Taylor v. Simpson, Civil Action No. 5: 06-181-DCR

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Eastern District of Kentucky
Writing for the CourtDanny C. Reeves United States District Judge
PartiesVICTOR DEWAYNE TAYLOR, Petitioner, v. THOMAS SIMPSON, Warden, Respondent.
Decision Date30 September 2014
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 5: 06-181-DCR

THOMAS SIMPSON, Warden, Respondent.

Civil Action No. 5: 06-181-DCR


September 30, 2014


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In 1986, Victor Dewayne Taylor was convicted in Fayette Circuit Court of two counts of murder, two counts of kidnaping, two counts of robbery, and one count of sodomy. Ultimately, he received two death sentences. Taylor filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in this Court, claiming that he is entitled to a new trial because his conviction resulted from numerous violations of his constitutional rights. [Record No. 1] Finding no merit in his arguments, the petition will be denied.


The following summary of facts is derived largely from the Supreme Court of Kentucky's opinion in Taylor's direct appeal, Taylor v. Commonwealth, 821 S.W.2d 72 (Ky. 1990) (Taylor I). In 1984, Taylor and co-defendant George Wade were charged in the Jefferson Circuit Court with the murder, kidnapping, robbery, and sodomy of two Trinity High School students, Richard Stephenson and Scott Nelson. They encountered the students on the evening of September 29, 1984, after the students became lost on the way to a football game. The prosecution presented a statement by Wade that he and Taylor kidnapped and

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robbed the two students. The boys had stopped at a fast food restaurant to ask for directions when they were approached by Taylor and Wade. Other witnesses testified that Taylor had a gun and forced the victims into their car. The four then left in the victims' vehicle. In his statement, Wade said that he and Taylor robbed the boys and that he had removed both boys' trousers, bound their ankles, and gagged them in a Louisville alley. Wade indicated that Taylor killed the boys because he was afraid they would identify them. Wade stated that he waited on a nearby street while Taylor shot both boys in the head. Id. at 73-74.

Taylor and Wade were tried in Fayette County following a change of venue.1 Wade was called as a prosecution witness at Taylor's trial. However, Wade, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, refused to testify because his conviction was pending on a direct appeal at the time. Due to the pending appeal, the trial court found that Wade was unavailable and admitted Wade's custodial statement made to the police that implicated Taylor. Id. at 74. On April 30, 1986, the jury convicted Taylor of two counts of murder, kidnaping, and first-degree robbery, and one count of first-degree sodomy. On May 23, 1986, consistent with the jury's recommendation, Taylor received a death sentence on each of the kidnaping and murder charges regarding each victim. Accordingly, he originally received a total of four death sentences.

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The Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed Taylor's conviction on direct appeal but remanded for resentencing.2 Id. at 77. Thereafter, Taylor moved the trial court, pursuant to RCr 11.42, to set aside the remaining judgments against him. The Bullitt Circuit Court, Thomas L. Waller, Special Judge, denied that motion and the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed. Taylor v. Commonwealth, 63 S.W.3d 151 (Ky. 2001) (Taylor II). Taylor then moved for a new trial under CR 60.02 and RCr 10.02. That motion was also denied and affirmed on appeal. Taylor v. Commonwealth, 175 S.W.3d 68 (Ky. 2005) (Taylor III).

On June 2, 2006, Taylor filed the present action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [Record No. 1] As grounds for this petition, Taylor raises fifty-four claims which he contends entitle him to habeas relief. In the interests of judicial economy, these are not separately itemized, but are considered below in the same order as presented in the petition.


Before a federal court may grant relief based upon a claim presented in a federal habeas petition, the petitioner must have presented the claim to the state courts and exhausted all remedies available in the state system. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). To "fairly present" a claim to the state courts, the petitioner must have presented the state courts with both the legal and the factual bases supporting the claim. Hanna v. Ishee, 694 F.3d 596, 609 (6th Cir. 2012) (citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 420, 437 (2000)). Fair presentation of a federal constitutional claim requires that the petitioner make the federal basis of the claim explicit to the state court, either by citing federal law or decisions of federal courts. Duncan v. Henry,

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513 U.S. 364, 365-66 (1995) ("If state courts are to be given the opportunity to correct alleged violations of prisoners' federal rights, they must surely be alerted to the fact that the prisoners are asserting claims under the United States Constitution."); Gatlin v. Madding, 189 F.3d 882, 888 (9th Cir. 1999). If a petitioner cites exclusively to state statutes and state court decisions, he may fail to adequately indicate that he is asserting a violation of his federal civil rights. Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 33 (2004) (holding that a petitioner's failure to identify a federal claim or to cite case law which might alert the state court to the federal nature of a claim is not fair presentation); Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 163 (1996) ("[I]t is not enough to make a general appeal to a constitutional guarantee as broad as due process to present the 'substance' of such a claim to a state court.") If the petitioner has not exhausted a claim, the federal court may nonetheless deny relief if the claim is without merit. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(2).

Exhaustion is an affirmative defense and may be waived if the respondent fails to assert it. Smith v. Moore, 415 F. App'x 624, 628 (6th Cir. 2011) ("A respondent failing to raise his procedural default challenge waives it. 'The state may waive a defense,' including procedural default, 'by not asserting it.'") (quoting Baze v. Parker, 371 F.3d 310, 320 (6th Cir. 2004)). Additionally, if a petitioner's claim has been exhausted in the state courts, he bears the burden of demonstrating any right to federal habeas relief. Garner v. Mitchell, 557 F.3d 257, 261 (6th Cir. 2009) (citing Caver v. Straub, 349 F.3d 340, 351 (6th Cir. 2003)).

When a petitioner presents a claim to state courts but those courts do not address the merits of the claim in any manner, the federal habeas court evaluates the merits of the claim de novo. Van v. Jones, 475 F.3d 292, 293 (6th Cir. 2007); Maples v. Stegall, 340 F.3d 433,

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436-37 (6th Cir. 2003) (citing Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 531 (2003)). De novo review is only appropriate if the petitioner affirmatively shows that the state court's decision "did not involve a determination of the merits of his claim," such as where the state court denied the claim on procedural grounds. Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 131 S. Ct. 770, 784-85 (2011) (emphasis added).

Where the state courts adjudicated the claim presented for federal collateral review, habeas relief is only available if the state court's decision was either "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States[,]" 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or "was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." Id. § 2254(d)(2). These two provisions collectively require a "highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings, which demands that state-court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt." Bell v. Cone, 543 U.S. 447, 455 (2005) (citations omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). This deference is required even if the state court provides no explanation for its decision. Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 784.

To apply the deference required by § 2254(d)(1) to the state court's legal conclusions, "clearly established law" refers to both bright-line rules and legal principles set forth in the decisions of the United States Supreme Court as of the time the state court rendered the pertinent decision. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000) (O'Connor, J., opinion of the Court for Part II); Taylor v. Withrow, 288 F.3d 846, 850 (6th Cir. 2002). Conversely, "clearly established law" does not include dicta in Supreme Court decisions. Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. Nor does it include holdings from the federal courts of appeals. Id. at 381-82.

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A state court's decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court precedent if the state court reaches the opposite legal conclusion than the Supreme Court has reached in a prior case or arrives at a different outcome when the case presents a "set of materially indistinguishable facts." Id. at 412-13. A state court's decision constitutes an "unreasonable application" of Supreme Court precedent only if the issue presented is so one-sided that "there is no possibility fairminded jurists could disagree that the state court's decision conflicts with [ Supreme Court] precedents." Harrington, 131 S. Ct. at 786-87 ("[T]he state court's ruling on the claim being presented in federal court [must be] so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement."); Yarborough v. Alvarado, 541 U.S. 652, 664 (2004); Harris v. Haeberlin, 526 F.3d 903, 909 (6th Cir. 2008). Deference is required "whether or not...

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