Taylor v. Simpson, No. 14-6508

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtALICE M. BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge.
Citation972 F.3d 776
Parties Victor Dewayne TAYLOR, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Thomas SIMPSON, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
Decision Date25 August 2020
Docket NumberNo. 14-6508

972 F.3d 776

Victor Dewayne TAYLOR, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Thomas SIMPSON, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

No. 14-6508

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

Argued: October 16, 2019
Decided and Filed: August 25, 2020


ALICE M. BATCHELDER, Circuit Judge.

A Kentucky prisoner, sentenced to death, appeals the denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus. We AFFIRM.

I.

On the evening of Saturday, September 29, 1984, Scott Nelson and Richard Stephenson, 17-year-old students at Trinity High School in Louisville, Kentucky, were driving to a school football game at duPont Manual High School across town. When they stopped at a restaurant to ask for directions, Victor Taylor and his cousin, George Wade, offered to help in exchange for a ride but the boys refused. So, Taylor and Wade forced their way into the car at gunpoint and directed them to a secluded area where Taylor and Wade took the boys out of the car, had them undress, and bound and gagged them. While Taylor was sodomizing one of the boys, Wade called Taylor by name, so Taylor murdered the boys to keep them from identifying him to the police. Taylor and Wade stole the boys’ belongings, including Trinity High School gym bags and school jackets, some cassette tapes and fireworks from the car, and the boys’ watches, shoes, and even their pants. Taylor and Wade are African-American, the two boys were both Caucasian.

The boys’ bodies were found the next morning, each with a gunshot wound to the head from point-blank range. Within days, the investigation led police to Taylor and Wade.

At about 3:45 p.m. on Wednesday, October 3, 1984, police brought Wade to the station, advised him of his Miranda rights, and told him he was a suspect in the murders. Wade denied any involvement, waived his rights, and spoke with detectives. At about 8:30 p.m., Wade agreed to a polygraph examination, which was completed by 11:30 p.m., and which Wade failed. When questioning resumed, Wade continued to deny any involvement in the murders.

The police arrested Wade for an unrelated burglary and, a short time later, Wade agreed to participate in a line-up. A witness who had seen the abduction at the restaurant picked Wade from the line-up as one of the abductors. At that point,

972 F.3d 780

Wade changed his story. Wade tape recorded a new statement, in which he confessed to the abduction, murders, and robberies, but placed full blame on Taylor as the sole shooter. He did not mention any sodomy.

When the state prosecutor indicted Wade and Taylor on charges of murder, kidnapping, robbery, and sodomy, he tried the cases separately, first Wade and then Taylor. The jury acquitted Wade of sodomy but convicted him of murder, kidnapping, and robbery, and the court imposed a life sentence.1 Wade's direct appeal was pending at the time of Taylor's trial.

Because Taylor's trial began in March 1986, a month before Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986), the controlling law about racial animus in peremptory challenges was Swain v. Alabama , 380 U.S. 202, 85 S.Ct. 824, 13 L.Ed.2d 759 (1965).2 In selecting Taylor's jury, the prosecutor had nine peremptory challenges and he used eight of them, four to strike African-Americans, leaving only one African-American on the jury after Taylor's counsel removed an African-American woman with one of his own peremptory challenges. The prosecutor had previously entered his "juror chart" into the record, in response to Taylor's unrelated change-of-venue motion. On that chart, the prosecutor had recorded each juror's race, age, education, employment, and opinions on capital punishment.3

A few days later, while protesting the empaneled jury based on a fair-cross-section-violation theory, Taylor's counsel pointed to the prosecutor's removal of four of the six African-Americans. As transcribed in the record, the prosecutor responded, almost incoherently: "In accordance with the case law, the Commonwealth has no other rational reason—if I strike all it then becomes objectionable under the cases from, as I understand it, coming from California." Taylor characterizes this in his Batson claim, infra , as a voluntary admission by the prosecutor that he struck the jurors because they were African-American and that he had no other rational reason for striking them. But the State retorts that, given the context, the prosecutor was actually trying to inform the court of the developing law, in California cases, holding that when a defendant's objection to a prosecutor's peremptory strikes is based on numbers alone, it is colorable only when both of two conditions are met: (1) all of the African-American jurors were struck and (2) the prosecutor had no other rational reason for the strikes. In this light, this attempt by the prosecutor to describe the legal theory (pre- Batson ) was not a reference to—and certainly not an admission of—his jury-selection decisions in Taylor's case. Regardless, it would be improper for us to speculate either way.

972 F.3d 781

The trial court rejected Taylor's fair-cross-section argument and effectively upheld the prosecutor's use of peremptory challenges. The court added: "I believe the issue being addressed at this time [to the Supreme Court in Batson ] [is] as to whether it is permissible to exercise your peremptory strikes whichever way you wish to. I don't know, but the record is clear as to what has been done in this case." Taylor characterizes this statement as the trial court's recognizing that the prosecutor struck African-Americans solely because they were African-American. The State retorts, however, that the trial court was actually just expressing its uncertainty as to the precise issue before the Supreme Court in Batson (e.g., "I believe" and "I don't know"), but that, in their proceedings, they had created a sufficient record for appeal no matter how Batson came out. In this light, the court's comment did not refer to the prosecutor's intent or actions when striking the jurors—and certainly was not a recognition that the prosecutor struck jurors based on race. As with the prosecutor's ambiguous comment, it would be improper for us to speculate either way. However, this does reveal that all parties at Taylor's trial were aware that race alone was a suspect basis for peremptory strikes and that Batson was pending in the Supreme Court.4

When trial got underway, the prosecutor presented overwhelming evidence of Taylor's guilt, beginning with testimony from two men who witnessed the abduction from the restaurant and even chased the car until they lost it down a side street. Both men described the abduction and identified Taylor as the gunman and Wade as the accomplice.

Taylor's cousin Eugene testified that he saw Taylor, Wade, and the two victims together in a car on the night of the murders. Moreover, he testified that he was at Taylor's mother's house later that night when Taylor and Wade showed up carrying the victims’ belongings: a Trinity High School gym bag, gray shoes, blue jeans, a Led Zeppelin cassette tape, a watch, a ring, and some firecrackers. Later, Eugene overheard Taylor admitting to his sister that he had murdered two white boys and asking her if the news had reported anything about it. Eugene then saw Taylor exchange pistols and money with his sister and divide the money with Wade.

A woman who had known Taylor for over ten years testified that Taylor tried to sell her a Trinity High School class ring and school jacket on the morning after the murders. She further testified that when she saw Taylor the next day, she overheard him admitting to the murders, claiming that "it's a game, it's all about beating the system." And she testified that she overheard Taylor admit to the murders again on two more occasions.

In a crawl space of an abandoned house near the crime scene, police had found blue jeans and a beige shirt. Police established that the jeans belonged to one of the victims. The shirt belonged to Taylor: one of the witness from the restaurant testified that Taylor had been wearing a beige shirt, and police forensics determined that hairs on the shirt were African-American hairs that matched Taylor's pubic and head hairs. The police also recovered the bullets that killed the boys and a firearms expert testified that the bullets were .357 magnum semi-jacketed hollow-points and all had been fired from the same gun. Later, police found matching ammunition at Taylor's residence. In the boys’ abandoned car, police found some firecrackers,

972 F.3d 782

such as Eugene had described and that matched firecrackers the police later recovered from Taylor's residence.

The coroner testified that the autopsy found sperm in one boy's anus. An inmate testified that Taylor had sought his jailhouse legal advice, during which Taylor admitted that he shot the boys because Wade said Taylor's name while Taylor was sodomizing one of them.

Taylor's mother and sister had separate homes and Taylor divided his lodging between the two. At Taylor's mother's house, police recovered audio cassette tapes with one victim's initials written on them, twelve packages of the same firecrackers as found in the car, a radio belonging to one victim, gray shoes belonging to one victim and beige suede shoes belonging to the other, and a...

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5 practice notes
  • Pouncy v. Macauley, Case No. 13-cv-14695
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • June 28, 2021
    ...Lockyer v. Andrade , 538 U.S. 63, 71, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 155 L.Ed.2d 144 (2003) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Taylor v. Simpson , 972 F.3d 776, 783-784 (6th Cir. 2020). This standard applies only to claims adjudicated on the merits by the state court. See Johnson v. Williams , 568 U.......
  • Taylor v. Jordan, 14-6508
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 23, 2021
    ...4928925 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 30, 2014). A panel of this court affirmed, over one judge's dissent on the Batson issue. See Taylor v. Simpson , 972 F.3d 776 (6th Cir. 2020). We granted rehearing en banc.II.A. We review the district court's decision de novo. See Davis v. Carpenter , 798 F.3d 468, 4......
  • Taylor v. Jordan, 14-6508
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 23, 2021
    ...WL 4928925 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 30, 2014). A panel of this court affirmed, over one judge's dissent on the Batson issue. See Taylor v. Simpson, 972 F.3d 776 (6th Cir. 2020). We granted rehearing en banc. II. A. We review the district court's decision de novo. See Davis v. Carpenter, 798 F.3d 468......
  • Pouncy v. Macauley, Case No. 13-cv-14695
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • June 28, 2021
    ...the relevant state-court decision." Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71 (2003) (quotation marks and citation omitted).Taylor v. Simpson, 972 F.3d 776, 783-784 (6th Cir. 2020). This standard applies only to claims adjudicated on the merits by the state court. See Johnson v. Williams, 568 U.S......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Pouncy v. Macauley, Case No. 13-cv-14695
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • June 28, 2021
    ...Lockyer v. Andrade , 538 U.S. 63, 71, 123 S.Ct. 1166, 155 L.Ed.2d 144 (2003) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Taylor v. Simpson , 972 F.3d 776, 783-784 (6th Cir. 2020). This standard applies only to claims adjudicated on the merits by the state court. See Johnson v. Williams , 568 U.......
  • Taylor v. Jordan, 14-6508
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 23, 2021
    ...4928925 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 30, 2014). A panel of this court affirmed, over one judge's dissent on the Batson issue. See Taylor v. Simpson , 972 F.3d 776 (6th Cir. 2020). We granted rehearing en banc.II.A. We review the district court's decision de novo. See Davis v. Carpenter , 798 F.3d 468, 4......
  • Taylor v. Jordan, 14-6508
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (6th Circuit)
    • August 23, 2021
    ...WL 4928925 (E.D. Ky. Sept. 30, 2014). A panel of this court affirmed, over one judge's dissent on the Batson issue. See Taylor v. Simpson, 972 F.3d 776 (6th Cir. 2020). We granted rehearing en banc. II. A. We review the district court's decision de novo. See Davis v. Carpenter, 798 F.3d 468......
  • Pouncy v. Macauley, Case No. 13-cv-14695
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • June 28, 2021
    ...the relevant state-court decision." Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71 (2003) (quotation marks and citation omitted).Taylor v. Simpson, 972 F.3d 776, 783-784 (6th Cir. 2020). This standard applies only to claims adjudicated on the merits by the state court. See Johnson v. Williams, 568 U.S......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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