Puiatti v. Mcneil

Decision Date29 November 2010
Docket NumberNo. 09-15514,09-15514
Citation626 F.3d 1283
PartiesCarl PUIATTI, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Walter A. McNEIL, Secretary, Florida Department of Corrections, Respondent-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Scott Andrew Browne, Tampa, FL, for Respondent-Appellant.

Steven Alan Reiss, Jonathan Bloom, Adam B. Banks, Miranda S. Schiller, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, New York City, Ardith Michelle Bronson, Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP, Boston, MA, for Puiatti.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Before HULL, PRYOR and MARTIN, Circuit Judges.

HULL, Circuit Judge:

Carl Puiatti, a Florida inmate under a death sentence, filed a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus that challenged his convictions and death sentence. The district court denied the petition as to Puiatti's convictions but vacated Puiatti's death sentence. The district court concluded that the state trial court's denial of Puiatti's motion to sever his penalty phase from his co-defendant's violated Puiatti's constitutional right to an individualized determination of sentence. The State appealed. After review and oral argument, we reverse and remand this case with directions to consider Puiatti's remaining § 2254 claims as to his death sentence.

A. 1983 Crime and Confessions

On August 16, 1983, Puiatti and Robert Glock kidnapped, robbed, and murdered Sharilyn Ritchie. Puiatti (age 20) and Glock (age 22) confronted Ritchie as she got out of her car in the parking lot of a shopping mall in Bradenton, Florida. Glock pulled out a .38 pistol and forced Ritchie into the backseat of her car at gunpoint. Puiatti and Glock got in Ritchie's car, Glock took $50 from Ritchie's purse, and Puiatti drove them to Ritchie's bank, where they made Ritchie cash a $100 check. Then Puiatti drove Ritchie more than 60 miles, to an orange grove outside Dade City, Florida. Puiatti took Ritchie's wedding ring and left her at the roadside.

After driving away for a short distance, Glock said he thought they should kill Ritchie, and Puiatti agreed. Puiatti turned the car around, and when the car pulled abreast of Ritchie, Puiatti shot her twice from inside the car. Puiatti began to drive away, but when Glock saw Ritchie was still standing, Puiatti handed the gun to Glock, turned the car around, and drove by Ritchie again. Glock shot Ritchie. When Ritchie still did not fall, Puiatti made a third pass and Glock shot Ritchie again. Ritchie collapsed and died from her injuries.

Four days later, on August 20, 1983, Puiatti and Glock were in Ritchie's car in New Jersey, with Glock driving. A state trooper stopped them because Ritchie's license plate was improperly displayed. Neither Puiatti nor Glock had a valid driver's license. When Puiatti opened the glove compartment to find the car's registration, the state trooper saw a handgun that was later identified as the gun used to kill Ritchie. The state trooper searched the car and found another handgun. He arrested Puiatti and Glock for possessing handguns without a permit. After Puiatti and Glock were taken to the police station, police officers discovered that the car they were driving was stolen and its owner had been murdered.

The New Jersey State Police assigned Detective John Quinlan to interview Puiatti and Glock. On the evening of August 20, Detective Quinlan questioned Puiatti and Glock for about 15 minutes each, at which time Glock admitted he had stolen the car. On the evening of the next day, August 21, 1983, Detective Quinlan, along with Florida detectives August Stahl and James Wiggins, questioned the defendants again. The detectives questioned Puiatti and Glock separately, for about an hour each. Puiatti, who was interviewed after Glock, initially claimed Glock picked him up in Ritchie's car to give him a ride to New York and that Puiatti knew nothing about the theft of the car or Ritchie's death. After the detectives told Puiatti that Glock already gave a statement about Ritchie's murder, Puiatti said, "I might as well tell you," and gave a statement about the murder.

Puiatti's and Glock's individual confessions, which they gave initially, differed from each other in only two ways: (1) although Puiatti and Glock each confessed to shooting Ritchie, they differed on who fired which shots at her; and (2) they each claimed the other man instigated the killing.

Puiatti and Glock were extradited to Florida. On August 24, 1983, Detective Stahl asked Puiatti and Glock if they would give a joint statement confessing to their involvement in Ritchie's murder, and they agreed. Puiatti and Glock's joint confession resolved the inconsistencies in their individual confessions. Their joint confession stated that Glock had suggested shooting Ritchie, Puiatti fired the two shots on the first pass, and Glock fired the shots on the second and third passes.

B. Denial of Motions to Sever

Before trial, Puiatti moved to sever his trial from Glock's, arguing a joint trial was prejudicial. Puiatti alleged that material differences existed between Puiatti's and Glock's individual confessions and that a joint trial interfered substantially with the jury's ability to make an impartial decision as to Puiatti's guilt or innocence and its recommendation of a life or death sentence. Puiatti focused on the defendants' individual confessions and likely antagonistic defenses. Puiatti argued that failure to sever violated the Florida Constitution and the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The state trial court denied Puiatti's motion to sever.1 The state trial court considered the effect of any differences in the defendants' individual confessions on the penalty phase and concluded any difference was clarified in their joint confession.

C. 1984 Guilt Phase

Puiatti's and Glock's trial began March 19, 1984. The State called witnesses to testify about, among other things, the discovery of Ritchie's body, the ensuing police investigation, the extent of Ritchie's injuries, the cause of her death, and the New Jersey traffic stop that led to Puiatti and Glock's arrests. Detectives from New Jersey and Florida testified that Puiatti and Glock made individual tape-recorded statements to police, confessing their involvement in Ritchie's murder. The State played for the jury the tape-recorded individual confessions of Glock and Puiatti. The state trial court instructed the jury not to consider Glock's individual confession as evidence against Puiatti, and vice versa.

The State's last witness was the court reporter who recorded and transcribed Glock and Puiatti's August 24, 1983 jointconfession. The court reporter testified the transcript accurately reflected the defendants' statements and then read the joint confession transcript into the record.

Puiatti's counsel renewed his motion to sever, which the state trial court denied. The joint confession was read in open court.

In the joint confession, Puiatti and Glock acknowledged and waived their Miranda rights.2 Detective Stahl asked Puiatti to describe the incident:

Now, what I want you to do is, uh, so each one of us knows what the other is saying, I want you to go through the whole details of the incident from the time it started in Fort Myers and work right back up to the point where you stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike in the State of New Jersey. Okay. When one talks and one leaves out something, the other one can fill in, but don't talk at the same time.
Puiatti began, describing how he and Glock kidnapped and robbed Ritchie:
We walked to a Shop and Go Store near Bradenton and called a taxicab to take us to the mall. We got to the mall about 8:00 o'clock that morning, and, uh, hung around until it opened. And that day we watched a couple of movies in the mall and we were kind of looking around in the parking lot for a customer to come in to try to get their car. We had no luck that day.
That night, later that night, we tried to hitchhike out of town and tried for a couple of hours, and it was about 1:00 o'clock in the morning and we had no luck. So there was a truck parked over by the mall and it was open, so we went in and slept for a few hours until that morning.
Okay. The following morning, which was Tuesday, the 16th, we went and got something to eat. And we were getting very low on money, so we waited around the mall parking lot until it opened again. And I'm not sure of the exact time.
Do you remember the time when she came?
Mr. Glock: It was approximately 10:20—10:30.
Mr. Puiatti: About 10:30 that morning a woman pulled into the mall parking lot in ... an orange 1977 Toyota SR-5 Corolla. That's what it was, Corolla.
At that time when she pulled in she had opened the door and started to get out of the car, and Robert had a handbag with a .38 in it and went up to her, put the gun on her, and she started to scream. And he told her to get in the backseat.
At that time I got in the car and started—and got behind the driver's wheel and started to pull out of the mall.
At that time Robert went through her purse and found fifty dollars and also found that she had a, uh, bank account. So she's offering to go to her bank and withdraw some money for us, and we—so we went to the Palmetto Bank on Palmetto Avenue and withdrew a hundred dollars in four twenties and two tens. She wrote out a check, and we went through the drive-through and withdrew it.

Puiatti said that he drove the car northbound until he found a dirt road throughorange groves near Dade City, Florida. Puiatti drove the car through the dirt road until he saw a street, then turned around and stopped the car about halfway down the dirt road. Puiatti said they let Ritchie out of the car and, at her request, gave Ritchie her purse and her husband's baseball glove. They took her wedding band and diamond ring.

Puiatti and Glock jointly described how Glock suggested shooting Ritchie, how Puiatti fired the first two shots, and then Glock fired the...

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