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Bell v. United States

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

May 25, 2017

WILLIAM BELL, Petitioner,
v.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Respondent.

          ENTRY DENYING MOTION FOR RELIEF PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 2255 AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         For the reasons explained in this Entry, the motion of William Bell (“Mr. Bell”) for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 must be denied and the action dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

         I. The § 2255 Motion

         Background

         In May 2013, while Mr. Bell was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana, a grand jury charged Mr. Bell with committing premeditated murder of another inmate, Brian Pendelton, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1111. Another inmate, co-defendant Lenard Dixon was charged with being an accessory after the fact to that murder, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 3. They were tried jointly before a jury the following year. Federal Community Defender, Attorney Michael J. Donahoe was appointed to represent Mr. Bell.

         During voir dire, the Court advised the jury that “[i]f at any time you realize you know something about the case, you know a witness or you know the Defendant, … you must inform the courtroom deputy at your earliest opportunity.” Crim. Dkt. #136');">136');">136');">136, p. 7 [sealed]. The Court emphasized the need to provide the defendant a fair trial and to ensure that the “people who are selected as jurors can keep an open mind throughout trial” and decide the case “based solely on the evidence that is presented” in the courtroom. Crim. Dkt. #136');">136');">136');">136, p. 8, 15 [sealed]. The Court read the names of potential witnesses in the case, including the name “Nurse T. Bixler, who works at the Bureau of Prisons.” Crim. Dkt. #136');">136');">136');">136, p.16 [sealed]. When the Court asked the prospective jurors if they knew any of the named witnesses, only Prospective Juror #21, who ultimately was not selected as a juror, stated he knew a witness. Crim. Dkt. #136');">136');">136');">136, p. 16 [sealed].

         Nurse Bixler testified the morning of the second day of the three day trial. Crim. Dkt. #139, p. 143. She testified that she performed an injury assessment of Mr. Bell three days after the murder and observed a one centimeter abrasion on the inside of Mr. Bell's lower lip. Crim. Dkt. #139, pp. 145-46. Nurse Bixler further testified that when asked how he got the abrasion, she believed Mr. Bell refused to answer. Crim. Dkt. #139, p. 148.

         During the lunch break, the Court was advised that Juror #1 was acquainted with Nurse Bixler. Crim. Dkt. #139, p. 165. In the presence of the parties and outside the presence of the other jurors, the Court questioned Juror #1 as to the nature of her relationship with Nurse Bixler. Crim. Dkt. #139, pp. 165-66. Juror #1 stated that she knows Nurse Bixler only because her husband has repaired Nurse Bixler's vehicles. She stated that she had called Nurse Bixler to advise her when the repairs were completed and the cost of the repairs. Crim. Dkt. #139, p. 166. Juror #1 confirmed that her relationship with Nurse Bixler did not affect her ability to be fair and impartial. Id. No party expressed concern or objected to continuing the trial with Juror #1 serving as a juror. Id.

         Ultimately Mr. Bell and Mr. Dixon were both convicted. Mr. Bell was sentenced to a mandatory lifetime term of imprisonment. Crim. Dkt. #116.

         With the assistance of Attorney Sara J. Varner, a different public defender than trial counsel, Mr. Bell appealed his conviction. His appeal was consolidated with Mr. Dixon's appeal. United States v. William Bell, et al., 819 F.3d 310 (7th Cir. 2016). On appeal, Mr. Bell challenged the trial court's decision to admit evidence concerning an inculpatory statement he made regarding Pendelton's murder. He also contended that the evidence was insufficient to establish that he premeditated Pendelton's murder. Bell, 819 F.3d at 313. On February 17, 2016, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Mr. Bell's challenges and affirmed his conviction. Id.

         On June 16, 2016, Mr. Bell filed his pro se second amended motion to vacate his conviction under 28 U.S.C. § 2255. Civ. Dkt. #10. The United States has responded and Mr. Bell has replied.

         Discussion

         A motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255 is the presumptive means by which a federal prisoner can challenge his conviction or sentence. See Davis v. United States, 417 U.S. 333, 343 (1974). Mr. Bell seeks relief arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to Juror #1's continued service at trial. Giving his motion to vacate a liberal reading, the Court construes his second claim as a challenge to the fact that there were no African-Americans on the panel from which the jury was selected.

         Ineffective ...


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