Wrinkles v. Buss

Decision Date12 August 2008
Docket NumberNo. 05-2747.,05-2747.
Citation537 F.3d 804
PartiesMatthew E. WRINKLES, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Ed BUSS, Superintendent,<SMALL><SUP>1</SUP></SMALL> Respondent-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Joseph M. Cleary, Hammerle & Allen, Indianapolis, IN, Rhonda R. Long-Sharp (argued), Foster & Long-Sharp, Indianapolis, IN, for Petitioner-Appellant.

Andrew K. Kobe (argued), Office of Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, for Respondent-Appellee.

Before FLAUM, KANNE, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

KANNE, Circuit Judge.

This case is before the court on collateral review. In 1995, a Vanderburgh County, Indiana, Circuit Court jury convicted Matthew Wrinkles of murdering his wife, his wife's brother, and his sister-in-law. The jury recommended and Judge Richard L. Young imposed a death sentence. Wrinkles unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentence to the Indiana Supreme Court, and thereafter, Judge Carl Heldt of the Vanderburgh Circuit Court denied his request for post-conviction relief. Wrinkles then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Wrinkles argued that his constitutional rights were violated during the trial and sentencing proceedings because, pursuant to the Indiana trial judge's blanket policy of restraint, he was required to wear a stun belt that he alleges was visible to the jury.

Wrinkles was barred from raising a direct challenge to the constitutionality of the stun belt because he procedurally defaulted the claim in state court. Wrinkles instead claimed that he received ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), because his counsel failed to object to the imposition of the stun-belt restraint. With respect to the prejudice prong of Strickland, Wrinkles claimed that the jurors saw the stun belt, and that he presumptively suffered prejudice as a result. United States District Judge, John Daniel Tinder, concluded that Wrinkles could not demonstrate prejudice because the jury was not aware of the stun belt.

Wrinkles's habeas claim hinges on whether the jurors saw the stun belt during the trial and the sentencing proceedings. One passage in the Indiana Supreme Court's opinion—actually, one sentence—complicates our review. We ultimately conclude that the Indiana Supreme Court made no factual finding regarding the belt's visibility. The last state-court decision on point—the post-conviction court decision—holds that the jurors did not see the belt. We defer to that finding and agree with the district court that Wrinkles suffered no prejudice from his counsels' failure to object to the stun belt.

A. Factual history

By the spring of 1994, the marriage of Matthew and Debbie Wrinkles was coming to an end. On May 3, 1994, police were dispatched to the Wrinkles' home in response to a report of gunfire. Wrinkles told the responding officers that he and Debbie were having financial and marital problems and that he would kill Debbie if she ever left him. David Plemmons, a witness to the events, would later testify that Wrinkles pointed a gun at Debbie during the argument and the gun discharged when Debbie grabbed it. According to Plemmons, Wrinkles hid the gun when the police arrived, and Debbie and Plemmons "covered" for Wrinkles by lying to the police about the incident. The Indiana Supreme Court later characterized the Wrinkles' relationship as "stormy and often violent." Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1159 (Ind.1997) ("Wrinkles I"), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 861, 119 S.Ct. 148, 142 L.Ed.2d 121 (1998).

In June 1994, Debbie moved herself and the children—Lindsay, age thirteen, and Seth, age eight—to the home of Mark and Natalie Fulkerson, Debbie's brother and sister-in-law. This move marked the end of Wrinkles and Debbie's marriage, and Debbie filed for divorce on June 30. A few weeks later, on July 20, Wrinkles and Debbie attended a provisional divorce hearing, during which it was decided that Debbie would have custody of the children and Wrinkles would have visitation rights. Wrinkles and Debbie agreed to a meet at a fast-food restaurant later that day so that Wrinkles could see his children. But Debbie did not show that afternoon as scheduled.

Wrinkles had hit a low point in his life. He had a close relationship with his children and he believed that his estranged wife and her family were conspiring to deny him access to the children. In addition to his marital problems, the automotive-repair business that he ran out of his garage was failing. Several zoning complaints had been made against his business and he was forced to shut down. Wrinkles had also been dependent on methamphetamine for some time, and this dependence caused him to become easily agitated and paranoid. In addition to his mental and emotional decay, his drug use caused him to wither away physically. Wrinkles's addiction kept him from sleeping, except sporadically, and he lost sixty pounds in a three-month period.

Wrinkles's obvious decline had begun to terrify Debbie. Her friend would testify at trial that Debbie had become a "nervous wreck." Id. at 1159. She had begun to take "medication [and] every time she heard a noise she would jump cause she was scared. And . . . she had to sleep with a gun underneath her pillow [because] she was scared" of Wrinkles.

Debbie's failure to appear with the children at the fast-food restaurant on July 20 set into motion a tragic series of events. Wrinkles called to complain to his divorce attorney, who told Wrinkles that nothing could be done until the next day because the courts had already closed. Wrinkles then called the Fulkerson home to speak with Debbie, but she was not there. Debbie returned Wrinkles's call later that evening, but she did not get an answer. Eventually, Debbie and the rest of the Fulkerson household turned in for the night on July 20. Given the growing tension in their lives, it was an uneasy rest; both Mark Fulkerson and Debbie had guns with them in their bedrooms.

Wrinkles drove to the Fulkerson home at approximately 2:00 a.m. on July 21, and parked his truck about one block from the home. He was wearing camouflage clothing, had painted his face, and was armed with a .357 magnum revolver and a knife. He climbed over a fence into the Fulkersons' backyard. He cut the telephone wires and kicked in the back door, entering the home.

Wrinkles went down the hallway and into the Fulkersons' bedroom, where he shot Mark Fulkerson four times, killing him in front of his three-year-old son, Matthew. Debbie was awakened by the gunshots. She grabbed her gun and ran to the hallway where she confronted Wrinkles. She fired and hit him in the arm, knocking herself down in the process. At that point, Lindsay Wrinkles had also awakened and had come upon the confrontation between her parents. She saw that her father was about to shoot her mother and she "pleaded, `Dad, please don't shoot Mom.'" Wrinkles v. State, 749 N.E.2d 1179, 1186 (Ind.2001) ("Wrinkles II"), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 1019, 122 S.Ct. 1610, 152 L.Ed.2d 624 (2002). Wrinkles responded by telling Lindsay to "shut up," and then he promptly shot Debbie.

During the commotion, Natalie Fulkerson made her way to the living room and out the front door, in an attempt to flee. Wrinkles gave chase and caught Natalie on the front porch, shooting her in her face at close range. Natalie died on the porch. Wrinkles fled. The Fulkersons' ten-year-old daughter, Kimberly, and her 19-year-old cousin, Tracy, ran to neighbors' houses for help.

Wrinkles was arrested later that morning in a neighboring county and was charged with three counts of murder, pursuant to Ind.Code § 35-42-1-1(1), for knowingly killing his victims. The state filed notice of its intent to seek the death penalty on July 28, 1994. Under Indiana law, the state can seek the death penalty when a defendant commits multiple murders. Ind.Code § 35-50-2-9(b)(8).

B. Procedural history

Based on their pre-trial investigations, Wrinkles's attorneys' theory of his defense centered on the fact that, at the time of the crimes, Wrinkles was in the midst of a very difficult period in his life. The attorneys decided to stress the loss of Wrinkles's business, the break-up of his marriage, and his perception that Debbie and the Fulkersons were trying to keep his children from him. The defense argued that Wrinkles had broken into the Fulkersons' home with the intent of retrieving his children because he feared that he would never see them again—a paranoia magnified by his methamphetamine addiction. The paranoia was further enhanced when, according to Wrinkles, his victims confronted him with guns when he entered the home. Wrinkles also would cast Debbie as the aggressor in their confrontation in the hallway; he would testify that Debbie said, "Die, you bastard, die," when she shot him. Wrinkles I, 690 N.E.2d at 1159.

This strategy was necessary given the facts of the case. First, there was no dispute that Wrinkles had shot the three victims, and therefore Wrinkles's motivation for the shootings would be the primary issue at trial. And Wrinkles's state of mind would likewise be a significant issue for sentencing in terms of whether the death penalty or a lesser sentence was appropriate. In addition, the attorneys concluded that although Wrinkles's mental state might impact his culpability and sentence, the facts did not support an insanity defense. A neuropsychologist enlisted by Wrinkles's attorneys concluded that, while Wrinkles suffered from a Mixed Personality Disorder and a Delusional Disorder that became more intense during the weeks leading up to the shootings, and while Wrinkles's judgment was substantially impaired at the time of the shootings, he was nonetheless sane because he had known what he was doing and was able to conform his conduct to the requirements of the...

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