TELEGUZ v. ZOOK NO. 11-9 & NO. 14-2


Decided: November 30, 2015

The Fourth Circuit affirmed.

Ivan Teleguz (“Teleguz”) was convicted of capital murder for hire of his ex-girlfriend, and after his habeas corpus relief was granted due to the district court’s failure to fully inquire into his habeas petition, the district court conducted a full evidentiary hearing and denied his petition for writ of habeas corpus. Teleguz appealed.

After briefly delving into the underlying facts of the case and Teleguz’s habeas corpus efforts, the Court looked at Teleguz’s three categories of evidence in support of his Gateway Innocence claim, reviewed de novo. Teleguz claimed that the district court’s analysis was unsound and that its decision amounted to reversible error. The Court first determined that a gateway innocence claim must be supported by new reliable evidence, and that the new evidence must be considered along with the old evidence in considering the claim, and the district court must determine that the “totality of the evidence would prevent an reasonable juror from finding him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, such that his incarceration is a miscarriage of justice;” only after clearing this high hurdle would the district court then be able to reach the merits of the claim. The Court then looked at the three categories of evidence Teleguz presented to see if they met that hurdle. As to the testimony that the two key witnesses recanted, one of whom claimed he was coerced into testifying by the prosecution, the Court was unpersuaded, agreeing with the district court in finding their testimony unreliable as it was provided only by affidavits and not by in-person testimony, and was at odds with the in-person testimony of the government witnesses. As to Hetrick’s testimony, the Court again refused to disturb the district court’s finding that his testimony was credible, as the district court had a full opportunity to observe his testimony. The next category of evidence, whether or not Teleguz attended a birthday party in which he allegedly hired his ex-girlfriend’s killer, the Court agreed with the district court that the affidavits presented were not reliable, and in fact may have had their integrity called into question by one of the affiants. Finally, as to the category of evidence that a Pennsylvania murder that was alluded to during the trial never occurred, the Court agreed with the district court that such evidence simply failed to satisfy the requirements necessary to support a gateway innocence claim, because the Court said that the issue had no bearing on whether or not Teleguz was innocent of the murder that took place in Virginia. Furthermore, when the Court compared Teleguz’s case to the House case, it found that Teleguz’s case simply did not rise to the “rare” or “extraordinary” case in which it was “more likely than not that no reasonable jury would have convicted Teleguz.”

As to Teleguz’s argument about the Pennsylvania murder, although the Court acknowledged that the district court erred when it said that Teleguz failed to preserve his Martinez claim with respect to that Pennsylvania argument, the district court’s rejection of Teleguz’s Martinez claim was not a fatal error. Teleguz, under Martinez, had to show that there was a substantial ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim, such that counsel “made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the counsel guaranteed,” and the Court, after looking at the record and the instances in which the potential Pennsylvania murder was mentioned, rejected Teleguz’s argument. The Fourth Circuit therefore affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Teleguz’s petition.

Full Opinion

Jennie Rischbieter

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