Wiggins v. Corcoran, No. 01-23.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtWidener
Citation288 F.3d 629
PartiesKevin WIGGINS, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Thomas R. CORCORAN, Warden, Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center; William W. Sondervan, Commissioner of Corrections of the State of Maryland; J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Respondents-Appellants.
Docket NumberNo. 01-23.
Decision Date02 May 2002
288 F.3d 629
Kevin WIGGINS, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Thomas R. CORCORAN, Warden, Maryland Correctional Adjustment Center; William W. Sondervan, Commissioner of Corrections of the State of Maryland; J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Respondents-Appellants.
No. 01-23.
United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.
Argued January 24, 2002.
Decided May 2, 2002.

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ARGUED: Ann Norman Bosse, Assistant Attorney General, Criminal Appeals Division, Office of the Attorney General, Baltimore, Maryland, for Respondents-Appellants. Donald Beaton Verrilli, Jr., Jenner & Block, L.L.C., Washington, D.C., for Petitioner-Appellee. ON BRIEF: J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Attorney General of Maryland, Criminal Appeals Division, Office of the Attorney General, Baltimore, Maryland,

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for Respondents-Appellants. Lara M. Flint, Brian P. Hauck, Jenner & Block, L.L.C., Washington, D.C., for Petitioner-Appellee.

Before WILKINSON, Chief Judge, and WIDENER and NIEMEYER, Circuit Judges.

Reversed by published opinion. Judge WIDENER wrote the opinion. Chief Judge WILKINSON wrote a concurring opinion. Judge NIEMEYER wrote a concurring opinion.

OPINION

WIDENER, Circuit Judge.


Introduction

The State of Maryland appeals from the district court's grant of Kevin Wiggins' 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The district court invalidated Kevin Wiggins' capital murder conviction under Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), and death sentence under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). The district court found that the Maryland Court of Appeals, although stating properly the governing principle of Jackson v. Virginia, applied it unreasonably in upholding Wiggins' capital murder conviction. Furthermore, the district court found that Wiggins' sentencing counsel was ineffective for failure to investigate and present a case in mitigation during sentencing in accord with Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253 and we reverse.

I. Facts

Kevin Wiggins was indicted in the Circuit Court for Baltimore County, Maryland on October 20, 1988 for the capital murder and robbery of Florence Lacs. Wiggins was also indicted on charges of burglary and theft. The State filed notice of intention to seek the death penalty. Wiggins elected a trial by judge, and after four days of trial, Judge Hinkel found Wiggins guilty of the first degree murder of Florence Lacs, robbery, and two counts of theft.

The evidence adduced at trial established that, on September 17, 1988 at approximately 3:50 p.m., Florence Lacs was found dead in her bathtub partially covered by cloudy water. She was wearing a blue skirt, white blouse, and white beads. This clothing was similar to or the same as the outfit Mrs. Lacs had worn on Thursday, September 15, 1988 when she accompanied her friend Mary Elgert to a luncheon. Mrs. Elgert testified that at the time Mrs. Lacs was wearing a blue skirt and white blouse. Mrs. Elgert also testified that Mrs. Lacs drove her home from the luncheon at about 4:00 p.m.

Elizabeth Lane, another acquaintance of Mrs. Lacs, passed by her apartment at approximately 4:00 p.m. on September 16 and noticed that her orange-red Chevrolet Chevette was not in the parking lot. A third friend, Edith Vassar, testified that she "received a phone call on Friday," September 16 and that she was "quite sure" it was Mrs. Lacs on the phone.1 When Mrs. Lacs did not arrive at Mrs. Lane's home for a scheduled card game on September 17, Mrs. Lane became alarmed and called the police at around 2:00 p.m. She told the police that she had last seen

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Mrs. Lacs on September 15 and at the time Mrs. Lacs was wearing a red dress.

Upon arrival at Mrs. Lacs' apartment, the police found no evidence of forced entry, either at the doors or the windows, but that the apartment had been partially ransacked. Detective Ches testified that he found a baseball cap bearing a Ryder logo on the living room floor. Detective Ches found a wet cloth on the dining room table and a damp towel on Mrs. Lacs' bed. He further testified that he lifted several fingerprints from the inside of the entrance door, the kitchen wall, and on the bathroom doorjamb. In the bathtub, floating in the water, Detective Ches found a dark colored thread. Some kitchen cleaners and a can of Black Flag were observed on the bathroom floor. Detective Crabbs testified to the presence of two T.V. Guides on the coffee table in front of the sofa. One, dated September 10-16, had been marked in pen through September 15 and had a bookmark inserted in the pages for that date. The other copy, dated September 17-23, was unmarked.

Detective Butt analyzed the fingerprints taken from the crime scene. He identified two of them as coming from two of the officers at the scene, but the other prints did not match Wiggins or Mrs. Lacs. Furthermore, tests of the fibers and hairs from the hat and bathtub were not associated with Wiggins.

Dr. Margarita Korell, Assistant State Medical Examiner, performed an autopsy on Mrs. Lacs on the morning of September 18. Dr. Korell observed that Mrs. Lacs' lungs were bogey, that is to say contained fluid and were hyperinflated, a sign of drowning. Additionally, Dr. Korell testified that she observed trauma on the left hand (bruise) and an area of bleeding in the muscle that covers the thyroid cartilage. She testified that these latter injuries were caused by "some external force" consistent with a struggle prior to the victim's death. From this, Dr. Korell concluded that Mrs. Lacs was murdered. However, Dr. Korell could not determine the maximum period Mrs. Lacs had been dead to any degree of medical certainty.

Chianti Thomas, a 12-year old resident of Mrs. Lacs' building, testified that on September 15, at some time between 4:30 and 5:00 p.m., she was visiting with Chantell Greenwood and Shanita Patterson at an apartment near Mrs. Lacs' apartment. When they left the apartment, Miss Patterson had trouble locking the door, and she sought Mrs. Lacs' assistance. A man approached and offered to help. Miss Thomas testified that, at between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m., she heard this man thank Mrs. Lacs for watching some sheetrock for him. Miss Thomas identified this man as Wiggins from a pre-trial photographic lineup. However, she was unable to identify Wiggins in court. Finally, Miss Thomas testified that after the conversation with Mrs. Lacs, Wiggins left.

Robert Weinberg, Wiggins' employer and construction contractor, was working at Mrs. Lacs' building at the time of her death. Weinberg testified that on September 14, Mrs. Lacs called out to Wiggins from her window expressing concern that a work truck might block her car. Weinberg assured her that the truck would not block her car. Weinberg testified that on September 15 he released Wiggins from work between 4:00 and 4:30 p.m., but that about 30 minutes later, Wiggins came back and told him that he had moved some sheetrock, a service Weinberg had not requested. Weinberg stated that this action would have taken only about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, and that, although Wiggins reported for work on September 16, he left early because he said he was being evicted on that day.

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Geraldine Armstrong, Wiggins' girlfriend, testified that Wiggins came to pick her up on September 15 in Mrs. Lacs' Chevette at around 7:45 p.m. After having an altercation resulting in Miss Armstrong's brother brandishing a handgun at Wiggins, Wiggins and Miss Armstrong went shopping using the victim's credit cards. They went shopping again the next day in Mrs. Lacs' Chevette, purchasing a diamond ring at J.C. Penny's on Mrs. Lacs' credit card. On September 17th, they pawned a ring belonging to Mrs. Lacs. Miss Armstrong testified that Wiggins told her that he had found the car and that the credit cards belonged to his aunt.

On September 21, the police spotted Wiggins and Geraldine Armstrong driving Mrs. Lacs' Chevette. The Maryland Court of Appeals found that Wiggins made a statement to the police that Miss Armstrong "didn't have anything to do with this," and that he found Mrs. Lacs' car with the keys in it in a restaurant parking lot on September 16. According to that statement, the credit cards were in a bag on the floor, and Mrs. Lacs' ring was on the floor of the car. Wiggins was arrested and the police found a rubber glove in his pocket. A piece of this glove was tested for residual traces of the cleaners found in Mrs. Lacs' apartment. None were found. Wiggins admitted to using the credit cards and pawning the ring.

The State endeavored to prove that Wiggins admitted murdering Mrs. Lacs by offering the testimony of two inmates who were incarcerated along with Wiggins. The first inmate, John McElroy, testified that Wiggins told him that he hit Mrs. Lacs in the head with a bat, put her in the bathtub, and made off with $15,000 from her home. On cross examination, Wiggins' counsel elicited testimony that McElroy had a long history of PCP use and was currently prescribed to take Elavil, a mood altering drug.

The second inmate, Christopher Turner, testified that Wiggins told him that he had stolen Mrs. Lacs' car, beaten and kicked her, then drowned her in the bathtub with lye or some other chemical in the water. Turner testified that Wiggins admitted to him that he had stolen the car, taken Mrs. Lacs' credit cards, money, and a ring from her finger, that he had used the credit cards to buy clothes and jewelry, and that he let his girlfriend use the credit cards. On cross examination, Wiggins' counsel elicited testimony that Mr. Turner had a long history of exchanging information to law enforcement for leniency, was suffering from active psychosis, and had entered into an agreement to limit sentencing on pending matters in exchange for his testimony.

The defense called an...

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13 practice notes
  • Torres v. Mullin, No. 00-6334.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (10th Circuit)
    • January 23, 2003
    ...of the evidence argument as raising a legal question comports with the approach of other circuits. See, e.g., Wiggins v. Corcoran, 288 F.3d 629, 636 (4th Cir.2002) (reviewing the grant of a habeas claim based on insufficiency of the evidence and stating "we must decide for ourselves whether......
  • In re Andrews, No. S017657.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 26, 2002
    ...investigative efforts. (See Burger v. Kemp, supra, 483 U.S. at p. 794, 107 S.Ct. 3114; see also Wiggins v. Corcoran (4th Cir.2002) 288 F.3d 629, 640.) Although the referee found that counsel could have discovered the mitigating evidence presented at the reference hearing with "simple persis......
  • Ault v. Waid, Civil Action No. 2:07cv88.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
    • September 16, 2009
    ...any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt); see also Wiggins v. Corcoran, 288 F.3d 629 (4th Cir.), cert. denied in part by, 537 U.S. 1027, 123 S.Ct. 556, 154 L.Ed.2d 441 (2002) (resolving conflicting facts and determining the c......
  • Andrews v. Davis, Nos. 09-99012
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (9th Circuit)
    • December 16, 2019
    ...Court subsequently reversed—puts those doubts to rest. See id . at 668, 669, 671, 676, 104 S.Ct. 2052 (citing Wiggins v. Corcoran , 288 F.3d 629 (4th Cir. 2002), rev'd sub nom. Wiggins v. Smith , 539 U.S. 510, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003) ).9 In Wiggins , counsel's investigation w......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
13 cases
  • In re Andrews, No. S017657.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (California)
    • August 26, 2002
    ...investigative efforts. (See Burger v. Kemp, supra, 483 U.S. at p. 794, 107 S.Ct. 3114; see also Wiggins v. Corcoran (4th Cir.2002) 288 F.3d 629, 640.) Although the referee found that counsel could have discovered the mitigating evidence presented at the reference hearing with "simple persis......
  • Ault v. Waid, Civil Action No. 2:07cv88.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
    • September 16, 2009
    ...any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt); see also Wiggins v. Corcoran, 288 F.3d 629 (4th Cir.), cert. denied in part by, 537 U.S. 1027, 123 S.Ct. 556, 154 L.Ed.2d 441 (2002) (resolving conflicting facts and determining the c......
  • Easlick v. State, No. F 2003-70.
    • United States
    • United States State Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma. Court of Criminal Appeals of Oklahoma
    • May 3, 2004
    ...123, 546 N.E.2d 359 (1989) (noting use of unified standard); Wiggins v. State, (Md.1997), overruled on other grounds Wiggins v. Corcoran, 288 F.3d 629 (C.A.4th.2002) (affirms previous decisions that adopt the unified standard, but cites the trial court's findings that the facts did not demo......
  • Evans v. State, No. 107.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 19, 2006
    ...decision to focus on establishing that Wiggins was not directly responsible for the murder was a reasonable one. Wiggins v. Corcoran, 288 F.3d 629, 639-640 (4th Cir. 2002). The United States Supreme Court reversed. It held that the actions of Wiggins' counsel at sentencing violated his Sixt......
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