Wood v. Allen

Decision Date20 November 2006
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 2:04CV509-WHA.
Citation465 F.Supp.2d 1211
PartiesHolly WOOD, Petitioner, v. Richard ALLEN, Commissioner of the Department of Corrections, TROY KING, Attorney General for the State of Alabama, Respondents.
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Alabama

Brady Warfield Mills, Jeremiah FreiPearson, John J.P. Howley, Robert M. Grass, Kaye Scholer LLP, New York, NY, Jessica Lee Hodkinson, Piscataway, NJ, Joel Lee Williams, Troy, AL, for Petitioner.

Henry Mitchell Johnson, Office of the Attorney General, Montgomery, AL, for Respondents.


ALBRITTON, Senior District Judge.


The Petitioner, Holly Wood, an Alabama inmate under sentence of death, filed a petition in this court for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Initially, the court entered an order directing that this case should proceed in two stages, the first of which would be to determine which claims should be dismissed on procedural default grounds and which non-defaulted claims require an evidentiary hearing, and the second of which would be to determine the merits of the non-defaulted claims. As a part of this process the court ordered counsel for the parties to file a Joint Report which states each claim raised in the petition using a mutually consensual numbering system, states each claim the state contends is procedurally defaulted and the grounds upon which the petitioner relies to overcome the procedural default, and states the parties' positions as to whether an evidentiary hearing is required and whether any discovery is required to develop the claim.

At a point after the Joint Report was filed, the court ordered briefing on the procedural issues. The court then altered its procedures for disposition of death penalty cases and determined that this case should be briefed on the merits as well as on the procedural default issues. The case is now before the court on the issues of entitlement to an evidentiary hearing, procedural default issues, and the merits of the claims identified in the Joint Report.


The Petitioner, Wood, was tried in the Circuit Court of Pike Count, Alabama for capital murder of his former girlfriend, and was convicted on October 20, 1994. The murder was charged as capital murder because Wood was found to have broken into the home of his former girlfriend, Ruby Gosha, with the intent to kill. The evidence presented at trial was that Wood went inside the home and shot Ruby Gosha while she was asleep.

Following a sentencing hearing on October 21, 1994, the jury recommended, by a vote of ten to two, a sentence of death and the trial judge later sentenced Wood to death. The Court of Criminal Appeals and the Alabama Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and death sentence. Wood v. State, 715 So.2d 812 (Ala.Crim.App.1996), aff'd, Ex parte Wood, 715 So.2d 819 (Ala. 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1042, 119 S.Ct. 594,142 L.Ed.2d 536 (1998).

Wood filed a petition for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. The Rule 32 court held an evidentiary hearing and denied the petition. The Rule 32 court did not allow testimony from an expert witness offered by Wood, a Dr. Faye Sultan, whom Wood offered as an expert psychologist. The State had indicated in correspondence to the expert that she could be prosecuted for practicing psychology in Alabama without a licence. On appeal, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals reversed the refusal to allow the expert testimony and remanded the case for the Rule 32 court to conduct an evidentiary hearing and to make findings as to whether Wood was mentally retarded and as to whether his attorneys rendered ineffective assistance of counsel because they did not develop and present evidence that he is mentally retarded. Wood v. State, 891 So.2d 398 (Ala.Crim.App.2003).

Upon remand from the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, the Rule 32 court held an evidentiary hearing. The expert witness originally offered by Wood, Dr. Sultan, did not appear at the hearing on the advice of her independent counsel. Another expert offered by Wood, however, Dr. Karen Salekin, testified that Wood is mentally retarded. Experts offered by the State, Dr. Harry McClaren and Dr. Gregory Prichard, came to the opposite conclusion. The Rule 32 court found that Wood is not mentally retarded, and rejected Wood's claims. This determination was affirmed on appeal. Wood v. State, 891 So.2d 398 (Ala.Crim.App.2003).


A district court must resolve all claims for relief raised in a petition for writ of habeas corpus whether habeas relief is granted or denied. Clisby v. Jones, 960 F.2d 925, 936 (11th Cir.1992), cert denied, 513 U.S. 1162, 115 S.Ct. 1127, 130 L.Ed.2d 1089 (1995). A claim for relief is deemed to be any allegation of a constitutional violation. Id.

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") governs this court's review in this case. Under the AEDPA,

(d) An application for writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim—

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or

(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding. (e)(1) In a proceeding instituted by an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court, a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct. The applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.

28 U.S.C. § 2254.

The United States Supreme Court has interpreted the provisions regarding a state court decision that is "contrary to" or an "unreasonable application of clearly established federal law. See Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). In Williams, the Court determined that under the "contrary to" clause, a federal habeas court may grant a writ of habeas corpus if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by the Supreme Court on a question of law, or if the Respondent court decides a case differently than the Supreme Court on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. Id. at 405, 120 S.Ct. 1495. A state court decision is contrary to clearly established Supreme Court precedent if the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in Supreme Court precedent. Id.; see also McIntyre v. Williams, 216 F.3d 1254 (11th Cir.2000). Under this standard, an unreasonable application is an objectively unreasonable application of the federal law set forth in decisions of the United States Supreme Court. McIntyre, 216 F.3d at 1257.


The court will address the issues pending before it in the following order: Wood's entitlement to an evidentiary hearing on claims which are not defaulted, issues of procedural default, and the merits of claims which either are not defaulted or for which there is cause and prejudice to excuse the default.

A. Evidentiary Hearing Issues

The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") set out the following standard for evidentiary hearings in death penalty cases.

(2) If the applicant has failed to develop the factual basis of a claim in State court proceedings, the court shall not hold an evidentiary hearing on the claim unless the applicant shows that—

(A) the claim relies on—

(i) a new rule of constitutional law, made retroactive to cases on collateral review by the Supreme Court, that was previously unavailable; or

(ii) a factual predicate that could not have been previously discovered through the exercise of due diligence; and

(B) the facts underlying the claim would be sufficient to establish by clear and

convincing evidence that but for constitutional error, no reasonable factfinder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2).

Wood seeks an evidentiary hearing on his claims of ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase of his trial, his claim that he is mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the death penalty, and his claim that his due process rights were violated by a threatened prosecution of his expert psychologist.1 The Respondents argue that Wood is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on any of these claims because he has already received a full and fair hearing in the state courts, and that to the extent that he failed to develop the record in state court, he cannot do so now.

Failure to develop the factual basis of a claim has been interpreted to mean that a petitioner did not fail to develop the factual basis of a claim if he was diligent in his efforts to do so. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 420, 435, 120 S.Ct. 1479, 146 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000). Diligence means that he made a reasonable attempt in light of the information available at the time. Id. A petitioner does not fail to develop the factual basis of his claim when his diligent efforts are thwarted by another. Id.

It is clear from the record in this case that Dr. Sultan, an expert initially offered by Wood at the Rule 32 hearing, was precluded by the state from testifying. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals, however, reversed the exclusion of the testimony. The court stated that the "circuit court erred when it refused to allow Dr. Sultan to testify as an expert in this case on the grounds that she was not licensed to practice psychology in...

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3 cases
  • Wood v. Allen
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit
    • September 16, 2008
    ...the penalty phase by failing to investigate and present evidence of his deficient "intellectual functioning." Wood v. Allen, 465 F.Supp.2d 1211, 1228-29, 1232, 1245 (M.D.Ala.2006). This appeal II. Standard of Review We review the district court's grant or denial of habeas relief de novo. Se......
  • Wood v. Allen
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • January 20, 2010
    ...mitigation evidence of his mental deficiencies during the penalty phase constituted ineffective assistance of counsel. 465 F.Supp.2d 1211, 1239–1245 (M.D.Ala.2006). According to the court, there was “nothing in the record to even remotely support a finding that counsel made a strategic deci......
  • Henderson v. Brown
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Middle District of Georgia
    • July 29, 2011
    ...the hearing or in his brief as a motion to amend the petition or otherwise granted leave to amend. Compare e.g., Wood v. Allen, 465 F. Supp.2d 1211 (M.D. Ala. 2006) (claim was not raised in state court, notwithstanding single mention of amending the petition to include additional grounds, w......

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