Skaggs v. Parker

Decision Date22 July 1998
Docket NumberNo. Civ.A. 1:96-CV-8-M.,Civ.A. 1:96-CV-8-M.
Citation27 F.Supp.2d 952
PartiesDavid Leroy SKAGGS, Petitioner, v. Phil PARKER, Warden, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Kentucky

Rodney McDaniel, Department of Public Advocacy, Jason L. Nohr, Kentucky Capital Litigation Resource, Thomas M. Ransdell, Department of Public Advocacy, Frankfort, KY, David Leroy Skaggs, Kentucky State Penitentiary, Eddyville, KY, for Petitioner.

David A. Smith, Office of the Attorney General, Criminal Appellate Division, Frankfort, KY, Ian G. Sonego, Office of the Attorney General, Criminal Appellate Division, Frankfort, KY, for Respondent.


MCKINLEY, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court for habeas corpus review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner, David Leroy Skaggs [hereinafter "Skaggs"], was sentenced to death after a jury found him guilty of the murders of an elderly Glasgow, Kentucky couple. Skaggs' direct appeal was affirmed by the Kentucky Supreme Court. The Kentucky Supreme Court also rejected several collateral attacks on the judgment and sentencing. Fully briefed, this matter is now ripe for decision. For the reasons set forth below, Skaggs' petition for writ of habeas corpus [DN2] is denied.


The background facts of this case were fairly documented by the Kentucky Supreme Court in Skaggs v. Commonwealth, 694 S.W.2d 672, 675-76 (Ky.1985):

Herman Matthews was a 76-year-old, semi-retired scrap metal dealer. His wife was 67 years old and frequently helped in the business. Their home was connected to their place of business. He conducted a cash business and always carried large sums of cash on the premises. On May 6, 1981, a neighbor discovered the body of Herman Matthews in his place of business. Later the police found the body of Mae Matthews in the living room. Herman Matthews was shot three times, once in the right chest, once in the lower back and once in the left arm. He also suffered a head injury consistent with being hit with a hammer and not with falling. The head injury and gunshot wounds to the chest and back were each capable of causing death independently of other injuries. Mrs. Matthews suffered two gunshot wounds, one in the left upper chest and one in the left abdomen. One wound occurred while she was standing and the other while she was lying down.

The police investigation led to Columbus, Indiana where they questioned Skaggs. After having him execute a waiver of rights form, the officers noticed dried blood on Skaggs shoes. While the police were examining the shoes, Skaggs fled. After a 20 minute foot chase in which warning shots were fired, Skaggs was apprehended. He was arrested on Indiana charges and returned to the local jail.

On May 14, still in Indiana, the Kentucky police again questioned Skaggs after again advising him of his rights. He told them he was present at the time of the Matthewses killings, but an accomplice, John Davis, pulled the trigger. On May 15, during the trip to Glasgow, Kentucky, Skaggs told police that the footprint on the door of the Matthews house was his and that he had attempted to kick in the door to burglarize.

Police investigation indicated that the alleged accomplice, Davis, was not involved with the crimes. In view of this information, on May 18, 1981, the police again questioned Skaggs and told him that he had a right to an attorney and that one had been appointed for him if he wanted the police to call the attorney. Skaggs indicated that he did not want an attorney, and during the subsequent interrogation, he confessed to having committed the murders of Herman and Mae Matthews during the course of a robbery and stated that he had acted alone.

After a jury trial, Skaggs was convicted of the murders of Herman and Mae Matthews, and he was also found guilty on two counts of robbery and burglary. At the sentencing phase of the murder conviction, the jury was unable to agree on the penalties for the two murders and was subsequently discharged. Approximately three months later, on June 22, 1982, the penalty phase was retried and a new jury selected. Much of the same evidence introduced at the guilt phase of the first trial was introduced at the retrial of the penalty phase. The final judgment sentencing Skaggs to death for the murder of Herman and Mae Matthews was entered on July 15, 1982.

Skaggs now seeks a writ of habeas corpus from this Court alleging thirty-three grounds of constitutional error. In discussing the various issues, the Court will set forth further facts as appropriate.

I. Petitioner's Fourteenth Amendment Rights Were Violated When Petitioner Was Denied Access to Competent Psychological Assistance1

At the guilt phase of the trial, Skaggs presented an insanity defense through the testimony of Elya Bresler ["Bresler"]. Bresler, who testified that he was a forensic pathologist, diagnosed that Skaggs suffered from two mental illnesses: a major depressive disorder and a paranoid personality disorder. Bresler testified that both these disorders constituted mental diseases or defects that would affect Skaggs' ability to reason and his ability to learn right from wrong. Bresler testified that, at the time of the offense, it was "unlikely" that Skaggs was acting "intentionally." Bresler indicated that, as a result of his mental condition, Skaggs lacked a substantial capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct and to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. TE IX at 1228-29. Bresler also testified that Skaggs was "constantly" acting under extreme emotional disturbance. Id. at 1230-31.

In rebuttal, the Commonwealth called psychiatrist Dr. Pran Ravani ["Ravani"]. Ravani had examined Skaggs after Skaggs had been referred to the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Hospital. Ravani testified that Skaggs had a history of alcohol abuse, but no personality disorder or physical illness as a result of the abuse. Ravani also testified that Skaggs had a schizophrenic trend, but not to the point where it could be diagnosed as schizophrenia. Ravani opined that Skaggs did possess the capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct and to conform his conduct to the requirements of law.

Although the jury rejected Skaggs' insanity defense and ultimately found Skaggs guilty on all counts, it was unable to reach a verdict in the penalty phase and was discharged.2 On June 22, 1982, the penalty phase of Skaggs' case proceeded to trial for the second time. Bresler's and Ravani's testimony was essentially the same as their testimony at the guilt phase of the first trial. The jury recommended that Skaggs be sentenced to death for the murders of Herman and Mae Matthews. On July 13, 1982, the trial court accepted the jury's recommendations and sentenced Skaggs to death.

Sometime after the trial and conviction, Skaggs discovered that Bresler had testified falsely concerning his credentials and that he was not a licensed clinical psychologist. In March 1984, Skaggs filed a Kentucky Rule of Criminal Procedure 10.02/10.06 motion for new trial based on this newly discovered evidence. Although the trial court acknowledged Bresler's lack of credentials, it overruled Skaggs' motion for a new trial. Skaggs' appeal to the Kentucky Court of Appeals from denial of the motion was transferred to the Kentucky Supreme Court, which affirmed the decision of the trial court.

In 1994, Skaggs brought a second motion for a new trial pursuant to RCr 10.02 and Kentucky Rule of Civil Procedure 60.02. The bases of the motion were psychological evaluations conducted by Charles Yonts ["Yonts"], a certified psychologist, and Dr. Eric S. Engum ["Engum"], a clinical neuropsychologist. Skaggs claimed Engum's and Yont's diagnoses were radically different from the diagnosis and conclusions presented to the jury through Bresler. The trial court overruled Skaggs' motion and the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed the decision on appeal.

In support of his due process claim that he was denied access to competent psychological assistance, Skaggs relies primarily on Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985). In Ake, the Supreme Court held that "fundamental fairness entitles indigent defendants to `an adequate opportunity to present their claims fairly within the adversary system.'" Id. at 77, 105 S.Ct. 1087. Ake entitles a defendant access to a competent psychological expert to help ascertain the viability of an insanity defense and "to present testimony, and to assist in preparing the cross-examination of a State's psychiatric witnesses." Id. at 82, 105 S.Ct. 1087. Skaggs maintains that the selection of Bresler as his mental health expert effectively denied him the right to competent psychological assistance to fairly present his claim of insanity.

In the present case, the Court finds that the selection of Bresler as mental health expert did not deny Skaggs the opportunity to fairly present his claim. First, the due process clause is violated only if the alleged constitutional violation is the result of conduct fairly attributable to the state. Stano v. Dugger, 921 F.2d 1125, 1142 (11th Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 835, 112 S.Ct. 116, 116 L.Ed.2d 85 (1991). Here, the Kentucky Supreme Court found, and the record fairly supports, that Skaggs himself was responsible for Bresler's selection.

[Skaggs] was offered, but rejected, the services of a state psychiatrist. He was granted funds to select an expert of his own choosing. He selected Elya Bresler and offered him as an expert witness without first making any investigation of his credentials.

Skaggs v. Commonwealth, 694 S.W.2d 672, 673 (Ky.1985); see also Skaggs v....

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