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Webster v. Lockett

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

August 31, 2018



          Hon. William T. Lawrence, Judge

         This 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural Background

         On 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).

         Webster 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).

         On 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.

         The 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.

         The Seventh Circuit described the relevant Social Security records:

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 involved.
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 wanted them.”
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.

         B. The Hearing

         Two witnesses testified at the hearing: Larry Moore, Webster's lead trial attorney; and Kristin LeRoux, who lead the paralegal team for Dorsey & Whitney LLP (“Dorsey”), ...

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