Sheppard v. Davis

Decision Date29 March 2017
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 4:14-0655
PartiesERICA YVONNE SHEPPARD, Petitioner, v. LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas

LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice,
Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:14-0655


March 29, 2017


Petitioner Erica Yvonne Sheppard is a Texas death row inmate. This case is before the Court on Sheppard's Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus [Doc. # 28], and Respondent Lorie Davis' Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. # 46] ("Motion"). Having carefully considered the Amended Petition, the Summary Judgment Motion, Sheppard's Reply to the Motion, all the arguments and authorities submitted by counsel, and the entire record, the Court is of the opinion that Davis' Motion must be granted, and Sheppard's Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus should be denied. The Court grants a certificate of appealability on certain aspects of Sheppard's ineffective assistance of counsel claim regarding the punishment phase of her trial.


Sheppard was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death on March 3, 1995, for murdering Marilyn Sage Meagher during the course of robbing Meagher. On June 30, 1993, Meagher's daughter discovered her mother's body in a spare bedroom of an apartment she shared with her mother in Houston, Texas. 20 Tr. at 18-19, 39-42.1 When law enforcement arrived at the scene, they found Meagher's body under a pile of bed linens, with

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a plastic dry cleaning bag wrapped around her head. There were three knives and a broken statue nearby. Id. at 95-102. Police recovered a finger and palm print, subsequently matched to Sheppard's left hand, from the door leading to the spare bedroom. Id. at 197-206.

An autopsy revealed a number of stab wounds on Meagher's body, several of them very deep. 21 Tr. at 177-78, 185-87. Injuries to Meagher's head were consistent with a statue being slammed into her head with "a great deal of force." Id. at 187.

The day after the murder, Korey Jordan contacted the police. 20 Tr. at 114. Jordan was friends with Sheppard's brother, Jonathan. He was at Jonathan's apartment in the same complex as Meagher's the day before the murder. There, he heard Sheppard and James Dickerson talk about robbing or carjacking someone. 21 Tr. at 90-98.

Jordan testified that, when Dickerson complained that he needed money, Sheppard replied "let's go back to the old theme." Id. at 96. Dickerson stated: "If taking a life is what I have to do to get some money, then that's what I have to do." Sheppard responded that she'd "rather catch a . . . skinny white woman walking between her car and her apartment with no children." Id. at 98-99. Dickerson got two knives from Jonathan's kitchen, one of which looked like a knife recovered from the crime scene, and talked to Sheppard about the best clothes to wear for committing the crime. Id. at 99-101. They left Jonathan's apartment wearing dark clothes. Id. at 101-02.

The day after the murder, police found Meagher's vehicle in Bay City, Texas. 20 Tr. at 117. A witness testified that he saw both Sheppard and Dickerson use the vehicle on the same evening that Meagher's body was found. 21 Tr. at 12-17. Police recovered Dickerson's fingerprint from the vehicle. 20 Tr. at 177-78.

The following day, police arrested Sheppard and Dickerson in a motel room in Bay City. 21 Tr. at 39-42. They recovered a knife similar to one found near Meagher's body from a drawer containing women's clothing in the motel room. Id. at 46-47. Sheppard subsequently confessed to the murder. Id. at 142-43.

During the penalty phase of Sheppard's trial, the State introduced evidence that Sheppard unsuccessfully attempted to "jack" another female victim the night before the Meagher murder, 25 Tr. at 7, 10, 19, 40-42, and that Sheppard also admitted to a friend that

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she would "jack" cars and sell the parts, id. at 64-65. The state also presented evidence that Sheppard participated in a drive-by shooting with Jerry Bryant, Jr. ("Bryant"), the father of Sheppard's youngest child, on November 17, 1991. Id. at 75-114. Sheppard drove the car. Id. at 78-79.

The State further presented evidence that Sheppard had a poor reputation for being peaceful and law abiding in her hometown. Id. at 124, 131. Two witnesses who were housed with Sheppard during her pretrial detention testified that Sheppard drew attention to news coverage of the Meagher murder "like she was bragging." Id. at 137-38, 161. The State presented evidence that Sheppard spoke callously about the murder, id. at 138-39, threatened to harm a fellow inmate, and asked how she could fake her way into a section of the jail reserved for inmates with mental disorders, id. at 141-44.

Meagher's family testified about the impact her death had on them. Her son testified that he felt like he was robbed of 20 or 30 years with his mother. He sought help from a psychologist to cope with his mother's murder. Id. at 169-72. Meagher's sister also testified about the impact of the murder on her and her children. Id. at 176-79.

In the defense case during the punishment phase, Sheppard presented documents and testimony from the Director of the Matagorda County Women's Crisis Center, an organization that provides shelter for abused women and children, that she stayed at the Center. 26 Tr. at 31-33. The documents show that she went to the Center due to domestic abuse, and that Center staff referred her to a legal aid attorney for assistance in obtaining a protective order and a divorce. Id. at DX2 2-B. She presented similar evidence from Covenant House, an emergency shelter for runaway and homeless youth, that she spent time there. Id. at 35-37.

Sheppard first stayed at Covenant House when she was 16 years old. She had a young child at that time. The Houston Police Department referred her to Covenant House due to conflict between Sheppard and her mother. She stayed at Covenant House a second time when she was 17 years old. Id. at DX 3-B.

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Sheppard also called psychiatrist Priscilla Ray, M.D. Dr. Ray presented a clinical evaluation based on a two-hour interview of Sheppard. DX4-B, at 1. Defense counsel asked Dr. Ray to evaluate Sheppard for competency to stand trial, sanity, and her susceptibility to influence by men who were in a position to abuse her. Am. Pet., App. 24, at 2. Dr. Ray's clinical conclusions focused on Sheppard's competency to stand trial rather than development of mitigation evidence. DX 4-B. at 5. Dr. Ray testified that Sheppard suffered from depression, which was only partially treated. She opined that there was a genetic component to Sheppard's depression based on her family history. 26 Tr. at 41-42. Dr. Ray also testified that Sheppard seemed remorseful for the murder. Id. at 45. Based on Sheppard's mental status, her history, the nature of her crime, and general relevant statistics, Dr. Ray opined that Sheppard was unlikely to engage in future acts of violence, either in prison or in society. Id. at 43-46. Dr. Ray testified that Sheppard was more of a follower than a leader, and would be less likely to commit acts of violence if not in "a situation in which a man is likely to be abusive or possibly may be abusive and has some sway over her." Id. at 60-61.

Dr. Ray's expert report was also admitted into evidence. The report stated that Sheppard was raised by her maternal grandmother, that both her mother and her grandmother had significant health problems, that her parents divorced when she was young and her father was not a frequent presence in her life, and that she has a brother, a half brother, and a step brother. DX 4-B. Dr. Ray did not testify to these facts or elaborate. Dr. Ray's report revealed that Sheppard dropped out of school in tenth grade because she was pregnant. She eventually obtained a GED and attended school to become a medical assistant. She dropped out because Bryant, her boyfriend at the time, wanted her at home. Id. Sheppard reported being sexually abused as a child by a friend of her mother's. Sheppard reported the abuse to her mother, but her mother did not believe her. She also reported being raped by a stranger when she was a teenager, and being abused by Bryant, the father of her third child. Id. The abuse by Bryant included striking Sheppard and threatening to kill her. Id. Sheppard also told Dr. Ray her version of the events regarding Meagher's murder. She denied agreeing to harm anyone the day before the murder, and claimed that she told

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Dickerson, who was Sheppard's brother's romantic partner, see 22 Tr. at 15, to get a job if he needed money. She further claimed that Dickerson threatened to kill her and her baby if she didn't help him with the robbery-murder, that she acted under duress, and that Dickerson planted the knife in her clothing drawer at the motel. DX 4-B.

Sheppard also called as a witness Patrice Green, a lifelong friend. Green testified that Sheppard attended church regularly, had three children, and worked for Green's husband, a Justice of the Peace. 26 Tr. at 70-73.

Sheppard's grandmother, Annie Smith, testified that she was Sheppard's primary caregiver during Sheppard's youth, and that Sheppard lived with Smith more than with her own mother. Smith testified that Sheppard lived with her for most of the first 20 years of her life. Id. at 75-77. She also testified briefly that Bryant abused Sheppard. Sheppard moved away from her grandmother to try to evade Bryant. Id.

The jury found that there was a probability that Sheppard would commit future acts of criminal violence posing a danger to society, that she caused, intended to cause, or intended for another to cause Meagher's death, and that the mitigating evidence was insufficient to warrant a life sentence. 28 Tr. at 5-7. Accordingly, the trial court sentenced Sheppard to death.

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals ("TCCA") affirmed Sheppard's conviction and sentence....

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