, the court rejected Petitioner's claim that the prosecutor's statements during voir dire were misleading, or that counsel was ineffective in failing to object to them. Id. at ¶¶ 68-72.

The Supreme Court of Ohio dismissed subclaim...

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