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Cutshaw v. Lewis

October 9, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Ronnie Greer United States District Judge



Allen Dale Cutshaw("Cutshaw" or "Petitioner") has filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [Court File No.2]. Virginia Lewis, ("Respondent") Warden of the facility where Petitioner is housed, has filed a response to Petitioner's petition for writ of habeas corpus, entitled Answer to Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus [Court File No. 9]. The Answer contains most of the elements required by Rule 5 of the Habeas Corpus Rules: it states whether Petitioner has exhausted state remedies; identifies what transcripts or other records of state proceedings are in existence; and supplies the transcripts and other portions of the record, including Petitioner's briefs on appeal and state court opinions. But it includes more: an argument that the petition must be dismissed because some claims have been procedurally defaulted and because the rest have been adjudicated in the state court followed by a decision which does not violate the standard set forth in § 2254(d) and Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). Thus, the case is ready to be resolved. [Court File No. 9].

On August 26, 1997, Petitioner was convicted by a jury of second-degree murder in the Criminal Court of Greene County, Tennessee. On September 26, 1997, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison to serve 100 percent of his sentence and was fined $25,000,00. He now petitions this Court for review of those convictions. He bases his effort for relief on ten claims of constitutional violations.

After considering the filings of Petitioner and Respondent, the record of the state proceedings, and the applicable law, the Court concludes Petitioner is not entitled to habeas corpus relief and will DISMISS this § 2254 petition [Court File No. 2].


A state criminal defendant may obtain federal habeas relief if he can demonstrate he is in custody pursuant to the judgment of a state court in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Under Rule 8 of the Rules Governing Section 2254 Proceedings in the United States Districts Courts, the Court is to determine, after a review of the entire record whether an evidentiary hearing is required. If a hearing is not required, the district judge may dispose of the case as justice dictates. After carefully reviewing the entire record, the Court finds it unnecessary to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Federal courts, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) which is a part of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), review decisions of the state courts. Generally, this statute limits a federal district court's jurisdiction to review habeas claims on the merits. In particular, a court considering a habeas claim must defer to any decision by a state court concerning that claim unless the state court's judgment (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)(1) and (2).

In reviewing a state court's adjudication of a habeas claim, the federal district court must presume the state court's factual determinations were correct. 28 U.S.C. 2254(e)(1). The petitioner may rebut this presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. Id. Credibility findings made by state courts are entitled to the presumption of correctness. McQueen v. Scroggy, 99 F.3d 1302, 1310 (6th Cir. 1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1257 (1997), overruled on other grounds by In re Abdur'Rahman, 392 F.3d 174 (6th Cir. 2004), judgment vacated by Bell v. Abdur'Rahman, 545 U.S. 1151 (2005); Smith v. Jago, 888 F.2d 399, 407 (6th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 495 U.S. 961 (1990).


On August 26, 1997, Petitioner was convicted of second-degree murder by a jury in the Criminal Court for Greene County, Tennessee. For that offense, he received a sentence of twenty-five years at 100 percent and a $25,000.00 fine. Petitioner filed a direct appeal to the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals. The appellate court affirmed the judgment on November 23, 1999, and the Tennessee Supreme Court denied further review. State of Tennessee v. Allen Dale Cutshaw, No. 03C01-9711-CC-00521, 1999 WL 1059720 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 23, 1999), perm. app. denied (Tenn. May 8, 2000). [Addendum No. 1].

On April 30, 2001, Petitioner filed a pro se petition for state post-conviction relief in state court (Addendum No. 8, at 4). The petition was denied by the trial court [Addendum No. 2, at 1]. On appeal the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed that judgment. See Cutshaw v. State, No. E2002-00438-CCA-R3-PC, 2003 WL 147025 (Tenn. Crim. App. Jan. 22, 2003), perm. app. denied (Tenn. June 30, 2003) [Addendum No. 2].

While Petitioner's application for permission to appeal the Court of Criminal Appeals judgment on the post-conviction petition was pending, the Petitioner filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis in the Greene County Criminal Court [Addendum No.5, at 1]. That petition was dismissed by the trial court, based on its conclusion that the motion was, in effect, a motion to reconsider issues that had been previously raised and decided and that none of the grounds could be raised properly in a writ of error coram nobis [Addendum No. 5, at 1]. The Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court, Cutshaw v. State, No. E2003-01021-CCA-R3-PC, 2004 WL 315133 (Tenn. Crim. App. Feb. 18, 2004), perm. app. denied, (Tenn. June 1, 2004) [Addendum No. 5], and Petitioner now brings this instant pro se habeas petition.


The facts will be taken from the appellate court's opinions on direct review and on post conviction-review. State v. Cutshaw, 1999 WL 1059720; Cutshaw v. State, 2003 WL 147025.

*** The Criminal Trial

The appellate court described the facts underlying Petitioner's conviction as follows:

The charges against the defendant resulted from a shooting incident which occurred during the early morning hours of December 14, 1996, on Arlie Waddell Road, near its intersection with Asheville Highway, in Greene County. Although the defendant did not testify during the trial, conflicting accounts from the eyewitnesses makes the true facts difficult to divine. Because the prior, hard feelings between the defendant and the victim presaged the shooting, we will review both the background as well as the shooting itself.

A. Background

A hostile relationship existed between the defendant and the victim for several years before the shooting. The defendant introduced testimony to show the victim had made threats of violence against the defendant in the past. Janice Partin, the defendant's stepsister, described an incident that occurred approximately five years before the shooting. According to Partin, the victim tried to "run down" the defendant with his car while the defendant was standing next to Partin's car in a local parking lot. the defendant's uncle, Jake Albert Reed, Jr., described a 1990 incident in which the victim tried to pick a fight with the defendant while the defendant was unable to defend himself due to injuries suffered in a car accident. The defendant's mother, Shirley Cutshaw Thomas, related the details of a fight in 1992 between the victim and the defendant on the road outside the defendant's home. The defendant's father broke up the fight and the victim ran away. The defendant's mother recovered a handgun from the scene after the victim left. Becky Griggs, a former girlfriend of the victim, stated the victim told her there would be a day that he would "kill the s-ob [speaking of the defendant]." In addition to the testimony of the above witnesses, the defendant introduced court documents showing a history of alcohol abuse and domestic violence by the victim against the victim's former wife.

B. The Shooting

Many of the facts surrounding the shooting are undisputed. Several hours before the shooting, the victim and the defendant engaged in a brief fight at the Starlite Club. After bouncers broke up the fight, Tim Drinnon, owner of the club, escorted the defendant outside. Drinnon heard someone say the victim wanted to meet the defendant somewhere, presumably to finish the fight. The defendant said "that's fine." In an attempt to prevent any further violence, Drinnon told the victim and the defendant two different locations at which to meet. Drinnon refused to allow the victim to leave the club until the defendant left the parking lot. Eventually, both men left the Starlite Club. Drinnon said the defendant came back to the club looking for the victim, but left when he discovered the victim was gone. It is at this point the details of the night's events begin to differ.

The State presented testimony which showed that the defendant, along with William Thomas Cooter, II, searched for the victim after the defendant was thrown out of the Starlite Club. Cooter met the defendant at the defendant's home, where the defendant put a loaded rifle in his truck. Cooter and the defendant started to go to the 321 Club to find the victim, but according to Cooter, the defendant told him, "Oh, heck with it. J.R. and them might be down there. It ain't worth it. Let's just go back home." On the way home, the two men stopped at the top of a hill on Arlie Waddell Road to talk to a man stopped on the road. The victim pulled in behind them. The victim got out of his vehicle and approached the defendant. As the victim approached, the defendant got the rifle from behind his truck seat. Cooter testified he told the defendant not to take the rifle, but the defendant said "he wasn't going to face him [the victim] without it as many times as J.R. had harassed him with guns." The defendant took the gun and walked away from the truck. According to Cooter, someone yelled to the victim, "He's got a gun." The victim then said, "Well, I've got something to take care of that." The victim continued to walk toward the defendant and, as Cooter described it, "made a dive at Allen [the defendant]." The defendant ran backwards and the victim grabbed the gun. The gun discharged as the victim grabbed it. After the shooting, the defendant walked back to the truck. Cooter said to him, "You killed him." The defendant replied with either "I didn't mean to" or "I didn't have no choice." The defendant then put the gun back in his truck. Cooter further testified he was drunk at the time of the shooting and had been taking Valium.

Defense witness, Angela Dawn Smelcer, described the shooting a bit differently. Smelcer had gone out with the victim the night of the shooting. She was present at the Starlite Club when the fight occurred and after the fight she drove the victim around while he looked for the defendant. She and the victim returned to the Starlite Club to look for the defendant, but he was not there. According to Smelcer, Edward Thomas helped her and the victim look for the defendant. With Smelcer and the victim in the victim's truck and Thomas in his own truck, the three searched for the defendant. While driving near Arlie Waddell Road, Smelcer stated Thomas flashed the lights of his truck to indicate he was turning onto a road that circled around and intersected Arlie Waddell Road near the defendant's house. Just after Thomas turned, Smelcer saw the defendant headed toward his house.

The defendant turned and stopped. Smelcer stopped the truck and the victim got out and began walking toward the defendant. Both men yelled at each other. At this point, Thomas appeared in his truck, driving in from the opposite direction. He pulled off the road and stopped his truck. As the victim approached the defendant, Cooter stopped the victim and patted him down looking for a weapon. The victim continued walking toward the defendant with his hands raised and his shirt out, presumably to show he had no gun.

As the victim approached, the defendant had the gun down at his side. The victim approached the defendant at an angle and dove at the defendant's feet. In a statement given to sheriff's deputies approximately four hours after the shooting, Smelcer said "the gun went off" after the victim dove at the defendant's feet. At trial, Smelcer stated the defendant shot from the hip. However, upon further questioning by the defense, she stated she did not know where the gun was pointed when it was fired.

Edward Thomas, a lifelong friend of the victim, disputed the defense's contention he was following Smelcer and the victim, helping them to find the defendant. Thomas stated he left the Starlite Club on his own after the victim and Smelcer left. Only later in the evening did he come upon the victim and Smelcer in the parking lot of the Cold Creek Market. Thomas said he stopped to say hello and then left to visit his elderly grandfather who lived near Arlie Waddell Road. Thomas testified he did not see the victim and Smelcer again until he came upon them on Arlie Waddell Road.

When Thomas arrived at the scene, he stopped his truck near the defendant and asked him what was going on. Thomas saw the victim standing by the highway with his shirt pulled open and his hands out to his side. The victim and the defendant were about forty yards apart and the victim started walking toward the defendant. According to Thomas, the defendant "just raised it up and shot." When the defendant walked away from the victim, Thomas asked him, "Why did you do it?" Thomas stated the defendant replied, "Do you think I'm playing?" He then shoved the gun at Thomas and drove off.

C. After the Shooting

After the defendant shot the victim, Smelcer called 911. Some time later, several sheriff's deputies and detectives arrived at the scene. A paramedic testified the victim was dead when his crew arrived. The defendant told Deputy Sheriff Frank Waddell he shot the victim. Waddell recovered the gun from the defendant's truck and arrested the defendant. The defendant was wearing muddy jeans that looked like he had fallen backwards.

Deputy Sheriff Joe Jaynes returned to the scene at 8:00 a.m. Jaynes found a spent shell casing about twelve feet from the body. He also found a shotgun belonging to Thomas in some high weeds at the scene. According to Thomas, the shotgun was taken from his truck on the night of the shooting. He did not know who took the gun, nor when it was taken.

The autopsy on the victim revealed he died very quickly due to a gunshot wound to the left chest. The shot was fired from a little more or less than two feet. The victim's blood alcohol level at the time of his death was .232; the vitreous alcohol level was .298; and, the urine alcohol level was .304.

State v. Cutshaw, 1999 WL 1059720, *3 (Tenn.Crim.App.1999).

*** Post-Conviction Hearing

The testimony offered at the post-conviction hearing was summarized in the appellate court's opinion, as set forth below:

At the evidentiary hearing, trial counsel testified that he was certified as a criminal trial specialist by the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. At the time of trial, he had been practicing law for over twenty years. Trial counsel stated that he had spent "at least" two hundred fifty hours preparing for the petitioner's trial, much of which was spent interviewing potential witnesses. He contended that another attorney in his firm and his investigator spent countless hours interviewing forty to fifty potential witnesses. Trial counsel testified that shortly before the trial, he conferred with the petitioner and two of his family members about which witnesses would be called to testify. Trial counsel maintained that the petitioner was "happy" with the proposed list of defense witnesses.

Trial counsel believed that there was "a very credible theory of self-defense" based upon evidence of a number of violent confrontations between the petitioner and the victim in which the victim had been the first aggressor. He recalled that the petitioner informed him that a witness named David Davis, a former sheriff, had witnessed one such altercation where the victim had fired shots at the unarmed petitioner. It was trial counsel's belief that Davis' testimony would not have been helpful because of the time lapse between the altercation and the trial. Trial counsel also recalled that it was his belief that Davis would not have been an effective witness. He also remembered that the petitioner had suggested Jerry Grooms as a possible witness. After investigating, he concluded that Grooms should not be called because there were questions about his credibility.

As to the second issue, trial counsel acknowledged that he had recommended that the petitioner not testify at trial. He contended, however, that he advised the petitioner that the decision was one he would have to make on his own. In making his recommendation to the petitioner, trial counsel expressed particular concern about incriminating statements, which had been recorded, that the petitioner had made to a third party. Trial counsel explained that while the trial court had ruled prior to trial that the tape would be inadmissible in the state's case-in-chief, it had determined that the tape could be used to impeach the petitioner during any cross-examination. According to trial counsel, the petitioner indicated at the close of the proof that he did not wish to take the stand.

At the evidentiary hearing, David Davis, a former sheriff, testified that he had witnessed a prior violent confrontation between the petitioner and the victim at his business, South Greene Market. He recalled that during the altercation, the victim fired a number of shots at the petitioner as the petitioner sped away in his vehicle. According to Davis, the incident occurred "eight or nine years, maybe ten years" prior to the shooting which resulted in the victim's death. Davis testified that he remembered an occasion when the petitioner came to his store to hide, explaining that the victim was chasing him. Davis stated that the victim sometimes carried a pistol and had once threatened to kill the defendant. Davis testified that he had tried to contact trial counsel prior to the petitioner's trial and had actually spoken to a secretary. During cross-examination, Davis acknowledged that his purpose in contacting trial counsel was to inform him that Jerry Grooms was willing to testify for the defense. Davis stated that he never anticipated being a witness for the defense.

Jerry Grooms, who claimed at the evidentiary hearing that he was never contacted by trial counsel or any of his employees in advance of the trial, testified that he had witnessed three violent altercations between the petitioner and the victim. He recalled that on one occasion, the victim shot at the petitioner while the petitioner sat in his car in the parking lot of Davis' business. Grooms claimed that the victim continued to fire at the petitioner's car as he drove away.

Danny Cutshaw,*fn1 who had worked at a bar called the Starlite, testified that he knew the petitioner and the victim. According to Cutshaw, the victim often carried a weapon and had fired shots at him some ten years earlier. Cutshaw also recalled that the victim had threatened to kill the petitioner. Cutshaw acknowledged that he was contacted by trial counsel in advance of the trial but could not recall the content of their conversation.

Lisa Hensley testified that she had observed an altercation between the petitioner and the victim "some years back" at the Starlite Club. She recalled that the victim had grabbed the petitioner from behind, pulled his jacket over his head, and pushed the petitioner to the ground. Hensley testified that the victim "just started flailing on [the petitioner], just left and right," until club security intervened. According to Ms. Hensley, the victim would often drive back and forth in front of the petitioner's house "fishtailing and spinning gravels." Ms. Hensley claimed that she was never contacted by trial counsel.

Shirley Thomas, the petitioner's mother, testified that she was present when trial counsel told the petitioner that the district attorney had offered a plea agreement which provided for seven years' incarceration. Ms. Thomas claimed that trial counsel informed them that he had already rejected the offer and estimated that the petitioner's chances for acquittal were "fifty-fifty." She conceded that trial counsel had not actually indicated that an offer of seven years had been made, but instead stated that he had discussed such an offer with the district attorney. Ms. ...

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