Strickland v. Lee

Decision Date30 January 2007
Docket NumberNo. 3:02 CV-33-MU.,3:02 CV-33-MU.
Citation471 F.Supp.2d 557
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of North Carolina
PartiesDarrell Eugene STRICKLAND, Petitioner, v. R.C. LEE, Warden, Central Prison Raleigh, North Carolina, Respondent.

Ann Bach Petersen, Glover & Petersen, Chapel Hill, NC, Kimberly Candace Stevens, Stevens & Withrow PLLC, Winston-Salem, NC, for Petitioner.

Barry Steven McNeill, Steven F. Bryant, N.C. Department of Justice, Raleigh, NC, for Respondent.


MULLEN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court upon Petitioner Darrell Eugene Strickland's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner filed the instant Petition on January 25, 2002. Also before the Court are Respondent's Motion for Summary Judgment, and Petitioner's Motion to hold this matter in abeyance pending the United States Supreme Court's decision in Rompilla v. Beard, No. 04-5462, decided sub. nom. Rompilla v. Beard, 545 U.S. 374, 125 S.Ct. 2456, 162 L.Ed.2d 360 (2005).


On January 23, 1995, Darrell Eugene Strickland (hereinafter "Petitioner" or "Strickland") was indicted for the first-degree murder of Henry Brown (hereinafter "victim" or "Henry"). The State entered notice of intent to seek the death penalty. Strickland was tried to a jury at the October 16, 1995, Criminal Session of Superior Court, Union County, the Honorable Sanford L. Steelman, Jr., Judge Presiding. Strickland was represented by Harry B. Crow, Jr. and Stephen Goodwin, Jr.

The facts of this case are summarized in the North Carolina Supreme Court's opinion on Strickland's direct appeal:

The State's evidence tended to show inter alia that on 1 January 1995, the victim, Henry Brown, went with his wife, Gail Brown, and her six-year-old child to the home of defendant, who lived with Sherri Jenkins and their two-year-old son in Marshville, North Carolina. Mrs. Brown had formerly worked with both Ms. Jenkins and defendant at Cuddy Foods in Marshville and had been "good friends" with Ms. Jenkins for about six years. Ms. Jenkins had been dating defendant for thirteen years, had mothered his two-year-old son, and had been cohabiting with defendant for about six months at the time of the murder.

The Browns arrived at the residence of defendant and Ms. Jenkins at approximately 8:00 p.m. Mr. Brown had been drinking but was not drunk. Mr. Brown and defendant went into the kitchen, while Mrs. Brown and Ms. Jenkins stayed in the living room. The children were sent into the bedroom to play, and the adults began drinking alcoholic beverages. Ms. Jenkins testified at trial that they shared a marijuana joint and that all four adults drank from a half-gallon bottle of gin. The four adults continued drinking and talking for several hours. During this time, a shotgun owned by defendant was passed around. Everyone was talking about shooting it and joking about shooting each other, but there were no serious threats. There were two shells in the gun and no other shells in the house. Ms. Jenkins took the gun outside and fired it once.

At approximately 1:30 a.m., Mrs. Brown and Ms. Jenkins were in the kitchen preparing food for everyone to eat. The men were in the living room. Mrs. Brown testified that, while in the kitchen, she looked into the living room, where she saw her husband sitting on an ottoman with his head in his hands. Defendant was standing to the back and side of Mr. Brown with, the gun in his hand pointed at Mr. Brown. Mrs. Brown saw defendant's lips move but could not hear what he said. She then heard the gun being fired, smelled burning flesh, and saw her husband fall over.

Ms. Jenkins testified that she witnessed the victim sitting on the ottoman with defendant standing behind him. The victim was mumbling something that she could not hear. She stepped outside to feed the cats, during which time she heard the gun go off. She came back inside and saw the victim fall over. According to Ms. Jenkins, the victim's behavior that evening was obnoxious and loud. He was cursing at intervals and drinking alcohol throughout the night.

Immediately following the shooting, defendant left in his truck. He drove to the house of his ex-wife, Ms. Betty Sanders, in Marshville. Defendant asked Ms. Sanders to drive him in his truck to his uncle's house in Rockingham. At approximately 2:45 a.m., Ms. Sanders and defendant were stopped in Rockingham by Officer Poston and Officer Grant of the Rockingham Police Department, which had been notified to be on the lookout for defendant. Officer Grant transported defendant to the Rockingham Police Department.

At the Police Department, after being advised of his constitutional rights, defendant spoke to Special Agent Tony Underwood of the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and Detective Bill Tucker of the Union County Sheriff's Department. Defendant told them that he shot Henry Brown because "he pissed me off' and because "he called me a punk Indian son-of-a-bitch." Defendant said that no one else had anything to do with the shooting. He said that he "meant to kill" the victim. He denied that alcohol had caused him to commit the murder. Defendant said that he had not planned to kill the victim. He did however say that he had to cock the gun in order to get it to shoot.

Detective Easley of the Union County Sheriffs Department examined the crime scene during the early morning hours of 2 January 1995. Detective Easley found the body of Henry Brown lying on the living room floor on its left side. Blood was coming from the victim's nose and mouth and a hole in the back shoulder area. There was no weapon on or around the victim's body. In the gun cabinet, Detective Easley found one Ithaca twelve-gauge pump shotgun which contained one spent Winchester "double aught" buckshot casing in the chamber. He also found one spent "double aught" buckshot shell outside on the ground about eleven inches from the front doorstep.

Michael Gavin of the forensic firearms and tool marks unit of the SBI laboratory tested, the shotgun and found that the gun functioned properly. Gerald Long, owner of Long's Sporting Goods and Pawn Shop, testified that he had experience in selling, firing, and repairing Ithaca twelve-gauge pump shotguns. He testified that, in his opinion, the Ithaca shotgun, in the hands of someone not experienced with it, would go off faster than any other shotgun on the market and is susceptible to accident.

State v. Strickland, 346 N.C. 443, 488 S.E.2d 194, 198-199 (N.C.1997).

The jury returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder on the basis of premeditation and deliberation. At a separate capital sentencing proceeding, the jury found the aggravating circumstance that the defendant had previously been convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the person. See N.C. Gen.Stat. § 15A-2000(e)(3)(Supp.1994) (amended 1995). The jury did not find the existence of any mitigating circumstances. The jury recommended a sentence of death, and the trial court sentenced defendant accordingly.


Strickland filed a direct appeal to the North Carolina Supreme Court, which was denied. State v. Strickland, 346 N.C. 443, 488 S.E.2d 194 (N.C.1997). On January 20, 1998, the United States Supreme Court denied Strickland's Petition for Writ of Certiorari. Strickland v. North Carolina, 522 U.S. 1078, 118 S.Ct. 858, 139 L.Ed.2d 757 (1998).

After the appointment of post-conviction counsel, Strickland filed a Motion for Appropriate Relief (hereinafter "MAR") in the Superior Court of Union County on December 7, 1998. On March 23, 1999, he filed an amendment to the MAR. On September 20, 1999, he filed a restated amendment to the MAR, and on December, 2, 1999, he filed a second amendment to the MAR. The State filed its Responses on November 21, 2000.

On May 21, 2001, an evidentiary hearing on Petitioner's MAR was held in the Superior Court of Union County, William H. Helms, Judge Presiding. Petitioner was represented by post-conviction counsel, Lara Nichols and James N. Freeman, Jr. On June, 31, 2001, Judge Helms entered an Order denying Strickland's MAR. On December 18, 2001, the North Carolina Supreme Court denied Strickland's Petition for Writ of Certiorari. State v. Strickland, 354 N.C. 579, 559 S.E.2d 551 (N.C.2001).

On January 25, 2002, Strickland filed the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (hereinafter "PWHC"). On April 17, 2002, Strickland filed a motion to, voluntarily dismiss Claim No. WI of the Petition, which this Court granted on April 26, 2002.

On July 12, 2002, Respondent filed an Answer and Motion for Summary Judgment. On July 25, 2002, Strickland filed a motion to strike Respondent's Answer and for an order directing Respondent to file a new Answer specifically admitting or denying the allegations of each of the numbered paragraphs in the habeas petition and setting out affirmative defenses it intended to raise for each claim. On August 15, 2002, this Court entered an Order requiring Respondent to file a new Answer. On September 20, 2002, Respondent filed a new Answer and renewed the Motion for Summary Judgment.

On December 13, 2002, this Court entered an Order on its own motion putting Petitioner and Respondent on notice that it intended to raise the issue of procedural default sua sponte. By way of the same written Order, the Court instructed both parties to brief the issue of procedural default with regard to certain of Petitioner's claims identified in the Order. On January 9, 2003, Petitioner filed a brief addressing the issue of procedural default. Respondent filed a brief on January 13, 2003. On October 15, 2003, Petitioner filed a supplement to his brief on procedural default.

Upon Petitioner's motion, this matter was held in abeyance pending the outcome of State v. Hunt, (5A-86-8), which the North...

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