Geralds v. Inch

Decision Date13 May 2019
Docket NumberCase No.: 5:13-cv-167-MW Capital Case
PartiesMARK ALLEN GERALDS, Petitioner, v. MARK S. INCH, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, et. al., Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Florida

Before this Court is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Mark Allen Geralds, a Florida death row inmate, pursuant to Title 28, United States Code, Section 2254. ECF No. 1. Geralds has asserted eight claims for relief. Respondents have filed an answer, ECF No. 14, and Geralds has filed a reply, ECF No. 19. After careful consideration of the issues raised in the pleadings and for the reasons stated below, the petition is denied.


The relevant facts are set out as follows in the Florida Supreme Court's opinion affirming Geralds' convictions and sentence on direct appeal:

The convictions arise from events occurring on February 1, 1989, when eight-year-old Bart Pettibone arrived home from school and found his mother, Tressa Lynn Pettibone, beaten and stabbed to death on the kitchen floor. There were two stab wounds on the right side of Tressa Pettibone's neck and one fatal stab wound on the left side. The wounds were consistent with a knife found in the kitchen sink. The medical examiner found a number of bruises and abrasions on the head, face, chest, and abdomen of the victim caused by some form of blunt trauma. The examiner also determined that the victim's wrists had been bound with a plastic tie for at least twenty minutes prior to her death.
Blythe Pettibone, the victim's daughter, testified that several items of jewelry were missing from the home. Among these were a herringbone chain necklace and a pair of red-framed Bucci sunglasses. Kevin Pettibone, the victim's husband, testified that his wife's Mercedes automobile was missing. The automobile was later found in the parking lot of a nearby school. Cash in the amount of $7,000 hidden in the house was not taken.
Mark Geralds was a carpenter who had worked on the remodeling of the Pettibones's house. About one week prior to the murder, Tressa Pettibone and her children encountered Geralds in a shopping mall. Tressa Pettibone mentioned that her husband was out of town on business. Later, Geralds approached Bart at the video arcade. He asked when Bart's father would be back in town and when Bart and his sister left for and returned from school during the day.
Other circumstantial evidence linked Geralds to the crime: (1) at 2:00 p.m. on February 1, 1989, Geralds pawned a gold herringbone chain necklace. Serology testing revealed a stain on the necklace to be blood compatible with the victim's blood type and inconsistent with Geralds's; (2) Douglas Freeman, Geralds's grandfather, testified that on occasion Geralds would come by his house to take a shower. Freeman testified that Geralds came by at 11:30 a.m. on February 1, 1989, and asked to shower because he had been working on a fiberglass boat, a reason he had given in the past. When he left, Geralds stated that he was taking a pair of sunglasses to some friends; (3) Vickey Ward testified that Geralds gave her a pair of red Bucci sunglasses in late January or early February, 1989; (4) a pair of Nike shoes was seized from Geralds's residence. Evidence indicated that they could have made the tracks on the floor in the Pettibone house; (5) the plastic tie recovered from the victim's wrist matched the ties found in Geralds's car.

Geralds v. State, 601 So. 2d 1157, 1158-59 (Fla. 1992) (hereinafter Geralds I). The jury found Geralds guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery, burglary of a dwelling, and theft of an automobile. After a penalty phase proceeding, the jury recommended death for the homicide by a vote of eight to four. The trial court concurred, finding no statutory or nonstatutory mitigating factors and four aggravating circumstances: (1) the homicide occurred during a burglary; (2) the homicide was committed to avoid arrest; (3) the homicide was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel ("HAC"); and (4) the homicide was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification ("CCP"). The trial court sentenced Geralds to death for the murder and as a habitual felony offender for the noncapital felonies.

On direct appeal, Geralds raised five claims, including that the prosecutor engaged in an impermissible colloquy regarding his prior nonviolent felonies to impeach a defense mitigation witness. See Geralds I, 601 So. 2d at 1159-64. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed Geralds' convictions but found Geralds' claim regarding the prior nonviolent felonies reversible error and remanded for a new penalty phase proceeding. On remand, the jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of twelve to zero. At resentencing, the trial court found the following aggravating factors: (1) the murder was committed during the commission of a robbery and/or burglary; (2) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; and (3) the murder was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification. The court found the statutory mitigator of age but afforded it little weight.2 As for nonstatutory mitigation, the trial court found the following but gave them "very little weight": (1) Geralds' love and concern for his daughter and former wife; (2) Geralds came from a divorced family and was unloved by his mother; and (3) Geralds' antisocial behavior and bipolar manic personality. Geralds v. State, 674 So. 2d 96, 98 (Fla. 1996) (per curiam) (hereinafter Geralds II). The trial court determined that the aggravating factors outweighed the mitigating factors and sentenced Geralds to death. Geralds appealed his sentence, raising ten claims. See id. at 99. On appeal, the Florida Supreme Court found the application of the CCP aggravating factor was error but concluded that the error was harmless and affirmed Geralds' sentence of death. The United States Supreme Court subsequently denied Geralds' petition for writ of certiorari. See Geralds v. Florida, 519 U.S. 891 (1996).

Thereafter, Geralds filed initial and amended motions for postconviction relief pursuant to Fla. R. Crim. P. 3.851, raising twenty-six claims. After an evidentiary hearing, the postconviction court denied relief. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed. Geralds v. State, 111 So. 3d 778 (Fla. 2010) (hereinafter Geralds III). On April 29, 2013, Geralds filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus. On April 21, 2016, Geralds filed a motion to hold this proceeding in abeyance pending state court exhaustion of a claim under Hurst v. Florida, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), which this Court granted. ECF Nos. 22, 24. In October of 2018, Geralds filed a status report informing this Court that the state court denied his Hurst-related motion and his appeals of the denial were not successful. See ECF No. 34. Thereafter, he filed a motion to amend his federal habeas petition to include Hurst-related claims. ECF No. 35. This Court denied the motion to amend finding that any amendment would be untimely and futile. ECF No. 38. The petition is now ripe for adjudication.


Geralds requests a plenary evidentiary hearing on the claims presented in his petition. ECF No. 1, pp. 32-35. However, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 provides for an evidentiary hearing in federal habeas claims only under very limited circumstances as follows:

(2) If the applicant has failed to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court proceedings, the court shall not hold an evidentiary hearing on the claim unless the applicant shows that--
(A) the claim relies on--
(i) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable; or
(ii) a factual predicate that could not have been previously discovered through the exercise of due diligence; and
(B) the facts underlying the claim would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that but for constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2)(2002). Under this provision, a hearing is not warranted "if such a hearing would not assist in the resolution of [the] claim." See Breedlove v. Moore, 279 F.3d 952, 960 (11th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). In Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474-75 (2007), the Court explained:

In deciding whether to grant an evidentiary hearing, a federal court must consider whether such a hearing could enable an applicant to prove the petition's factual allegations, which, if true, would entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief. See, e.g., Mayes v. Gibson, 210 F.3d 1284, 1287 (C.A.10 2000). Because the deferential standards prescribed by § 2254 control whether to grant habeas relief, a federal court must take into account those standards in deciding whether an evidentiary hearing is appropriate. See id., at 1287-1288 ("Whether [an applicant's] allegations, if proven, would entitle him to habeas relief is a question governed by [AEDPA]").

* * * *

This principle accords with AEDPA's acknowledged purpose of "reduc[ing] delays in the execution of state and federal criminal sentences." Woodford v. Garceau, 538 U.S. 202, 206, 123 S. Ct. 1398, 155 L.Ed.2d 363 (2003) (citing Williams v. Taylor, supra, [529 U.S. 362] at 386, 120 S. Ct. 1495 (opinion of STEVENS, J.) ("Congress wished to curb delays, to prevent 'retrials' on federal habeas, and to give effect to state convictions to the extent possible under law")). If district courts were required to allow federal habeas applicants to develop even the most insubstantial factual allegations in evidentiary hearings, district courts would be forced to reopen factual disputes that were conclusively resolved in the state courts.

(footnote omitted). Geralds has not presented or proffered...

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