Summerlin v. Stewart

Decision Date02 September 2003
Docket NumberNo. 98-99002.,98-99002.
Citation341 F.3d 1082
PartiesWarren Wesley SUMMERLIN, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Terry L. STEWART, Director of Arizona Department of Corrections, Respondent-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

Ken Murray and Leticia Marquez, Federal Public Defender's Office, Phoenix, Arizona, for the petitioner-appellant.

John Pressley Todd, Attorney General's Office, Phoenix, Arizona, for the respondent-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Arizona; Roslyn O. Silver, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. CV-86-00584-ROS.

Before Mary M. Schroeder, Chief Judge, and Harry Pregerson, Stephen Reinhardt, Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, Michael Daly Hawkins, Sidney R. Thomas, M. Margaret McKeown, Kim McLane Wardlaw, Raymond C. Fisher, Richard C. Tallman, and Johnnie B. Rawlinson, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge THOMAS; Concurrence by Judge REINHARDT; Dissent by Judge RAWLINSON.


THOMAS, Circuit Judge.

In this appeal we consider whether the district court erred in denying a writ of habeas corpus sought as to petitioner's conviction and death sentence. We affirm the district court's judgment as to the conviction. However, we conclude that the Supreme Court's decision in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 122 S.Ct. 2428, 153 L.Ed.2d 556 (2002), applies retroactively so as to require that the penalty of death in this case be vacated.


It is the raw material from which legal fiction is forged: A vicious murder, an anonymous psychic tip, a romantic encounter that jeopardized a plea agreement, an allegedly incompetent defense, and a death sentence imposed by a purportedly drug-addled judge. But, as Mark Twain observed, "truth is often stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense."

There is no doubt that Warren Summerlin is an extremely troubled man. He has organic brain dysfunction, was described by a psychiatrist as "functionally retarded," and has explosive personality disorder with impaired impulse control. His father was a convicted armed robber who was killed in a shootout. As a youth, his alcoholic mother beat him frequently and punished him by locking him in a room with ammonia fumes. At his mother's behest, he received electroshock treatments to control his explosive temper. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade due to dyslexia and committed numerous petty juvenile offenses. In 1975, he was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and treated with the anti-psychotic medication Thorazine.

Before his murder conviction, his only dangerous adult felony was a conviction for aggravated assault. That conviction arose out of a road rage incident in which a car veered off the road, jumped the curb and struck Summerlin's wife, who was hospitalized for her injuries. At the scene, Summerlin brandished a pocket knife at the errant driver, an act that occasioned the filing of the criminal assault charge. Summerlin was not convicted of this offense until after these capital proceedings had commenced. However, this conviction later served as one of two statutory aggravating factors that qualified Summerlin for the death penalty.

On the morning of April 29, 1981, Brenna Bailey, a delinquent account investigator for Finance America, went to Summerlin's home to speak with Summerlin's wife about an overdue account. When Bailey's boyfriend, Marvin Rigsby, learned that she had not returned to work as scheduled, he obtained the addresses of the places she had planned to visit that day and began to retrace her travel. In the early evening, he spoke with Summerlin, who told Rigsby that Bailey had left that residence at 10:30 a.m. The woman residing at the next address Bailey was slated to visit told Rigsby that she had been home all day and had not received a visit from anyone. After making additional attempts to find Bailey, Rigsby reported Bailey's disappearance to the police that evening.

Later that evening, the police received a tip from a female caller to an anonymous crime hotline service who stated that she believed that the missing woman from "Pacific Finance Company" had been murdered by Summerlin, who had rolled up the victim's body in a carpet. The caller later was identified as Summerlin's mother-in-law who testified that the basis of her information was her daughter's extra-sensory perception.

Early the next morning, a road paving crew outside a market approximately a mile from the Summerlin residence alerted the market's manager to a smell emanating from the trunk of a parked car, later determined to have been owned by Bailey. The manager recognized the odor as that of a decaying body and telephoned the police. Upon arrival, the officers observed a pair of panties, pantyhose, and shoes on the floor-board of the back seat. They forced open the trunk and found Bailey's body, wrapped in a bloody bedsheet. Her skull was crushed, and she was partially nude.

The police obtained a search warrant for the Summerlin residence and found numerous items of incriminating evidence. After the search warrant was read to Summerlin, he stated, "I didn't kill nobody." When the detective did not respond, Summerlin asked: "Is this in reference to the girl that was at my house?" In response to the officer's inquiry as to which girl he was referring, Summerlin described Bailey. Summerlin's wife identified the bloody bedspread found with the victim as belonging to the Summerlin household. Summerlin was then arrested for the murder of Brenna Bailey. At the police station, Summerlin asked to speak to his wife and then made several incriminating statements while police officers were within listening distance.

The state trial court appointed the public defender's office to represent Summerlin. The first attorney assigned to the case moved for a mental competency examination pursuant to Ariz. R.Crim. P. 11. Thereafter, the assigned attorney left the public defender's office, and an attorney whom we shall refer to as "Jane Roe" was designated to represent Summerlin.

In June 1981, Summerlin was examined by two court-appointed psychiatrists, Drs. Maier Tuchler and Otto Bendheim. Each found him competent to stand trial and legally sane under the M'Naghten standard, which then governed the determination of competency under Arizona law. Although there was no evidence of mental disease or defect, Dr. Tuchler observed that dyslexia and illiteracy made Summerlin "functionally mentally retarded." He further found that Summerlin's impulse control was extremely impaired due to an explosive-type personality disorder and that he had an anti-social personality. Upon reading the reports, Judge David G. Derickson found Summerlin competent to stand trial.

During this time period, Roe had conversations with Dr. Leonardo Garcia-Bunuel, a psychiatrist who treated Summerlin at the Maricopa County Jail, regarding a possible diagnosis of psychomotor epilepsy. Summerlin had described to Dr. Garcia Bunuel details of the murder, particularly his experiences of sensing an intense perfume odor, and this led Dr. Garcia Bunuel to suspect that Summerlin may have had a temporal lobe seizure at the time of the killing. Subsequently, in August 1981, Roe arranged for neurological testing by Dr. Mark Winegard. An electroencephalogram (EEG) showed some slowing in Summerlin's posterior temporal area but was insufficient to support a diagnosis of epilepsy. CAT scans and a second EEG performed in October 1981 were normal. As a result, Dr. Garcia Bunuel withdrew his concerns.

Roe also secured a psychological evaluation of Summerlin from Dr. Donald Tatro in November 1981. Although concluding there was no evidence to support an insanity defense, Dr. Tatro found indications of organic brain impairment, border-line personality disorder, and paranoid personality disorder. In Dr. Tatro's opinion, Summerlin "is deeply emotionally and mentally disturbed, unaware of the motives underlying much of his behavior, and unable, because of his problems, to exercise normal restraint and control, once his highly unstable and volatile emotions are aroused."

In November 1981, Roe began plea negotiations with the prosecution and obtained an extremely favorable plea agreement, which Summerlin entered into on November 17, 1981. The prosecutor, whom we will call "John Doe," had been willing to enter into the agreement because he did not believe that the offense satisfied the Arizona legal standard of "heinous, cruel and depraved." At the time, Summerlin had not been convicted of the aggravated felony arising out of the road rage incident, so it did not qualify as an aggravating factor under Arizona's capital sentencing statute. See Ariz.Rev.Stat. § 13-703(F)(2) (1981) (amended in 1993). Thus, Doe did not believe that Summerlin had committed a capital offense.

Under the proposed plea agreement, Summerlin was to enter an Alford plea, see North Carolina v. Alford, 400 U.S. 25, 91 S.Ct. 160, 27 L.Ed.2d 162 (1970), which enabled him, without admitting guilt, to plead guilty to second-degree murder and aggravated assault and to be sentenced accordingly. The agreement stipulated that Summerlin would be sentenced to twenty-one years in prison for the murder of Ms. Bailey, of which he would be required to serve fourteen. In exchange, Summerlin would plead guilty to aggravated assault for the road rage incident with a maximum sentence of fifteen years and would admit that he violated his probation in another case charging burglary. The plea agreement provided that Summerlin's sentences on the three charges would run concurrently. However, the agreement was subject to court approval. If the court rejected the stipulated sentence, Summerlin could either (1) allow his plea to stand and be sentenced to a term of up to...

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