Porter v. Zook, 16-18

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation898 F.3d 408
Docket NumberNo. 16-18,16-18
Parties Thomas Alexander PORTER, Petitioner–Appellant, v. David ZOOK, Warden, Sussex I State Prison, Respondent–Appellee.
Decision Date03 August 2018

898 F.3d 408

Thomas Alexander PORTER, Petitioner–Appellant,
David ZOOK, Warden, Sussex I State Prison, Respondent–Appellee.

No. 16-18

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

Argued: January 23, 2018
Decided: August 3, 2018

ARGUED: Robert Edward Lee, Jr., Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant. Matthew P. Dullaghan, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Dawn M. Davison, Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, Charlottesville, Virginia; Trey R. Kelleter, Vandeventer Black, LLP, Norfolk, Virginia, for Appellant. Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

Before THACKER and HARRIS, Circuit Judges, SHEDD, Senior Circuit Judge.

Affirmed in part, vacated in part and remanded with instructions by published opinion.

THACKER, Circuit Judge:

898 F.3d 414

This death penalty case is before us for the second time. In 2007 Thomas Alexander Porter ("Appellant") was convicted in Virginia state court of capital murder for killing a Norfolk law enforcement officer, Stanley Reaves. He was sentenced to death.

After he pursued direct and collateral review in state court, Appellant filed the operative 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition in the district court, raising a host of challenges to his conviction and sentence. Chief among them was a claim that one of the jurors was biased against him. Specifically, when asked at voir dire whether any jurors had relatives in law enforcement, the juror did not disclose that his brother was a law enforcement officer in the jurisdiction adjacent to Norfolk.

The district court dismissed the § 2254 petition. See Porter v. Davis , No. 3:12-cv-550, 2014 WL 4182677, at *52 (E.D. Va. Aug. 21, 2014) ("Porter I "). Appellant filed a plenary appeal of that dismissal, and we dismissed the appeal and remanded for further consideration of Appellant's actual bias claim, which the district court failed to address in the first instance. See Porter v. Zook , 803 F.3d 694 (4th Cir. 2015) (" Porter II "). On remand, the district court dismissed Appellant's actual bias claim as a matter of law without holding an evidentiary hearing. See Porter v. Zook , No. 3:12-cv-550, 2016 WL 1688765, at *1 (E.D. Va. Apr. 25, 2016) (" Porter III "). We now consider an appeal of that decision and the dismissal of his other claims.

Although we affirm on the majority of Appellant's claims, we are constrained to remand once again on the juror bias issue. In dismissing the actual bias claim, the district court failed to recognize the applicability of Supreme Court precedent requiring a hearing in these circumstances; erected inappropriate legal barriers and faulted Appellant for not overcoming them; and ignored "judicially-recognized factors" in determining whether a hearing is necessary. United States v. Henry , 673 F.3d 285, 291 (4th Cir. 2012). We likewise conclude that the district court erred in Porter I by dismissing Appellant's separate but related juror bias claim brought pursuant to McDonough Power Equipment, Inc. v. Greenwood , 464 U.S. 548, 104 S.Ct. 845, 78 L.Ed.2d 663 (1984).

We therefore affirm in part, vacate in part, and remand with instructions that the district court allow discovery and hold an evidentiary hearing on Appellant's two separate juror bias claims.



In Virginia state court on March 7, 2007, Appellant was convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a felony, grand larceny of a firearm, and capital murder for killing a law enforcement officer in order to interfere with the performance of his official duties.1 The following facts were adduced at Appellant's trial:

At approximately 3:30 p.m. on October 28, 2005, Porter and Reginald Copeland
898 F.3d 415
traveled in Porter's Jeep to the Park Place apartment complex located at 2715 DeBree Avenue in the City of Norfolk to inquire about purchasing marijuana. Porter was carrying a concealed, nine-millimeter Jennings semi-automatic pistol. The two men entered the apartment of Valorie Arrington, where several people were present, including Valorie and her daughters, Latoria and Latifa ....

Once inside, Porter began arguing with the women, brandishing his gun, and threatening that he might shoot one of them if provoked. Copeland left the residence, but Porter remained behind, locking the door so Copeland could not reenter. After being locked out of Valorie's apartment, Copeland walked away from the apartment complex and happened upon three uniformed police officers a block away, including Norfolk Police Officer Stanley Reaves. Copeland reported Porter's behavior to Officer Reaves and directed him to Valorie's apartment.

Officer Reaves drove his police cruiser to the front curb of the apartment building, parked the car, and walked across the grass towards the sidewalk leading from the street to the apartment door. As Officer Reaves approached the apartment, Porter left Valorie's apartment and began walking away. Officer Reaves confronted Porter, grabbed Porter's left arm, and instructed him to take his hands out of his pockets. Porter then drew his concealed weapon from his pocket and fired three times, killing Officer Reaves. Porter took Officer Reaves' service pistol and then fled in his Jeep.

Several eyewitnesses, along with Porter, testified at trial and provided various descriptions of the events leading up to and immediately following Officer Reaves' death. ...

Copeland testified that he and Porter entered Valorie's apartment because she was Copeland's friend and because he had smoked marijuana with her before. ... [A]t some point in the conversation Porter began arguing with one of the women.

Copeland "didn't know what to do" but left the apartment and "ran down [to the next block] and told [Officer Reaves, ‘]Look, there is a man up in the house with some girls, and he shouldn't be in there.’ " Copeland described the apartment building to Officer Reaves, and Officer Reaves drove his patrol car to the building with Copeland "running behind" the vehicle. Officer Reaves arrived at the building before Copeland, and as Copeland approached he saw "Officer Reaves in the car and Porter was coming out [of] the building." Copeland identified Porter to Officer Reaves, and Officer Reaves instructed Copeland to stay back and then approached Porter. Moments later, Porter and Officer Reaves disappeared from Copeland's viewpoint behind a parked van, but Copeland "heard gunshots and started running," and he "ran and told the [other] officers what happened."


Simone Coleman testified that she was walking on the sidewalk near the apartment complex when she saw Officer Reaves' patrol car arrive. Coleman watched as Officer Reaves stepped out of his patrol car, and she saw Porter walking across the grass from the apartment, coming to "within a few feet" of her. She testified that Porter's hands were "[i]n his pockets" as Coleman passed by, and she "was looking back" to watch the confrontation between Officer Reaves and Porter. Coleman heard Officer Reaves instruct Porter to "take his hands out of his pockets," and then Officer Reaves "grabbed Mr. Porter's left arm." Coleman testified that Officer
898 F.3d 416
Reaves "didn't have a gun out," and that Porter, in response to Officer Reaves grabbing his arm, pulled a gun out of his pocket, pointed the gun at Officer Reaves' head, and pulled the trigger. Coleman watched Officer Reaves collapse to the ground, and she testified that Porter then shot Officer Reaves two more times. Coleman identified Porter in court as the man who killed Officer Reaves.

Selethia Anderson, who lived across the street from the apartment complex, was sitting on her front porch when she saw Officer Reaves arrive. Anderson testified that she watched Officer Reaves exit his vehicle and walk towards Porter as Porter was leaving the apartment complex. She described how Officer Reaves confronted Porter and "used his right hand to grab [Porter's] left hand," and then Porter immediately reached into his hoodie pocket with his right hand, pulled out a gun, and shot Officer Reaves in the head. Anderson testified that after Officer Reaves fell, Porter shot him twice more "between the back of the head and neck." According to Anderson, Porter knelt over Officer Reaves' body after the shooting, and when Porter left the scene, he was carrying a "bigger gun" than the one he had used to shoot Officer Reaves. Anderson identified Porter in court as the man who shot Officer Reaves.

Valorie testified that she was in her apartment that afternoon when Copeland arrived with Porter. According to Valorie, the two men "came for some marijuana" but the women did not have any, and asked the men to leave. Copeland agreed to leave, but Porter stayed inside, locked the door and kept Copeland outside. Valorie testified that she felt scared because Porter had "locked us in our own house." Valorie asked Porter why his hands were in his sweatshirt pocket, and Porter responded by pulling out his gun and asking, "[s]o are you going to give me the bag of weed or what?" Valorie testified that she uttered a prayer, and when Porter realized she was a Muslim, he told the women that they were "lucky" and he put away the gun. When Porter realized a police car had arrived, he left the

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