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Fairley v. Brown

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

May 10, 2019

JOSHUA J. FAIRLEY, Petitioner,
v.
RICHARD BROWN, Warden of the Wabash Valley Correctional Facility, Respondent.

          ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR A WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS AND DENYING A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

          HON. WILLIAM T. LAWRENCE, SENIOR JUDGE

         Joshua J. Fairley, an inmate incarcerated in the Indiana Department of Correction, seeks a writ of habeas corpus by challenging his conviction from the Vanderburgh Circuit Court in Evansville, Indiana, case number 82C01-1008-MR-936. Respondent filed a return and also filed the state court transcripts and exhibits. Mr. Fairley did not file a reply. For the reasons explained in this Order, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is denied. The Court also determines that a Certificate of Appealability should not issue.

         I. Procedural History

         On August 4, 2010, Mr. Fairley was charged with the murder of sixteen-year-old H.G. in Vanderburgh County, Indiana. Public defender Dennis Vowels was appointed to represent him.

         Mr. Vowels negotiated a plea agreement with the State, and Mr. Fairley pled guilty to the murder charge. The trial court ordered a pre-sentence investigation. On March 17, 2011, Mr. Fairley was sentenced to fifty years incarceration. There was no direct appeal.

         On February 23, 2012, Mr. Fairley filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in the trial court. The Indiana State Public Defender entered an appearance for Mr. Fairley and filed an amended petition on April 29, 2016. An evidentiary hearing was held April 29, 2016. Mr. Vowels, Detective Spencer, Detective Sides, and Dr. Fred Unverzagt testified. The deposition of Dave Frank, Mr. Fairley's former employer, and the tape recording of Mr. Fairley's August 2, 2010 statement to police were admitted as evidence. On February 21, 2017, the trial court denied Mr. Fairley's petition. Dkt. 2-1, pp. 1-26 (findings of fact and conclusions of law).

         Still represented by the State Public Defender, Mr. Fairley appealed to the Indiana Court of Appeals. Mr. Fairley argued that (1) he had received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because (a) counsel failed to investigate Mr. Fairley's competency to plead guilty, and (b) trial counsel failed to file a motion to suppress the statement given to police; (2) his guilty plea was not knowingly and voluntarily made and there was an insufficient factual basis for the plea; and (3) he was denied due process of law when the trial court accepted his plea without first sua sponte investigating whether he was competent to stand trial.

         On December 29, 2017, the Court of Appeals held that the trial court did not clearly err in concluding that Mr. Vowels provided effective assistance of counsel, the trial court did not clearly err in denying the claim that Mr. Fairley's plea was not knowingly and voluntarily entered, and the trial court did not clearly err in failing to sua sponte investigate Mr. Fairley's competence. Dkt. 9-7.

         Mr. Fairley petitioned the Indiana Supreme Court to accept transfer of the case, presenting each of the claims presented to the Court of Appeals. On March 22, 2018, transfer was denied. On April 10, 2018, Mr. Fairley, proceeding pro se, filed his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Dkt. 1.

         II. Habeas Corpus Legal Standard

         A federal court may grant habeas relief only if the petitioner demonstrates that he is in custody “in violation of the Constitution or laws . . . of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”) directs how the Court must consider petitions for habeas relief under § 2254. “In considering habeas corpus petitions challenging state court convictions, [the Court's] review is governed (and greatly limited) by AEDPA.” Dassey v. Dittmann, 877 F.3d 297, 301 (7th Cir. 2017) (en banc) (citation and quotation marks omitted). “The standards in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) were designed to prevent federal habeas retrials and to ensure that state-court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under law.” Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         A federal habeas court cannot grant relief unless the state court's adjudication of a federal claim on the merits:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         “The decision federal courts look to is the last reasoned state-court decision to decide the merits of the case, even if the state's supreme court then denied discretionary review.” Dassey, 877 F.3d at 302. “Deciding whether a state court's decision ‘involved' an unreasonable application of federal law or ‘was based on' an unreasonable determination of fact requires the federal habeas court to train its attention on the particular reasons - both legal and factual - why state courts rejected a state prisoner's federal claims, and to give appropriate deference to that decision[.]” Wilson v. Sellers, 138 S.Ct. 1188, 1191-92 (2018) (citation and quotation marks omitted). “This is a straightforward inquiry when the last state court to decide a prisoner's federal claim explains its decision on the merits in a reasoned opinion.” Id. “In that case, a federal habeas court simply reviews the specific reasons given by the state court and defers to those reasons if they are reasonable.” Id.

         “For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), an unreasonable application of federal law is different from an incorrect application of federal law.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011). “A state court's determination that a claim lacks merit precludes federal habeas relief so long as fairminded jurists could disagree on the correctness of the state court's decision.” Id. “If this standard is difficult to meet, that is because it was meant to be.” Id. at 102. “The issue is not whether federal judges agree with the state court decision or even whether the state court decision was correct. The issue is whether the decision was unreasonably wrong under an objective standard.” Dassey, 877 F.3d at 302. “Put another way, [the Court] ask[s] whether the state court decision ‘was so lacking in justification that there was an error well understood and comprehended in existing law beyond any possibility for fairminded disagreement.'” Id. (quoting Richter, 562 U.S. at 103). “The bounds of a reasonable application depend on the nature of the relevant rule. The more general the rule, the more leeway courts have in reaching outcomes in case-by-case determinations.” Schmidt v. Foster, 911 F.3d 469, 477 (7th Cir. 2018) (en banc) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         III. Facts of the State Case

         Federal district court review of a habeas corpus petition presumes all factual findings of the state courts to be correct, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See Daniels v. Knight, 476 F.3d 426, 434 (7th Cir. 2007). The facts of Mr. Fairley's case, as taken from the Indiana Court of Appeals' decision on post-conviction appeal, are these:

On the night of June 23, 2010, Fairley was at his home in Evansville with Summer Jones. . . . Jones had previously been in a relationship with Fairley, and the two were in bed. At some point late that night or early the next morning, someone began to pound on the door and walls of Fairley's home. Jones figured that the person causing the commotion was Fairley's ex-girlfriend, as Fairley had told Jones that he had recently broken up with his girlfriend, and she was correct. Jones heard the sound of glass break and heard Fairley tell the ex-girlfriend, later identified as sixteen-year-old H.G., to leave. H.G. told the then thirty-year-old Fairley that she wanted to resume their relationship, but Fairley told her that their relationship was over because H.G. had indicated that she desired to have sex with another man. As Jones dressed and readied to leave the house, she saw H.G. attempt to enter the home through a window while Fairley was preventing her from doing so. Upon seeing Jones, H.G. stated, “Who you got in here? A sixteen year old? Is it a sixteen year old?” H.G. eventually entered the house, apparently through the door, and wanted to physically fight Jones. H.G. entered the kitchen where Jones was and lunged at her, but was restrained by Fairley, who told Jones to leave through the front door. Jones did not see H.G. with any weapons, but knew that her ire was directed toward Jones.
Jones left Fairley's home and walked to her father's house nearby, forgetting that her own vehicle was parked outside Fairley's home. She later woke her father up and asked him to drive her back to Fairley's home so that she could get her vehicle; she also wanted her father to be there in case H.G. was still at Fairley's house and tried to fight her. When Jones returned to her vehicle, she noticed that the passenger side window had been broken. Jones called the police to report the broken window, and an officer arrived and took a statement from her. The officer then went to Fairley's front porch and knocked on the door, but no one answered. The officer found a purse and wallet on the front porch, and found two pieces of identification. He showed them to Jones, who identified one of the pieces of identification as belonging to the girl she had seen enter Fairley's home, H.G. Jones then left to get her vehicle repaired.
Later that day, June 24, Fairley failed to show up to work at a local pizzeria. The owner of the establishment telephoned Fairley but got no answer. He then sent another employee to check on Fairley. This employee called back at around 5:00 p.m. and informed his boss that the front door was broken, a window was broken, and that he could see blood on the floor and a girl lying on the floor. The police were called to the scene and discovered H.G. lying dead on the floor with a gunshot wound to her head. They found Fairley in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. The bullet had entered under his chin and exited the top of his head. Miraculously, Fairley was still alive. Fairley was transported to a local hospital then taken to Wishard Hospital in Indianapolis. . . . .
Detective Jack Spencer . . . of the Evansville Police Department was lead investigator on the case. He, along with crime scene investigators, spent many hours going over the scene of the crime. They also learned that Jones had reported vandalism to her vehicle outside Fairley's house the morning of the day H.G. was found dead. The police transported Jones from her home across the Ohio River in Owensboro, Kentucky and interviewed her. Jones told them of the events of the night as recounted above.
During the investigation, the police found no evidence indicating the involvement of a third party in the shootings. Forensic evidence also ruled out the possibility of an accidental shooting, as H.G.'s body had no indication that she had held the gun. Instead, the police believed that Fairley and H.G. had gotten into an argument, that Fairley had shot H.G. in the head, and then shot himself.
On July 13, 2010, Detective Spencer and Detective Michael Sides . . . drove to Wishard Hospital to talk to Fairley. Although the police did not read Fairley his Miranda rights, Fairley was not communicative. Detective Spencer told Fairley that he would be charged with murder but did not arrest Fairley at the time.
That Fairley was non-communicative was not a surprise, as he had suffered a severe head wound and a brain injury. Fairley had to undergo several surgeries and medical procedures, including a frontal lobectomy, the removal of his left eye, and repair to his skull and jaw. Fairley was also sedated for a long period. But he began to receive physical and speech therapy in July 2010 and began to stabilize. Reports from mid-July indicate that Fairley suffered from somnolence. And a clinical specialist diagnosed Fairley in mid-July with dementia, disorientation as to place, and an inability to recall the names of family members and identify objects in the room. Later that month, Fairley was given a mental acuity test in which 30 is a perfect score; Fairley scored only 12. Fairley had difficulty following instructions and could not recall some of his own personal information, e.g., he could recall his date of birth, but not his age.
Indianapolis police contacted Detective Spencer in late July and informed him that the hospital was preparing to release Fairley. Detective Spencer spoke with one of Fairley's nurses, who informed him that Fairley had progressed mentally and physically but still suffered from problems with his memory. On August 2, 2010, Detectives Spencer and Sides drove to Indianapolis to take Fairley into custody and return him to Evansville. At the hospital, Detective Spencer asked Fairley where he was, what the date was, what was his date of birth, and who was the President of the United States. Fairley answered the questions about his whereabouts correctly. Although he could not remember the name of the current President, he did recall that he was African-American. When Detective Spencer asked Fairley if he knew why he was in the hospital, he replied that he did not. But Fairley then pointed to the wound on his chin and asked when it had occurred. Detective Spencer replied that he had hoped that Fairley could tell him about the gunshot wound. Detective Spencer also asked Fairley if he knew where H.G. was. Fairley responded that he thought she was in Evansville, but knew that he had not heard from her while in the hospital.
Detective Spencer's questioning of Fairley was summarized in his police report as follows:
I asked Fairley if he remembered the night [H.G.] came to his house while Summer Jones was there and he stated he did. Fairley stated that he and Summer were about to have sex when [H.G.] came over. Fairley stated he remembered that [H.G.] broke the window and eventually came in through the front door. Fairley told me that [H.G.] had a key to his house. Fairley stated that he told Summer to leave out the back door and also told [H.G.] to leave. Fairley stated that [H.G.] was angry because Summer was there and he thought she was going to beat up Summer. Fairley stated he held [H.G.] down on the floor so Summer could leave. Fairley stated he did not know what door she left out of. Fairley stated he could not remember anything after that. I told Fairley that [H.G.] had been shot and was dead. Fairley looked at me puzzled and told me that he had just seen her recently. I told Fairley that we believed based on evidence at the scene that he had shot [H.G.] and then shot himself and I needed to know why. Fairley stated he could not remember and never stated he did not shoot [H.G.] or himself.
Fairley was discharged and Det. Sides and I handcuffed Fairley and explained that he was under arrest for [H.G.]'s murder, and he was going back to Evansville with us. He stated he understood, but asked no questions of me. I asked no more questions of Fairley regarding the case until we left the hospital.
We stopped south of Terre Haute to get gas, and I took the opportunity to continue my questioning of Fairley. I retrieved two copies of the Miranda Waiver form and put one in his hand. I sat next to Fairley in the back seat and explained Miranda to him. He stated he understood what was said. I slowly read the form out loud and Fairley stated he understood his rights. He was unable to sign, due to the fact he was handcuffed to a leather belly belt, limiting his mobility.
I again went over the events of June 24, 2010 with Fairley, and it was digitally recorded. I showed a crime scene photo to Fairley of the front of the house and asked him if it looked familiar. He stated that it was his house. I showed another photo of a handgun lying on the carpet in a pool of blood. Fairley seemed taken back by the photo and stated that it was his gun. I asked Fairley about his relationship with [H.G.] and he stated he did not remember how they met, but they had been in a sexual relationship for at least a year. Fairley stated that Jeff Phillips and [H.G.]'s aunt Angie knew of the relationship and [H.G.] would come to his house often while she was supposed to staying at Angie's house. Fairley stated he thought [H.G.] was nineteen years old. I asked Fairley if anyone else was with [H.G.] when she came to his house that night Summer was there. He stated [H.G.] was alone, and he and Summer were alone until [H.G.] arrived. I asked Fairley if he saw [H.G.] with any weapon and he stated no. I asked Fairley if he had a sword collection and he stated he did. I asked him if he ever saw [H.G.] with one of his swords that night and he stated he did not remember her with one.
I asked Fairley about his gun and what type it was. He stated he believed it was a 9mm and he had bought it from Tony Mattingly some time ago. I asked him low long ago and he stated it probably was longer than one year. I asked Fairley where he kept his gun, and he stated that it was kept in a locked closet in his bedroom and he had the only key, which was kept on his keyring. Fairley stated he kept a loaded magazine in the gun, but not one in the chamber. I asked Fairley if [H.G.] knew he had a gun and he stated she did, but did not have access to it.
Detective Spencer later stated that, during this interview, Fairley had provided him with little information that he did not already know. On August 4, 2010, the State charged Fairley with murder.
In jail, Fairley's recovery continued. On August 5, 2010, he asked a jail officer if he could “go sweep, ” which he did not understand. Eventually, he understood that Fairley meant that he wanted to shower. Approximately one week later, a clinical social worker evaluated Fairley as part of the suicide watch procedure and noted that he was oriented as to the time and date. Fairley told the social worker that he did not recall shooting himself or H.G.

Dkt. 9-7, ¶¶ 3-12 (Ind.Ct.App. memorandum opinion) (internal record citations and footnote omitted).

         The Court of Appeals made other fact determinations, both as to the murder and to Mr. Fairley's trial court representation. Such facts will be discussed as necessary in the following sections of this Order.

         IV. Habeas Corpus Claims

         Three grounds for relief are presented in Mr. Fairley's petition, which the Court summarizes:

Ground One: Guilty plea was not knowing, intelligent, or voluntary.
Ground Two: Ineffective assistance of trial counsel.
Ground Three: Trial court's failure to evaluate his competency and hold a hearing.
Each of these grounds, and their sub-components, are discussed below.

         A. Mr. Fairley's guilty plea was not knowingly, intelligently, or voluntarily given in violation of his right to due process, “due course of law, ” equal protection, and privileges guaranteed by the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

         (1) Mr. Fairley's argument

         Mr. Fairley argues that he sustained a traumatic brain injury during the crime and was later unable to accurately recall the events that resulted in his being charged with murder. He argues that this raised an issue of competency. Mr. Fairley also argues that his statement to the police was taken in violation of his Miranda rights, see Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and was not challenged by his trial counsel, and had it been, the state's case would have been significantly weaker and he would not have pled guilty. Dkt. 2, p. 5.

         (2) Respondent's argument

         The respondent argues that Mr. Fairley did not present any federal constitutional claims to the Indiana courts concerning his guilty plea. Rather, he argues, Mr. Fairley challenged his guilty plea solely on state law grounds. Specifically, when Mr. Fairley argued that his guilty plea should not have been accepted because he had professed his innocence in a subsequent pre-sentence report, he cited only to state law and did not invoke federal constitutional law. Because Mr. Fairley did not fairly present his federal claim to the state courts, the respondent ...


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