Murphy v. Johnson

Decision Date02 March 2000
Docket NumberNo. 97-41259,97-41259
Citation205 F.3d 809
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Fifth Circuit

[Copyrighted Material Omitted] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Easter District of Texas Before WIENER, DeMOSS, and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.

DeMOSS, Circuit Judge:

Petitioner Ivan Ray Murphy appeals the district court's denial of his petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. 2254. For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.


On the night of January 9, 1989, Petitioner Murphy and Douglas Stoff went to the home of Lula Mae Denning in Denison, Texas. Ms. Denning, an eighty-year-old lifetime friend of Murphy's, invited the two men into her home. Once inside, the two men robbed Ms. Denning of jewelry, beat her to unconsciousness, and left her for dead. They returned several hours later to steal more jewelry that they could sell for more drugs.

A Grayson County Grand Jury indicted Murphy for the capital murder of Ms. Denning, specifically charging that he had committed murder during the course of the commission of a robbery or burglary. Following a trial, the jury returned a guilty verdict, and at a subsequent punishment hearing, the same jury answered affirmatively the two special issues set forth in the version of article 37.071 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure that was in effect at the time of the offense. Accordingly, the trial court imposed upon Murphy the sentence of death.

Murphy's conviction and sentence were automatically appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. On September 23, 1993, in an unpublished opinion, that court affirmed Murphy's conviction and sentence. And on October 11, 1994, the United States Supreme Court denied Murphy's petition for writ of certiorari. See Murphy v. Texas, 115 S. Ct. 312 (1994).

Murphy next filed an application for state habeas relief. The same judge who had presided over Murphy's trial considered his application and issued a one-page order stating that there were no unresolved factual issues and recommending that Murphy's application be denied. On February 28, 1996, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals denied Murphy's application for state habeas corpus relief. 1 Murphy then filed his petition for habeas corpus relief in federal district court asserting eleven claims for review. Following the district court's denial of his petition, Murphy received from the district court, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2253(c)(2), a certificate of appealability ("COA") on the following two of eight issues for which he sought a COA: (1) whether the district court erred in refusing to grant Murphy's request for discovery and an evidentiary hearing; and (2) whether the district court erred in denying Murphy's claim that the grand jury selection process of Grayson County, Texas, violated hisSixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Murphy moved this Court for a COA on four of the six issues that had been denied by the district court. On March 8, 1999, a panel of this Court denied his request for an additional COA. With the benefit of briefing and the oral argument of counsel, we now proceed to the disposition of the original two issues for which a COA was granted by the district court.


Murphy's petition for writ of habeas corpus was filed on December 16, 1996, and is thus governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA"). See Lindh v. Murphy, 117 S. Ct. 2059, 2068 (1997); United States v. Carter, 117 F.3d 262 (5th Cir. 1997). The post-AEDPA version of 28 U.S.C. 2254(d) provides as follows:

(d)An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim-

(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). We review pure questions of law under the "contrary to" standard of sub-section (d)(1), mixed question of law and fact under the "unreasonable application" standard of sub-section (d)(1), and pure questions of fact under the "unreasonable determination of facts" standard of sub-section (d)(2). See Lamb v. Johnson, 179 F.3d 352, 356 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 120 S. Ct. 522 (1999) (citing Drinkard v. Johnson, 97 F.3d 751, 767-69 (5th Cir. 1996), overruled in part on other grounds, Lindh v. Murphy, 117 S. Ct. 2059 (1997)).

An application of law to facts will only be deemed unreasonable when reasonable jurists "would be of one view that the state court ruling was incorrect." Drinkard, 97 F.3d at 769. Under this standard, we will grant habeas relief "only if a state court decision is so clearly incorrect that it would not be debatable among reasonable jurists." Id. Additionally, under 2254(e)(1), a state court's determination of a factual issue must be presumed correct, and the habeas petitioner bears the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. The presumption is especially strong when, as here, the state habeas court and the trial court are one and the same. See Amos v. Scott, 61 F.3d 333, 347 (5th Cir. 1995); James v. Collins, 987 F.2d 1116, 1122 (5th Cir. 1993) (citing Buxton v. Lynaugh, 879 F.2d 140, 146 (5th Cir. 1989)).

As a preliminary matter, Murphy argues that his state court habeas petition was not "adjudicated on the merits" such that any presumption of correctness under 2254(d) could apply to the state court's findings. Our review of the record convinces us that both Murphy's direct criminal appeal and his state habeas application were denied based upon a review of the merits of his claims. Thus, the standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. 2254(d) applies to Murphy's present claims.

A. Discovery and an Evidentiary Hearing

Murphy contends that the district court erred in two respects. First, he contends that it failed to grant his request for discovery regarding his claim of attorney misconduct arising from his allegation that the prosecutor induced a jailhouse informant to testify falsely and that the same prosecutor withheld Brady material. Second, Murphy contends that the district court improperly refused to grant his request for an evidentiary hearing based on the court's conclusion that he had presented no factual issues that, if resolved in his favor, would entitle him to habeas corpus relief.


Murphy asserts that the district court should have allowed him discovery to support his claims that the prosecutor improperly coerced a jailhouse informant, Michael McGregor, into testifying falsely against Murphy. Specifically, he wants to inspect and copy all documents, tapes, files, written reports, memoranda, notes, computer disks, or other written matter relating to the Grayson County Attorney's investigation of the case. Murphy argues that under Bracy v. Gramley, 117 S. Ct. 1793 (1997), he is entitled to discovery to support his claims of prosecutorial misconduct. This court has already noted that the Bracy decision does not lower the gate for discovery in habeas cases, but rather it merely reasserts the standards of Harris v. Nelson, 89 S. Ct. 1082 (1969). Thus, where "specific allegations before the court show reason to believe that the petitioner may, if the facts are fully developed, be able to demonstrate that he is . . . entitled to relief, it is the duty of the courts to provide the necessary facilities and procedures for an adequate inquiry." Gibbs v. Johnson, 154 F.3d 253, 258 (5th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 119 S. Ct. 1501 (1999).

The Bracy decision involved a defendant's allegations that his judge was biased against him because the judge had been accused, and later convicted, of accepting bribes to fix murder trials. The Supreme Court noted that Bracy's claims were framed in specific terms and were supported by objective, concrete factual evidence tending to support his theory (i.e., the subsequent conviction and other specific objective evidence). Good cause for discovery was established in Bracy based primarily upon the specific nature of the allegations and the concrete nature of the evidence proffered to support Bracy's theory.

Rule 6 of the Rules Governing 2254 cases permits discovery only if and only to the extent that the district court finds good cause. Good cause may be found when a petition for habeas corpus relief "establishes a prima facie claim for relief." Harris, 89 S. Ct. at 1086. Additionally, a petitioner's factual allegations must be specific, as opposed to merely speculative or conclusory, to justify discovery under Rule 6. See West v. Johnson, 92 F.3d 1385, 1399-1400 (5th Cir. 1996) (citing Ward v. Whitley, 21 F.3d 1355, 1367 (5th Cir. 1994)). Simply put, Rule 6 does not authorize fishing expeditions. See Ward, 21 F.3d at 1367.

Here, Murphy's allegations of prosecutorial misconduct and the withholding of Brady material are insufficient to entitle him to discovery. Murphy has failed to establish a prima facie claim under Brady by virtue of his having failed to demonstrate the existence or concealment of a deal between the prosecution and the witness McGregor or that proof of such a deal would be material to the outcome. 2 Under Brady, a defendant's due process rights may be violated when exculpatory or impeachment evidence, which is both favorable to the defendant and material to guilt or punishment, is concealed by the government. See Hughes v. Johnson, 191 F.3d 607, 629 (5th Cir. 1999). Evidence is material when...

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