McCleskey v. Zant

Citation580 F. Supp. 338
Decision Date01 February 1984
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. C81-2434A.
PartiesWarren McCLESKEY, Petitioner, v. Walter D. ZANT, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia





Robert H. Stroup, Atlanta, Ga., Jack Greenberg, John Charles Boger, New York City, Timothy K. Ford, Seattle, Wash., Anthony G. Amsterdam, N.Y. University Law School, New York City, for petitioner.

Michael J. Bowers, Atty. Gen., Mary Beth Westmoreland, Asst. Atty. Gen., Atlanta, Ga., for respondent.


FORRESTER, District Judge.

Petitioner Warren McCleskey was convicted of two counts of armed robbery and one count of malice murder in the Superior Court of Fulton County on October 12, 1978. The court sentenced McCleskey to death on the murder charge and to consecutive life sentences, to run after the death sentence, on the two armed robbery charges. On automatic appeal to the Supreme Court of Georgia the convictions and the sentences were affirmed. McClesky v. State, 245 Ga. 108, 263 S.E.2d 146 (1980). The Supreme Court of the United States denied McCleskey's petition for a writ of certiorari. McClesky v. Georgia, 449 U.S. 891, 101 S.Ct. 253, 66 L.Ed.2d 119 (1980). On December 19, 1980 petitioner filed an extraordinary motion for a new trial in the Superior Court of Fulton County. No hearing has ever been held on this motion. Petitioner then filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County. After an evidentiary hearing the Superior Court denied all relief sought. McCleskey v. Zant, No. 4909 (Sup.Ct. of Butts County, April 8, 1981). On June 17, 1981 the Supreme Court of Georgia denied petitioner's application for a certificate of probable cause to appeal the decision of the Superior Court of Butts County. The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari on November 30, 1981. McCleskey v. Zant, 454 U.S. 1093, 102 S.Ct. 659, 70 L.Ed.2d 631 (1981).

Petitioner then filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus on December 30, 1981. He asserts 18 separate grounds for granting the writ. Some of these grounds assert alleged violations of his constitutional rights during his trial and sentencing. Others attack the constitutionality of Georgia's death penalty. Because petitioner claimed to have sophisticated statistical evidence to demonstrate that racial discrimination is a factor in Georgia's capital sentencing process, this court held an extensive evidentiary hearing to examine the merits of these claims. The court's discussion of the statistical studies and their legal significance is in Part II of this opinion. Petitioner's remaining contentions are discussed in Parts III through XVI. The court has concluded that petitioner is entitled to relief on only one of his grounds, his claim that the prosecution failed to reveal the existence of a promise of assistance made to a key witness. Petitioner's remaining contentions are without merit.


On the morning of May 13, 1978 petitioner and Ben Wright, Bernard Dupree, and David Burney decided to rob a jewelry store in Marietta, Georgia. However, after Ben Wright went into the store to check it out, they decided not to rob it. The four then rode around Marietta looking for another suitable target. They eventually decided to rob the Dixie Furniture Store in Atlanta. Each of the four was armed. The evidence showed that McCleskey carried a shiny nickel-plated revolver matching the description of a .38 caliber Rossi revolver stolen in an armed robbery of a grocery store a month previously. Ben Wright carried a sawed-off shotgun, and the other two carried pistols. McCleskey went into the store to see how many people were present. He walked around the store looking at furniture and talking with one of the sales clerks who quickly concluded that he was not really interested in buying anything. After counting the people in the store, petitioner returned to the car and the four men planned the robbery. Executing the plan, petitioner entered the front of the store while the other three entered the rear by the loading dock. Petitioner secured the front of the store by rounding up the people and forcing them to lie face down on the floor. The others rounded up the employees in the rear and began to tie them up with tape. The manager was forced at gunpoint to turn over the store receipts, his watch, and $6.00. Before the robbery could be completed, Officer Frank Schlatt, answering a silent alarm, pulled his patrol car up in front of the building. He entered the front door and proceeded down the center aisle until he was almost in the middle of the store. Two shots then rang out, and Officer Schlatt collapsed, shot once in the face and once in the chest. The bullet that struck Officer Schlatt in the chest ricocheted off a pocket lighter and lodged in a nearby sofa. That bullet was recovered and subsequently determined to have been fired from a .38 caliber Rossi revolver. The head wound was fatal. The robbers all fled. Several weeks later petitioner was arrested in Cobb County in connection with another armed robbery. He was turned over to the Atlanta police and gave them a statement confessing participation in the Dixie Furniture Store robbery but denying the shooting.

Although the murder weapon was never recovered, evidence was introduced at trial that petitioner had stolen a .38 caliber Rossi in an earlier armed robbery. The State also produced evidence at trial that tended to show that the shots were fired from the front of the store and that petitioner was the only one of the four robbers in the front of the store. The State also introduced over petitioner's objections the statements petitioner had made to Atlanta police. Finally, the State produced testimony by one of the co-defendants and by an inmate at the Fulton County Jail that petitioner had admitted shooting Officer Schlatt and had even boasted of it. In his defense petitioner offered only an unsubstantiated alibi defense.

The jury convicted petitioner of malice murder and two counts of armed robbery. Under Georgia's bifurcated capital sentencing procedure, the jury then heard arguments as to the appropriate sentence. Petitioner offered no mitigating evidence. After deliberating the jury found two statutory aggravating circumstances—that the murder had been committed during the course of another capital felony, an armed robbery; and that the murder had been committed upon a peace officer engaged in the performance of his duties. The jury sentenced the petitioner to death on the murder charge and consecutive life sentences on the armed robbery charges.

A. An Analytical Framework of the Law.

Petitioner contends that the Georgia death penalty statute is being applied arbitrarily and capriciously in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. He concedes at this level that the Eighth Amendment issue has been resolved adversely to him in this circuit. As a result, the petitioner wishes this court to hold that the application of a state death statute that permits the imposition of capital punishment to be based on factors of race of the defendant or race of the victim violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

It is clear beyond peradventure that the application of a statute, neutral on its face, unevenly applied against minorities, is a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Yick Wo v. Hopkins, 118 U.S. 356, 6 S.Ct. 1064, 30 L.Ed. 220 (1886). The more difficult question presented is why under the facts of this case the petitioner would be denied equal protection of the law if he is sentenced to death because of the race of his victim. This quandry has led the Eighth Circuit to find that a petitioner has no standing to raise this claim as a basis for invalidating his sentence. Britton v. Rogers, 631 F.2d 572, 577 n. 3 (8th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 451 U.S. 939, 101 S.Ct. 2021, 68 L.Ed.2d 327 (1981).

While this circuit in Spinkellink v. Wainwright, 578 F.2d 582 (5th Cir.1978), reh'g denied, 441 U.S. 937, 99 S.Ct. 2064, 60 L.Ed.2d 667, application for stay denied, 442 U.S. 1301, 99 S.Ct. 2091, 60 L.Ed.2d 649 (1979), seemed to give lip service to this same point of view by approving the proposition that a district court "must conclude that the focus of any inquiry into the application of the death penalty must necessarily be limited to the persons who receive it rather than their victims," id. at 614 n. 39, the court in Spinkellink also adopted the position that a petitioner such as McCleskey would have standing to sue in an equal protection context:

Spinkellink petitioner has standing to raise the equal protection issue, even though he is not a member of the class allegedly discriminated against, because such discrimination, if proven, impinges on his constitutional right under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments not to be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment. See Taylor v. Louisiana, supra, 419 U.S. 522 at 526 95 S.Ct. 692 at 695, 42 L.Ed.2d 690.

Id. at 612 n. 36. This footnote in Spinkellink warrants close examination. In Taylor v. Louisiana, 419 U.S. 522, 95 S.Ct. 692, 42 L.Ed.2d 690 (1975), the Supreme Court held that a male had standing to challenge a state statute providing that a woman should not be selected for jury service unless she had previously filed a written declaration of her desire to be subject to jury service. The Court in Taylor cited to Peters v. Kiff, 407 U.S. 493, 92 S.Ct. 2163, 33 L.Ed.2d 83 (1972), to conclude: "Taylor, in the case before us, was similarly entitled to tender and have adjudicated the claim that the exclusion of women from jury service deprived him of the kind of factfinder to which he was constitutionally entitled." Id. at 526,...

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29 cases
  • In re Ross, No. 17342
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • January 27, 2005
    ...have made his statistical record in the trial court, and to have subjected it to a full evidentiary hearing, as in [McCleskey v. Zant, 580 F.Supp. 338 (N.D.Ga.1984), aff'd sub nom. McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 107 S.Ct. 1756, 95 L.Ed.2d 262 (1987)], before presenting it on appeal. To ho......
  • Stephens v. Kemp
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • November 26, 1984
    ...A two-week evidentiary hearing to consider this extensive new social scientific evidence began on August 8, 1983 in McCleskey v. Zant, [580 F.Supp. 338 (ND Ga.), hearing en banc granted, 729 F.2d 1293 (CA11 1984) ], before Honorable J. Owen Forester. Under these circumstances, Petitioner's ......
  • Moore v. Zant, 84-8423
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (11th Circuit)
    • June 4, 1984
    ...and the defendant. See Spencer v. Zant, 715 F.2d 1562 (11 Cir.1983), vacated for reh'g en banc, 715 F.2d 1562 (1983); McCleskey v. Zant, 580 F.Supp. 338 (N.D.Ga.1984), app. pending, 729 F.2d 1293, No. 84-8176 (to be argued before 11th Cir., en banc, in June, 1984); Ross v. Hopper, 716 F.2d ......
  • Dix v. Newsome, Civ. A. No. C80-826A.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • March 20, 1984
    ...Georgia death penalty is not per se cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Furthermore, in McCleskey v. Zant, 580 F.Supp. 338 (N.D.Ga.1984), the Court addressed the issue of whether the death penalty was applied arbitrarily and capriciously in violation of the Fo......
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1 books & journal articles
  • David Baldus and the Legacy of McCleskey v. Kemp
    • United States
    • Iowa Law Review No. 97-6, October 2012
    • October 1, 2012
    ...evidence put forth “could not prove discriminatory intent or purpose”). 32. For a discussion of this study, see McCleskey v. Zant, 580 F. Supp. 338, 353–55 (N.D. Ga. 1984), rev’d in part, aff’d in part sub nom. McCleskey v. Kemp, 753 F.2d 877 (11th Cir. 1985), aff’d , 481 U.S. 279 (1987). 2......

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