Mills v. Dunn, 113020 ALNDC, 6:17-cv-00789-LSC

Docket Nº6:17-cv-00789-LSC
Opinion JudgeL. Scott Coogler United States District Judge
Party NameJAMIE MILLS, Petitioner, v. JEFFERSON S. DUNN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, Respondent.
Case DateNovember 30, 2020
CourtUnited States District Courts, 11th Circuit, Northern District of Alabama

JAMIE MILLS, Petitioner,

v.

JEFFERSON S. DUNN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, Respondent.

No. 6:17-cv-00789-LSC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Jasper Division

November 30, 2020

MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

L. Scott Coogler United States District Judge

This is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by Petitioner Jamie Mills ("Mills"), a death row inmate at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama. Mills challenges the validity of his 2007 conviction on three counts of capital murder and sentence of death in the Circuit Court of Marion County, Alabama. Upon thorough consideration of the entire record and the briefs submitted by the parties, the Court finds that Mills' petition for habeas relief is due to be denied.

I. FACTS OF THE CRIME

The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ("ACCA") quoted the trial court's lengthy description of the details of the killings and the surrounding circumstances as follows: During the late afternoon of June 24, 2004, the defendant, 30 year old Jamie Ray Mills, and his common-law wife, JoAnn Mills, went to the home of Floyd and Vera Hill on County Road 54 in Guin, Marion County, Alabama, for the purpose of robbing them. . . . Mrs. Hill, 72 years old, was diabetic and in poor health and was cared for by her husband of 55 years, Floyd Hill, a spry gentleman 15 years her senior. At 87 years old, Mr. Hill cared for the needs of his ailing wife, to include administering her prescription drugs which he kept in a locked tackle box on the kitchen table. To ensure that her prescription drugs were administered properly and timely, he set his alarm clock to alarm every four hours. Although the Hills lived alone, their adult grandchildren who resided in the area frequently checked on their grandparents. Although both Hills were retired, they frequently held yard sales, no doubt more so to keep themselves occupied and working than to augment their Social Security income. Mr. Hill was known by the employees of the local Amoco service station (where defendant Mills was last employed prior to the murders) to carry large sums of cash in his pocket, always paying for his gas in cash.

Though Mills denied knowing either of the Hills, there was evidence from which the jury could have concluded that Mills, out of work at the time, certainly did know the Hills and preconceived a plot to rid them of their cash . . . and, then brutally executed them with a machete, tire tool and ball-peen hammer. A detailed factual account of this horrendous, gutless and cowardly act follows.

Shortly after dark on June 24, 2004, following repeated failed attempts by Angela Jones to check on her grandparents by phone, Jones went to the residence of her grandparents, Floyd and Vera Hill. It appeared as if the Hills were home; however, the door was locked and knocks on the door resulted in no response. Angela summoned the Guin Police Department for a welfare check. Officer Larry Webb arrived at the residence in approximately three or four minutes. Upon Webb's arrival, he was informed by Angela Jones that her family had spoken to the Hills shortly after 2:00 p.m., at which time they were fine. Officer Webb and Mrs. Jones then knocked on the doors and windows with no response from the Hills. Webb called the Hills' home from his cell phone. It was detected that the phone was ringing on his cell phone, but there was no noticeable ring coming from inside the Hills' home. Officer Webb then shined his flashlight into the house from the front porch, and Angela noticed that Vera Hill's bed was empty and made, and her walker was in the living room. Mr. Hill's alarm was sounding for Mrs. Hill's medication, but no one stirred in the home. Mrs. Jones became fearful that something was terribly wrong. Webb then moved to the pre-fabricated building on the property (enclosed with x-type lattice and polyethylene type plastic) where the Hills had yard sale items stored. Because the door was padlocked, Webb pulled a small bench to the door and climbed up on the bench to look over the door.

Officer Webb saw Floyd Hill lying on his back at the rear of the building in a pool of blood with a bloody towel thrown over his face. Mr. Hill's walking cane was across his lower legs. Webb then saw Vera Hill lying on her right side just inside the door. She was in a pool of blood and her head and face were bloody. Vera Hill moved her left arm.

At approximately 8:42 p.m., Webb notified 911 to send an ambulance, and then called for additional backup (Guin Police Chief Bryan McCraw and District Attorney Jack Bostick). Webb cut the plastic wall and tore away the lattice to gain entrance into the building where he checked Vera Hill's condition. She was still breathing. Webb moved to Floyd Hill and found him to be cold to the touch with no pulse. Webb then noticed several long bloody gashes on Mrs. Hill's head. When asked what happened, Vera Hill repeatedly stated, 'Let me out of here.' Once medical assistance had arrived, Vera Hill was transported by ambulance to the Winfield hospital. Floyd Hill was pronounced dead at the scene.

The scene was secured and a joint investigation was initiated by the Guin Police Department, the Marion County District Attorney's Office, and the Alabama Department of Forensic Science. The crime scene was processed, photos were taken, blood samples were collected, and Vera Hill's clothing and fingernail clippings were obtained.

During the processing of the victims' home and belongings, it was discovered that Floyd Hill's wallet, Vera Hill's purse, and a green padlocked tackle box containing Vera Hill's medication had been taken from the residence along with a police scanner, and the Hills' phone, which had been cut from the phone line.

. . . Upon completion of the autopsy of Floyd Hill, the cause of death was determined to be blunt and sharp force injury to the head and neck.

Vera Hill later died on September 12, 2004 at the home of her daughter, Brenda Barger, while under the care of Hospice, two and a half months after having been transferred from the Winfield hospital to UAB Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama, where she was treated for brain injuries, a depressed skull fracture on the back of the head, fractures around her left eye, fractures to the nasal cavity, broken/fractured neck, and crushed hands .... Upon completion of the autopsy of Vera Hill, the cause of death in her case was determined to be complications of blunt head trauma.

At approximately 11:15 p.m. on June 24, 2004, Marion County District Attorney Investigators Tommy Moore and Ken Mays interviewed the Hills' next door neighbor, Jennifer Yaden, at which time they were informed that Yaden had noticed a white late model four-door sedan going by her house several times earlier that day. She also observed this same vehicle parked in the Hills' drive.

At approximately 12:05 a.m. on June 25, 2004, Investigators Moore and Mays returned to the crime scene and discussed with Guin Police Chief Bryan McCraw and Officer Larry Webb the information they had obtained from Yaden. Both McCraw and Webb advised the investigators of a local man named Jamie Mills who drove a white car matching that described by Yaden. At this point, a patrol unit was sent to the residence of Jamie and wife, JoAnn Mills, but it appeared as if no one was home. Investigator Moore asked Chief McCraw to send a car to the Mills' residence on a regular basis to see if the Mills were home for questioning.

At 9:45 a.m. on June 25, 2004, Guin Police Department Officers G.B. Blaylock and Stanley Webb arrived at the Mills' residence to find Jamie and JoAnn Mills attempting to leave their residence in a small white 1990 two-door Nissan Infiniti M30. The officers pulled crossways of the drive, blocking the Mills' attempted exit. Officer Blaylock then asked Jamie Mills to back the car up in the drive so that Blaylock could talk to him. After doing so, Jamie Mills was then transported to the Guin City Hall for questioning about his whereabouts on June 24, 2004. At this time, Jamie Mills denied any knowledge of the Hills and stated that he and JoAnn were in Brilliant on June 24, 2004 looking at houses prior to going to his father's home ... where he and JoAnn spent the night.

Marion County District Attorney Investigator Ted Smith and District Attorney Jack Bostick arrived at the Mills' residence to question JoAnn Mills, who was on probation at the time, regarding her whereabouts at the time the Hills' attack occurred. While being questioned by Investigator Ted Smith, JoAnn Mills gave consent for the search of the Mills' home, white two-door sedan, and the trunk of the vehicle. In plain view in the car trunk was a green tackle box with a cut padlock matching the description of the tackle box in which Vera Hill's medication was kept. Also in plain view was a large blue duffel bag that appeared to be splattered with blood. At this time, JoAnn Mills was read her Miranda rights, but she waived her rights and gave a statement. Guin Police Chief Brian McCraw and Officer Webb were then called to the residence and a search warrant was obtained. The search was conducted by officers from the Marion County Drug Task Force, the A.B.I, and the Guin Police Department. During this time, Jamie Mills was transported back to his residence where he was later placed under arrest for capital murder and transported to the Marion County Jail.

The search of the items contained in the vehicle's trunk revealed that the green tackle box contained numerous pill bottles with prescriptions belonging to Vera Hill. The duffel bag contained an assortment of items including one large concrete block, one pair of size 12 tennis shoes with...

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