Garza v. Shinn

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. District of Arizona
PartiesRuben Garza, Petitioner, v. David Shinn, et al., Respondents.
Docket NumberCV-14-01901-PHX-SRB
Decision Date09 December 2021

Ruben Garza, Petitioner,

David Shinn, et al., Respondents.

No. CV-14-01901-PHX-SRB

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 9, 2021



Susan R. Bolton, United States District Judge.

Before the Court is the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Ruben Garza, an Arizona death row inmate. (Doc. 27.) Respondents filed a response to the petition and Garza filed a reply. (Docs. 37, 44.) For the reasons set forth herein, the petition is denied.


In 2004, a Maricopa County jury convicted Garza of two counts of first-degree murder for the 1999 shooting deaths of Ellen Franco and Lance Rush. He was sentenced to death for the Rush murder. The Arizona Supreme Court set forth the following facts in its opinion affirming the convictions and sentences. State v. Garza, 216 Ariz. 56, 61-63, 163 P.3d 1006, 1011-13 (2007).

Ellen Franco lived in a house in Waddell, Arizona, with Jennifer Farley and Farley's boyfriend, Lance Rush. She had recently separated from her husband, Larry Franco.

At approximately 10:30 p.m. on December 1, 1999, Farley heard a knock at the door. Upon opening the door, she saw a Hispanic male about five feet, nine or ten inches tall, weighing 180 to 200 pounds, with severe acne. He pointed at Ellen, who was standing


behind Farley, and said, "I am here to see her." Ellen identified him as "Ben," whom Farley understood to be a relative of Ellen's.

Ellen went outside. Farley went to her bedroom and told Rush about the visitor. She then heard two gunshots. Rush and Farley scrambled to grab one of the guns they kept in their bedroom, and Farley took a pistol from her nightstand. By the time she removed the gun from its holster, the locked door to the bedroom had been opened.

Rush went into the hallway. Farley heard a gunshot almost immediately thereafter and hid in the bedroom closet. She heard several more shots.

After waiting briefly, Farley came out of the bedroom closet. She saw Ellen lying face down in the living room in a pool of blood. After determining that Ellen was alive, Farley looked for Rush. She found him in the guest bedroom opposite their bedroom. He was conscious but bleeding. Farley dialed 911. Police and paramedics arrived within minutes. Rush was lucid and said, "Someone kicked the door and started shooting." Ellen and Rush later died of their wounds.

Around 12:45 a.m. on December 2, Garza bought bandages, gauze, and hydrogen peroxide from a drugstore in west Phoenix. Later that morning, he was treated at a Phoenix hospital for a gunshot wound to his left arm. The hospital contacted Phoenix police. Garza told the responding officer that he was walking down the street when an unknown assailant drove by and shot him.

Maricopa County Sheriffs Office ("MCSO") detectives questioned Garza the next morning. Garza again claimed that he had been the victim of a drive-by shooting but changed his story when told that he had been identified by Farley as the visitor to the Waddell house. He then stated that he had gone there to persuade Ellen to reconcile with Larry. Ellen came out and talked to him. When their conversation turned into an argument, Garza pulled out his gun and shot her. Garza said he then blacked out and was in a daze. He told the detectives he did not remember seeing a man at the house, but that the woman who had originally answered the door charged at him with a knife and he shot at her. At some point someone shot him and he returned fire.


Garza was arrested. That same day he made two phone calls from jail to his friend Laurel Thompson. In the first conversation, Garza said he was going to be in jail for a couple years and that he had done to somebody else what the two had once discussed doing to a boyfriend who had assaulted Thompson.

In the second conversation, Thompson told Garza that he was on every newscast. Thompson asked Garza how he had gotten caught. He told her he had been shot. Garza asked Thompson about the news coverage and how many victims were being reported, and she said that he had killed two people. Garza told Thompson he didn't remember who he shot. When asked if it was self-defense, Garza said that on one count it was and on the other count it wasn't. He said the guy shot him and then he shot the guy.

Garza's car was searched. Two white cloth gloves were found on the front seat floorboards. One glove was stained with blood, later identified through DNA testing as Garza's. A bloodstained green cloth glove was found under the front seat. DNA testing also identified that blood as Garza's. Garza's blood was also found on the passenger side of the car and in two locations in the hallway of the Waddell house.

A box of 9 mm ammunition was found under the driver's seat. Garza's fingerprints were on the box. The bullets were the same type as those found at the murder scene. A 9 mm pistol was found in Garza's apartment. Testing showed that the pistol had fired the bullets found at the murder scene. No. bullets fired by any other gun were discovered at the scene.

Farley identified Garza at trial as the intruder. Eric Rodriguez, a longtime friend of Garza's, testified that before the murders he had rejected Garza's offer to join him in a venture that would require them to "get a little dirty" in order to make some money. Another acquaintance testified that two or three weeks before the murders Garza had asked if he was interested in helping Garza with some "family problems."

Garza was represented at trial by James Cleary and Christopher Dupont of the Office of the Legal Defender. His primary defense was that Larry Franco had committed the


murders. He claimed that law enforcement covered up Franco's involvement because Franco was a police informant.

The jury found Garza guilty of two counts of first degree-murder and one count of first-degree burglary. The State alleged both felony and premeditated murder. The jury made no findings as to the theory or theories upon which the murder verdicts were based.

In the aggravation phase of trial, the jury rejected the A.R.S. § 13-703(F)(5) pecuniary gain aggravating factor, but found that the § 13-703 (F)(8) multiple-murders factor had been established as to both murders.[1]

In the penalty or mitigation phase, the jury declined to impose death for Ellen's murder, but authorized the death penalty for the murder of Rush. The court sentenced Garza to death for the Rush murder and life without possibility of parole for Ellen's murder.

The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the convictions and sentences. Garza, 216 Ariz. at 63, 163 P.3d at 1013. Garza filed a petition for post-conviction relief ("PCR"), which the court denied without an evidentiary hearing.[2] The Arizona Supreme Court summarily denied review.

Garza then sought relief in this Court, filing his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on July 31, 2015. (Doc. 27.)


Habeas relief may be granted only on claims that a prisoner "is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Federal habeas claims are analyzed under the framework of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"). Pursuant to AEDPA, a petitioner is not entitled to habeas relief on any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's


adjudication (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

A state court decision is "contrary to" clearly established federal law under § 2254(d)(1) if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court precedent, thereby reaching a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a matter of law, or if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of the Supreme Court but reaches a different result. Williams v. Taylor (Terry Williams), 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000); see Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002) (per curiam). Under the "unreasonable application" prong of § 2254(d)(1), relief is available where a state court "identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular . . . case" or "unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply." Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 407.

"Clearly established federal law" refers to the holdings, as opposed to dicta, of the Supreme Court's decisions at the time of the relevant state court decision. Id. at 412. "[C]ircuit precedent does not constitute 'clearly established Federal law'" and "cannot form the basis for habeas relief under AEDPA." Parker v. Matthews, 567 U.S. 37, 48-49 (2012); see Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 76-77 (2006). A reviewing court may, however, "look to circuit precedent to ascertain whether it has already held that the particular point in issue is clearly established by Supreme Court precedent." Marshall v. Rodgers, 569 U.S. 58, 63 (2013).

The Supreme Court has emphasized that under § 2254(d)(1) "an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law." Williams (Terry), 529 U.S. at 410, (O'Connor, J., concurring); see Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). To obtain habeas relief, therefore, "a state prisoner must show that the


state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement." Harrington v....

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