United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
ENTRY DENYING MOTION FOR RELIEF PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C.
§ 2255 AND DENYING CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY
Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge
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.
The § 2255 Motion
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.
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].
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.
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
Mr. Bell and Mr. Dixon were both convicted. Mr. Bell was
sentenced to a mandatory lifetime term of imprisonment. Crim.
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.
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
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