Warren v. Polk, 1:05-CV-260

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
Decision Date20 January 2017
Docket Number1:05-CV-260
PartiesLESLEY EUGENE WARREN, Petitioner, v. WARDEN MARVIN POLK, Respondent.




January 20, 2017


Catherine C. Eagles, District Judge.

Lesley Eugene Warren, a prisoner of the State of North Carolina, was convicted and sentenced to death for the 1990 murder of Katherine Johnson. The aggravating factor on which the death penalty rested was two previous convictions for capital murder. His conviction was affirmed on appeal. State v. Warren, 348 N.C. 80, 499 S.E.2d 431 (1998). After a motion for appropriate relief was denied in state court, Mr. Warren filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpus challenging his conviction and sentence. The matter was stayed until May 2015 pending additional state court proceedings. After the stay was listed, supplemental briefing was filed, and the petition is ripe for resolution.

Mr. Warren asks this Court to vacate his conviction and sentence based on numerous alleged constitutional violations. The Court finds no constitutional violation and denies the petition.

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I. Facts1 and Procedural History

Mr. Warren was indicted in September 1990 and convicted in March 1996 for the July 15, 1990, murder of Ms. Johnson in High Point, North Carolina. Id. at 91, 499 S.E.2d at 436. He was found guilty and sentenced to death. Id.

Before Mr. Warren met Ms. Johnson in High Point in July 1990, he was a suspect in murders committed in Asheville, North Carolina, and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Id. at 93-94, 499 S.E.2d at 437-38. On May 28, 1990, Asheville police questioned Mr. Warren about the May 24 disappearance of Jayme Hurley. Id. at 93, 499 S.E.2d at 437. Mr. Warren admitted that he had seen Ms. Hurley on that day, and he consented to a search of his van. Id. The police found Ms. Hurley's pocketbook in the van. Id.

After informing Mr. Warren of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), an officer obtained a waiver of those rights and continued questioning Mr. Warren about Ms. Hurley. Warren, 348 N.C. at 93, 499 S.E.2d at 437. Mr. Warren requested counsel during the questioning, but police continued to question him, hoping that Ms. Hurley was still alive. Id. Mr. Warren eventually told the officer that Ms. Hurley had died from a cocaine overdose and that he had thrown her body in the French Broad River. Id. Police arrested Mr. Warren on an outstanding warrant for failure to produce a title to a motor vehicle and for misdemeanor larceny of Ms. Hurley's pocketbook. Id.

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At a June 7 bond hearing, the district attorney stated that he anticipated filing additional charges against Mr. Warren, but he declined to do so at the time. Id. at 93, 499 S.E.2d at 437-38. Mr. Warren was released on bond and retrieved his van at the police department. Id. at 93, 499 S.E.2d at 438. While there, Mr. Warren gave blood, hair, and urine samples and agreed to return the next day for more questioning. Id. Mr. Warren did not return. Id. In the meantime, police in South Carolina obtained a warrant for Mr. Warren's arrest for first-degree murder and kidnapping. Id. at 94, 499 S.E.2d at 438.

On July 15, Mr. Warren attended a picnic for Radisson Hotel employees in High Point with Terri Quinby, a hotel employee, and her family. Id. at 91, 499 S.E.2d at 436. Ms. Quinby introduced Mr. Warren to Ms. Johnson, who worked at the hotel gift shop. Id. After the picnic, Mr. Warren, the Quinbys, Ms. Johnson, and several others went to an Applebee's restaurant, where Mr. Warren told Ms. Quinby's brother, Freddy Ferguson, that he was interested in Ms. Johnson as a sexual conquest. Id. at 91-92, 499 S.E.2d at 436-37. The group then went to the house of Ms. Quinby's sister to have dinner. Id. at 92; 499 S.E.2d at 437. Ms. Johnson rode to dinner with Mr. Warren on his motorcycle. Id.

At 9:00 p.m., the group went to Ms. Quinby's house, where Mr. Warren and Ms. Johnson stayed on the porch until leaving for a motorcycle ride. Id. Witnesses saw them pass Ms. Quinby's house on the motorcycle at around 11:30 p.m. Id. Approximately an hour later, Mr. Warren returned to Ms. Quinby's home without Ms. Johnson to retrieve Ms. Johnson's car. Id. He stated that Ms. Johnson could not drive and that the two of them were going to get a room at the Town House Motel. Id. The next morning, Mr.

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Warren was discovered sleeping on Ms. Quinby's couch. Id. He explained that Ms. Johnson had stayed at the hotel and then taken her car to a class she had that morning. Id.

On July 20, High Point police executed the South Carolina first-degree murder warrant and arrested Mr. Warren at Ms. Quinby's house. Id. at 92, 94, 499 S.E.2d at 437-438. The police searched Mr. Warren and discovered the keys to Ms. Johnson's car. Id. at 92, 499 S.E.2d at 437. High Point police brought Mr. Warren to Asheville, where Mr. Warren waived his Miranda rights. Id. at 94, 499 S.E.2d at 438. Police questioned him about the murders in Asheville and South Carolina, and an additional murder in New York. Id. During that questioning, Mr. Warren confessed to murdering Ms. Hurley in Asheville, as well as to the South Carolina and New York murders. Id. Mr. Warren then confessed to murdering Ms. Johnson. Id. He signed a statement confessing to all four murders on July 21. Id.

Mr. Warren told Asheville police that he and Ms. Johnson had sex in a soccer field, that he placed Ms. Johnson's body in the trunk of her car, and that he parked the car in a parking deck near the Radisson Hotel. Id. at 92, 499 S.E.2d at 437. Police found the car and Ms. Johnson's naked body in the trunk. Id. Her bra was wrapped around her neck. Id. Police found Mr. Warren's fingerprints on the outside of the driver's door and his palm print on the outside of the trunk. Id. Police later found Ms. Johnson's shoes in a nearby athletic field. Id.

Because the body found in the trunk was decomposing, Ms. Johnson had to be identified using dental records. Id. After performing an autopsy, the pathologist

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concluded that the cause of death was asphyxia due to strangulation, indicated by areas of hemorrhage on Ms. Johnson's neck. Id.

Mr. Warren was convicted of the murder of Velma Gray in South Carolina in 1993. See Doc. 13 at 4. He pled guilty to first-degree murder and larceny of Ms. Hurley in February 1995 in Buncombe County Superior Court. State v. Warren, 347 N.C. 309, 315, 492 S.E.2d 609, 612 (1997). Following a sentencing hearing, the jury recommended Mr. Warren be sentenced to death. Id. The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed Mr. Warren's conviction and sentence in the Buncombe County case on November 7, 1997. Id.

After he was convicted and sentenced in the South Carolina and Buncombe County cases, Mr. Warren was tried in the present case in Guilford County Superior Court; he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. Warren, 348 N.C. at 91, 499 S.E.2d at 436. The sole aggravating factor upon which the death sentence was based was that Mr. Warren "had been previously convicted of another capital felony." N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-2000(e)(2); see Doc. 4 at 42. In support of this factor, the prosecution introduced Mr. Warren's 1993 South Carolina murder conviction and his 1995 Asheville murder conviction. See Warren, 348 N.C. at 118, 499 S.E.2d at 452. The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and sentence on May 8, 1998. Id. at 80, 499 S.E.2d at 431.2

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Mr. Warren filed a motion for appropriate relief (MAR) in Guilford County Superior Court on July 12, 1999. Doc. 50 at 3. The court denied the MAR on July 3, 2002. Id. The North Carolina Supreme Court denied his petition for a writ of certiorari on February 3, 2005. State v. Warren, 359 N.C. 286, 610 S.E.2d 714 (2005). Pursuant to the North Carolina Racial Justice Act, Mr. Warren filed an additional MAR on August 5, 2010, in Guilford County. Doc. 50 at 3. That MAR remains pending. Id.

In his initial state post-conviction proceeding in Buncombe County, Mr. Warren's attorneys filed a motion for discovery under N.C. Gen. Stat. § 15A-1415(f). Doc. 49 at 3. Mr. Warren then filed an MAR in the superior court on April 1, 1999, and advised the court that the State had not responded to his request for discovery. Id. at 4. On July 3, 2003, the State, after being directed by the court, responded to Mr. Warren's MAR. Id. The superior court denied the MAR on November 7, 2003, without ruling on the motion for discovery. Id. Mr. Warren filed a motion to reconsider and another motion for discovery in the superior court. Id. at 5. These motions remain pending. Id. Mr. Warren also filed a motion in the North Carolina Supreme Court for an extension of time in which to file a petition for a writ of certiorari. Id. The court granted that motion on March 12, 2004. Id.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), Mr. Warren filed the current petition for a writ of habeas corpus on April 29, 2005, challenging the Guilford County conviction and sentence for the murder of Ms. Johnson. Doc. 4 at 1. On November 17, 2005, this Court granted Mr. Warren's motion to hold the case in abeyance pending the resolution of state post-conviction challenges to

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the convictions that served as the bases for the aggravating factor in this case. Doc. 23. The Court lifted the stay on May 15, 2015. Doc. 47.

II. Grounds for Relief

Mr. Warren has asserted eighteen grounds supporting his claim that his constitutional rights were violated during his trial for the murder of Ms. Johnson. Doc. 4 at 12-45; Doc. 4-2 at 1-6. A summary of his argument supporting each ground follows.

• Ground One: The underlying capital convictions that were the bases for the sole aggravating circumstance are infirm. Their reversal would invalidate the death sentence in this present case.

• Ground Two: Statements Mr. Warren made in the investigation of the present case and the Buncombe County case were obtained in violation

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