United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division
ENTRY FOLLOWING HEARING OF JUNE 18, 2018
William T. Lawrence, Judge
cause is before the Court to determine whether Bruce Webster
has satisfied the savings clause of 28 U.S.C. § 2255,
entitling him to bring a petition under 28 U.S.C. §
2241. For the Court to so find, Webster must show that
certain evidence was unavailable to him at trial. The parties
have fully briefed the relevant issues and presented evidence
at a hearing. The Court, being duly advised, finds that
Webster has satisfied the savings clause.
November 4, 1994, Bruce Webster was indicted in the United
States District Court for the Northern District of Texas on
six counts, including kidnapping in which a death occurred in
violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1201(a)(1) and (2), and
other various noncapital offenses. Webster was convicted and
was sentenced to death on June 20, 1996. United States v.
Webster, 162 F.3d 308 (5th Cir. 1998).
filed his initial Motion to Vacate Conviction and Sentence
under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 on September 29, 2000. This
motion was subsequently amended and was denied in full on
September 20, 2003. Webster v. United States, No.
4:00-CV-1646, 2003 WL 23109787 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 30, 2003).
The Fifth Circuit rejected Webster's motion for relief
under section 2255, United States v. Webster, 421
F.3d 308 (5th Cir. 2005), and his application for an order
authorizing a successive 2255 proceeding, In re
Webster, 605 F.3d 256 (5th Cir. 2010).
April 6, 2012, Webster filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas
Corpus Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 in this Court,
challenging his death sentence based on what he argued was
previously unavailable evidence that establishes he is
mentally retarded and therefore ineligible for the death
penalty. On November 13, 2013, this Court issued an order
denying that petition. The Seventh Circuit affirmed this
Court's ruling on August 1, 2014. Webster v.
Caraway, 761 F.3d 764 (7th Cir. 2014). However, en banc
review was granted, and the en banc court reversed this
Court's decision and remanded for further proceedings.
Webster v. Daniels, 784 F.3d 1123 (7th Cir. 2015)
(en banc). Pursuant to the Seventh Circuit's directive,
this Court held a hearing on June 18, 2018.
purpose of the hearing was to allow Webster to present
evidence as to whether certain Social Security records were
unavailable to him and his counsel at the time of trial. The
Seventh Circuit instructed this Court to evaluate trial
counsel's diligence when considering that question.
Webster, 784 F.3d at 1146. The parties agree that
Webster must prove the unavailability of the Social Security
records by a preponderance of the evidence.
Seventh Circuit described the relevant Social Security
The newly produced records, which Webster's current
lawyers received on February 9, 2009, showed that Webster
applied for Social Security benefits based on a sinus
condition when he was 20 years old, approximately a year
before the crime. The agency's attention was evidently
quickly redirected to Webster's mental capacity. Two
psychologists and one physician examined him. On December 22,
1993, Dr. Charles Spellman, a psychologist, evaluated him for
the purpose of ascertaining his eligibility for Social
Security benefits. He noted that “[i]deation was sparse
and this appeared to be more of a function of his lower
cognitive ability than of any mental illness.” Dr.
Spellman also observed that Webster's intellectual
functioning was quite limited: he could not register three
objects (meaning that he could not remember three objects a
short time after they were shown to him); he could not do
simple calculations; and he did not know what common sayings
meant. With respect to adaptive functioning, Dr. Spellman
stated that Webster lived with his mother; that he watched
television, listened to the radio, and went walking; that he
did no chores around the house; and that he was idle both in
the house and on the streets. Taking into account both his
estimate that Webster's I.Q. was 69 or lower and his
assessment of adaptive functioning, Dr. Spellman concluded
that Webster was mentally retarded and antisocial. He found
no evidence of exaggeration or malingering.
A few months earlier, in October 1993, Dr. Edward Hackett
conducted a full-scale WAIS I.Q. test on Webster. He came up
with a verbal I.Q. of 71, a performance I.Q. of 49, and a
full-scale I.Q. of 59. He evaluated Webster as “mildly
retarded, but . . . also antisocial.” Pertinent to the
central question of adaptive functioning, Dr. Hackett noted
in a later report that “[Webster] was viewed as a
somewhat mild[ly] retarded con man, but very street wise. . .
. [H]e could not be functional in a community setting. . . .
He would also not function well in the work place.” Dr.
Hackett did not believe that Webster was capable of managing
his own benefits. He found Webster's behavior somewhat
bizarre. Finally, he commented that on the I.Q. tests,
Webster's performance was estimated to be lower than his
verbal score, and that some organic function might be
The last professional to examine Webster in conjunction with
the 1993 Social Security application was Dr. C.M.
Rittelmeyer, a physician. Dr. Rittelmeyer found Webster's
physical health to be fine, but he also had this to say:
“Mental retardation. Flat feet. Chronic sinus problems
and allergies by history.”
The Social Security records included an intriguing letter
that strongly suggested that Webster in fact had been in
special education classes. It was dated November 8, 1993, and
had been written by Lou Jackson, the Special Education
Supervisor for the school system Webster had attended, Watson
Chapel Schools. Jackson's letter explained that
Webster's special education records had been destroyed in
1988, after the family did not respond to a letter
“telling them they could have the records if they
The Social Security records also provide some direct evidence
about Webster's abilities. The form Webster completed,
for example, is rife with errors in syntax, spelling,
punctuation, grammar, and thought. In response to a question
asking him to describe his pain or other symptoms, Webster
wrote “it causEs mE to gEt up sEt Easily
hEadhurtsdiffiErnt of brEdth.” When asked about the
side effects of his medication, he wrote “Is lEEp
bEttEr.” When asked about his usual daily activities,
Webster wrote (consistently with the comments from his
teacher and employer) “I slEEps look at.
cartoon.” He reported that he “ain't got no
chang” in his condition since its onset.
Webster, 784 F.3d at 1133-34.
witnesses testified at the hearing: Larry Moore,
Webster's lead trial attorney; and Kristin LeRoux, who
lead the paralegal team for Dorsey & Whitney LLP