Thomas v. Meko, 021419 FED6, 17-5824

Docket Nº:17-5824
Opinion Judge:KETHLEDGE, CIRCUIT JUDGE
Party Name:Yaqob Tafan Thomas, Petitioner-Appellant v. Joseph P. Meko, Warden, Respondent-Appellee
Attorney:Kevin M. Lamb, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. James C. Shackelford, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF KENTUCKY, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellee. Kevin M. Lamb, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant. James C. Shack...
Judge Panel:Before: COLE, Chief Judge; GRIFFIN and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:February 14, 2019
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
FREE EXCERPT

Yaqob Tafan Thomas, Petitioner-Appellant

v.

Joseph P. Meko, Warden, Respondent-Appellee

No. 17-5824

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

February 14, 2019

Argued: December 6, 2018

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky at Lexington. No. 5:11-cv-00148-William O. Bertelsman, District Judge.

ARGUED:

Kevin M. Lamb, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

James C. Shackelford, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF KENTUCKY, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

Kevin M. Lamb, WILMER CUTLER PICKERING HALE AND DORR LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellant.

James C. Shackelford, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF KENTUCKY, Frankfort, Kentucky, for Appellee.

Before: COLE, Chief Judge; GRIFFIN and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

KETHLEDGE, CIRCUIT JUDGE

Yaqob Thomas was convicted of murder in Kentucky state court. He now seeks federal habeas relief, arguing that the Kentucky definition of murder violates due process because it prescribes two mental states-intent to kill and extreme indifference to human life-as alternative means for the mens rea element of that offense. The district court rejected that argument, and so do we.

I.

In 2002, Thomas and Gregory Baltimore arranged to buy cocaine from Dionte Burdette at a Waffle House in Lexington, Kentucky. The three men ate a meal and then got into Burdette's car, with Thomas in the back seat and the others up front. Soon Thomas grabbed Burdette from behind, held a gun to his head, and demanded the cocaine. When Burdette refused, Thomas shot him in the leg. Burdette then said the cocaine was across the street with his partner. Thomas shot Burdette three more times, after which both Thomas and Baltimore fled from the scene. Burdette died soon afterward.

Thomas was thereafter charged with murder, and a jury found him guilty. The trial court sentenced him to 40 years' imprisonment. The Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed, and the Kentucky courts otherwise denied post-conviction relief.

Thomas later filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the district court. Among his claims was that his appellate counsel had been ineffective for failing to challenge the trial court's instruction to the jury on the murder charge. The district court found the petition untimely, but we reversed. On remand, the district court rejected Thomas's claims on the merits. This appeal followed.

II.

Thomas's only claim here is that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that one of the trial court's jury instructions had violated due process. We review the district court's denial of relief on that claim de novo. See Babick v. Berghuis, 620 F.3d 571, 576 (6th Cir. 2010). The State argues that Thomas's claim is procedurally defaulted, but we cut to the merits because an analysis of cause and prejudice would only complicate this case. See Storey v. Vasbinder, 657 F.3d 372, 380 (6th Cir. 2011).

The instruction at issue concerned the mental state required to commit murder. Kentucky law recites two mental states-intent to kill and extreme indifference to human life-as alternative means that satisfy the element of mens rea for murder. See Craft v. Commonwealth, 483 S.W.3d 837, 841-42 (Ky. 2016); KRS § 507.020. That recitation is unremarkable: "legislatures frequently enumerate alternate means of committing a crime." Schad v. Arizona, 501 U.S. 624, 636 (1991) (plurality opinion). Accordingly, the trial court instructed the jury that it could convict Thomas of murder if it found that Thomas had possessed either of the alternative mental states (intent to kill or extreme indifference to human life) that satisfied the element of mens rea for murder.

When a statute specifies alternative means for satisfying a single element of an offense, the jury need not agree upon or even specify which of those means the defendant employed. See Mathis v. United States, 136 S.Ct. 2243, 2249 (2016). Thus, if a statute required use of a "deadly weapon" as an element of a crime, and further provided that "use of a 'knife,...

To continue reading

FREE SIGN UP