U.S. v. Basham

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Citation561 F.3d 302
Docket NumberNo. 05-5.,05-5.
PartiesUNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. Brandon Leon BASHAM, Defendant-Appellant.
Decision Date30 March 2009
561 F.3d 302
UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Brandon Leon BASHAM, Defendant-Appellant.
No. 05-5.
United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.
Argued: October 31, 2008.
Decided: March 30, 2009.

[561 F.3d 308]

ARGUED: Melissa Anne Meister, Jenner & Block, L.L.P., Washington, D.C.; Timothy Joseph Sullivan, Brennan, Sullivan & McKenna, L.L.P., Greenbelt, Maryland, for Appellant. Thomas Ernest Booth, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee. ON BRIEF: David W. DeBruin, Stephen L. Ascher, Kali N. Bracey, Thomas G. Pulham, Eric R. Haren, Jenner & Block, L.L.P., Washington, D.C., for Appellant. William W. Wilkins, III, United States Attorney, Robert F. Daley, Assistant United States Attorney, Office of the United States Attorney, Columbia, South Carolina; Scott N. Schools, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

Before WILLIAMS, Chief Judge, and TRAXLER and KING, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Chief Judge WILLIAMS wrote the opinion, in which Judge TRAXLER and Judge KING joined.


WILLIAMS, Chief Judge:

A jury sitting in the District of South Carolina sentenced Brandon Leon Basham to death for the carjacking and kidnapping resulting in the death of Alice Donovan in 2002. In this appeal, Basham raises six claims of error relating to both the guilt and penalty phases of his capital trial: (1) the district court abused its discretion in failing to grant Basham's motion for a new trial or a new sentencing proceeding after learning that the jury foreperson contacted several news media outlets during the trial;

561 F.3d 309

(2) the district court abused its discretion in disqualifying Basham's appointed counsel prior to trial; (3) the district court abused its discretion in admitting prior acts as "intrinsic" to the charged crimes; (4) the district court abused its discretion in its evidentiary rulings during the penalty phase; (5) the district court erred in omitting the "catchall mitigator," 18 U.S.C.A. § 3592(a)(8) (West 2000), from the special verdict form; and (6) his death sentence was rendered under "the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor" in violation of 18 U.S.C.A. § 3595(c)(2)(A) (West 2000). For the following reasons, we reject Basham's contentions and affirm.


In 2002, Basham, a lifelong Kentucky resident, was serving the final years of a felony forgery conviction sentence at the Hopkins County Detention Center in Kentucky. In October of that year, Chadrick Evan Fulks became Basham's new cellmate. In early November, Fulks was charged with an additional (and serious) state offense, first degree abuse of a child aged twelve years or younger. On November 4, 2002, Basham and Fulks escaped the detention center together by scaling a wall in the recreation area and leaving the area on foot.

By the evening of November 5, Basham and Fulks reached the home of James Hawkins in nearby Hanson, Kentucky. Basham approached the dwelling, knocked on the door, and asked to use the telephone. Basham told Hawkins that his car had broken down and, after Basham made two calls, Hawkins agreed to drive him to a nearby convenience store. When Basham and Hawkins left the residence, Fulks joined them and the three men left in Hawkins's truck. The two men then told Hawkins that their vehicle was disabled in Robards, Kentucky, and they asked for a ride. During the drive, Fulks told Hawkins that the disabled vehicle was actually in Indiana and directed Hawkins to drive there. Fulks later changed the directions again; by this point, Basham was pointing a knife at Hawkins to keep him driving to their preferred destination. At some point, Fulks took the wheel, drove the truck into a field, and ordered Basham to tie Hawkins to a tree. Fulks became dissatisfied with Basham's speed in tying and eventually completed the job himself. They left Hawkins clothed in shorts, flip-flops, and a short-sleeved vest. Fifteen hours later, Hawkins freed himself and flagged a passing motorist. When interviewed by police officers later that day, Hawkins identified Basham and Fulks as the individuals who kidnapped him.

After abandoning Hawkins, Fulks and Basham drove to Portage, Indiana, to visit one of Fulks's former girlfriends, Tina Severance.1 They abandoned Hawkins's vehicle at a hotel and walked to a trailer shared by Severance and her friend Andrea Roddy. The four then drove to a hotel in northern Indiana and stayed there for the next few days. At some point, Basham and Roddy began a consensual sexual relationship.

During their time in Indiana, Fulks asked Severance if she knew anyone from whom he could obtain firearms. Severance informed Fulks that a friend of hers, Robert Talsma, kept several firearms at his home; Severance and Roddy thereafter agreed to lure Talsma out of his house by offering to buy him breakfast. While

561 F.3d 310

Talsma was at breakfast with the women, Basham and Fulks entered Talsma's home and stole four firearms, a ring, and several blank checks. They then reunited with Severance and Roddy, and the four traveled in Severance's van to Sturgis, Michigan. That night, November 8, Basham and Roddy stayed at a hotel in Sturgis while Fulks and Severance drove to Goshen, Indiana, to smoke marijuana and methamphetamines with Fulks's brother, Ronnie Fulks.

That evening, two police officers began knocking on doors at the hotel where Basham and Roddy were staying in Sturgis. Basham opened his room door, saw the officers, closed the door, and cocked a .22 caliber revolver that he had stolen from Talsma. The officers ended up leaving before reaching Basham's door. Basham told Roddy, however, "I was about to shoot me a mother-f* * *er cop right. I was going to blow the f* * *ing cop away." (J.A. at 802.) The next morning, November 9, Basham and Roddy drove to a local Kmart to purchase sundries. Basham met a group of teenagers in the parking lot, and he reported to Roddy that they had some money and he wanted to kill them for it. After purchasing sundries with some of Talsma's stolen checks, Basham invited the teenagers back to the hotel room. Severance and Fulks arrived back at the hotel shortly thereafter, and the teenagers left. Fulks, Basham, Severance, and Roddy then drove Severance's van to the home of Fulks's brother, Ronnie Fulks, in Goshen, Indiana.

On November 10, 2002, the group of four drove to Piketon, Ohio, in Severance's van. Basham again used Talsma's checks to buy sundries, which Roddy later returned for cash. Basham and Fulks also bought two sets of camouflage clothing and Fulks stole a purse and cell phone from a Wal-Mart parking lot. On November 11, they drove to Kenova, West Virginia, near Huntington, and rented a hotel room. Fulks and Basham, wearing their sets of camouflage clothing, left the hotel room by themselves and did not return until the morning hours of November 12.

Samantha Burns, a nineteen-year-old Marshall University student, worked at the J.C. Penney's store in the Huntington Mall. In addition, Burns also participated in a school fundraiser by selling candy boxes, which she kept in her car. On November 11, Burns met her aunt at Penney's to purchase clothing for one of Burns's nieces; they parked in separate locations at the mall. At 9:46 p.m. that evening, Burns called her mother to say she was staying at a friend's house that night. Burns has never been seen since.

During the early morning hours of November 12, 2002, a local fire department responded to a reported explosion and fire at a rural area three miles outside of Huntington. The responding firemen found a car later identified as belonging to Burns burned out at a cemetery.

Meanwhile, Fulks and Basham returned to the hotel carrying muddy clothing, and Fulks indicated that they had stolen some money. Later that morning, the group of four checked out of the motel and drove to South Carolina, where Fulks had lived for several years in the 1990s. Several facts emerged linking Basham and Fulks to Burns's disappearance. Roddy and Severance reported seeing mud, as well as one of Burns's candy boxes, in the van. In addition, Basham began wearing a heart-shaped ring around his neck that belonged to Samantha Burns. Basham told the women that he had stolen the candy from a girl selling it and that he had stolen the ring from a car. Roddy also found Burns's photo ID discarded with other items linking Burns to Fulks and Basham. Moreover, it was later revealed that Fulks used

561 F.3d 311

Burns's ATM card twice on the evening of November 11 at local banks.

The evening of November 12, Fulks, Basham, Severance and Roddy arrived at a motel in Little River, South Carolina. The next day was a day of relative rest; Fulks and Basham stole several purses and wallets from unattended vehicles, went shopping, and then returned to the motel room to smoke marijuana, drink, and play cards. On November 14, the four moved to a motel in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Fulks and Basham left the women and drove to nearby Conway, South Carolina. Hoping to steal firearms, Fulks and Basham burglarized the Conway home of Sam Jordan. Carl Jordan, Sam's father, drove up to the home as Fulks and Basham were leaving. Fulks attempted to ram Jordan's car with Severance's van but stopped short; Basham exited the house and fired a shot at a nearby greenhouse. Fulks then fired a shot that shattered the back-window of Jordan's car. Jordan fled the area, with Fulks and Basham in pursuit, still firing. At some point, Fulks and Basham ceased their chase, abandoned Severance's van, and stole a truck, which they drove to the Wal-Mart in Conway.

Upon arriving at the Wal-Mart, Basham approached a blue BMW sedan driven by forty-four year old Alice Donovan. Basham entered the car and forced Donovan to drive to the back of the parking lot, where Fulks waited. There, Fulks entered the driver's side of the car and drove away; at 4:03 p.m., Fulks used...

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