Sansing v. Ryan, No. 13-99001

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtWATFORD, Circuit Judge
Citation997 F.3d 1018
Parties John Edward SANSING, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Charles L. RYAN, Director, Arizona Department of Corrections; Ernest Trujillo, Warden, Arizona State Prison - Eyman Complex, Respondents-Appellees.
Decision Date17 May 2021
Docket NumberNo. 13-99001

997 F.3d 1018

John Edward SANSING, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Charles L. RYAN, Director, Arizona Department of Corrections; Ernest Trujillo, Warden, Arizona State Prison - Eyman Complex, Respondents-Appellees.

No. 13-99001

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Argued and Submitted January 22, 2019 San Francisco, California
Filed May 17, 2021


WATFORD, Circuit Judge:

In 1999, the State of Arizona sentenced John Sansing to death for the murder of Trudy Calabrese. This appeal arises from the district court's denial of Sansing's federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The district court granted a certificate of appealability as to five claims, and we later issued a certificate of appealability as to a sixth. We agree with the district court that Sansing has not shown an entitlement to relief on any of his claims.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

Our summary of the facts is drawn from the Arizona Supreme Court's first opinion on direct appeal. State v. Sansing , 200 Ariz. 347, 26 P.3d 1118, 1122–23 (Ariz. 2001) ( Sansing I ). Sansing's wife, Kara Sansing, provided much of this narrative when she testified during the penalty phase of Sansing's trial. (Like the parties, we refer to Sansing's family members by their first names to avoid confusion.)

On February 24, 1998, Sansing and Kara were on the fourth consecutive day of heavy crack cocaine consumption. Sansing

997 F.3d 1025

called Kara throughout the day to discuss the need to obtain money to buy more drugs. He also informed her that he had purchased crack cocaine, smoked a portion of it, and was saving the rest for her. Kara returned home from work around 3:20 p.m., and the two immediately smoked the leftover crack cocaine.

That afternoon, Sansing contacted a local church to request delivery of a box of food for his family. With his four young children present, Sansing told Kara that he planned to rob whomever the church sent to deliver the food.

Shortly after 4:00 p.m., Trudy Calabrese parked her truck in front of the Sansing home. She entered the house and delivered two boxes of food, chatting with Kara in the kitchen while Sansing signed paperwork verifying the delivery. As Ms. Calabrese turned to leave, Sansing grabbed her from behind and threw her to the floor. With the assistance of Kara, Sansing bound Ms. Calabrese's wrists and legs with electrical cords.

According to Kara, Ms. Calabrese fought "a great deal" and begged Sansing not to hurt her. She pleaded for the children to call the police and prayed for God's help until Sansing gagged her with a sock. Sansing struck Ms. Calabrese twice in the head with a wooden club with enough force to knock her unconscious. He then retrieved her keys and drove her truck to a nearby parking lot. When Sansing returned, Ms. Calabrese was conscious, at least according to Sansing's and Kara's later statements. (Sansing now disputes this fact, pointing to the testimony of a medical examiner who expressed doubt that Ms. Calabrese regained consciousness given the severity of her head injuries.)

Sansing dragged Ms. Calabrese upstairs to his bedroom, where he raped her. Her arms and legs were still bound. Kara overheard Sansing and Ms. Calabrese speaking to each other. (Sansing disputes that Ms. Calabrese spoke, pointing to the use of the gag and again to her head injuries.) After raping Ms. Calabrese, Sansing stabbed her three times in the abdomen with a knife from the kitchen. Kara described Sansing as "grinding" the knife inside of Ms. Calabrese, and the medical examiner saw signs that the knife had been twisted in her abdomen. Ms. Calabrese died from these wounds, likely several minutes after the stabbing.

Sansing took Ms. Calabrese's jewelry and traded it for crack cocaine.

That evening, a pastor of the church called the Sansing home to check on Ms. Calabrese's whereabouts. Sansing gave a false home address and told the pastor that the delivery had never arrived. Sansing later dragged Ms. Calabrese's body to his backyard and attempted to hide it behind a shed under a piece of old carpeting. He washed the club he had used to strike Ms. Calabrese and hid other evidence of the crime.

By the next day, a search party had located Ms. Calabrese's truck; inside was a note with the Sansings’ true home address. The police visited the home and found Ms. Calabrese's body in the backyard. Her head was wrapped in a plastic bag that was bound to her neck by ligatures, and the police discovered that she had been blindfolded. At the time of the search, Sansing had already gone to work. He went straight from work to his sister Patsy's house, where he confessed to having killed Ms. Calabrese. Patsy called their father, who reported the murder and Sansing's location to the police. Sansing peaceably surrendered to the officers who arrived at Patsy's house.

The State of Arizona charged Sansing with first-degree murder, kidnapping, armed robbery, and sexual assault. The

997 F.3d 1026

State also provided notice of its intent to seek the death penalty. Two deputy public defenders, Emmet Ronan and Sylvina Cotto, were appointed to represent Sansing. Professing a desire not to put either his family or the Calabrese family through a trial, Sansing pleaded guilty in September 1998 to all charges in the indictment.

Sansing's trial therefore proceeded directly to the penalty phase, at which the trial judge considered the aggravating and mitigating circumstances associated with the murder. Following a three-day hearing, the trial judge sentenced Sansing to death in a detailed, 17-page special verdict. The Arizona Supreme Court affirmed Sansing's death sentence on direct appeal. Sansing I , 26 P.3d at 1132 ; State v. Sansing , 206 Ariz. 232, 77 P.3d 30, 39 (2003) ( Sansing II ).

Sansing sought post-conviction review (PCR) in state court. The PCR court summarily dismissed four claims on the merits and a fifth claim as procedurally defaulted. The court rejected Sansing's remaining claim, which alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel, in a reasoned opinion following a four-day evidentiary hearing. The Arizona Supreme Court denied Sansing's petition for review without reaching the merits of his claims.

In 2011, Sansing filed a 29-claim petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court. The district court denied his petition and granted a certificate of appealability as to five of Sansing's claims. Sansing filed a timely notice of appeal from the district court's judgment. As noted above, we issued a certificate of appealability as to one additional claim.

II. Claim 1

We address first the district court's rejection of Claim 1, which is predicated on the alleged denial of Sansing's Sixth Amendment right to trial by jury. At the time of Sansing's trial, Arizona law mandated that the trial judge alone determine whether a sentence of death should be imposed following a conviction for first-degree murder. The United States Supreme Court declared that sentencing scheme unconstitutional in Ring v. Arizona , 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002). Soon thereafter, the Court granted Sansing's pending petition for a writ of certiorari, vacated the judgment in Sansing I , and remanded the case for further consideration in light of Ring . Sansing v. Arizona , 536 U.S. 954, 122 S.Ct. 2654, 153 L.Ed.2d 830 (2002). On remand, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that the denial of Sansing's right to a jury trial during the penalty phase was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Sansing II , 77 P.3d at 36–39. In Claim 1, Sansing alleges that the Arizona Supreme Court's harmless-error determination was "contrary to" or "an unreasonable application of" clearly established federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). We begin by providing additional background relevant to the analysis of this claim before turning to the merits.

A

After Sansing pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, Arizona law required the sentencing court to decide whether he should be sentenced to death or life in prison. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-703(B) (1999). (Unless otherwise noted, we cite the 1999 version of the Arizona Revised Statutes.) To make that determination, the sentencing court engaged in a three-step analysis.

First, the sentencing court determined whether the State had proved beyond a reasonable doubt any of the ten statutory aggravating factors that render a defendant eligible for the death penalty. § 13-703(F). In this case, the sentencing court found two such factors had been proved:

997 F.3d 1027

that Sansing "committed the offense in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner," § 13-703(F)(6) ; and that he "committed the offense as consideration for the receipt, or in expectation of the receipt, of anything of pecuniary value," § 13-703(F)(5).

Second, the sentencing court determined whether Sansing had proved by a preponderance of the evidence any of the five statutory mitigating circumstances. § 13-703(G). As relevant here, Sansing argued that his "capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law was significantly impaired" by his use of crack cocaine. § 13-703(G)(1). The sentencing court declined to find the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
8 practice notes
  • Weaver v. Chappell, 1:02-cv-05583-AWI-SAB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • September 19, 2021
    ...manifested consciousness of guilt as to the crimes he committed against Radford and Levoy. See e.g., CT 172; see also Sansing v. Ryan, 997 F.3d 1018, 1032 (9th Cir. 2021) (no impaired capacity where deliberate actions taken by defendant after the crime “[E]stablish[ed] that the drug use did......
  • McGill v. Shinn, 19-99002
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 21, 2021
    ...testifying in capital and other cases for both the state and the defense, but more often for the defense. See, e.g. , Sansing v. Ryan , 997 F.3d 1018, 1037 (9th Cir. 2021) ; Bible v. Ryan , 571 F.3d 860, 869 (9th Cir. 2009) ; Boggs v. Shinn , No. CV-14-02165-PHX-GMS, 2020 WL 1494491, at *41......
  • Demetrulias v. Davis, 14-99000
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 23, 2021
    ...formally apply both Brecht and AEDPA/Chapman ,’ since the analysis under both approaches will lead to the same result." Sansing v. Ryan , 997 F.3d 1018, 1030 (9th Cir. 2021) (quoting Ayala , 576 U.S. at 268, 135 S.Ct. 2187 ).7 Demetrulias argues that the California Supreme Court's determina......
  • Sansing v. Ryan, 13-99001
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • May 17, 2021
    ...J. Watford, Circuit Judges.Order;Opinion by Judge Watford ;Dissent by Judge BerzonORDERThe opinion filed May 17, 2021, and appearing at 997 F.3d 1018, is amended by the opinion filed concurrently with this order. Judge Berzon's dissent is also amended by the dissent filed concurrently with ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • McGill v. Shinn, 19-99002
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • October 21, 2021
    ...testifying in capital and other cases for both the state and the defense, but more often for the defense. See, e.g. , Sansing v. Ryan , 997 F.3d 1018, 1037 (9th Cir. 2021) ; Bible v. Ryan , 571 F.3d 860, 869 (9th Cir. 2009) ; Boggs v. Shinn , No. CV-14-02165-PHX-GMS, 2020 WL 1494491, at *41......
  • Demetrulias v. Davis, 14-99000
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • September 23, 2021
    ...formally apply both Brecht and AEDPA/Chapman ,’ since the analysis under both approaches will lead to the same result." Sansing v. Ryan , 997 F.3d 1018, 1030 (9th Cir. 2021) (quoting Ayala , 576 U.S. at 268, 135 S.Ct. 2187 ).7 Demetrulias argues that the California Supreme Court's determina......
  • Sansing v. Ryan, 13-99001
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • May 17, 2021
    ...J. Watford, Circuit Judges.Order;Opinion by Judge Watford ;Dissent by Judge BerzonORDERThe opinion filed May 17, 2021, and appearing at 997 F.3d 1018, is amended by the opinion filed concurrently with this order. Judge Berzon's dissent is also amended by the dissent filed concurrently with ......
  • Weaver v. Chappell, 1:02-cv-05583-AWI-SAB
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
    • September 19, 2021
    ...manifested consciousness of guilt as to the crimes he committed against Radford and Levoy. See e.g., CT 172; see also Sansing v. Ryan, 997 F.3d 1018, 1032 (9th Cir. 2021) (no impaired capacity where deliberate actions taken by defendant after the crime “[E]stablish[ed] that the drug use did......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT