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Fields v. Blades

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 31, 2015

ZANE JACK FIELDS, Petitioner,
v.
RANDY BLADES, Warden, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court is a Second Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus filed by Petitioner Zane Jack Fields, an Idaho state prisoner under a sentence of death.

This case has been stayed multiple times as Petitioner has attempted to exhaust his habeas claims in state court. The threshold issue of procedural default was initially addressed over a decade ago, and merits briefing was undertaken thereafter; however, due to later developments in habeas corpus law and the filing of a Second Amended Petition, the case is now back at the procedural default phase.

The Court previously entered a Scheduling Order setting forth the process by which litigation of the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus would proceed. (Dkt. 263.) Pursuant to that Scheduling Order, Petitioner filed a Motion for Evidentiary Hearing to Excuse Procedural Default (Dkt. 275), asserting that any procedural default of his habeas claims should be excused pursuant to (1) the actual innocence exception to procedural default as set forth in Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298 (1995); or (2) the "cause and prejudice" exception to procedural default as set forth in Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722 (1991), and expanded by Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012), and Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911 (2013).

Having carefully reviewed the record, including the state court record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record and therefore concludes that oral argument is unnecessary. D. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 9.2(h)(5). Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order.

BACKGROUND

1. State Court Proceedings

At approximately 11:15 a.m. on February 11, 1988, Mary Catherine Vanderford[1] was stabbed to death during a robbery while she was working at the Wishing Well Gift Shop in Boise, Idaho. State v. Fields, 908 P.2d 1211, 1214 (Idaho 1995) ( Fields I ). In 1990, Petitioner was convicted of her murder. (State's Lodging A-2 at 104.)

A. Trial

The evidence against Petitioner included testimony from inmate witnesses who stated that Petitioner had confessed to the murder, and made otherwise incriminating statements, while charged with and serving a sentence for a different crime. The inmate informants who testified at Petitioner's trial were Scott Bianchi, Joe "Turkey" Heistand, and Jeff Acheson.[2] In addition, a witness who knew Petitioner from a previous stint in prison-Keith Edson-testified that he saw Petitioner entering the Wishing Well gift shop shortly before the murder.

Several other witnesses identified Petitioner as acting suspiciously in the Linda Vista Plaza-an area about a half-mile from the gift shop-about an hour-and-a-half after the murder, and two of these witnesses testified that Petitioner had a wooden-handled knife sticking out of his pocket. This evidence corroborated the testimony of Joe Heistand, who stated that Petitioner admitted to using an old hickory butcher's knife to kill Mrs. Vanderford. Fields I, 908 P.2d at 1214-15. ( See also State's Lodging A-41 at 1481-82.) There was no physical evidence introduced at Petitioner's trial, other than a few drops of blood on Petitioner's coat-which could not be confirmed as human and which the State has since acknowledged had no evidentiary value.

B. First Motion for a New Trial

Prior to sentencing, Petitioner moved for a new trial, presenting the testimony of Salvador Martinez, another inmate. Martinez, who allegedly had contact with some of the inmate informants prior to Petitioner's trial, testified at the evidentiary hearing on the motion for a new trial that several of the inmate snitch witnesses had recanted their testimony and admitted to Martinez that they lied about Petitioner's confession. (State's Lodging A-2 at 108-12; A-42 at 1716-44.)

Martinez testified that before trial Bianchi had stated he was going to testify falsely against Petitioner. According to Martinez, Bianchi later admitted that his testimony against Petitioner was a lie and that "all his statements to the Court and stuff, and to the trial, that they were all made up between these inmates, okay; which is all the inmates involved in this case." (State's Lodging A-42 at 1720.) Specifically, Martinez testified that Bianchi admitted that he and the other inmates "didn't know shit about [Petitioner's case]. Who cares? He killed an old lady so that automatically there kills him." ( Id. at 1727.) Martinez claimed Bianchi also said that he and the other testifying inmates had been "schooled" by the police on the details of the crime. ( Id. at 1727-28, 1732.)

Martinez also testified that Harold Gilcrist (who testified at the preliminary hearing but not at trial) had told Martinez that Gilcrist and Bianchi needed to "stick to the same story they had already told, " and that if they did not do so, "they're going to catch us for perjury and probably give us more time." ( Id. at 1728.) Martinez claimed that Gilcrist and Heistand told him they were trying to "get a deal with... the cops" by testifying against Petitioner. ( Id. at 1730-35.) According to Martinez, Heistand said that "everybody that heard about it wanted to get into the same boat." ( Id. at 1733.) Heistand allegedly told Martinez he had never even spoken directly with Petitioner. ( Id. )

In addition, Martinez testified that Gilcrist and Heistand informed him that "they had gotten a deal from the Prosecutor" or that "they were trying to get a deal with them still" for testifying against Petitioner. ( Id. at 1739.) Martinez allegedly told them, "Well, wait a minute. You already testified you don't have no deal with them." The inmates responded, "We're waiting to see if we can go through, but we can't say publicly he has to go through like parole procedures." ( Id. ) Martinez said he asked whether Gilcrist and Heistand had lied about Petitioner, and Heistand allegedly responded, "So what, we got what we wanted." ( Id. )

Bianchi and Heistand also testified at the hearing on Petitioner's motion for a new trial. Both inmates denied that they had made any statements to Salvador Martinez regarding their testimony against Petitioner, and they denied that police or prosecutors had fed them any information about the case. ( Id. at 1819-20; 1830-31, 1838-40.) Gilcrist testified as well, stating that he had never had any contact with Martinez and that he had "never seen the gentleman in [his] life." ( Id. at 1851.) Gilcrist also testified that police and prosecutors had told Gilcrist he would not receive any privileges for testifying against Petitioner at the preliminary hearing, but that they would try to ensure that Gilcrist kept the privileges he had already earned. ( Id. at 1857-58.) Acheson testified too, confirming that he had not been promised any benefits for his trial testimony against Petitioner. ( Id. at 1862-71.)

After the state court heard from all of these witnesses, it found that the testimony of Bianchi, Heistand, Gilcrist, and Acheson was credible, but that Martinez's testimony was not. (State's Lodging A-2 at 145-47.) The court denied the motion for a new trial and sentenced Petitioner to death. ( Id. at 164-77.)

C. Initial Postconviction Petition, Second Motion for a New Trial, and Unified Direct and Initial Postconviction Appellate Proceedings

Petitioner filed a direct appeal, which was stayed in accordance with Idaho's special unified postconviction and appellate procedures applicable solely to capital cases. See generally Idaho Code § 19-2719. While his direct appeal was stayed, Petitioner filed an initial state postconviction action, alleging violations of the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. (State's Lodging A-2 at 197-203, 218-19.) The state court denied relief. ( Id. at 226-35.)

Petitioner filed another motion for a new trial in the postconviction proceeding, again asserting, with additional evidence, that inmate informant Scott Bianchi had recanted his trial testimony. (State's Lodging A-3 at 7-8.) The state district court held another evidentiary hearing. Inmate Kevin Amerson testified that Bianchi informed him Bianchi had been "schooled a little" on what to say at Petitioner's trial and that one of the prosecutors had promised Bianchi benefits for testifying. (State's Lodging A-44 at 49, 50-51.) Bianchi also supposedly told Amerson that Bianchi had committed perjury at Petitioner's trial. ( Id. at 52.). Inmate Gary Marquess testified that Bianchi admitted to going over Petitioner's case file with Detective Dave Smith and that Bianchi said he felt bad for committing perjury against Petitioner. ( Id. at 70-73.)

For his part, Bianchi admitted at the evidentiary hearing that he had told "pretty much whoever... would listen, " including Petitioner's counsel and Petitioner himself, that Bianchi had committed perjury at Petitioner's trial. ( Id. at 10.) Bianchi went on to testify, however, that his recantations were false, that he had told the truth when he testified against Petitioner, and that he had never been shown the police file. ( Id. at 10-14.) Bianchi explained that he had falsely recanted his trial testimony because he had been threatened by other inmates, and Petitioner led him to believe that these threats would stop if Bianchi recanted. ( Id. at 26-27.)

The state court found that Bianchi's testimony at trial and during postconviction proceedings was "true in those respects that are material." (State's Lodging A-3 at 60.) Though there were a few discrepancies between what postconviction counsel and Bianchi remembered about their conversation, the court found that these were mere differences in perception and memory. ( Id. ) The state court noted that Bianchi had never recanted his trial testimony under oath, but that all of his statements that he lied at Petitioner's trial or that he was fed information by the police were made outside of court: "When testifying under oath [Bianchi] has consistently maintained [that] his version of events at trial were true." ( Id. at 59-60.) The court found that Bianchi's explanation for his false recantations-that he believed he would be safer if he recanted-"is believable and believed by this court." ( Id. at 60.)

Petitioner appealed. In the consolidated direct appeal and initial postconviction appellate proceedings, the Idaho Supreme Court upheld Petitioner's conviction and sentence and rejected the claims in his initial postconviction petition. Fields I, 908 P.2d at 1225.

D. Second Postconviction Petition

Petitioner later filed a second postconviction petition in the state district court. (State's Lodging C-57 at 4-54.) Petitioner claimed, among other things, that his direct appeal and initial postconviction counsel operated under a conflict of interest. ( Id. at 10-12.) The trial court dismissed the petition, and the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. Fields v. State, 17 P.3d 230, 232 (Idaho 2000) ( Fields II ).

E. Third Postconviction Petition

In June 2002, Petitioner filed a third state postconviction petition, requesting DNA testing of several pieces of evidence. (State's Lodging G-87 at 7-14.) Petitioner was eventually excluded as a contributor of (1) DNA found under Mrs. Vanderford's fingernails, and (2) hairs recovered from her clothing. This third postconviction petition also included an affidavit from inmate informant Jeff Acheson, alleging that he was fed information by the authorities to support his trial testimony that Petitioner made incriminating statements to Acheson.

The state district court determined that there was nothing but speculation that the DNA under the victim's fingernails actually came from the murderer; therefore, Petitioner had not met the standards for successive postconviction relief under state law. (State's Lodging G-88 at 259-60.) The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed, holding that DNA results might justify a successive application for postconviction relief if there were "admissible evidence showing that the material tested came from the person who committed the crime, " but there was no such evidence in Petitioner's case. Fields v. State, 253 P.3d 692, 698 (Idaho 2011) ( Fields IV ). The court also held that Acheson's affidavit was merely impeaching and therefore could not support a successive petition for postconviction relief under Idaho law. ( Id. at 699.)

F. Fourth Postconviction Petition

Petitioner filed a fourth postconviction petition based on the United States Supreme Court's decision in Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002). The state courts denied relief because Ring, which held that juries rather than judges must determine the presence or absence of aggravating factors necessary to impose the death penalty, did not, under Idaho law, apply retroactively to cases that became final before Ring was decided. Fields v. State, 234 P.3d 723, 725 (Idaho 2010) ( Fields III ); see also Schriro v. Summerlin, 542 U.S. 348, 358 (2004) (holding that Ring does not apply retroactively under federal law).

G. Fifth Postconviction Petition

In October 2010, Petitioner filed a fifth state postconviction petition based on a police detective's destruction of Petitioner's orange camouflage coat-the coat Petitioner was wearing when his former cellmate, Keith Edson, saw him entering the Wishing Well shortly before the murder. (State's Lodging I-114 at 10-18.) The state district court denied relief, holding that the coat was not material evidence, because photos of the coat remained in evidence, and that Petitioner suffered no prejudice from the coat's destruction. ( Id. at 193-94.) The Idaho Supreme Court affirmed on a different ground: that the postconviction petition regarding the destruction of the coat was not timely filed. Fields v. State, 298 P.3d 241, 244-45 (Idaho 2013) ( Fields V ). Neither court addressed the question whether the coat was destroyed inadvertently or in bad faith.

H. Sixth Postconviction Petition

Petitioner's sixth and final state postconviction petition was filed in July 2011. Petitioner presented an affidavit of Howard Gilcrist, who testified against Petitioner at the preliminary hearing (but not at trial). Gilcrist's affidavit stated that his preliminary hearing testimony was false, that Petitioner did not confess to Gilcrist as Gilcrist had previously testified, and that the police fed Gilcrist information about the crime to allow him to report Petitioner's confession. (State's Lodging K-121.) This sixth petition was dismissed as procedurally barred, and the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. Fields v. State, 314 P.3d 587, 590-93 (Idaho 2013) ( Fields VI ).

2. Federal Proceedings

As noted previously, Petitioner's federal habeas case has been stayed and reopened more than once over the last two decades so Petitioner could exhaust his claims in state court. The Court previously determined that many of Petitioner's claims, as presented in his First Amended petition, were procedurally defaulted-including all of Petitioner's claims of ineffective assistance of counsel other than Claim 8 (which is based on trial counsel's alleged refusal to allow Petitioner to testify at trial). (Dkt. 109, 127.) Petitioner has reasserted his procedurally defaulted claims, and added some entirely new claims, in the Second Amended Petition. Petitioner now moves for an evidentiary hearing to excuse the procedural default of those claims.

AMENDMENT OF SCHEDULING PLAN

Substantial changes in habeas corpus law and procedure have occurred since this Court last amended Local Civil Rule 9.2, which governs capital habeas corpus proceedings in the District of Idaho. Therefore, the Court will exercise its discretion to depart from the schedule set by that rule and by the Court's previous Scheduling Order, based on changes in the law and concerns of judicial efficiency and economy. See Loc. R. 9.2(a) ("The application of this rule may be modified by the judge to whom the petition is assigned.").

Currently, Local Rule 9.2 separates the adjudication of capital habeas corpus claims into a preliminary stage, where dismissal of claims based on procedural grounds may occur, and a final stage, where the merits of any remaining claims are decided. Each of these stages may include discovery and/or an evidentiary hearing.

Given changes in the law, however, the Court has determined that, rather than divide the remainder of this case into a procedural defenses stage and a merits stage (each with its own potential for discovery and evidentiary hearings), it is more appropriate to separate the case into a paper review stage and, if necessary, an evidentiary hearing stage. That is, the Court will separate these proceedings into stages based on whether an evidentiary hearing is necessary, resolving all claims (and procedural issues) that can be resolved without an evidentiary hearing before holding any evidentiary hearings. This seems like the most efficient way to address Petitioner's claims, given that the law has trended toward fewer opportunities for evidentiary hearings on the merits[3] and more opportunities for evidentiary hearings on procedural grounds.[4] Further, the United States Supreme Court has suggested that the merits of non-defaulted claims should be heard ahead of other claims where difficult procedural hurdles must be cleared before the merits of those other claims can be addressed. See Dretke v. Haley, 541 U.S. 386, 393-94 (2004) ("[A] federal court faced with allegations of actual innocence, whether of the sentence or of the crime charged, must first address all non-defaulted claims for comparable relief and other grounds for cause to excuse the procedural default.") (emphasis added).

If it appears that an evidentiary hearing might be required as to procedural issues or the merits, the Court will defer the decision on whether to hold such a hearing until after its paper review. For these reasons, the Court will first address any procedural issues with respect to the Second Amended Petition that it determines do not require an evidentiary hearing, followed by consideration of the merits of any claims for which an evidentiary hearing is not permitted or required. Then, if habeas relief is not warranted as to any of those claims, the Court will decide whether to hold evidentiary hearings on any remaining issues (procedural or merits-based) in this case. If further briefing is required on any issue, the Court will so notify the parties.[5]

PROCEDURAL DEFAULT STANDARD OF LAW

A habeas petitioner must exhaust his or her remedies in the state courts before a federal court can grant relief on constitutional claims. O'Sullivan v. Boerckel, 526 U.S. 838, 842 (1999). To do so, the petitioner must invoke one complete round of the state's established appellate review process, fairly presenting all constitutional claims to the state courts so that they have a full and fair opportunity to correct alleged constitutional errors at each level of appellate review. Id. at 845.

The mere similarity between a federal claim and a state law claim, without more, does not satisfy the requirement of fair presentation. See Duncan v. Henry, 513 U.S. 364, 365-66 (1995) (per curiam). General references in state court to "broad constitutional principles, such as due process, equal protection, [or] the right to a fair trial, " are likewise insufficient. See Hiivala v. Wood, 195 F.3d 1098, 1106 (9th Cir. 1999). The law is clear that, for proper exhaustion, a petitioner must bring his federal claim before the state court by "explicitly" citing the federal legal basis for his claim. Lyons v. Crawford, 232 F.3d 666, 669 (9th Cir. 2000), as amended, 247 F.3d 904 (9th Cir. 2001).

When a habeas petitioner has not fairly presented a constitutional claim to the highest state court, and it is clear that the state court would now refuse to consider it because of the state's procedural rules, the claim is said to be procedurally defaulted. Gray v. Netherland, 518 U.S. 152, 161-62 (1996). Procedurally defaulted claims include those within the following circumstances: (1) when a petitioner has completely failed to raise a claim before the Idaho courts; (2) when a petitioner has raised a claim, but has failed to fully and fairly present it as a federal claim to the Idaho courts; and (3) when the Idaho courts have rejected a claim on an adequate and independent state procedural ground. Id .; Baldwin v. Reese, 541 U.S. 27, 32 (2004); Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991).

If a petitioner's claim is procedurally defaulted, a federal district court cannot hear the merits of the claim unless the petitioner meets one of two exceptions: (1) a showing of actual innocence, which means that a miscarriage of justice will occur if the constitutional claim is not heard in federal court, Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 329 (1995); or (2) a showing of adequate legal cause for the default and prejudice arising from the default, Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488 (1986).

Neither a claim of cause and prejudice nor a Schlup actual innocence claim is an independent constitutional claim. Rather, these are federal procedural claims that, if sufficiently established by the petitioner, allow a federal court to consider the merits of an otherwise procedurally-defaulted constitutional claim.

DISCUSSION

1. The Court Will Deny Without Prejudice Petitioner's Request for an Evidentiary Hearing on Actual Innocence under Schlup v. Delo

The parties have fully briefed the Motion for Evidentiary Hearing, including Petitioner's argument that he is entitled to develop evidence supporting his Schlup gateway claim of actual innocence.[6] The Court finds that although substantial amounts of time and resources have already been spent briefing Petitioner's Schlup claim, it would be most efficient, economical, and consistent with the principles of federalism and comity to table that issue at this time.

The taxpayers would incur great expense if the Court were to determine that, based on Petitioner's Schlup claim, evidentiary hearings should be held in this case, potentially on all of Petitioner's defaulted claims, before the Court determines whether a non-defaulted claim might entitle Petitioner to habeas relief-in which case adjudication of Petitioner's Schlup claim would be unnecessary. Further, declining to address a difficult actual innocence issue-unless it cannot be avoided-is the preferred method of resolving the procedural default issue. See Dretke, 541 U.S. at 393-94. This is particularly so where, as here, the petitioner's actual innocence procedural claim is not obviously meritless. Additionally, a Schlup claim allows consideration of new evidence that the state courts never addressed, and a federal court should refrain from considering such evidence unless that consideration is both permitted and required.

"Success on the merits would give [Petitioner] all of the relief that he seeks, " and a Schlup determination and potential hearing would not be required if one of Petitioner's non-defaulted claims entitles him to relief. Id. at 394 (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, the Court will defer consideration of whether to hold a hearing on Petitioner's Schlup claim until after the Court has considered (1) the cause and prejudice exception to procedural default, and (2) the merits of Petitioner's non-defaulted claims (or the merits of any claim for which cause and prejudice exist to excuse procedural default). Petitioner's latest request for an evidentiary hearing on his Schlup claim will be denied without prejudice.

The Court will address in this Memorandum Decision and Order Petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing on whether cause and prejudice exist, under Martinez v. Ryan , to excuse the procedural default of Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claims. The Court will then address, in a later decision, the merits of any claims that are not defaulted (or are excused from procedural default). Finally, if Petitioner is not entitled to relief on the merits of any of those claims, the Court will allow Petitioner to renew his request for an evidentiary hearing to develop his Schlup gateway claim, and the Court will consider whether to allow further briefing on that issue at that time.[7]

The Court will now address Petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing regarding cause and prejudice under Martinez v. Ryan .

2. Petitioner Is Not Entitled to an Evidentiary Hearing To Establish Cause and Prejudice, under Martinez v. Ryan , To Excuse the Procedural Default of His Ineffective Assistance of Counsel Claims.

Petitioner argues that some of his procedurally defaulted ineffective assistance of counsel claims may properly be heard on the merits pursuant to Martinez v. Ryan . As noted above, a procedurally defaulted claim may be considered on the merits if a petitioner establishes cause and prejudice to excuse the default. Coleman, 501 U.S. at 750. "An evidentiary hearing is not necessary to allow a petitioner to show cause and prejudice if the court determines as a matter of law that he cannot satisfy the standard." Clark v. Lewis, 1 F.3d 814, 820 (9th Cir. 1993).

Because Petitioner cannot, as a matter of law, satisfy the Martinez standard for cause and prejudice, the Court will deny his request for an evidentiary hearing on that issue.

A. Cause and Prejudice Standard of Law

The parties agree, and the Court has determined based on its own review of habeas corpus law, that the state court's factual findings as to the reliability and credibility of the evidence presented in state postconviction proceedings are entitled to a presumption of correctness under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), even if they relate to a procedural default issue. (Dkt. 298 at 56; Dkt. 313 at 15); see also Sharpe v. Bell, 593 F.3d 372, 378 (4th Cir. 2010) ("While Section 2254(d) thus has no application in the context of [an exception to procedural default] because it pertains only to a claim that was adjudicated' in state court, Section 2254(e)(1) does come into play because it refers to the determination of a factual issue'-that is, to a state court's findings of fact, rather than its conclusions of federal law."). Therefore, any factual findings of the state court-even those relating to a procedural default issue such as cause and prejudice-are conclusive, unless Petitioner rebuts them by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

To show "cause" for a procedural default, a petitioner must ordinarily demonstrate that some objective factor external to the defense impeded his or his counsel's efforts to comply with the state procedural rule at issue. Murray, 477 U.S. at 488. To show "prejudice, " a petitioner generally bears "the burden of showing not merely that the errors [in his proceeding] constituted a possibility of prejudice, but that they worked to his actual and substantial disadvantage, infecting his entire [proceeding] with errors of constitutional dimension." United States v. Frady, 456 U.S. 152, 170 (1982).

A petitioner does not have a federal constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel during state postconviction proceedings. Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 554 (1987); Bonin v. Vasquez, 999 F.2d 425, 430 (9th Cir. 1993). As a result, the general rule is that any errors of counsel during a postconviction action ...


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