Hodges v. State, CR–04–1226.

CourtAlabama Court of Criminal Appeals
Citation147 So.3d 916
Docket NumberCR–04–1226.
PartiesMelvin Gene HODGES v. STATE of Alabama.
Decision Date23 March 2007

147 So.3d 916

Melvin Gene HODGES
STATE of Alabama.


Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama.

March 23, 2007.
Opinion on Return to Remand Aug. 29, 2008.

147 So.3d 924

Robert L. Aldisert, Jeffrey C. Dobbins, and George K. Fogg, Portland, Oregon; Banurekha Ramachandran, Portland, Oregon; and James David Martin and Robert D. Segall, Montgomery, for appellant.

Troy King, atty. gen., and Jeremy W. McIntire, James R. Houts, J. Clayton Crenshaw, Jasper B. Roberts, Jr., and Tina M. Coker, asst. attys. gen., for appellee.

SHAW, Judge.

Melvin Gene Hodges appeals the circuit court's summary dismissal of his Rule 32, Ala.R.Crim.P., petition for postconviction relief, in which he attacked his capital-murder conviction and his sentence of death.

Hodges was initially indicted for two counts of capital murder for his involvement in the murder of Elizabeth Seaton; he was charged with murder during the course of a kidnapping, § 13A–5–40(a)(1), Ala.Code 1975, and murder during the

147 So.3d 925

course of a robbery, § 13A–5–40(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975. Hodges presented evidence concerning racial discrimination in the selection of grand-jury forepersons, and the indictment was dismissed. Hodges was reindicted on March 18, 1999, for murder during the course of a robbery, § 13A–5–40(a)(2), Ala.Code 1975. A jury found Hodges guilty and recommended that he be sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole; eight jurors voted to impose a sentence of life imprisonment without parole and four jurors voted to impose a death sentence. The trial court overrode the jury's recommendation and sentenced Hodges to death. On direct appeal, this Court initially remanded the case to the trial court for issues relating to the sentencing order and the weighing of the aggravating circumstances and the mitigating circumstances. On return to remand, Hodges's conviction and death sentence were affirmed. Hodges v. State, 856 So.2d 875 (Ala.Crim.App.2001). The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. Ex parte Hodges, 856 So.2d 936 (Ala.2003). The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari review. Hodges v. Alabama, 540 U.S. 986, 124 S.Ct. 465, 157 L.Ed.2d 379 (2003). A certificate of judgment was issued on April 2, 2003.

In Hodges v. State, 856 So.2d 875 (Ala.Crim.App.2001) (opinion on return to remand), this Court summarized the facts of the crime as follows:

“The State's evidence tended to show the following. On January 5, 1998, two hunters discovered the nude body of Beth Seaton on the side of County Road 26 in Macon County. The coroner testified that Seaton died as a result of a combination of blunt-force injuries to her head, neck, chest, and abdomen, the most significant being the crushing injuries to her chest and abdomen, which resulted from having been run over by a vehicle. Tire marks ran vertically up and down Seaton's back. A name tag from the Golden Corral Restaurant with Hodges's name on it was found near Seaton's body.
“Hodges and Seaton were coworkers at the Golden Corral Restaurant in Opelika. Seaton was a supervisor, and one of her duties was to close the restaurant. Hodges was a crew leader at the restaurant. On January 5, 1998, Trina Eady, another employee at Golden Corral, and Hodges arrived to open the restaurant. The alarm system was deactivated and the safe was open. There was no evidence of a forced entry. They telephoned police.
“An investigation led police to Marlo Murph. Murph testified at trial that Hodges suggested robbing the Golden Corral. He said that Hodges told him that Sunday night was the best time because there would be a lot of money in the safe. Murph said that Hodges got the pistol used to murder Seaton from Greg Holstick. The two planned to get to the restaurant while Seaton was closing up. According to Murph, their plans went awry. When they arrived at the restaurant they saw Seaton driving away in her van. They followed the van and were able to get Seaton to pull over. While Hodges was talking to her, Murph said, he entered the van and pointed a gun at her. The two then forced her to drive back to the Golden Corral and open the safe. Murph and Hodges then forced Seaton to drive her van around the area. Murph testified that Seaton sensed that something was going to happen; he stated that she started taking off her clothes and saying that she would have sex with them if they did not hurt her. They eventually made her pull the vehicle over. Murph testified that Hodges said that Seaton knew too much. Hodges then pulled Seaton out of the van and began hitting and choking her. Murph said that while Hodges was
147 So.3d 926
holding her, he hit Seaton with a pistol. Murph testified that when he realized what Hodges was going to do he walked away. He said that Hodges got into the driver's seat in Seaton's van and ran over Seaton about four times, back and forth. The two then left in Seaton's van. Murph said that they drove around for several minutes and Hodges realized that his Golden Corral name tag was missing. The two tried to return to where they had left the body, but they were lost and running out of gas. Murph said that he threw Seaton's purse out of the window near the rest area in Tuskegee and that they parked Seaton's van at Mount Olive Baptist Church. Hodges's clothes were covered in blood so he gave them to Murph to dispose of. Murph led police to where he had disposed of Hodges's clothes. Murph testified that Hodges gave him $2,500 for his part in the robbery/murder. (Murph had $1,427 in his possession at the time of his arrest.)
“Kitty Porter, Hodges's aunt, testified that, on January 5, 1998, she drove Hodges to Tuskegee. She said that he told her that police had discovered his Golden Corral name tag at the murder scene. Porter testified that Hodges admitted to her that he had robbed and killed Seaton. He told her about the murder—an account that corroborated Murph's account in almost all respects. Porter testified that Hodges told her that he gave $5,000 to Murph for his part in the robbery/murder.
“Several witnesses also testified that the day after the robbery/murder Hodges had a large quantity of money. Hodges himself testified that he gave his girlfriend $600. Forensic evidence connected Hodges to the robbery/murder. A cigarette butt recovered from Seaton's van contained saliva, the DNA of which matched Hodges's. Also, at the time of Hodges's arrest he had blood on his watch and ring. Furthermore, blood found on the clothes that Murph had discarded for Hodges matched Seaton's DNA.
“Hodges testified in his own defense and offered his own version of the facts surrounding Seaton's murder. Hodges testified that he orchestrated the robbery and enlisted the help of Craig Hicks, Greg Holstick, and Marlo Murph. Hodges testified that, on the night of the intended robbery, Hicks did not show up and they had to revise their plans. He said that he planned to be at his apartment so that he would not be implicated in the robbery. He said that he wondered what was taking so long and went across the street from the Golden Corral to see what was happening. Hodges further testified that after about one hour Greg Holstick returned and said that they had to get rid of Seaton because she knew them. (Hodges had previously introduced Holstick to Seaton.) Hodges said that Holstick gave him $600. Hodges said that he was not present at the time of the robbery or the murder and that he knew nothing about the murder. He said that the State's witnesses were all lying.”

Hodges v. State, 856 So.2d at 894–96 (footnote omitted). Marlo Murph testified against Hodges pursuant to a plea agreement in which the State recommended that Murph receive a sentence of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole. Hodges v. State, 856 So.2d at 894 n. 1.

On March 30, 2004, through counsel, Hodges filed this Rule 32 petition, in which he raised numerous claims, including ineffective assistance of counsel. The case was assigned to Judge Robert Harper, who had presided over Hodges's trial. On August 6, 2004, Hodges filed an amended petition. On September 3, 2004, the State filed an answer to the amended petition. On October 13, 2004, Hodges filed a response to the State's answer. On October

147 So.3d 927

29, 2004, the State filed a motion for summary dismissal and argued that a majority of the claims in the amended petition were due to be dismissed on procedural grounds. On December 1, 2004, the circuit court granted the State's motion to dismiss and filed an extensive order setting forth the dismissed claims and the reasons for their dismissal. On January 5, 2005, Hodges filed a motion for reconsideration of the circuit court's dismissal order. On January 19, 2005, the State filed a motion to schedule an evidentiary hearing on those claims not dismissed by the circuit court. On January 26, 2005, the circuit court ordered that an evidentiary hearing be held on March 29, 2005. This order was issued by Judge John Denson, because Judge Harper had retired from the bench. On January 28, 2005, Hodges filed a motion opposing the State's motion to set a hearing;...

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