Saunders v. Stewart

Decision Date01 February 2019
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION No. 10-00439-KD-C
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Alabama
PartiesTIMOTHY W. SAUNDERS, Petitioner, v. Cynthia Stewart, Warden of Holman Correctional Facility, Respondent.

Timothy Wade Saunders, a death row inmate at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, challenges the validity of his 2005 conviction in Baldwin County, Alabama Circuit Court, for which the trial court sentenced Saunders to death by lethal injection. Respondent Cynthia Stewart serves as Holman Correctional Facility's warden.1 Below, the Court considers Saunders's amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.2 As the Court will explain, Saunders's amended petition is due to be DENIED.

I. Background
A. Facts of the Underlying Crime3

On July 9, 2004, Timothy Wade Saunders murdered 77-year-old Melvin Clemons and severely injured Mr. Clemons' wife, Agnes Clemons. Earlier, Saunders borrowed a crowbarfrom Mr. Clemons. When Saunders failed to return the crowbar, Mr. Clemons left his house to go outside. He did not return. Later, Mrs. Clemons found Saunders sitting on the Clemons' porch. Noticing Saunders sweating profusely, Mrs. Clemons opened her door and asked Saunders if he was OK. He informed her that he was suffering an asthma attack. Mrs. Clemons took a glass of water and washcloth to him. Saunders asked to use her restroom, which Mrs. Clemons allowed him to do. Later, as Mrs. Clemons attempted to call Saunders's mother, as he requested, he approached her from behind. Saunders proceeded to rob, physically intimidate, and assault Mrs. Clemons. At one point, after dragging Mrs. Clemons throughout the home, repeatedly striking her, and blocking her from leaving the bathroom, Saunders smoked crack cocaine. He also unsuccessfully tried to play cards with Mrs. Clemons. Then he asked her to pose provocatively, like the naked women depicted on the cards posed. She refused, telling "Saunders that she would fight him until she died; that he was not going to make her pose; and that she wanted to leave the bathroom because he was scaring her. Saunders then moved his leg and allowed her to leave the bathroom." Saunders v. State, 10 So. 3d 53, 64 (Ala. Crim. App. 2007) (Saunders I).

Mrs. Clemons managed to call police after breaking free and obtaining a shotgun. Saunders fled. At 9:48 that night, Mrs. Clemons telephoned 911. Police arrived to find Mr. Clemons'

body approximately 50 to 75 yards from the residence, near a hedgerow that separated the Clemons['] property from a mobile home park. Mr. Clemons appeared to have sustained severe head wounds and was dead when the officers found him. One of the pockets on Mr. Clemons's pants was turned inside out and there appeared to be an area of blood on the pocket. An opened knife sheath was on Mr. Clemons's belt, and a folded or unopened knife was found under Mr. Clemons's body. In addition, a crowbar with what appeared to be blood, tissue, and hair on it was found on the back patio, leaning against the Clemons['] house.

Id. at 65-66.

Dr. Kathleen Enstice, who performed the autopsy on Mr. Clemons' body, concluded Mr. Clemons' cause of death was blunt-force trauma to the head. The injuries Mrs. Clemons sustained resulted in her hospitalization for several days. She suffered a concussion, severe bruising, and pulmonary contusions. The following day, she experienced heart failure. She spent a portion of her hospitalization in the intensive-care unit.

B. Trial Court Proceedings and Saunders's Conviction and Sentence

A Baldwin County, Alabama grand jury indicted Saunders in a five-count indictment:

robbery-murder, a violation of section 13A-5-40(a)(2) of the Code of Alabama (1975), and burglary-murder, a violation of section 13A-5-40(a)(5)[;] one count of attempted murder, a violation of sections 13A-4-2 and 13A-6-2; one count of attempted rape, a violation of sections 13A-4-2 and 13A-6-61(a)(1); and one count of burglary, a violation of section 13A-7-5.

(Doc. 47 (Respondent's Response) at 20) (citing 41-46 (Timothy W. Saunders's Indictment) at 19).4 Two court-appointed attorneys, Thomas Dasinger and Samuel Jovings ("trial counsel"), represented Saunders during the trial. Saunders initially pleaded not guilty by reason of mental defect, but later that plea was withdrawn, and he pleaded not guilty. (Doc. 41-46 at 10-11).

Trial began on or about August 24, 2005. (Id. at 8). Saunders testified as the only witness for the defense. The case was submitted to the jury on August 26, 2005. (Id. at 8.) The jury convicted Saunders of both capital murder counts (robbery-murder and burglary-murder) and of attempted murder. It acquitted Saunders of attempted rape. (Id. at 8; id. at 142-45).

The penalty phase began on August 31, 2005. (Id. at 9; id. at 146). Saunders presented four witnesses during the penalty phase: Saunders's sister, a correctional officer, a clinical psychologist, and a social worker. (Doc. 47 at 21-22). The jury unanimously recommendedSaunders be sentenced to death.5 The trial court subsequently sentenced Saunders to die by lethal injection. (Doc. 41-25 at 21).

C. Procedural Background

Following imposition of sentence, trial counsel successfully moved to withdraw in open court. (Doc. 41-25 at 22-23; Doc. 41-46 at 195-96). On December 21, 2008, the CCA affirmed Saunders's convictions and sentence. Saunders I, 10 So. 3d 53. The Alabama Supreme Court denied his petition for writ of certiorari. (Doc. 41-33 at 2). The United States Supreme Court also denied Saunders's petition for writ of certiorari, on May 26, 2009. Saunders v. Alabama, 129 S. Ct. 2433 (2009) (mem.).

The Respondent described Saunders's postconviction proceedings as "Gordian in their travels through the various courts." (Doc. 47 at 26). This apparently resulted from an administrative mishap. The parties first became aware of the state circuit court's summary dismissal of Saunders's first petition for postconviction relief on July 9, despite the court issuing the order on February 11. (Doc. 47-6 at 22-23, ¶ 4). Saunders filed an unopposed motion for an out-of-time appeal. (Id. at 2-37). The CCA dismissed the appeal in June 2011, concluding the petition was void due to Saunders neither paying a filing fee nor applying to proceed in forma pauperis.

Saunders then filed a second Rule 32 petition, which was both an out-of-time appeal and unopposed. Finally, Saunders filed a third Rule 32 petition. (Id. at 327). The CCA ordered this petition to be held in abeyance pending the conclusion of Saunders's second appeal. (Id. at 334).

The CCA consolidated all three Rule 32 petitions for appeal. (Id. at 336). It affirmed the circuit court's summary dismissal of Saunders's Rule 32 petition. (Doc. 41-41 at 2-45; Saundersv. State, 249 So. 3d 1153 (2016) (Saunders II). The Alabama Supreme Court denied Saunders's petition for writ of certiorari on September 22, 2017. (Doc. 41-45 at 2).6

Saunders originally filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus in 2010, (Doc. 1), with a motion to hold the petition in abeyance pending ongoing state Rule 32 proceedings. (Doc. 2). The Respondent did not oppose Saunders's motion for stay and abeyance (Doc. 5), and the Court granted Saunders's motion. (Doc. 6). It later ordered the parties to file joint status reports. (Doc. 7). On October 8, 2017, Saunders's counsel requested the Court lift the stay and enter a scheduling order (Doc. 37), which the Court granted. (Doc. 39).

II. Overview of Relevant Law
A. 28 U.S.C. § 2254 and AEDPA

Title 28 U.S.C. § 2254 governs the authority of the federal courts to consider applications for writs of habeas corpus submitted by state prisoners. Henderson v. Campbell, 353 F.3d 880, 889-90 (11th Cir. 2003). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") amended § 2254, and it became effective April 24, 1996. Id. AEDPA applies to all petitions filed after its effective date. Id. Since Saunders filed this petition after April 24, 1996, AEDPA applies. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) provides that:

(d) An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim—
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established [f]ederal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

In Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000), the Supreme Court recognized that "§ 2254(d)(1) places a new constraint on the power of a federal habeas court to grant a state prisoner's application for a writ of habeas corpus with respect to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court." Id. at 412.

A state-court decision is contrary to the Supreme Court's clearly established precedent "(1) if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law as set forth in Supreme Court case law, or (2) if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from those in a decision of the Supreme Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from Supreme Court precedent." Stephens v. Hall, 407 F.3d 1195, 1202 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Bottoson v. Moore, 234 F.3d 526, 531 (11th Cir. 2000)).

A state court decision involves an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent "if the state court identifies the correct governing legal rule from [Supreme Court] cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case." Williams, 529 U.S. at 407. In addition, a state court decision results in an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent "if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court]...

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