Mason v. Mitchell, 020603 FED6, 00-3765

Docket Nº:00-3765
Party Name:Mason v. Mitchell
Case Date:October 24, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Mason v. Mitchell





Pursuant to Sixth Circuit Rule 206

ELECTRONIC CITATION: 2003 FED App. 0042P (6th Cir.)

File Name: 03a0042p.06




Maurice A. Mason,



Betty Mitchell,


No. 00-3765

Appeal from the United States District Court

for the Northern District of Ohio at Toledo.

No. 99-00524--David A. Katz, District Judge.

Argued: October 24, 2001

Decided and Filed: February 6, 2003

Before: BOGGS, MOORE, and CLAY, Circuit Judges.



ARGUED: David C. Stebbins, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant. Matthew C. Hellman, ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE OF OHIO, CAPITAL CRIMES SECTION, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: David C. Stebbins, Columbus, Ohio, Carol Wright, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellant. Matthew C. Hellman, Charles L. Wille, ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE OF OHIO, CAPITAL CRIMES SECTION, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

MOORE, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which CLAY, J., joined. BOGGS, J. (pp. 56-63), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.




KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge. Petitioner-Appellant Maurice Allen Mason ("Mason") was convicted by an Ohio jury of aggravated felony murder, rape, and having a weapon while under disability; he was also found guilty of the death-penalty specification of committing murder in the course of a rape and further specifications that involved firearms, prior felony, and prior offense of violence. Mason was sentenced to death. Mason now appeals the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus and his request for an evidentiary hearing. We have carefully considered all of the eight claims that Mason raises and AFFIRM the district court's decision to deny habeas corpus relief, but with one important exception. Mason contends that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel at the sentencing phase. Because the record as it now stands is insufficient for us to determine whether this claim has merit, we REMAND this case to the district court for an evidentiary hearing on this one issue.


    On February 8, 1993, Robin Dennis ("Robin"), the nineteen-year-old wife of Chris Dennis ("Chris"), disappeared. Earlier that day, Robin and Chris had socialized with Mason and other friends, and Chris and Mason had discussed trading Chris's .22 caliber Colt Frontier Scout revolver for Mason's television. The next day, Robin was reported as missing to the Union County Sheriff's Department; the report stated that Mason was the last person seen with Robin.

    On February 10, 1993, Deputy Sheriff Jack Lautenslager ("Lautenslager") received a report about an abandoned car in a rural area of Marion County. Two days earlier, Lautenslager had driven through that area and seen a black man walking, whom he later identified as Mason.(1) Chevron-style shoe impressions, similar to those made by shoes that Mason and Robin owned, were found on the outside of the passenger door and on the passenger's side of the dash. Type-B blood, Robin's blood type, was found on the inside of the passenger door.(2) A set of keys, including car keys that fit a 1981 Chrysler owned by Mason's wife, was on the car's front passenger seat.

    A few hours after this discovery, Dennis Potts ("Potts") of the Marion County Sheriff's Department questioned Mason about Robin's disappearance. This interview took place at the detective's office of the Sheriff's Department and lasted for eighteen minutes. On February 12, 1993, following up on information from other interviews, Potts questioned Mason again. The second interview took place in a basement interrogation room and lasted, with pauses in the questioning, for four hours. Mason appears to have understood that he was not under arrest at this time. After the second interview, Mason's parole officer took him into custody for a parole violation.

    On February 13, 1993, Robin's body was found inside an abandoned building that was within eighteen minutes' walking distance from where her car had been found. She was lying face down, wearing only a bra; her jeans and underwear were pulled down to her ankles. Robin's T-shirt and car keys were under her jacket, which was found eight feet from her body with burrs and debris on it. The apparent murder weapon, a blood-stained board with protruding nails, was found twenty feet from her body. Another piece of wood found at the scene had strands of hair that matched Robin's hair. On February 15, 1993, detectives found a small blood-stained piece of metal at the crime scene, which a firearms examiner later concluded was identical to a grip-frame from a .22 caliber Colt Frontier Scout revolver and was consistent with having come from the handle of such a revolver.

    On February 14, 1993, pathologist Dr. Keith Norton ("Norton") conducted an autopsy and concluded that Robin had died as a result of blunt force trauma causing multiple skull fractures. Dr. Norton determined that the blood-stained board found at the scene and the butt of a revolver could have caused Robin's injuries. Dr. Norton also found sperm in Robin's vagina that DNA experts later matched to Mason's DNA. DNA material from Robin's underwear also matched Mason's DNA. The experts did not find DNA from anyone other than Robin and Mason.

    On September 30, 1993, Mason was charged with (1) aggravated murder, with a death penalty specification that the murder occurred during the commission of a rape; (2) rape, with a prior aggravated felony specification; and (3) having a weapon while under disability, with an offense of violence specification.(3) Mason pleaded not guilty. In October 1993, the trial court found Mason to be indigent and appointed Lawrence A. Winkfield ("Winkfield") of Columbus, Ohio, as lead counsel and Ted I. Coulter of Marion, Ohio, as co-counsel.

    Mason's attorneys filed numerous pretrial motions, including a request for expert assistance and a motion to suppress, both of which the trial court denied after hearing oral argument. The week before trial, defense counsel moved for a continuance, claiming that they needed more time to review the 411 pages of documents that the prosecutor had delivered to them on May 20, 1994. The trial court refused to grant a continuance and threatened to remove defense counsel without paying any fees. On May 31, 1994, Mason proceeded to a three-week-long jury trial; he was found guilty on all three counts.

    On June 27, 1994, the trial entered the sentencing phase. Mason's mitigation case consisted of the testimony of seven witnesses and Mason's unsworn statement. On June 29, 1994, the jury recommended that Mason be sentenced to death, which recommendation the trial court adopted. On August 9, 1994, the trial court heard oral argument on and then denied Mason's motion for a new trial.

    Mason then filed a timely appeal to the Court of Appeals for the Third Appellate District, asserting twenty-four assignments of error. On December 9, 1996, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's judgment. State v. Mason, 1996 WL 715480, at *33 (Ohio Ct. App. Dec. 9, 1996). Mason thereafter filed a notice of appeal and a brief in the Ohio Supreme Court. On June 17, 1998, the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed Mason's conviction and death sentence on direct appeal. State v. Mason, 694 N.E.2d 932, 958 (Ohio 1998).

    While his direct appeal was pending, Mason filed a state collateral attack in the Court of Common Pleas of Marion County, asserting seven assignments of error. State v. Mason, 1997 WL 317431, at *1 (Ohio Ct. App. June 6, 1997). On November 21, 1996, the court denied relief without holding an evidentiary hearing. Id. Mason appealed the dismissal of his post-conviction petition to the Court of Appeals for the Third Appellate District, which affirmed the judgment of the Court of Common Pleas on June 6, 1997. Id. at *7. Mason then filed a timely appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, which dismissed the appeal on October 15, 1997, as not involving any substantial constitutional question.

    On July 15, 1999, Mason filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising twenty-five challenges to his conviction and sentence. On May 9, 2000, the district court denied Mason's habeas petition and his motion for an evidentiary hearing on various claims. Mason v. Mitchell, 95 F.Supp.2d 744, 795 (N.D. Ohio 2000). The district court subsequently granted a certificate of appealability as to all claims. This timely appeal followed.


    We review de novo the legal conclusions of a district court in a habeas proceeding. Mitzel v. Tate, 267 F.3d 524, 530 (6th Cir. 2001). Because Mason filed his habeas petition on July 15, 1999, after the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") became effective, this case is governed by AEDPA. Id. Under AEDPA's provisions, we may not grant a writ of habeas corpus for any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the adjudication:

    (1)resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

    (2)resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

    28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). In addition, the findings of fact made by a state court are presumed to be correct and can be contravened only if the habeas petitioner can show by clear and convincing evidence that the state court's factual findings were erroneous. Id. § 2254(e)(1)...

To continue reading