Hernandez v. Martel

Citation824 F.Supp.2d 1025
Decision Date16 August 2011
Docket NumberCase No. CV 90–4638 RSWL.
PartiesFrancis HERNANDEZ, Petitioner, v. Michael MARTEL,* Acting Warden, California State Prison at San Quentin, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California


Margo A. Rocconi, Sean K. Kennedy, Federal Public Defenders Office, Beverly Kay Falk, Office of Attorney General, California Department Of Justice, Los Angeles, CA, Edward M. Medvene, Edward M. Medvene Law Offices, Santa Barbara, CA, for Petitioner.

Edward M. Medvene, Edward M. Medvene Law Offices, Westlake Village, CA, for Respondent.


RONALD S. W. LEW, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on petitioner Francis Hernandez's petition for writ of habeas corpus. The Court has read the parties' briefs, together with supporting documentation. For the reasons and in the manner set forth below, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART the petition for writ of habeas corpus based upon the ineffective assistance of counsel, jury misconduct and cumulative error.

I. Factual Background

An L.A. County jury convicted Francis Hernandez of two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of forcible rape and two counts of sodomy. The jury found true the special circumstance allegations that each murder occurred during the commission of rape and sodomy and that petitioner was convicted of more than one murder. At penalty, the prosecution presented no evidence in aggravation. The defense presented evidence that petitioner was young and drunk at the time of the crimes, that he came from a dysfunctional home, that he probably had borderline personality disorder, that he once helped a friend and that his life should be spared due to the love of his family and friends and his chance for religious salvation. Petitioner testified at the penalty phase, but only about the circumstances of the crime. The jury recommended death. The trial court condemned petitioner. Petitioner was eighteen at the time of the crimes.

II. Procedural History

On direct appeal, the California Supreme Court vacated the multiple-murder special circumstance but otherwise affirmed petitioner's conviction and sentence. People v. Hernandez, 47 Cal.3d 315, 253 Cal.Rptr. 199, 763 P.2d 1289 (1988).

Petitioner filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court on August 28, 1990. Two years later, petitioner filed his second state habeas petition in the California Supreme Court in order to exhaust claims contained in his federal petition. The state court denied the exhaustion petition several months later. Petitioner returned to federal court, filing an amended petition on March 18, 1993. Litigation concerning a motion to dismiss and a motion for summary judgment ensued for many years. The Court ultimately granted partial summary judgment to respondent. The Court then granted an evidentiary hearing on three issues of jury misconduct and two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel (“IAC”). The Court bifurcated the evidentiary hearing on IAC, directing the parties to address deficient performance and prejudice separately. For six years, the parties conducted a paper evidentiary hearing on juror misconduct and IAC.1

III. DiscussionA. Mental Health Evidence

Many of petitioner's claims involve mental health evidence, including whether he had the requisite mens rea at the time of the crime and whether counsel failed to investigate and present mitigating evidence, among others. The mental health evidence falls into two categories: evidence gathered before petitioner's capital trial and evidence gathered and presented as part of petitioner's federal evidentiary hearing. Both are summarized here.

1. Mental health evidence known before trial

Prior to trial, seven experts had contact with petitioner. Trial counsel had access to the opinions of each of these experts.

Petitioner had been incarcerated in the California Youth Authority (“CYA”) following a conviction for second-degree burglary for breaking into a drug store. CYA clinical psychologist Audrey Prentiss evaluated petitioner in August of 1979, about 18 months before the murders took place. Dr. Prentiss found that petitioner functioned “within the high average range of intellectual ability.” (7 CDD 2 at P01214.) Dr. Prentiss concluded:

[Petitioner] showed confidence in himself and in his abilities and has good social skills. He tends toward ingratiating behavior that is somewhat manipulative in quality. His behavior is characteristic of an antisocial personality in that he is aware of what he is doing, realizes that he is capable of doing it and goes about doing it with impunity. He perceives the environment in selfish terms without regard for the possible consequences that it may have on others. This attitude appeared to have been related to the fact that this ward has had to assume a lot of responsibility for himself at a young age and has learned to manipulate the environment for his own needs. Having had to assume this responsibility, he had difficulties in accepting the pressures that are part of it.... There were no indications of organicity nor of a neurological dysfunction. He is not suicidal or homicidal.( Id. at P01215–16.)

Deputy public defender John Torelli initially represented petitioner for his capital prosecution, though Torelli withdrew before trial due to a conflict. Torelli consulted three mental health experts: clinical psychologist Michael P. Maloney and psychiatrists Michael B. Coburn and Alvin E. Davis.

Torelli provided Dr. Maloney with the preliminary hearing transcript; the information, the autopsy, arrest and crime reports; and a five-page account of petitioner's background, which focused mostly on petitioner's adoptive parents and contained very little information about petitioner's biological parents. (JTD 3 at P00814–23 (Exhs. 12–16).) Torelli asked Dr. Maloney to “conduct a full psychological evaluation, including all the standard testing that you would normally give to a prospective patient,” and sought Dr. Maloney's opinion “as to any major psychological or minor psychological disorder, including, but not limited to, anything involving a defense, such as insanity, diminished capacity or mitigation in the penalty phase.” (JTD at P00814.) Dr. Maloney concluded that while petitioner did not appear psychotic, the “data do suggest some potentially serious psychological problems.” ( Id. at P00829.) Dr. Maloney found that petitioner had a “highly pathological profile” and that he had significant elevations on scales measuring hypomania, schizophrenia, psychopathic deviate and paranoia. ( Id.) People with similar profiles “are often described as having episodes during which they are seen a demanding, confused, hostile, hyperactive, panicky and circumstantial. They may additionally be restless, evasive and high strung.” ( Id.) Petitioner's profile suggested “a fair amount of hostility.” ( Id.) Dr. Maloney explained that people with profiles similar to petitioner “show intense overreaction to normal rejection” and may exhibit a “tendency to be susceptible to sexual identity confusions.” ( Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).) Dr. Maloney stated that “the most likely descriptive diagnosis is schizo-manic episode. This would suggest a state wherein there is some breakdown in the thinking processes combined with an elevated or manic-like state.” ( Id. at P00830.) While the most technical diagnosis would be schizophrenia, Dr. Maloney stated that petitioner “shows no overt signs of schizophrenia, but he clearly does appear to have a variety of psychological problems.” ( Id.) Dr. Maloney concluded as follows:

The present data suggest that we have an individual who functions in the normal range of general intelligence with no suggestion of any specific cognitive-intellectual or perceptual deficit. He also does not manifest any of the primary signs of a major condition such as psychosis. Present data do, however, indicate that he has significant psychological problems and comes from a very unstable background with multiple noted difficulties relating to his parents as well as problems between his parents.

I was able to obtain from Mr. Hernandez a fairly specific account of the events occurring at the time of the present alleged offenses. As you know, at both of these times he was drinking heavily, but he is, nevertheless, able to recall a number of his activities and behaviors.

( Id. at P00830.) Dr. Maloney testified at the penalty phase. He opined that he “had no data to suggest that [petitioner] would not be responsible for his behavior” at the time of the crime and that petitioner “was drinking at the time [of the crimes] but beyond that, he should have had the capacity to understand what he was doing.” (14 RT 3473); see also 14 RT 2374 (“I have no information to indicate that he shouldn't have been able to appreciate [what he was doing].... I have no data to indicate that he was psychotic or severely disturbed at [the time of the crime.])

Torelli also consulted Dr. Coburn. Torelli sent Dr. Coburn the same materials sent to Dr. Maloney, but also added Dr. Maloney's report, the transcripts of petitioner's confession and petitioner's statement to his girlfriend. Torelli asked Dr. Coburn to evaluate whether petitioner was competent to stand trial, insane, capable of forming the specific intent to commit any crime, particularly rape, and whether petitioner suffered from any mental disease or defect or an emotional or psychological disorder that could provide mitigating evidence at the penalty phase. (JTD at P00831–32.) Dr. Coburn interviewed petitioner for a total of two hours. Dr. Coburn concluded that petitioner was sane at the time of the offenses, that petitioner “would have been capable of forming all of the requisite intents involved in varying degrees of homicide” and that “there is no indication that he would have lacked the capacity to form any specific intent in regards to the sexual aspects...

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