Hutchison v. Bell

Decision Date29 August 2002
Docket NumberNo. 01-5214.,01-5214.
Citation303 F.3d 720
PartiesOlen E. HUTCHISON, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Ricky BELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Dana C. Hansen (argued and briefed), Federal Defender Services, Knoxville, TN, for Petitioner-Appellant.

Alice B. Lustre (argued and briefed), Gordon W. Smith, Asst. Atty. Gen., Glenn R. Pruden, Criminal Justice Div., Office of Attorney General, Nashville, TN, Michael E. Moore, Solicitor (briefed), Paul G. Summers, Atty. Gen. (briefed), Tennessee Attorney General's Office, Criminal Justice Div., Nashville, TN, for Respondent-Appellee.

Before: SILER, MOORE, and COLE, Circuit Judges.


COLE, Circuit Judge.

Olen E. Hutchison, a Tennessee prisoner under sentence of death, sought habeas corpus relief in federal district court. Following briefing and oral argument, the district court denied Hutchison's petition and entered summary judgment for the warden, Ricky Bell. On appeal, Hutchison alleges the following errors entitle him to relief: 1) the state trial court failed to grant him a severance from his codefendant in violation of his right to confront his accuser and his right to a fair trial; 2) the prosecution withheld exculpatory and impeachment evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963); 3) he received ineffective assistance of counsel due to trial counsel's failure to investigate adequately his innocence; 4) prosecutorial misconduct denied him due process of law; and 5) the federal district court dismissed his petition without holding an evidentiary hearing.

Because we find no reversible error in the district court's decision, we AFFIRM its judgment.


Hutchison was convicted in Tennessee state court for murder, solicitation to commit murder, and conspiracy to commit murder. The victim of the crime was Hugh Huddleston and the prosecution's theory of the case was that Hutchison, an alleged drug dealer, conspired with his codefendant Chip Gaylor, and several other men, to kill Huddleston so that they could share in nearly $800,000 in insurance proceeds and other benefits. State v. Hutchison, 898 S.W.2d 161, 164-65 (Tenn. 1994), cert. denied, Hutchison v. Tennessee, 516 U.S. 846, 116 S.Ct. 137, 133 L.Ed.2d 84 (1995).

According to the evidence at trial, Huddleston, a bachelor in his mid-forties, had a "father-son relationship" with Gaylor. Id. Huddleston was exceedingly generous with Gaylor; he frequently gave Gaylor money and allowed Gaylor to live with him and to use his car. In addition, Gaylor was the sole beneficiary of Huddleston's life insurance policy, as well as Huddleston's will and other employment benefits. Id. at 165. The total value of Huddleston's estate was over $289,000. Id. Gaylor took advantage of the older man's generosity and need for companionship, until Huddleston was "virtually drowning in debt." J.A. at 822-23.

Following Huddleston's death, Tennessee authorities arrested Hutchison and Gaylor along with Richard Miller, Wilbur Hatmaker, Phillip Varnadore, M.C. Curnutt, and Johnny Rollyson on suspicion of murder. Hutchison and Gaylor were tried together. "The chief prosecution witness was Richard Miller, one of the conspirators and an acquaintance of [Hutchison] and of Gaylor and Huddleston." Id. Miller's testimony was used to weave together the state's theory of a conspiracy to kill Huddleston. Miller recounted a conversation between himself, Gaylor, and Hutchison, in which Hutchison was "talking about how much money he could make if he took insurance out on somebody and then had them killed." J.A. at 805-06. Miller said that Gaylor then remarked that he would pay $100,000 to kill somebody, but that his "insurance policy isn't good until I'm 30 years old." J.A. at 806. Hutchison responded, according to Miller, that that was "too long to wait." J.A. at 806.

Miller testified that about one week later, Hutchison asked Gaylor to get Huddleston to sign some insurance papers and a promissory note representing a $25,000 loan from Hutchison to Huddleston. Hutchison, 898 S.W.2d at 165. Miller testified that Huddleston would do anything that Gaylor asked. At Gaylor's urging, Huddleston signed a $250,000 life insurance policy, later changed to include an additional $250,000 accidental death benefit, which named Hutchison as the sole beneficiary. Id. The insurance policy was supposed to provide security for the $25,000 loan. Miller, Gaylor, and Curnutt witnessed Huddleston sign the promissory note. Id. According to the prosecution, the debt was entirely fictitious. Id.

Hutchison then offered money to both Gaylor and Miller to kill Huddleston. Gaylor refused because his financial interest in Huddleston's other benefits would make him an obvious suspect. Miller also refused. Hutchison then asked Varnadore, one of his alleged drug-ring partners, to arrange the murder. Varnadore said he would "get his boys to do it." Id. at 165 & n. 1. Varnadore and Hutchison agreed to drown Huddleston during a fishing trip because Huddleston could not swim. Id. at 165.

Gaylor arranged a fishing trip with Huddleston on Norris Lake, but only Miller showed up to accompany Huddleston on the day of the trip. Id. Huddleston and Miller rented a pontoon boat and took it onto the lake. Sometime after dark, two of the conspirators, Hatmaker and Rollyson, traveled to the pontoon boat on a separate boat and joined Huddleston and Miller, acting as though they were friends of Miller. Id. According to the plan, "Miller left to get bait in another boat he had brought on the trip." Id. Rollyson testified that after Miller left, Hatmaker pushed Huddleston into the water. Id. When Miller returned to the boat, all of the men were gone. Miller reported Huddleston's disappearance, and the body was found in the lake later that day. Id. "There were no obvious signs of violence on the body, but the pathologist later noted a deep bruise in the victim's scalp ... possibly from striking his head on the boat, or being struck by a boat paddle or a fist." Id. at 166-65. Following Huddleston's death, both Gaylor and Hutchison filed claims to recover benefits under Huddleston's life insurance policies. Id. at 165.

In addition to the testimony of Miller and Rollyson, the prosecution introduced several letters written by Hutchison to Miller and Varnadore "communicating with them about the case and tacitly urging them to keep quiet." Id. Hutchison's cellmate testified that Hutchison told him that his coconspirators "knew better than to say anything" and that "[i]f they did, they would end up the same way as the other guy." Id. The cellmate also stated that Hutchison said that "as long as everybody kept their mouth shut, then they would be found not-guilty, they couldn't prove nothing." Id.

Gaylor and Hutchison both testified at trial. During its cross-examination of Gaylor, the prosecution introduced a civil complaint Gaylor had filed in federal court. In the complaint, Gaylor argued that he should recover the proceeds of the $500,000 insurance policy naming Hutchison as beneficiary, because Hutchison was feloniously responsible for Huddleston's death. Gaylor maintained that he filed the claim solely upon his attorney's advice and that he did not know how Huddleston had died.

Hutchison testified that the loan and the insurance policy were part of a legitimate transaction, and denied any involvement in Huddleston's death. Hutchison testified that he did not know the value of the insurance policy other than that it was enough to secure the debt. Hutchison further stated that upon Huddleston's death, he had intended to seek recovery of only the $50,000 value of the note including interest, but that upon the advice of his attorney, he filed a claim for the entire $500,000 value.

The jury found Hutchison guilty of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and solicitation to commit murder. Id. At sentencing, the state presented no additional evidence, but sought the death penalty on the grounds that Hutchison had "employed another to commit the murder for remuneration or the promise of remuneration," an aggravating factor set forth in Tennessee Code Annotated (T.C.A.) § 39-13-204(i)(4). The Tennessee Supreme Court summarized the evidence offered by Hutchison at sentencing as follows:

The defendant presented the testimony of acquaintances to establish his good reputation in the community since childhood. His school records were introduced into evidence, along with proof of his success in the Future Farmers of America as a teenager. The defendant testified about his skills in repairing small machines and described how he could be useful while in prison. His ailing father and his wife also testified about his good qualities as a son and spouse and pleaded for mercy. The jailer testified that Hutchison had been a good prisoner. The jury also heard testimony that the defendant had no prior criminal record and had been gainfully employed since adulthood.

Hutchison, 898 S.W.2d at 173. At the conclusion of the sentencing proceedings, Hutchison was sentenced to death.

The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed Hutchison's conviction and sentence. Id. at 161. On May 4, 1995, three days after the denial of rehearing by the Tennessee Supreme Court, Hutchison filed a pro se petition for state postconviction relief alleging numerous errors, including insufficiency of the evidence, prejudice resulting from the trial court's refusal to sever his trial from Gaylor's, trial court errors in the admission of evidence, and ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court rejected Hutchison's claims following an evidentiary hearing. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed....

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