Pittman v. Sec'y, Case No. 8:12-cv-1600-T-17EAJ

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Middle District of Florida
Decision Date20 February 2015
Docket NumberCase No. 8:12-cv-1600-T-17EAJ
PartiesDAVID JOSEPH PITTMAN, Petitioner, v. SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Respondent.

DEATH PETITION

ORDER

This cause is before the Court on Petitioner David Joseph Pittman's timely-filed 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus. Pittman is proceeding on his amended petition and amended memorandum of law. (Docs. 14 and 15). Pittman is a Florida prisoner under penalty of death.

For the reasons set out below, Pittman's petition will be denied.

BACKGROUND

Pittman is in the lawful custody of the State of Florida, Department of Corrections. Pittman was charged in a seven count Indictment with the first degree murders of Bonnie Knowles, Barbara Knowles, and Clarence Knowles; Pittman was also charged with two counts of arson, with burglary, and with grand theft. (A24/4636-4640). On April 19, 1991, Pittman's jury trial resulted in guilty verdicts on six of the seven counts - three counts of first degree murder, the two counts of arson, and the one count of grand theft. (A26/5108-5114). Following the penalty phase, the jury returned death recommendations by a vote of 9-3. On direct appeal, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed Pittman's multiple convictions and sentences. Pittman v. State, 646 So. 2d 167 (Fla. 1994).

PROCEDURAL HISTORY
The Trial, Penalty Phase and Sentencing

The facts adduced at trial are summarized in the Florida Supreme Court's opinion on direct appeal, Pittman v. State, 646 So. 2d 167 (Fla. 1994), as follows:

The record reflects that, shortly after 3 a.m. on May 15, 1990, a newspaper deliveryman in Mulberry, Florida, reported to law enforcement authorities that he had just seen a burst of flame on the horizon. When the authorities investigated they found the home of Clarence and Barbara Knowles fully engulfed in fire. After the fire was extinguished, the police entered the house and discovered the bodies of Clarence and Barbara, as well as the body of their twenty-year-old daughter, Bonnie. Although all of the bodies were burned in the fire, a medical examiner determined that the cause of death in each instance was massive bleeding from multiple stab wounds. In addition, the medical examiner testified that Bonnie Knowles' throat had been cut. A subsequent investigation revealed that the fire was the result of arson, that the phone line to the house had been cut, and that Bonnie Knowles' brown Toyota was missing.
A construction worker testified that, when he arrived at work at 6:30 a.m. on the morning of the fire, he noticed a brown Toyota in a ditch on the side of the road near his job site. Other testimony revealed that the location of the Toyota was about one-half mile from the Knowles residence. The worker also observed a homemade wrecker, which he later identified as belonging to Pittman, pull up to the Toyota and, shortly thereafter, saw a cloud of smoke coming from that direction. Another witness who lived near the construction site also saw the smoke and observed a man running away from a burning car. This witness later identified Pittman from a photo-pack as the man she saw that morning. Investigators determined that the car fire, like the earlier house fire, was the work of an arsonist.
At the time of the murders, another of the Knowles' daughters, Marie, was in the process of divorcing Pittman. The divorce was not amicable and the State introduced testimony that Pittman had made several threats against Marie and her family. The State also produced evidence that Pittman had recently learned that Bonnie Knowles had tried to press criminal chargesagainst him for an alleged rape that had occurred five years earlier.
Carl Hughes, a jailhouse informant, testified that Pittman told him that he had gone to the Knowles' house on the evening of the murders to speak with Bonnie Knowles about the problems he was having with her family. Bonnie let Pittman in the house and, when she refused his sexual advances, he killed her to stop her cries for help. Pittman then admitted to killing Barbara Knowles in the hallway outside Bonnie's bedroom and to killing Clarence in the living room as Clarence tried to use the phone. Pittman also told Hughes that he burned the house, stole the Toyota and abandoned it on the side of the road, and later returned to the Toyota and burned it as well.
The record further reflects that Pittman feared that the police suspected his involvement in the murders, and, at the prompting of his mother, Pittman turned himself in to the police on the day after the murders.
In response to the prosecution's case, the defense presented testimony critical of the police investigation and attempted to establish that Marie, Pittman's former wife, and her new husband had a motive to commit the murders. Pittman testified in his own defense and stated that he had nothing to do with the crimes charged. He also denied that he had told anyone he had committed the murders. The jury found Pittman guilty of three counts of first-degree murder, two counts of arson, and one count of grand theft, and found him not guilty of burglary.
In the penalty phase, the State established that Pittman was convicted of aggravated assault in 1985. In mitigation, Pittman presented the testimony of his mother that he was a difficult child to deal with and that she had disciplined him severely. A clinical psychologist testified that Pittman's father was a paranoid schizophrenic; that as a child Pittman suffered from a severe attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity; and that Pittman has organic personality syndrome, which causes paranoia and an unstable mood. After hearing this testimony, the jury recommended the death penalty for each murder conviction by a vote of 9 to 3. In his sentencing order, the judge found two aggravating circumstances for each murder: (1) previous conviction of another capital or violent felony, and (2) the murders were heinous, atrocious, or cruel.[FN1] The judge then expressly rejected the mitigating factors of Pittman's being under the influence of extreme mental and emotional disturbance and concluded that the aggravating factors outweighed the proven mitigating factors. The judge imposed the death penalty for each murder. [FN2] Pittman has raised ten issues in his appeal to this Court, three of which are directed to the guilt phase of the trial.[FN3]
[FN1] The sentencing order states:
I. AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCES
1. As an aggravating circumstance, the Defendant, David Joseph Pittman, was proven beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt to have a previous conviction of a felony involving the use or threat of violence; to wit: Aggravated Assault. (Case No. CF85-3584A1Sentenced on March 12, 1986.)
2. As an aggravating circumstance, the Defendant, David Joseph Pittman, was proven beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt to have committed two previous capital felonies as to each of the three murders for which he has been found guilty; to wit: the murders of Bonnie Knowles and Barbara Knowles as to the murder of Clarence Knowles; the murders of Barbara Knowles and Clarence Knowles as to the murder of Bonnie Knowles; the murders of Clarence Knowles and Bonnie Knowles as to the murder of Barbara Knowles.
3. As an aggravating circumstance, the commission of the First Degree Murder of Bonnie Knowles was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.
By testimony and evidence in the record the court finds that the State proved beyond and to the exclusion of all reasonable doubt that Bonnie Knowles experienced conscious pain and suffering before death as a result of the Defendant cutting and stabbing Bonnie Knowles numerous times with a knife or similar object.
4. As an aggravating circumstance, the commission of the First Degree Murder of Barbara Knowles was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.
By the testimony and evidence in the record the Court finds that the State proved beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt that Barbara Knowles [a] experienced pre-death apprehension of physical pain; [b] experienced conscious pain and suffering before death as a result of the Defendant stabbing Barbara Knowles numerous times with a knife or similar object; and [c] that she experienced apprehension of impending death even absent physical pain.
5. As an aggravating circumstance, the commission ofFirst Degree Murder of Clarence Knowles was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel.
By testimony and evidence in the record the Court finds that the State proved beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt that Clarence Knowles [a] experienced pre-death apprehension of physical pain; [b] experienced apprehension of death even absent physical pain; and [c] experienced conscious pain and suffering before death as a result of the Defendant stabbing Clarence Knowles numerous times with a knife or similar object.
THE COURT concludes from these facts that David Joseph Pittman's actions in murdering each of the three individuals was especially heinous, meaning extremely wicked or shockingly evil; was especially atrocious, meaning outrageously wicked or vile; and was especially cruel, meaning designed to inflict a high degree of pain with utter indifference to, or even with enjoyment of, the suffering of others.
[FN2] The sentencing order states:
II. MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCES
As to mitigating circumstances, the Court finds the following:
1. That the three First Degree Murders for which the Defendant is to be sentenced were not committed while the Defendant was under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbances, nor were they mitigated by the use of alcohol as suggested. To the contrary, the Court finds the Defendant [a] arranged the visit to his father's house on the eve of the murders, the first time in months that he had been to his father's house; [b] that he left the house by an outside door from a locked room; [c] walked the short distance in the early morning
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