Smith v. Hernandez

Decision Date03 November 2020
Docket NumberNo. 3:20-cv-00033-JKS,3:20-cv-00033-JKS
PartiesBILLIE DEAN SMITH, Petitioner, v. ARNALDO HERNANDEZ, Superintendent, Spring Creek Correctional Center
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Alaska

[Re: Motions at Docket Nos. 12, 13]



Billy Dean Smith, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus with this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Smith is in the custody of the Alaska Department of Corrections ("DOC") and incarcerated at Spring Creek Correctional Center. Respondent has answered, and Smith has replied. Also pending before Court is Smith's renewal of his request for the appointment of counsel, Docket No. 13, and his motion for an oral hearing on his Petition, Docket No. 12.


Smith was charged in 1998 with the first-degree murders of Harold Enzler and Nancy Bellamy, along with three counts of tampering with evidence, after he was arrested forpossession of cocaine. In connection with that arrest, Smith was interviewed several times and eventually confessed to the murders. He later moved to suppress the statements, which was denied, and proceeded to a jury trial. On direct appeal of his conviction, the Alaska Court of Appeals laid out the following facts underlying the charges against Smith and his suppression motion:

Harold Enzler and Nancy Bellamy disappeared on March 27, 1994. At that time, Enzler was estranged from his wife Mimi, and she was romantically involved with Smith. Enzler and Mimi were also having a child-custody dispute, which was so bitter that Smith pulled a gun on Enzler during an argument. Accordingly, Smith was initially considered a suspect when Enzler and Bellamy disappeared. But at that time, the authorities did not have sufficient evidence to charge Smith with any crime.
About three years after Enzler and Bellamy disappeared, police at the Anchorage International Airport seized a bag of Smith's that contained a large amount of cocaine. Smith was arrested in Soldotna for the resulting drug charges. A couple of weeks later, Alaska State Trooper Daniel Shepard escorted Smith by plane from Kenai to Anchorage. During that time, Smith told Shepard that he had information he wanted to share about drug trafficking and other criminal activity. After dropping Smith off at the Cook Inlet Pretrial Facility, Trooper Shepard contacted Detective Pam Perrenoud of the Anchorage Police Department about Smith's offer.
On August 27, 1997, Detective Perrenoud and Alaska State Trooper Sergeant Walter Kenny contacted Smith about the drug-trafficking information. Smith was unable to give the officers any helpful details but mentioned having information about pending investigations in the Kenai area-including the disappearance of Enzler and Bellamy, as well as unrelated information about the disappearance of Loreese Hennagin. After this interview, Sergeant Kenny contacted Investigator Ronald Belden of the Alaska State Troopers to tell him that Smith had information about these ongoing investigations.
Investigator Belden had been assigned to the case involving the disappearance of Enzler and Bellamy. Kenai Police Sergeant Charles Kopp was assigned to the separate investigation concerning the disappearance of Loreese Hennagin. On August 29, 1997, Sergeant Kopp, Investigator Belden, and Trooper Charles Bartolini traveled to Anchorage to interview Smith about the Kenai investigations.
During this interview, Smith stated that a confederate of his, Bruce Brown, had called Enzler to arrange a drug transaction with him on Marathon Road. Smith said that he had instructed Brown to drive Enzler and Bellamy to the road in Enzler's truck. Prior to this event, Smith drove to the road with Dennis Johnson and parked his car with its hood open so that it would appear that the car had broken down. Brown later stopped the truck with Enzler and Bellamy inside; Smith then reached into the vehicle and shot the couple. Smith admitted that the group then dismantled Enzler's vehicle, discarded Smith's weapon in a nearby lake, and disposed of the bodies in Cook Inlet.
Smith made detailed statements during subsequent interviews on September 4 and October 22. He was also transported to Soldotna on October 24 to help Investigator Belden find evidence at the crime scene.
On May 1, 1998, a Kenai grand jury indicted Smith, Johnson, and Brown for the murders of Harold Enzler and Nancy Bellamy, as well as for multiple counts of evidence tampering. Before trial, Smith sought to suppress his August 29, 1997, confession and subsequent statements, arguing that his confession was involuntary and that the police had violated his Fifth Amendment right to counsel. After an extended evidentiaryhearing, Superior Court Judge Jonathan H. Link denied Smith's motion to suppress, finding that Smith fabricated his allegations that the authorities had promised him a lenient agreement and ruling that Smith did not invoke his right to counsel.

Smith v. State, No. A-8735, 2009 WL 792800, at *1-2 (Alaska Ct. App. Mar. 25, 2009).

At the conclusion of a jury trial, the jury convicted Smith as charged of two counts of first-degree murder and three counts of tampering with physical evidence. The Alaska Superior Court sentenced Smith to an aggregate term of 129 years' imprisonment with 30 years suspended.

Through counsel, Smith appealed his conviction, arguing that he confessed only because the police agreed to give him a job as an undercover drug informant, which would guarantee a lenient sentence and a full pardon, and that the police continued to question him after he had requested an attorney. The Court of Appeals unanimously affirmed the judgment against Smith in a reasoned, unpublished opinion issued on March 25, 2009. Smith, 2009 WL 792800, at *5. In so deciding, the appellate concluded that the record supported the trial judge's finding that the police did not make the alleged agreement, and that Smith voluntarily waived his right to counsel. Id. Smith filed a petition for hearing in the Alaska Supreme Court, which was denied without comment on September 21, 2009.

Smith then filed a pro se application for post-conviction relief. After he requested and was appointed counsel, Smith filed an amended application that claimed that he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel. According to Smith, his trial counsel should have moved for reconsideration of the trial court's factual finding that the troopers had not accepted Smith's offer to work as an informant in exchange for leniency, based on statements Investigator Belden made at the evidentiary hearing on Smith's suppression motion and at trial. The superior court denied post-conviction relief in a reasoned, unpublished opinion issued on April 15, 2016. Smith appealed the denial to the Alaska Court of Appeals, and the appellate court affirmed the dismissal of Smith's post-conviction relief application by summary disposition issued on July17, 2019. The Alaska Supreme Court summarily denied Smith's petition for hearing on November 27, 2019.

Smith timely filed a pro se Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus to this Court dated February 11, 2020. Docket No. 1 ("Petition"); see 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1),(2).


In his pro se Petition before this Court, Smith argues, as he did on direct appeal and by post-conviction relief application in the state courts, that: 1) his confession was coerced; 2) he was deprived of his privilege against self-incrimination; and 3) he received the ineffective assistance of trial counsel.


Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), this Court cannot grant relief unless the decision of the state court was "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," § 2254(d)(1), or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding," § 2254(d)(2). A state-court decision is contrary to federal law if the state court applies a rule that contradicts controlling Supreme Court authority or "if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision" of the Supreme Court, but nevertheless arrives at a different result. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 406 (2000). The term unreasonable is a common term in the legal world. The Supreme Court has cautioned, however, that the range of reasonable judgments may depend in part on the nature of the relevant rule argued to be clearly established federal law. Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004) ("[E]valuating whether a rule application was unreasonable requires considering the rule's specificity. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.").

The Supreme Court has explained that "clearly established Federal law" in § 2254(d)(1) "refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme Court] as of the time of the relevant state-court decision." Id. at 412. The holding must also be intended to be binding upon the states; that is, the decision must be based upon constitutional grounds, not on the supervisory power of the Supreme Court over federal courts. Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 10 (2002). Where holdings of the Supreme Court regarding the issue presented on habeas review are lacking, "it cannot be said that the state court 'unreasonabl[y] appli[ed] clearly established Federal law.'" Carey v. Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 77 (2006) (citation omitted).

To the extent that the Petition raises issues of the proper application of state law, they are beyond the purview of this Court in a federal habeas proceeding. See Swarthout v. Cooke, 131 S. Ct. 859, 863 (2011) (per curiam) (holding that it is of no federal concern whether state law was correctly applied). It is a fundamental precept of dual federalism...

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