Wood v. Allen

Decision Date16 September 2008
Docket NumberNo. 06-16412.,06-16412.
Citation542 F.3d 1281
PartiesHolly WOOD, Petitioner-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. Richard F. ALLEN, Commissioner, Alabama Department of Corrections, Troy King, The Attorney General of the State of Alabama, Grantt Culliver, Warden, Respondents-Appellants, Cross-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Eleventh Circuit

Henry Mitchell Johnson, Montgomery, AL, for Respondents.

John J.P. Howley, Robert M. Grass (Court-Appointed), Kaye Scholer, LLP, New York City, Brady W. Mills, Troutman Sanders, LLP, Karen Rae Robinson, Kaye Scholer, LLP, Washington, DC, for Wood.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.

Before DUBINA, BARKETT and HULL, Circuit Judges.

HULL, Circuit Judge:

The State of Alabama appeals the district court's grant of the habeas writ to Holly Wood, which vacated his death sentence based on counsel's ineffective assistance in failing to investigate and offer sufficient mitigation evidence. Wood cross-appeals the denial of his claims that: (1) he is mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304, 122 S.Ct. 2242, 153 L.Ed.2d 335 (2002); and (2) the prosecutor's peremptory strikes violated Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90 L.Ed.2d 69 (1986). After review and oral argument, we affirm the district court's denial of Wood's Atkins and Batson claims and reverse its decision that Wood's counsel rendered ineffective assistance.

I. The Crime and Procedural History
A. The Crime

On the night of September 1, 1993, Wood brutally killed Ruby Lois Gosha, who was Wood's former girlfriend and the mother of his child. See Wood v. State, 715 So.2d 812, 813 (Ala.Crim.App.1996). About two weeks prior to murdering Ruby, Wood had assaulted Ruby, cutting her and causing her to lose the use of two fingers. Id. at 814. In addition to the testimony of Ruby's mother in that regard, the autopsy showed recent bruises on Ruby's palm and the back of her left hand, two recent trauma-induced scars on her right forearm, and recent scars on her left forearm and upper arm. Id.

On the night of the murder, around 5:00 p.m., Ruby's mother told Wood to leave her home (where Ruby lived) and not come back. Id. at 813-14. Wood returned to Ruby's mother's house around 9:00 p.m., snuck into Ruby's bedroom with his 12-gauge shotgun, and shot Ruby in the head and face, fracturing her skull and injuring her brain. Id. at 814. There was a gunshot wound near her eye and one near her cheek. Id. Ruby was dead by the time the ambulance got her to the hospital. Id.

After shooting Ruby, Wood that night told his cousin, Calvin Salter, "I shot that bitch in the head, and [blew] her brains out and all she did was wiggle." Id. at 815 (alteration in original). Wood also told Salter that he had attempted to stab Ruby in the heart sometime prior to the shooting, but Ruby had thrown her arm up to protect herself, and he had stabbed her in the arm instead. Id. Thus, although Ruby had tried to escape Wood's domestic violence and although her mother had tried to keep Wood away from her home, Wood managed to sneak into the home late at night and kill Ruby at point-blank range in her own bed.

At the time Wood killed Ruby, he was already on parole for a prior violent felony shooting of another former girlfriend. See id. at 819. In short, Ruby was not Wood's first domestic violence shooting victim, and the State sought the death penalty for Ruby's murder.

B. Procedural History

On October 20, 1994, the jury unanimously convicted Wood of capital murder during a first-degree burglary. The jury recommended a death sentence by a 10-2 vote. After a pre-sentencing report and a separate sentencing hearing, the trial judge sentenced Wood to death. On direct appeal, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals ("Alabama Appeals Court") rejected Wood's Batson claim and affirmed his conviction and death sentence. See Wood v. State, 715 So.2d at 817, 819. The Alabama Supreme Court also affirmed Wood's conviction and sentence. Ex parte Wood, 715 So.2d 819 (Ala.1998).

After the United States Supreme Court denied Wood certiorari, Wood v. Alabama, 525 U.S. 1042, 119 S.Ct. 594, 142 L.Ed.2d 536 (1998), Wood filed a petition for post-conviction relief under Alabama Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1 Wood's Rule 32 petition claimed that (1) he is mentally retarded and not eligible for a death sentence, and (2) his trial counsel were ineffective by failing to investigate and present evidence of his mental deficiencies during the penalty phase. After two evidentiary hearings, the Rule 32 court denied Wood's Rule 32 petition in two separate orders.

After these Rule 32 orders, the United States Supreme Court decided Atkins, and the Alabama Appeals Court remanded Wood's Rule 32 case in light of Atkins. Wood v. State, 891 So.2d 398, 402 (Ala. Crim.App.2003). On remand, the Rule 32 court conducted an extensive evidentiary hearing and issued a third Rule 32 order thoroughly discussing Wood's claims and denying them. The Rule 32 court found that Wood was not mentally retarded and his counsel were not ineffective. The Alabama Appeals Court adopted and affirmed the Rule 32 court's findings and denial of Wood's claims. See Wood v. State, 891 So.2d 398, 413 (Ala.Crim.App.2004). The Alabama Supreme Court denied certiorari. Ex parte Wood, No. 1030817 (Ala. May 21, 2004).

Wood then filed his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition. The district court denied Wood's Atkins and Batson claims, but granted relief on Wood's claim that his counsel were ineffective in 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 followed.

II. Standard of Review

We review the district court's grant or denial of habeas relief de novo. See Stewart v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 476 F.3d 1193, 1208 (11th Cir.2007); McNair v. Campbell, 416 F.3d 1291, 1297 (11th Cir. 2005); Sims v. Singletary, 155 F.3d 1297, 1304 (11th Cir.1998). However, under § 2254, as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), our review of a final state court habeas decision is "greatly circumscribed and is highly deferential to the state courts." Crawford v. Head, 311 F.3d 1288, 1295 (11th Cir.2002).

Section 2254(d) permits federal habeas relief only where the state courts' decisions were (1) "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States," or (2) "based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2); Stewart, 476 F.3d at 1208.2 "[A] determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct," and "[t]he applicant shall have the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Henyard v. McDonough, 459 F.3d 1217, 1240 (11th Cir.2006), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1818, 167 L.Ed.2d 328 (2007); Marquard v. Sec'y for the Dep't of Corr., 429 F.3d 1278, 1303 (11th Cir.2005). Thus, "[o]ur review of findings of fact by the state court is even more deferential than under a clearly erroneous standard of review." Stephens v. Hall, 407 F.3d 1195, 1201 (11th Cir.2005).

With these highly deferential standards in mind, we turn to Wood's Atkins, Batson, and ineffective assistance claims, in that order.

III. Atkins

We agree with the district court that the Alabama courts' rejection of Wood's mental retardation claim was not contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Atkins, or based on an unreasonable determination of the facts.

The Supreme Court in Atkins held that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the execution of mentally retarded persons. Atkins, 536 U.S. at 321, 122 S.Ct. at 2252. The Supreme Court left "`to the States the task of developing appropriate ways to enforce the [Atkins] constitutional restriction.'" Id. at 317, 122 S.Ct. at 2250 (brackets and citation omitted). As the Rule 32 court recognized, Alabama law provides that a defendant making an Atkins claim must establish three elements to show mental retardation: (1) significantly subaverage intellectual functioning (defined as an Intelligence Quotient ("IQ") of 70 or lower); (2) significant or substantial deficits in adaptive behavior; and (3) that both of the first two problems manifested themselves during the defendant's "developmental period" (before the defendant reached the age of eighteen). See Smith v. State, ___ So.2d ___, 2007 WL 1519869, 2007 Ala. LEXIS 91, at *19-21 (Ala. May 25, 2007); Ex parte Perkins, 851 So.2d 453, 456 (Ala.2002).

After three evidentiary hearings, the Rule 32 court applied this standard and found Wood is not mentally retarded because he does not have significant or substantial deficits in his adaptive functioning but instead has a high level of adaptive functioning.3 The Rule 32 court found Wood: (1) was able to obtain and maintain employment and had worked at several jobs for a lengthy amount of time, such as driving a forklift, driving motor vehicles, working in a factory, and operating heavy machinery and equipment in a dangerous work environment; (2) was able to function well independently and did not need the assistance of others to complete daily tasks; (3) managed his own money and always had money; (4) did not have problems communicating or getting his needs met verbally or through written language; (5) was able to plan and cook meals for himself and others; (6) could identify and resolve typical problems that might arise in everyday life (such as checking the fuse box if the lights went out in his house); (7) was always neat and clean in his appearance; (8) often drove himself out-of-state to visit relatives and for other reasons, and in fact was an automobile enthusiast who...

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