Hill v. Jones

Decision Date09 April 1996
Docket NumberNo. 94-6793,94-6793
Citation81 F.3d 1015
PartiesWalter HILL, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Ronald E. JONES, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, Respondent-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Barry J. Fisher, Law Offices, Atlanta, Georgia, Palmer C. Singleton, Atlanta, Georgia, Oliver Loewy, Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington, Spokane, Washington, for appellant.

Beth Jackson Hughes, Office of Attorney General, Montgomery, Alabama, for appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama.

Before HATCHETT, COX and BLACK, Circuit Judges.

BLACK, Circuit Judge:

Walter Hill, an Alabama inmate convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death, appeals the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Finding the district court did not err in denying relief on Hill's claims, we affirm.

A. The Crime

Walter Hill was convicted and sentenced to death for the January 1977 murders of Willie Mae Hammock, John Tatum and Lois Tatum in the Booker Heights community of Jefferson County, Alabama. In 1976, while residing in Jefferson County, Hill frequently gambled and drank at Willie Mae Hammock's home in Booker Heights. At the time, Ms. Hammock operated what has been described as a "shot house"--an illegal social club--out of her home. Ms. Hammock, Toni Hammock, John Tatum, and Lois Tatum all lived in Ms. Hammock's house. John Tatum, a 31-year-old retarded man, was the brother of Lois Tatum. Toni, the 13-year-old ward of Ms. Hammock, was often present at the house while patrons, including Hill, were gambling and drinking.

Hill apparently developed a romantic interest in Toni and quarreled with Ms. Hammock approximately two weeks before the murders when Ms. Hammock refused to allow Toni to go with him to California. On January 7, 1977, at approximately 4:30 in the afternoon, Hill went to Ms. Hammock's home. Sometime after he arrived, Ms. Hammock gave Hill a pistol which he had left there on an earlier occasion. Hill asked whether he could marry Toni, but Ms. Hammock refused her permission.

Shortly thereafter, when Ms. Hammock turned to enter a closet in a front bedroom, Hill followed and shot her in the back of the head with his pistol. Proceeding to the dining room, Hill shot John Tatum twice in the head. Hill then chased down Lois Tatum and shot her in the back of the head as well. Hill told Toni, who had witnessed the shootings, he had "one more to kill." Hill was referring to Toni's 16-year old brother Robert.

Hill and Toni drove to another house to get Robert. Robert got into the car with Hill and Toni, but threatened to jump from the car when Hill was evasive about their destination. Hill told Robert he would "put a bullet in his head" if he attempted to escape. Hill, Toni, and Robert then drove to Georgia where their car broke down. At that point, Robert escaped and returned to Birmingham where he discovered the bodies of Ms. Hammock and the Tatums.

After Robert escaped, Hill and Toni walked into a residential neighborhood in Decatur, Georgia where they encountered Lewis Nunnery. Hill and Toni told Nunnery they needed assistance getting their car repaired, and Nunnery agreed to help. After the three of them got into Nunnery's car, Hill ordered Nunnery to drive them to South Carolina. Hill told Nunnery that he was a fugitive from Alabama who had just killed three people and would kill again. Hill warned he would kill the police or anyone else who tried to stop him.

Hill forced Nunnery on a drive that took them through South Carolina and Tennessee. After their car overheated and broke down in North Carolina, Hill fell asleep and Nunnery escaped. Nunnery reported his abduction to the police, and Hill was arrested in the disabled car on the side of the road. Police found the pistol with which Hill had killed Ms. Hammock and the Tatums in his pocket.

At the time of his arrest, Hill was 45 years old and had spent most of his adult life incarcerated. In 1952, Hill was convicted of second-degree murder in an Alabama state court and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment. He was released from custody in 1960, but a year later was convicted in federal court in Alabama of kidnapping and interstate transportation of a stolen vehicle. He received a 25-year sentence for the crime. While serving that sentence in the federal penitentiary in Atlanta, Hill was convicted of stabbing another inmate to death and was sentenced to an additional five years in custody. Hill was paroled in 1975 after having served approximately 13 years of his federal sentences. He returned to live in Birmingham where less than two years later he committed the murders for which he is sentenced to death.

B. State Court Proceedings

In October 1977, Hill was convicted in Alabama circuit court of capital murder in the killings of Ms. Hammock and the Tatums. At the time, Hill was represented by attorneys William Short and Jackie McDougal. Following a sentencing hearing, Judge Harry Pickens sentenced Hill to death. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the conviction after finding the prosecution had improperly used "for cause" challenges to strike death-scrupled jurors in violation of Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968). See Hill v. State, 371 So.2d 64, 67 (Ala.Crim.App.1979).

Hill was tried a second time for capital murder before Judge Pickens beginning on August 21, 1979. At his second trial, Hill was represented by McDougal and Robert Boyce. Hill was again convicted of capital murder, and Judge Pickens conducted a sentencing hearing on September 14, 1979, at which he orally sentenced Hill to death. Judge Pickens died before he could enter a signed sentencing order.

Thereafter, Judge Gardner Goodwyn assumed Hill's case. Judge Goodwyn held a de novo sentencing hearing on February 19, 1980, to determine whether Hill should be sentenced to death or life without parole. In preparation for this hearing, Judge Goodwyn read the transcript of Hill's second guilt-phase trial in Judge Pickens' court. Following the hearing, Judge Goodwyn made separate findings of fact concerning relevant aggravating and mitigating circumstances. Judge Goodwyn found the evidence supported three statutory aggravating circumstances: (1) the murders were "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel," (2) Hill knowingly created a "great risk of death to many persons," and (3) Hill had been convicted of several prior violent felonies. Finding no mitigating circumstances, Judge Goodwyn sentenced Hill to death.

Represented by McDougal and Boyce, Hill appealed his second conviction and death sentence to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals. The appeals court reversed Hill's conviction citing Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625, 100 S.Ct. 2382, 65 L.Ed.2d 392 (1980), where the Supreme Court held unconstitutional a portion of the Alabama death penalty statute under which Hill was convicted. Hill v. State, 407 So.2d 567 (Ala.Crim.App.1981). The Supreme Court of Alabama denied certiorari. Hill v. State, 407 So.2d 567 (Ala.1981). Neither McDougal nor Boyce represented Hill in any proceeding after the petition for certiorari in the Alabama Supreme Court.

The State of Alabama petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari, arguing the Beck decision did not invalidate Hill's conviction and sentence. On June 14, 1982, the Supreme Court vacated and remanded in light of Hopper v. Evans, 456 U.S. 605, 102 S.Ct. 2049, 72 L.Ed.2d 367 (1982). Alabama v. Hill, 457 U.S. 1114, 102 S.Ct. 2920, 73 L.Ed.2d 1325 (1982). After review, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Hill's conviction and sentence. Hill v. State, 455 So.2d 930 (Ala.Crim.App.1984). The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed, Ex parte Hill, 455 So.2d 938, 939 (Ala.1984), and the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. Hill v. Alabama, 469 U.S. 1098, 1098, 105 S.Ct. 607, 608, 83 L.Ed.2d 716 (1984). On his final petition to the United States Supreme Court on direct appeal, only attorney Alan W. Howell represented Hill.

On December 5, 1985, Howell filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis on Hill's behalf in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. The petition raised only one claim: that the prosecution withheld exculpatory evidence from Hill's trial counsel in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). On January 21, 1987, Circuit Judge James Garrett held an evidentiary hearing on Hill's Brady claim. Judge Garrett denied the claim by written order. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed, Hill v. State, 541 So.2d 83 (Ala.Crim.App.1988), and the Alabama Supreme Court denied certiorari, Ex parte Hill, 562 So.2d 315 (Ala.1989).

On petition for certiorari to the United States Supreme Court, Hill argued for the first time that his death sentence rested on the "especially heinous, atrocious or cruel" aggravating circumstance which had been applied in an unconstitutionally vague manner in violation of Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U.S. 420, 100 S.Ct. 1759, 64 L.Ed.2d 398 (1980) and Maynard v. Cartwright, 486 U.S. 356, 108 S.Ct. 1853, 100 L.Ed.2d 372 (1988). The Supreme Court denied certiorari on October 2, 1989. Hill v. Alabama, 493 U.S. 874, 110 S.Ct. 208, 107 L.Ed.2d 161 (1989).

In March 1990, Hill filed a second petition for collateral relief in the Alabama trial court under Rule 20 of the Alabama (Temporary) Rules of Criminal Procedure. 1 In his petition, he listed twelve claims, including the Brady claim denied in his 1985 coram nobis petition. He also raised for the first time claims of ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. Without holding an evidentiary hearing, Judge Garrett dismissed all but the Brady claim as barred under Alabama's "successive petition rule" codified in Temporary Rule 20.2(b). As for the Brady claim, he found it factually insufficient and concluded Hill was attempting to...

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