Rickman v. Bell

Decision Date02 December 1997
Docket Number94-6232 and 94-6538,Nos. 94-5721,s. 94-5721
Citation131 F.3d 1150
PartiesRonald Eugene RICKMAN, Petitioner-Appellee/Cross-Appellant, v. Ricky BELL, Warden, Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Kathy Morante, Asst. Attorney Gen. (argued and briefed), C. Mark Fowler, Asst. Attorney Gen., Glenn R. Pruden (briefed), Brent Horst, Office of the Attorney General, Criminal Justice Division, Nashville, TN, for Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellee in No. 94-5721.

Gordon W. Smith, Asst. Attorney Gen. (briefed), Kathy Morante, Asst. Attorney Gen. (argued), Glenn R. Pruden (briefed), Charles W. Burson, Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General, Criminal Justice Division, Nashville, TN, for Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellee in No. 94-6232.

Gordon W. Smith, Asst. Attorney Gen. (briefed), Glenn R. Pruden (briefed), Kathy M. Principe (argued and briefed), Office of the Attorney General, Criminal Justice Division, Nashville, TN, for Respondent-Appellant/Cross-Appellee in No. 94-6538.

Henry A. Martin, Fed. Public Defender (briefed), Paul R. Bottei (argued and briefed), Federal Public Defender's Office, Nashville, TN, William P. Redick, Jr. (briefed), Whites Creek, TN, for Petitioner-Appellee/Cross-Appellant.

Before: KEITH, RYAN, and SUHRHEINRICH, Circuit Judges.

RYAN, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which KEITH, J., joined. SUHRHEINRICH, J. (pp. 1160-1167), delivered a separate dissenting opinion.

OPINION

RYAN, Circuit Judge.

Ricky Bell, the warden of the Tennessee Riverbend Maximum Security Institution and the respondent in this proceeding, appeals from the district court's judgment granting a writ of habeas corpus to petitioner Ronald Eugene Rickman pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Rickman has filed a cross-appeal from the district court's denial of several of his constitutional claims.

Although both parties advance numerous issues, we find only one necessary to our resolution of this appeal. Concluding that the district court correctly found Rickman to have been unconstitutionally denied effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment, we will affirm.

I.
A.

In February 1978, William E. Groseclose was convicted of murder in the first degree in connection with the killing of his wife, Deborah Lee Groseclose, on June 29, 1977. The prosecution's theory was that Groseclose hired petitioner Rickman and another man, Phillip Michael Britt, to kill Deborah. Groseclose was alleged to have contacted Barton Wayne Mount, a naval recruit Groseclose met while Groseclose was employed in the Navy Recruiting Service, in an effort to employ someone to murder Mrs. Groseclose. State v. Groseclose, 615 S.W.2d 142, 144 (Tenn.1981). Mount referred Groseclose to Britt, who, in turn, contacted Rickman, Britt's former brother-in-law. Rickman agreed to commit the murder in cooperation with Britt, a fact of which Mount was aware. Groseclose agreed to pay a particular price in which Rickman, Britt, and Mount would all share.

The Tennessee Supreme Court in its joint opinion affirming both Groseclose's and Rickman's convictions described the murder as "one of the most atrocious and inhuman conceivable." Id. at 145. According to the evidence presented by the State at trial, Rickman, acting pursuant to the conspiracy, accosted Deborah the day before the murder "to frighten her to the point that she would report ... the incident to the police," in an attempt to later divert suspicion for the planned murder from her husband. Id. The next morning, Groseclose left his house with the couple's infant son, leaving the back door unlocked. Rickman and Britt then entered the house; each raped Deborah Groseclose, and then told her "there was a 'contract' on her life." Id.

After listening to Deborah "plead" for her life by offering money to her assailants, Rickman "proceeded to strangle Mrs. Groseclose into unconsciousness" and then, because he detected a pulse, to stab her three or four times in the back. Id. Rickman and Britt placed Deborah in the trunk of her car, apparently believing her to be dead, and "drove the vehicle to a parking lot adjacent to the main Memphis Public Library." Id. Despite hearing Deborah's "cries for help from the trunk," id., Rickman left her there, abandoning the car. Deborah's body was discovered five days later, and the medical testimony at trial suggested that she would not have died from her injuries, but died instead as a result of the excessive heat in her car trunk.

During the investigation that followed, police were led to Rickman and Mount through information given by Rickman's roommate. Rickman and Britt both gave inculpatory statements to the police, as did Mount. Mount, in fact, testified for the State at the trial of Rickman, Britt, and Groseclose, and later pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

B.

Jury selection began for the joint trial on February 13, 1978, and was completed on February 17. The trial began on February 18 and was concluded on February 28. The sentencing hearing was held between March 1 and March 3.

The State presented 39 witnesses during the guilt phase of the trial. None of the defendants testified during the guilt phase. All three defendants were convicted of murder in the first degree and both Rickman and Groseclose were sentenced to death. Britt received a sentence of life imprisonment.

The Tennessee Supreme Court affirmed Rickman's conviction in 1981, Groseclose, 615 S.W.2d 142, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied his petition for writ of certiorari, Rickman v. Tennessee, 454 U.S. 882, 102 S.Ct. 367, 70 L.Ed.2d 193 (1981). Rickman then filed a petition for post-conviction relief in January 1982, arguing, inter alia, that he had received constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied the petition in December 1982, after holding an evidentiary hearing. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the denial in February 1984. Groseclose v. Tennessee, No. 9 (Tenn.Crim.App. Feb. 16, 1984). The Supreme Court of Tennessee denied the subsequent application for permission to appeal, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied the petition for writ of certiorari. Rickman v. Tennessee, 469 U.S. 963, 105 S.Ct. 363, 83 L.Ed.2d 299 (1984).

Rickman filed the petition for writ of habeas corpus at issue here on March 5, 1985, amending it in July 1990, November 1992, and January 1994. In 1994, Rickman filed a motion for partial summary judgment, and the State filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment in response. The district court granted Rickman's motion in part, and ordered a new sentencing proceeding based on perceived flaws in the jury instructions on capital punishment. Rickman v. Dutton, 854 F.Supp. 1305 (M.D.Tenn.1994). The State filed a notice of appeal following the district court's determination that there was no just reason to delay entry of its partial judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b).

The district court later addressed the remaining issues in Rickman's habeas petition, first holding an evidentiary hearing. The court held Rickman's conviction to have been unconstitutional for two reasons: the constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel and the cumulative effect of other errors resulting in a denial of due process. Rickman v. Dutton, 864 F.Supp. 686 (M.D.Tenn.1994). The district court simultaneously rejected, however, several of Rickman's arguments.

The State again filed a timely appeal, and amended its notice of appeal following the district court's partial grant of Rickman's motion to amend the judgment. Rickman filed a cross-appeal following the district court's grant of a certificate of probable cause.

II.

Although we review de novo the district court's disposition of a petition for writ of habeas corpus, we review the district court's factual findings only for clear error. See McQueen v. Scroggy, 99 F.3d 1302, 1310 (6th Cir.1996), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 117 S.Ct. 2422, 138 L.Ed.2d 185 (1997). Further, federal courts must defer to state court factual findings, according to them a presumption of correctness that the petitioner may rebut only with clear and convincing evidence. Id. However, "[t]he presumption only applies to basic, primary facts, and not to mixed questions of law and fact," which receive de novo review. Id.

A claim of ineffective assistance of counsel presents a mixed question of law and fact, for which both the state-court and district-court determinations are subject to de novo review by this court. See Sims v. Livesay, 970 F.2d 1575, 1579 (6th Cir.1992); Smith v. Jago, 888 F.2d 399, 407 (6th Cir.1989).

[I]n a federal habeas challenge to a state criminal judgment, a state court conclusion that counsel rendered effective assistance is not a finding of fact binding on the federal court to the extent stated by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Ineffectiveness is not a question of "basic, primary, or historical fac[t.]" Rather, ... it is a mixed question of law and fact. Although state court findings of fact made in the course of deciding an ineffectiveness claim are subject to the deference requirement of § 2254(d), and although district court findings are subject to the clearly erroneous standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52(a), both the performance and prejudice components of the ineffectiveness inquiry are mixed questions of law and fact.

Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 698, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 2070, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984) (citations omitted); accord McQueen, 99 F.3d at 1310-11.

In setting forth this standard of review, we note the parties' disagreement as to the effect of the recent amendments to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 contained in section 104 of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, Pub.L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996). Although the AEDPA became effective on April 24, 1996, and although it mandates significant changes to the federal courts' treatment of both factual and legal issues in the habeas...

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