Friday, January 8, 2010

Eleventh Circuit Reinstates Death Sentence-Reverses Grant Of Habeas Relief

In Boyd v. Allen (07-14908), a divided pane of the Eleventh Circuit released a 88 page published opinion reversing the district court's decsion granting habeas relief and reinstated the sentence of death for William Glenn Boyd.  The underlying crime was described by the court as:
The brutal facts surrounding the kidnaping, robbery, and murder of Fred and Evelyn Blackmon are these. The Blackmons disappeared from their home in Anniston, Alabama, on March 26, 1986. Between 9:30 and 10:00 a.m. that morning, Mr. Blackmon, accompanied by a slender white male with long dark hair, cashed a $5,000 check at the drive-in window of an Anniston branch of the First Alabama Bank, where Mr. Blackmon maintained an account. At around 9:00 p.m. that night, Julie Greenwood, petitioner Boyd’s ex-girlfriend and Evelyn Blackmon’s twenty-year-old daughter, returned to the Blackmons’ house, where she lived, only to discover that Fred and Evelyn Blackmon were missing, along with their black Cadillac Eldorado. Two days later, Julie and her father, Wayne Greenwood, filed a missing person’s report with the Anniston Police Department.  The Blackmons were never seen alive again.
With regard to the habeas relief, the opinion indicates the district court entered a 198 page order denying habeas relief.  The order denying relief can be viewed HERE.  "On December 22, 2004, Boyd moved the district court to alter or amend the judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e). Almost three years later, the district court granted in part and denied in part Boyd’s Rule 59(e) motion."  The order granting the motion to amend can be viewed HERE. With regard to the district court's order, the Eleventh Circuit stated:
The district court granted relief on Boyd’s claim that his trial counsel were constitutionally ineffective during the penalty phase of the trial, holding that trial counsel performed deficiently when they failed to conduct a reasonable investigation of mitigating evidence, particularly concerning his childhood, and, thereafter, failed to present this evidence to the jury and the sentencing judge.
The majority stated:
In reaching our decision, we realize that the jury recommended a life sentence for Boyd, and that prejudice “is more easily shown” in jury override cases.....In light of the brutal nature of these crimes and the specific findings made by the trial court that sentenced Boyd to death, we find no reasonable probability that the mitigating circumstances gathered and presented in connection with Boyd’s state habeas proceedings would have altered the balance of aggravating and mitigating factors in this case and changed the outcome of the sentencing proceedings. Although it is always possible that evidence of Boyd’s childhood could have caused a sentencing judge to impose a sentence of life rather than death, we cannot honestly find that “there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel’s unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688. Thus, on this record, we conclude that Boyd has failed to establish Strickland prejudice, and in turn, has failed to establish that he received ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase of his trial. See id. at 697. The state habeas courts properly denied relief on this ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim.
Judge Marcus wrote the opinion for the majority and was joined by Judge Birch.  Judge Barkett wrote the dissent.  Judge Barkett stated:
I concur in the majority’s opinion except for its conclusion that counsel’s failure to investigate and present at sentencing the horrific details of Boyd’s background did not prejudice Boyd under Strickland....Importantly, this court has held that in a jury override case, prejudice is “more easily shown.”....On this record, where the trial judge overrode the jury’s recommendation of a life sentence, there is without question a “reasonable probability” that, had counsel presented the wealth of testimony adduced at Boyd’s state habeas proceedings regarding Boyd’s turbulent and abusive childhood, such evidence would have altered the balance of aggravating and mitigating factors relied upon by the trial judge in overriding the jury’s sentence....In the recent case of Porter v. McCollum, 558 U.S. __, 130 S. Ct. 447, 454 (2009), the Supreme Court reversed this court’s judgment that, among other things, petitioner Porter had not established prejudice under Strickland arising out of his counsel’s failure to present evidence of his background to the jury or the trial court.


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