Stevens v. McBride, 4:03-CV-005 AS.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Indiana
Citation492 F.Supp.2d 928
Docket NumberNo. 4:03-CV-005 AS.,4:03-CV-005 AS.
PartiesChristopher M. STEVENS, Petitioner, v. Daniel McBRIDE, Respondent.
Decision Date13 January 2005

Alan C. Rossman PHV, Cleveland, OH, Kathy Lee Stinton-Glen, Zionsville, IN, for Petitioner.

Stephen R. Creason, Indiana Attorney General's Office, Indianapolis, IN, for Respondent.


ALLEN SHARP, District Judge.

This proceeding is a petition filed by counsel on behalf of the petitioner, Christopher M. Stevens, seeking relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 from a state court criminal proceeding in which he was sentenced to death. An extended oral argument, lasting nearly 2 hours, was held on the petition in South Bend, Indiana on December 6, 2004. This court greatly appreciates the professional services of appointed counsel for Mr. Stevens.

Two published opinions of the Supreme Court of Indiana will provide the basic factual setting of this case. In Stevens v. State, 691 N.E.2d 412 (Ind.1997), the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Indiana was written by Chief Justice Shepard and entered on December 31, 1997. In Stevens v. State, 770 N.E.2d 739 (Ind. 2002), the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Indiana was written by Justice Dickson and entered on June 26, 2002. The massive state record has been filed and examined here pursuant to the mandates of Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 83 S.Ct. 745, 9 L.Ed.2d 770 (1963), as well as 28 U.S.C. § 2254.


[U]nder § 2254(d) it must be shown that the [state] Supreme Court's decision was either contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, [the United State Supreme Court's] clearly established precedents, or was based upon an unreasonable determination of the facts.

Price v. Vincent, 538 U.S. 634, 639, 123 S.Ct. 1848, 155 L.Ed.2d 877 (2003).

[A] decision by a state court is "contrary to" our clearly established law if it "applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in our cases" or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of this Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from our precedent.

Price, 538 U.S. at 640, 123 S.Ct. 1848. (Quotation marks omitted.)

[T]he phrase "clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States" ... refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of this Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.

Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389, (2000).

[A]s the statutory language makes clear, § 2254(d)(1) restricts the source of clearly established law to this Court's jurisprudence.

Williams, 529 U.S. at 412, 120 S.Ct. 1495.

As we have explained, a federal habeas court may not issue the writ simply because that court concludes in its independent judgment that the state-court decision applied a [United States] Supreme Court case incorrectly. Rather it is the habeas applicant's burden to show that the state court applied [that case] to the facts of his case in an objectively unreasonable manner.

Price, 538 U.S. at 641, 123 S.Ct. 1848 (quotation marks, citations and brackets omitted). See also Early v. Packer, 537 U.S. 3, 123 S.Ct. 362, 154 L.Ed.2d 263 (2002), Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 123 S.Ct. 357, 154 L.Ed.2d 279 (2002), and Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003)

Thus, the United States Supreme Court has made clear that it is not for this court to decide the merits of the petitioner's arguments from scratch. Rather, the task laid out before this court in a § 2254 habeas corpus petition is to determine whether the decision of the state court, in this case the Indiana Supreme Court, falls outside of that broad swath of reasonable interpretations of the law based solely on the holdings of United States Supreme Court opinions at the time of the state court decision.


As a preliminary matter, the petitioner, acting pro se, wrote a handwritten letter to this court asking that this case be dismissed. Given that the court is now denying this habeas corpus petition on the merits, the question of dismissal is rendered moot.


The petitioner, in his first three claims for relief, argues that his trial counsel were ineffective for many reasons. The clearly established law on the Sixth Amendment was presented in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984).1 In order to prevail on an ineffective assistance claim, the petitioner must establish two elements: first, that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonably effective representation; and second, that the "deficient performance prejudiced the defense." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052. For the first prong, the petitioner must

identify the acts or omissions of counsel that are alleged not to have been the result of reasonable professional judgment. The court must then determine whether, in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions Were outside the wide range of professionally competent assistance.

Strickland, 466 U.S. at 690, 104 S.Ct. 2052. On the second prong, the petitioner must show a "reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052.


The petitioner argues that, "delays in the investigations impacted the defense's ability to prepare and secure necessary experts". Petition at 20, docket # 18. The Indiana Supreme Court addressed this claim in reviewing the denial of his post-conviction relief petition.

The defendant claims, in part, that his counsel unreasonably delayed their investigation. Stevens was tried for murder in January 1995, within seventeen months of his arrest in July 1993. Defense counsel entered their appearances in August 1993. In November 1993 counsel made their first request for funding for experts. This request was granted in May 1994 along with funds for an investigator. Funding for mitigation investigation was secured in January 1994, and a mitigation specialist joined the defense. Defense counsel periodically requested additional amounts for the mitigation, fact, and expert witnesses. Such funding requests were approved. Billing records indicate that information was being gathered, procedural issues were being worked out with the prosecutor and the court, and research was being done on legal issues during the three months before the first funding request. Because of successful motions for continuance, Stevens was not tried until seven months after the time counsel added the psychologist and the fact investigator to their team of a paralegal and mitigation investigator. These facts do not compel a finding of deficient performance in the timing of trial counsel's investigation.

Stevens v. State, 770 N.E.2d 739, 748 (Ind. 2002) (footnote and citation omitted). The Indiana Supreme court reviewed the pretrial history of this case and examined the chronological relationship of the events in question. Despite some initial delays, the court found that the fully constituted defense team had seven months to prepare for trial because of counsel's success in postponing the trial. In light of the curative effect of the continuances, it was not an unreasonable application of Strickland for the Indiana Supreme Court to hold that these investigative delays were within the range of professionally competent assistance and that they did not render trial counsel ineffective.


The petitioner argues that, "defense counsel secured the services of an incompetent expert without making any effort to familiarize themselves with the potential expert's forensic approach" (petition at 22, docket # 18); that "Dr. Lennon's `specialty' was not relevant to Christopher Stevens" (petition at 25, docket # 18); that "Dr. Lennon was retained under fraudulent circumstances" (petition at 27, docket # 18); and that "defense counsel were aware that Dr. Lennon's `myth of mental illness' views were far outside the professional `mainstream.'" (petition at 27, docket # 18). The Indiana Supreme Court addressed these claims related to expert competence and trial counsel's investigation thereof in the appeal from the denial of his post-conviction relief petition.

Dr. Lennon had been recommended by the mitigation investigator. Other members of the criminal defense community also told Stevens's attorneys that Dr. Lennon had done a "very nice job" in testifying in another death penalty case. Dr. Lennon holds a Ph.D. in clinical Psychology from Miami University in Ohio. He was a psychology professor at St. Joseph's College, where he spent four years as the chair of the Psychology Department, and was clinical director of the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Center at Humana Hospital in Indianapolis from 1991 to 1994. Dr. Lennon conducted a preliminary evaluation of the defendant prior to April 13, 1994 and met with him five times from June through December 1994. Dr. Lennon also met with the defendant's parents and siblings, and reviewed school records, records from the Hamilton Center, and arrest records. Other individuals from Dr. Lennon's office, including a social worker and another psychologist, participated in evaluations of the defendant. Defense counsel considered Dr. Lennon a good fit because of his expertise in treating children and adolescents, and the defendant's attorneys sought and received a transcript of Dr. Lennon's testimony in a case the attorneys felt had similar issues.

Stevens v. State, 770 N.E.2d 739, 747-48 (Ind.2002). It was not unreasonable for the Indiana Supreme Court to have found that Dr. Lennon was a competent expert. He possessed...

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