Williams v. Davis

Decision Date28 June 2016
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. H-13-1714
Parties Arthur Lee WILLIAMS, Petitioner, v. Lorie Davis, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Texas

Stanley G. Schneider, Schneider and McKinney P. C., Houston, TX, for Petitioner.

Matthew Dennis Ottoway, Office of the Attorney General of Texas, Austin, TX, for Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

NANCY F. ATLAS, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

In 1983, a jury convicted Arthur Lee Williams of the capital murder of a police officer. The jury answered Texas's special issue questions in a manner requiring the imposition of a death sentence. After unsuccessfully availing himself of Texas's appellate and post-conviction remedies, Williams seeks federal habeas relief from his conviction and sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [Doc. # 7].

Respondent Lorie Davis has answered the petition [Doc. # 20]. The Court has thoroughly examined the record in this case, including the state court pretrial, trial, appellate, and habeas proceedings. Based on this review and the application of governing legal authorities—giving due consideration to the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA")—the Court finds that constitutional error in the punishment phase jury instructions requires that Texas either (1) commute Williams' sentence to one of life imprisonment or (2) hold a new sentencing hearing. The Court concludes, however, that habeas relief is unavailable on all grounds relating to Williams' conviction. The Court will discuss the reasons for these rulings at length below.

BACKGROUND

In 1982, the State of Texas charged twenty-three-year-old Williams with capital murder for "intentionally and knowingly caus[ing] the death of Daryl Wayne Shirley ..., a peace officer in the lawful discharge of an official duty, by shooting [him] with a gun, knowing at the time that [he] was a peace officer." Clerk's Record at 6.2 Williams stood trial in the 208th District Court of Harris County, Texas in 1983. Trial testimony showed the following: Williams, a convicted felon from Minnesota, had absconded to Texas after his parole to a half-way house. While in Texas, Williams lived with his sister and began using the name Marvin Dean Hogues.

Authorities in Minnesota issued a warrant for his arrest. The Harris County Police Department assigned Shirley, an officer in the Fugitive Criminal Warrant Division, to find and arrest Williams.

In the afternoon of April 28, 1982, Williams shot Detective Shirley during a scuffle at an apartment building where he was staying. Detective Shirley, who was wearing plain clothes and a cowboy hat, approached Williams as he left an apartment with a friend. Detective Shirley called Williams by his real name, drew his weapon, placed it against Williams' head, and pushed Williams up against a wall. Williams yelled for his friend to get help. A struggle ensued and the men fought for Detective Shirley's gun. As the two men wrestled on the ground, Detective Shirley shouted for an onlooker to call the police. Williams shot Detective Shirley twice with his own gun. Williams picked up Detective Shirley's gun and fled.

The police soon arrested Williams. Williams was tried in 1983. The trial focused on the indictment's allegation that Williams killed during the "lawful discharge of [Officer Shirley's] official duty ... knowing at the time that [he] was a peace officer." The State argued that the trial testimony and evidence showed that Detective Shirley had unquestionably identified himself as a police officer, with the intent of arresting Williams. Williams' trial attorneys3 argued that Williams did not know that the victim was a police officer. The defense disputed whether Detective Shirley had actually identified himself as such and argued that Williams fought with Detective Shirley because Williams had previously been assaulted by a man pretending to be a police officer. Williams's federal petition explains:

a few months before the incident with Detective Shirley, he was accosted by a man with a gun who forced his way into his apartment by identifying himself as a police officer. The man then attempted to rob Williams and was shot in an ensuing struggle. These circumstances made Williams much more wary of strangers and caused him to react more defensively to any perceived danger.

Doc. # 7, p. 28. The defense asked jurors to find that Williams did not know that he was shooting a police officer.

The jury found Williams guilty of capital murder. Texas law required the jury to determine Williams' sentence by answering three special issue questions:

Special Issue No. 1

Was the conduct of the defendant, Arthur Lee Williams, Jr., AKA Marvin Dean Hogues, committed deliberately and with the reasonable expectation that the death of the deceased or another would result?

Special Issue No. 2

Is there a probability that the defendant, Arthur Lee Williams Jr., AKA Marvin Dean Hogues, would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society?

Special Issue No. 3

Was the conduct of the defendant, Arthur Lee Williams Jr., AKA Marvin Dean Hogues, in killing Daryl Wayne Shirley, the deceased, unreasonable in response to the provocation, if any, by the deceased?

Clerk's Record at 209-10. At the time of trial, Texas law did not include a specific instruction for jurors to consider mitigating evidence.

In the penalty phase, the prosecution presented testimony and evidence of Williams' lawlessness. Williams had previously committed armed robbery and had carried weapons. The police suspected that Williams had committed burglary. Eight people from Williams' home state of Minnesota testified that he had a bad reputation for not being peaceful or law abiding. The defense did not call any witnesses or present any testimony in the punishment phase.

The jury answered Texas' special issue questions in a manner requiring imposition of a death sentence. Williams appealed his conviction and sentence. Among other issues, Williams complained that the prosecution unconstitutionally used its peremptory strikes to remove African-Americans from the jury panel. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Williams' conviction and sentence. Williams v. State , 682 S.W.2d 538 (Tex.Crim.App.1984). Williams filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. While Williams' petition was pending review, the Supreme Court decided Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). The Supreme Court subsequently held that Batson applied retroactively. Griffith v. Kentucky , 479 U.S. 314, 107 S.Ct. 708, 93 L.Ed.2d 649 (1987). The Supreme Court vacated the Court of Criminal Appeals' judgment against Williams and remanded the case for renewed consideration in light of Batson . Williams v. Texas , 479 U.S. 1074, 107 S.Ct. 1266, 94 L.Ed.2d 128 (1987). In turn, the Court of Criminal Appeals remanded the case to the trial court for a Batson hearing. Williams v. State , 731 S.W.2d 563 (Tex.Crim.App.1987).

The trial court held a Batson hearing in 1988. The trial prosecutors provided race-neutral justifications for their peremptory strikes. The trial court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law rejecting Williams' Batson claim. Supplemental Clerk's Record at 29-40. The Court of Criminal Appeals again affirmed Williams' conviction on appeal. Williams v. State , 804 S.W.2d 95 (Tex.Crim.App.1991). The Supreme Court denied certiorari review. Williams v. Texas , 501 U.S. 1239, 111 S.Ct. 2875, 115 L.Ed.2d 1038 (1991).

State habeas review spanned the next two decades, with long periods where Williams' case languished in inactivity. On September 24, 1991, volunteer attorneys filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus ("1991 application") on Williams' behalf raising thirty-nine grounds for relief. S.H.R. 6-155. Williams moved for discovery and for an evidentiary hearing on his claims. S.H.R. at 171-78, 187-88. In 1993, the State of Texas filed a lengthy answer. S.H.R. at 201-323. The State also requested that the trial court designate issues for resolution in the case. S.H.R. at 198-99.

At some point in 1991, Randy Schaffer, Esq., began representing Williams. On December 27, 1993, Mr. Schaffer filed an Amended Application for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("1993 application"). S.H.R. at 354-482. The 1993 application raised sixteen allegations, with numerous subsections. The 1993 application contained numerous issues asserted in the 1991 application, and raised several other issues for the first time. The State filed a supplemental answer four years later. S.H.R. at 555-628.

On June 5, 2001, Mr. Schaffer sent the trial court a letter abandoning several claims in the 1993 application "in view of intervening caselaw." Also, Mr. Schaffer told the trial court that it "need not consider the grounds raised in the initial application filed by volunteer lawyers from Minnesota [the 1991 application]." Supplemental S.H.R. at 2.

On the State's motion in 2002, the trial court found that "no controverted previously unresolved factual issues material to the legality of [Williams'] confinement exist" and ordered the parties to submit proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. S.H.R. at 634.

Williams filed proposed findings and conclusions in 2004. Before the trial court acted on parties' filings, Williams filed a "Supplement to Amended Application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus" in 2005. S.H.R. at 653-65 ("Supplemental Application"). Relying on new Supreme Court precedent from Miller El v. Dretke , 545 U.S. 231, 125 S.Ct. 2317, 162 L.Ed.2d 196 (2005), Williams again urged a Batson claim. Williams' supplemental application, however, only argued that the State had unconstitutionally exercised a peremptory strike on one prospective juror because of her race.

In 2008, the State filed proposed findings and conclusions. With the exception of adding two...

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