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Eric John King v. Ernest Trujillo


March 28, 2011


Per curiam.



Before: Alex Kozinski, Chief Judge, Andrew J. Kleinfeld, and Richard C. Tallman, Circuit Judges.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2244(b)(3) of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Eric John King, an Arizona prisoner on death row, requests permission to file a second or successive application for a writ of habeas corpus in the District of Arizona. Additionally, he asks that we stay his execution, currently scheduled for March 29, 2011. We deny both requests.


King was convicted in Arizona state court on September 5, 1990, for the December 27, 1989, armed robbery and murders of Ron Barman, a convenience-store clerk, and Richard Butts, the store's security guard.*fn1 He was sentenced to death on March 4, 1991. Since then, he has filed numerous state and federal appeals in an attempt to have both his conviction and sentence set aside. None have been successful. On February 8, 2011, the Arizona Supreme Court granted the State's motion for a warrant of execution. The warrant authorizes the State to execute King at 10 a.m. on March 29, 2011, and is valid for twenty-four hours.

The Maricopa County Superior Court dismissed King's fourth petition for post-conviction relief on February 8, 2011.*fn2

In this petition, King argued that the recording*fn3 of the crimes by the store's time-lapse cameras, which the State prosecutors used to create some of the exhibits ultimately introduced at trial-namely, still photos and an edited compilation of the recorded images-was not the original recording, but a copy. King thus claimed that he was convicted on false testimony- not because the "copy" did not fairly and accurately depict the events that occurred, but because one of the prosecution's witnesses might have inaccurately testified that the tape identified as Exhibit 1, but never admitted into evidence, was the original. He argued that this is newly discovered evidence and that, absent the witness's false testimony, he could not have been convicted. The Superior Court concluded that King's claim was procedurally barred and, alternatively, failed on the merits. On March 15, 2011, the Arizona Supreme Court summarily denied his petition for review.*fn4

On March 23, 2011, the Superior Court likewise denied King's fifth petition for post-conviction relief as procedurally barred.*fn5 In that petition, King again argued that he had been convicted on false testimony-specifically, the testimony of Michael Jones, who had been with King on the night of the murders, and who was a witness for the prosecution at King's trial. King attached a March 7, 2011, "recantation" affidavit from Jones, who stated that he was so intoxicated on the night of the murders that he had no memory of the events of that day and remembered only waking up in jail the following morning.*fn6 Like the arguments in his fourth state petition for post-conviction relief, King claims that Jones's lack of memory is newly discovered evidence showing actual innocence. The Arizona Supreme Court denied King's petition for review on March 28, 2011.*fn7

King now seeks to relitigate these same issues in federal court. Because we have previously considered and denied habeas claims brought by King, he asks us to grant him leave to file a second or successive petition in the district court.*fn8


We begin, as always, with the statutory text. To be entitled to an order authorizing the district court to consider his second or successive petition, King must "make[ ] a prima facie showing that [his] application satisfies the requirements of this subsection."*fn9 In that regard, § 2244(b) provides: (2) A claim presented in a second or successive habeas corpus application under section 2254 that was not presented in a prior application shall be dismissed unless-

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

(B)(i) the factual predicate for the claim could not have been discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence; and

(ii) the facts underlying the claim, if proven and viewed in light of the evidence as a whole, would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that, but for constitutional error, no reasonable fact-finder would have found the applicant guilty of the underlying offense.

However, § 2244(b)(2) is not the exclusive standard. In extremely limited situations, the standard for establishing "actual innocence," which that section has been interpreted to require, may differ.*fn10 Recently, we have recognized that a Brady v. Maryland*fn11 violation claim in a habeas petition may not be subject to the "clear and convincing standard," provided the newly discovered evidence supporting the claim was "material" under Brady.*fn12 Because we find that King's claims do not fit within this narrow exception, we adhere to our precedent and evaluate his showing of actual innocence for clear and convincing evidence.

In sum, King must make a prima facie showing to us that his claim (1) is based on newly discovered evidence and (2) establishes that he is actually innocent of the crimes alleged.*fn13

This is no easy task. Rather, "[f]ew applications to file second or successive petitions . . . survive these substantive and procedural barriers."*fn14 After reviewing the entire record, we conclude that King has not met his heavy burden.*fn15 He is therefore not entitled to the relief he seeks.

I. Jones's Affidavit

King asserts that Jones's affidavit establishes that Jones gave false testimony at trial when he said that, after hearing shots fired, he saw King leaving the convenience store with a gun in his hand. King claims that the prosecutor knowingly presented this false testimony by "pushing" Jones to implicate King on the stand.*fn16 To the extent that King argues that the prosecutor violated his constitutional rights under Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959), or Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), this assertion is entirely without merit.

Before proceeding to address whether a prima facie showing of due diligence and actual innocence has been made, we must question whether King has even raised a non-frivolous claim. Though King attempts to couch Jones's affidavit as newly discovered evidence, it is no such thing. The record clearly demonstrates that Jones's claimed intoxication and lack of memory was apparent to the prosecution, the defense, and the jury at the trial. Jones "repeatedly stated during his trial testimony that due to intoxication he had virtually no memory of the night in question."*fn17

Also, the record demonstrates that even prior to trial, the defense was aware of Jones's claimed lack of memory:

As [defense] counsel had expected, Jones claimed memory problems. When he was asked which direction he was going when the policeman stopped him half a block from the convenience store, he said, "I don't actually remember," and when asked whether he was coming back from the convenience store, he said, "I really don't know. I was very intoxicated at the time."*fn18

In fact, based on the defense's anticipation of Jones's professed lack of memory, defense counsel moved to preclude the introduction by the prosecution of prior statements implicating King that Jones had made to Detective Armando Sal-date of the Phoenix Police Department. Because the trial judge found that Jones's memory loss was feigned, however, the prosecutor impeached Jones with his prior inconsistent statements and "got Jones to admit . . . what he had previously told the police officer."*fn19

That same factual finding by the trial judge provides yet another independent basis for denying King's claim outright: it directly refutes the very basis of King's claim. The state courts have already made a factual determination that Jones was lying when he said he had no memory, not when he was "remembering" the events that occurred.*fn20 This finding is enti- tled to a presumption of correctness under AEDPA,*fn21 and King does not present clear and convincing evidence to overcome this presumption. Instead, he simply presents an affidavit that repeats exactly the same testimonial statements that the trial judge expressly declined to credit. Given that we must adhere to the trial judge's factual findings, we find no basis in Jones's "new" testimony on which King can stake a constitutional claim.

Of course, even were we to strain to find that King's habeas application raises even a cognizable claim on the issue of Jones's affidavit, we would still be required to deny King's application under § 2244(b)(2)(B). King fails to make a prima facie showing that he could not previously have discovered Jones's lack of memory of the night of the murders because the "new" statements presented in Jones's affidavit are essentially no different from those made at trial over twenty years ago. Thus, Jones's "recantation" is not a new factual predicate at all. Rather, it is the same claim that has been litigated and argued over for more than two decades.*fn22 We therefore cannot fit Jones's affidavit of March 7, 2011, into § 2244(b)'s requirement that "the factual predicate for [King's] claim could not have been discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence."*fn23

Likewise, we would also deny King's application for failing to make a sufficient showing of actual innocence. Certainly, given the preceding discussion, it is clear that the claimed nondisclosure in no way amounts to a material Brady violation. Therefore, we must assess whether the Jones affidavit "would be sufficient to establish by clear and convincing evidence that . . . no reasonable factfinder would have found [King] guilty of the underlying offense."*fn24

In that regard, even if Jones had been permitted to testify as to his lack of memory without being impeached by his prior inconsistent statements and without being pushed into "remembering" his prior statements, substantial evidence from other sources, including eyewitnesses and security camera images, implicated King as the murderer. As we described more fully in our prior denial of King's first habeas petition, security camera pictures from the store showed a man in a distinctively patterned sweater shooting the store clerk.*fn25 Several witnesses described seeing a man near the store immediately before and after the shootings who fit King's description and who was wearing the same distinctive sweater, including some who saw the man wipe off the belt and empty holster of the mortally wounded security guard.*fn26 After the murders, another close acquaintance of King saw him throw a bag containing a gun and that same distinctively patterned sweater into a dumpster.*fn27 Given this body of incriminating evidence, we are convinced that even if we agreed that Jones's testimony was false, King cannot make a prima facie showing that he is actually innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted.

Because Jones's lack of memory neither shows that King is actually innocent nor negates the impact of the substantial other evidence against him, we must deny King's application.

II. The "Copied" Recording

Again, we first consider whether "the factual predicate for the claim could not have been discovered previously through the exercise of due diligence."*fn28 To that end, we recognize that the Maricopa County Superior Court made a specific factual finding that the recording at issue "existed at trial and [King] had an opportunity to examine it at that time."*fn29

Absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary, that finding is presumed correct.*fn30 King must therefore not only account for the more than twenty-year lapse in its discovery, he must also rebut the state court's finding. He falls short.

In his petition, King states that he "exercised diligence after the Federal Public Defender was appointed to represent him in March 2009" and goes on to detail his efforts following that date. He offers no explanation, however, for the two decades preceding that appointment, other than to state that he was entitled to rely on the prosecutor's representations regarding the authenticity of the recording. This is not due diligence. King "would have learned of the new evidence had he exercised reasonable care."*fn31 His failure to exercise that care precludes relief.

Furthermore, even were we to credit King's diligence argument, he fails to establish a colorable claim of actual innocence.*fn32

His speculative assertion that his counsel "might also have interposed a new objection" to the introduction of exhibits derived from the recording (identified and marked as Exhibit 1 but never admitted into evidence) had he known that the recording was not the original is both unfounded and, more importantly, irrelevant as to King's actual innocence.

First, there was sworn testimony from the convenience store's security director that the images shown to the jury were fair and accurate representations of the images he saw on the surveillance camera recording when he reviewed it on the morning of the murders, in the presence of the police at the crime scene.*fn33 Thus, as the Arizona courts found, the exhibits seen by the jury would have been admissible whether or not Exhibit 1 was an original or a copy.

Second, the Supreme Court has made clear that " 'actual innocence' means factual innocence, not mere legal insufficiency."*fn34 In that regard, we note that King has not even alleged that the images admitted into evidence and presented to the jury were fabricated or otherwise inaccurate. As a result, even if King's claims regarding the recording being a copy were true, there is no basis for identifying any prejudice against him now. Copied images can be just as damning in front of a jury as originals, and duplicate copies of images or recordings can be introduced at trials without violating due process.*fn35

Moreover, as has been discussed, there were multiple eyewitnesses who specifically described a man matching King's distinctive description-both his physical appearance and his unique sweater-exiting the convenience store and wiping off the slain security guard's empty holster.*fn36 All of this evidence, taken "as a whole,"*fn37 points to no one else but King as the murderer. There is consequently no credible argument before us that convinces us that the "copied" images introduced at trial prove, or even relate to, King's "actual innocence."*fn38

Since King has not been able to demonstrate either due diligence or actual innocence as to any of his claims, we deny him permission to file a second or successive application for a writ of habeas corpus.*fn39 This denial is "not . . . appealable and shall not be the subject of a petition for rehearing or for a writ of certiorari."*fn40

III. King's Request for a Stay

Because we hold that King's second or successive application for a writ of habeas corpus "presents no substantial ground on which relief might be granted,"*fn41 there is no need for the district court to engage in any further investigation or factfinding. Accordingly, King's request for a stay is denied as moot.


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