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GRAY v. ZOOK, No. 12-5

Decided: November 25, 2015

In a murder case, the Fourth Circuit found that the Supreme Court of Virginia considered the petitioner’s evidence, and did not make an unreasonable determination of facts under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) by resolving an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim without holding an evidentiary hearing.  The Fourth Circuit also found that the state court had already decided Gray’s ineffective-assistance claim, and thus he could not raise the claim in the District Court under Martinez v. Ryan.  On this basis, the Fourth Circuit affirmed the District Court’s holdings.  

During a 2006 home burglary, Gray violently murdered Mr. and Mrs. Harvey and their two young children.  The trial jury found Gray guilty of five counts of capital murder, and issued verdicts of life imprisonment on three counts, and death sentences for the childrens’ murders.  The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed.  Gray filed a state habeas corpus petition.  One of Gray’s claims was that his trial counsel did not sufficiently investigate his confession.  Gray alleged that he repeatedly asked police for an attorney and a phone call, but received neither, and that he told police that his drug use on the day of the murders left him with no memory of what happened.  The Supreme Court of Virginia dismissed all but one of Gray’s habeas claims.  In dismissing the insufficient investigation claim, the court found that Gray showed neither that counsel performed unreasonably, nor that counsel’s performance caused him prejudice.

Gray filed a federal habeas corpus petition alleging that the Supreme Court of Virginia’s dismissal of his ineffective investigation claim was an unreasonable determination of facts under AEDPA.  While Gray was awaiting the District Court’s ruling, the Supreme Court decided Martinez v. Ryan.  Martinez is an exception to the rule that state habeas counsel errors do not excuse procedural default.  Where state habeas counsel was ineffective, and an ineffective-assistance claim was procedurally defaulted in state court, Martinez allows federal courts to review the claim de novo.  Because Gray’s counsel represented him in both the state and federal habeas proceedings, there was a conflict of interest in arguing a Martinez claim.  Gray thus moved for appointment of new counsel, a motion denied by the District Court.  The District Court also denied Gray’s habeas petition finding that the procedures employed, including the lack of evidentiary hearing, were not per se unreasonable.  The District Court certified two questions to the Fourth Circuit.  The Fourth Circuit reserved the first question: whether dismissal of the ineffective investigation claim was based on unreasonable determination of facts.  On the second question, whether Martinez entitled Gray to appointment of new counsel, the Fourth Circuit found that Gray was entitled, and directed the District Court to appoint counsel to prepare a Martinez claim.  

Gray and his new counsel filed an amended federal habeas petition with several claims, one of which alleged that trial counsel was ineffective for not presenting evidence of Gray’s voluntary intoxication at the time of the burglary, and state habeas counsel was ineffective for not bringing the claim before the State Supreme Court.  The District Court again dismissed the petition, finding the claim had not been procedurally defaulted, and even if it had, it did not meet other elements of Martinez.  The District Court issued a certificate of appealability with respect to the penalty phase of his trial.  Gray appealed to the Fourth Circuit.  In regards the earlier reserved issue, Gray claimed that the Supreme Court of Virginia had ignored Gray’s evidence, and had dismissed his habeas petition without an evidentiary hearing, and that this amounted to an unreasonable determination of the facts.  Gray also claimed that his ineffective-assistance claim should have been allowed under Martinez.  

The Fourth Circuit first found that the Supreme Court of Virginia did not unreasonably determine the facts in dismissing Gray’s habeas petition.  Based on the record, the Fourth Circuit found that the Virginia court reviewed Gray’s evidence, but did not find it credible.  The Fourth Circuit further found that an evidentiary hearing is not always required.  In Gray’s case, the Fourth Circuit found that his allegations were conclusory, and strongly rebutted by other evidence.  Thus, an evidentiary hearing was not required before dismissing the habeas petition.

The Fourth Circuit next found that Gray’s ineffective-assistance claim was presented to the state court, and thus did not qualify under Martinez.  Although Gray may have strengthened the evidence supporting his ineffective-assistance claim, the Fourth Circuit found that the federal ineffective-assistance claim was essentially the same as the state ineffective investigation claim.

Judge Davis wrote a concurring/dissenting opinion.  He agreed with the dismissal of Gray’s Martinez claim, but dissented on the need for an evidentiary hearing.  Judge Davis felt the Supreme Court of Virginia gave too much weight to the affidavit of Gray’s trial counsel, did not allow Gray the opportunity to fully develop his claim, and did not fully consider Gray’s evidence.

Full Opinion

Katherine H. Flynn