Doyle v. Filson

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Nevada
PartiesANTONIO LAVON DOYLE, Petitioner, v. TIMOTHY FILSON, et al., Respondents.
Docket NumberCase No. 3:00-cv-00101-RCJ-WGC
Decision Date22 October 2020

This action is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus by Antonio Lavon Doyle, a Nevada prisoner sentenced to death. The case is fully briefed and before the Court for resolution of Doyle's motion for an evidentiary hearing and adjudication of the merits of the claims remaining in Doyle's second amended habeas petition. The Court will deny Doyle's motion for an evidentiary hearing, deny Doyle's habeas petition, and grant Doyle a certificate of appealability with respect to certain issues.


In its opinion on Doyle's direct appeal, the Nevada Supreme Court described the factual background of this case as follows:

On January 16, 1994, the nude body of twenty-year-old Ebony Mason was discovered some twenty-five feet off the roadway in an unimproved desert area of Clark County, Nevada. The woman's body was found lying face down with hands extended overhead to a point on the ground where it appeared some digging had occurred. A four-inch twig protruded from the victim's rectum. Three distinct types of footwear impressions were observed in the area, none of which matched the tread design of a pair of women's athletic shoes located on the nearby dirt road. Also observed in the area was a hole containing a broken condom, a condom tip, an open but empty condom package and two small packages of taco sauce.
In the opinion of the medical examiner, Mason died from asphyxia due to strangulation or blunt trauma to the head. The autopsy revealed nine broken ribs, multiple areas of external bruising, contusions, lacerations, abrasions, and a ligature mark on the anterior surface of the neck. Approximately 200 milliliters of fluid blood was found in Mason's chest cavity. Mason's back and chest bore a number patterned contusions consistent with footwear impressions found at the crime scene. Finally, the autopsy revealed severe laceration of the head and subarachnoid hemorrhage (a thin layer of blood surrounding the brain) indicating blunt force trauma to the skull. Laboratory analysis revealed traces of the drug PCP in Mason's system.
Michael Smith, who had been arrested in an unrelated matter, provided the police with the names of those he believed were responsible for the murder. Smith recounted statements made by Doyle regarding a killing to which Doyle claimed to have been a party. According to Smith, he and Doyle had overheard a girl tell some other people about her friend having been killed. At that time, Doyle commented to Smith that "we had to take someone out." Doyle further stated that he, Darrin Anderson, Shawn Atkins, and "Bubba" Atkins were at Anderson's house with a girl and that each had sex with the girl. While they were taking the girl home, she told the men that she was going to report them for rape and jumped from the truck in which they were riding. They were eventually able to coax the girl back into the truck and decided to kill her rather than face possible rape charges. The girl was apparently so inebriated or under the influence of drugs that she was oblivious to the direction the men were travelling. When they arrived at a remote area, the girl was pulled from the truck and choked. Unsuccessful in their attempt to choke her to death, the men then beat the girl. Finally, Doyle told Smith, two of the men held the girl down while the other repeatedly dropped a brick on her face until she died.
With information obtained from Smith, the police contacted Darrin Anderson, the owner of a small, yellow pickup truck. According to Anderson, on the night of January 15, 1994, he was present with Doyle at the home of Shawn and "Bubba" Atkins. After arriving, the four left the Atkins residence to attend a nearby party. Anderson returned alone to the Atkins residence a short time later, and the other three returned thereafter in the company of Ebony Mason, who appeared inebriated or under the influence of drugs. Later, Mason asked for a ride home, and Anderson suggested that Doyle use Anderson's truck. At approximately 10:30 p.m., Doyle left with Mason and the Atkins brothers in Anderson's truck. Anderson awoke the next morning to find Doyle and the Atkins brothers asleep at the Atkins residence. When police later searched Anderson's truck, they found a pair of blood-stained white socks between the seats.
Further information led investigators to contact Mark Wattley, another of Doyle's friends. Wattley was present during a conversation where Doyle made statements describing how Shawn Atkins was unable to subdue Mason and how "Bubba" Atkins intervened "and hit her with a head punch and dropped her." Thereafter, Doyle told Wattley that he (Doyle) began kicking Mason in the head. Eventually, one of the men grabbed a brick or rock and hit the girl in the head. At one point in the conversation, Doyle demonstrated how he (Doyle) jumped in the air and caused both of his feet to come down on Mason during the beating.
The police investigation eventually led to the execution of a search warrant at Doyle's residence. During the search, the police impounded a pair of Adidas athletic shoes with soles that apparently matched treadwear impressions found at the crime scene and on Mason's body. Doyle was then placed under arrest. After being advised of his Miranda rights, Doyle provided a statement to police explaining that he had been present when Mason was killed but that he did not participate in the killing. Later analysis of the impounded shoes confirmed that the treadwear impressions were consistent with the footwear impressions retrieved from the scene of the crime and observed upon Mason's body.
At trial, Doyle testified that on the night of January 15, 1994, "Bubba" Atkins brought Mason to the Atkins residence. Some time after her arrival, Mason asked for a ride downtown or home. Anderson then instructed Doyle to take Anderson's truck and take Mason home. Doyle testified that Mason wanted to engage in sex with him and the Atkins brothers, so all four drove to Doyle's apartment where each of the men had sex with Mason. Thereafter, the four left Doyle's apartment in Anderson's truck. Mason was riding in the back of the truck, and at some point, the truck stopped at a red light, and Mason jumped out of the truck. The Atkins brothers were eventually able to get Mason back in the truck, and the four proceeded to a deserted area outside Las Vegas.
Doyle further testified that, once stopped, Shawn Atkins hit Mason in the face and a fight ensued. When it appeared that Shawn Atkins was unable to subdue Mason, "Bubba" Atkins came to his aid. Doyle denied any participation in the beating or killing, stating that he had watched from the back of the truck as Shawn and "Bubba" Atkins beat and kicked the girl. Later, while he and Shawn Atkins attempted to push start the truck, Doyle testified that he saw "Bubba" Atkins standing over Mason with a brick raised overhead. "Bubba" Atkins later discarded the brick in a garbage can. According to Doyle, "Bubba" Atkins was wearing the athletic shoes impounded by the police from Doyle's apartment.

Doyle v. State, 112 Nev. 879, 884-87, 921 P.2d 901, 905-07 (1996) (a copy of the Nevada Supreme Court's opinion is filed in the record as Exh. 225 (ECF No. 174-7)).

On January 12, 1995, a jury found Doyle guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree kidnapping, and sexual assault. See Verdicts, Exh. 155 (ECF No. 172-11). Following a penalty hearing, the jury voted to impose the death sentence for the murder. See Verdict, Exh. 169 (ECF No. 173-10, p. 13). On May 23, 1995, the trial court sentenced Doyle to death for the murder. See Judgment of Conviction, Exh. 157 (ECF No. 173-2). The court sentenced Doyle to six years in prison for the conspiracy to commit murder, life in prison with the possibility of parole for the kidnapping, and life in prison with the possibility of parole for the sexual assault; the lifesentences run consecutively to the death sentence and to one another, and the six-year sentence runs concurrently with the other sentences. See id.

Doyle appealed. See Appellant's Opening Brief, Exh. 172 (ECF No. 173-10, pp. 20-64). The Nevada Supreme Court reversed the sexual assault conviction, finding that there was insufficient evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the victim was alive when the sexual assault occurred. See Doyle, 112 Nev. at 895-900, 921 P.2d at 912-15. The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed Doyle's convictions of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and first-degree kidnapping, as well as the sentences relative to those convictions. See id., 112 Nev. at 902-03, 921 P.2d at 916. The court denied rehearing on June 23, 1997. See Order Denying Rehearing, Exh. 175 (ECF No. 173-10, p. 92).

Doyle then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the state district court on June 26, 1997. See Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Post-Conviction), Exh. 176 (ECF No. 174, pp. 2-41); Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Petition for Post-Conviction Relief, Exh. 177 (ECF No. 174, pp. 43-67). The court held an evidentiary hearing. See Transcript of Evidentiary Hearing, Respondents' Exh. 3 (ECF Nos. 209-4, 209-5). The court denied the petition on October 1, 1998. See Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Order, Exh. 181 (ECF No. 74, pp. 94-98). Doyle appealed. See Appellant's Opening Brief, Exh. 182 (ECF No. 174-2, pp. 2-39). The Nevada Supreme Court affirmed on February 3, 2000. See Doyle v. State, 116 Nev. 148, 995 P.2d 465 (2000) (a copy of the Nevada Supreme Court's opinion is filed in the record as Exh. 184 (ECF No. 174-3, pp. 2-18)).

Doyle initiated this federal habeas corpus action on February 28, 2000, by submitting a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus (ECF No. 4). The Court appointed counsel for Doyle. See Order entered May 2, 2000 ...

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