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Bell v. United States

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

December 14, 2016




         April Nicole Bell, (“petitioner” or “Bell”), a federal prisoner, has filed a “Motion Under 28 U.S.C. § 2255 To Vacate, Set Aside, Or Correct Sentence By A Person In Federal Custody, ” [Doc. 88][1], and an amended motion to vacate, [Doc. 97] The United States has responded in opposition, [Docs. 92, 107], and petitioner has replied, [Doc. 114]. The matter is, therefore, ripe for disposition. The Court has determined that the files and records in the case conclusively establish that Bell is not entitled to relief under § 2255 and no evidentiary hearing is necessary. For the reasons which follow, petitioner's motion will be DENIED and the case DISMISSED.

         I. Procedural and Factual Background

         Bell and co-defendant, Patrick Mullane Maxfield (“Maxfield”), were indicted by a federal grand jury on September 11, 2012, and charged in Count One with conspiring to produce child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2251(a), and in Count Three with conspiracy to transport and distribute child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a). Bell was charged in Count Two with producing child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2251(a) and in Count Four with transportion and distribution of child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2252A(a)(1) and (a)(2). Bell was not charged in Count Five of the indictment.

         After being arrested in the District of Colorado, Bell made her initial appearance in this district on November 8, 2012. [Doc. 7]. Counsel was appointed to represent her, [Doc. 7, 20]. A negotiated plea agreement was filed with the Court on March 12, 2013, [Doc. 34]. Pursuant to the plea agreement, petitioner pled guilty on March 27 to Count Four, the knowing transportation and distribution of child pornography. [Doc. 43]. The government agreed to dismiss the other charges. The plea agreement also contained a waiver of petitioner's right to file a direct appeal as long as her sentence was within “the sentencing guideline range or any applicable mandatory minimum sentence (whichever is greater) as determined by the district court, ” and her right to collaterally attack her conviction or sentence, except for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel or prosecutorial misconduct. [Id. at ¶ 10].

         The Court ordered a presentence investigation report (“PSR”) and scheduled a sentencing hearing for August 26, 2013. Petitioner faced a statutory mandatory minimum of five years of imprisonment to a maximum term of 20 years. The PSR established her guideline range for imprisonment at 97 to 121 months, [PSR, ¶¶ 79, 83], and a range of five years to life on supervised release. [Id. at ¶ 92]. At sentencing on September 9, 2013, the Court adopted the PSR, varied upward, and sentenced petitioner to a 188-month term of imprisonment, imposed a lifetime term of supervised release, ordered restitution in the amount of $6, 910.00, and imposed a $100.00 mandatory assessment. Among other conditions of supervised release, the Court ordered that petitioner have no contact with her co-defendant, Maxfield. [Doc. 62]. Judgment was entered on September 13, 2013, [Id.].

         Bell filed a notice of appeal on September 15, 2013, [Doc. 63]. The Sixth Circuit granted the government's motion to dismiss the appeal on the basis of the appellate-waiver provisions of petitioner's plea agreement on April 23, 2014, but also found that “the district court neither abused its discretion nor committed plain error in imposing the [no-contact] condition because the condition addresses a valid concern regarding the safety and welfare of Bell.”[2] Petitioner did not seek a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.. The instant § 2255 motion was then timely filed on August 18, 2014, and the amended § 2255 motion on July 17, 2015, the same day as Maxfield filed a § 2255 motion, [see Doc. 100].

Bell's plea agreement contained the following stipulated statement of facts:
a) The defendant met co-defendant Patrick Maxfield in November 2008 via an online internet chatroom. At that time, the defendant resided in Johnson County, Tennessee and Maxfield resided in El Paso County, Colorado. This relationship continued until the defendant and Maxfield were arrested on the instant charges in September 2012.
b) The relationship between defendant and Bell progressed and the defendant traveled from the Eastern District of Tennessee to Maxfield's home at 1145 Modell Drive, Colorado Springs, in El Paso County, Colorado. The defendant and Maxfield became intimate. The defendant and Maxfield periodically met at Maxfield's home. When they were not physically together, the defendant and Maxfield communicated with each other on a regular basis via telephones, electronic mail, text messaging, instant messaging, and other means of electronic communications. The parties agree that these communications traveled in interstate commerce from the Eastern District of Tennessee to the District of Colorado and vice-versa.
c) At all relevant times, the defendant operated a personal computer from her home in the Eastern District of Tennessee, with access to the internet provided by Sprint, an internet service provider.
d) From on or about August 1, 2009 to on or about October 31, 2009, the defendant downloaded seven images of child pornography onto her personal computer located at 394 Old Butler Road, Apartment B, Mountain City, Johnson County, in the Eastern District of Tennessee. The defendant provided the seven images of child pornography to Maxfield by remotely accessing Maxfield's computer and storing these images on Maxfield's computer. At the time she transmitted these images to Maxfield's computer, the defendant knew that the seven images would be transported from the Eastern District of Tennessee to Colorado.
e) The parties agree that between August 1, 2009 and February 1, 2011, Maxfield received the seven images of child pornography sent from the defendant's computer. The parties agree that the defendant knew Maxfield received the seven images of child pornography on his computer contemporaneously with these events.
f) The parties agree that defendant knowingly transported and distributed seven images of child pornography to Maxfield between August 1, 2009 and February 1, 2011 via the internet, which is a means of interstate commerce.
g) The parties agree that the seven distributed images depict an actual minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2256(2)(A)(v) to include the lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a minor.
h) The defendant admits that at the time she distributed the seven images of child pornography, she was aware of their sexually explicit nature and character and she was aware that they depict an actual minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, including the lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a minor.
i) The parties agree that the defendant transported the seven images of child pornography transported in interstate commerce from the Eastern District of Tennessee to the District of Colorado.

[Doc. 34, ¶¶ 4(a) - 4(i)]. The PSR contained the following unobjected to statement of additional facts:

The investigation in this case began in February of 2011, when a hospital health care worker in Colorado Springs, Colorado, reported that the defendant appeared to be a victim of violent domestic abuse. The El Paso County, Colorado, Sheriff's Office interviewed the defendant, who admitted that the numerous bruises, lacerations, and injuries she received had been inflicted by her boyfriend and co-defendant, Patrick Maxfield.
Defendant Bell reported that she was a resident of Johnson County, Tennessee, who had met Maxfield via an adult online chat room in late 2008/early 2009. The relationship eventually became sexual, after Maxfield financed Bell's trip to Colorado Springs, Colorado. For approximately two years (2009-2011), the defendant periodically flew from east Tennessee to Colorado Springs, where she cohabitated with Maxfield for 10 to 14 days each time. They engaged in consensual sexual intercourse during these visits.
During 2010, it appeared the relationship evolved into the classical battered wife syndrome. Maxfield found fault with the defendant's behavior, beat her, she apologized and accepted punishment from him in the form of more beatings and written “improvement contracts.” Maxfield allegedly beat the defendant with a 2-inch wooden dowel, an aluminum baseball bat, a crowbar, and a fire extinguisher. He kept separate sets of work gloves in his apartment, labeled for different types of beatings he inflicted on the defendant (for example, this is for the bitch when she doesn't do her chores). Maxfield left written notes to the defendant, and the defendant signed other written notes as, “MWPS, ” which is an acronym for “Most Worthless Piece of Shit.”
The defendant is the mother of [AB], whose date of birth is ___, ___2004. The defendant left [AB] in the custody of her parents when she visited Maxfield in Colorado.
Based on Bell's interview, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office obtained a state court search warrant to search Maxfield's apartment in Colorado Springs for the instruments of domestic violence. They executed the first search warrant on February 7, 2011, and during the course of the search, they found the first of multiple “contracts” between Bell and Maxfield which were suggestive of extreme violence. The Sheriff's Office obtained a second search warrant for indicia of ownership, indicia of occupancy, indicia of abuse, documents bearing evidence of physiological or physical abuse, which was executed on February 7, 2011. During the course of the second search warrant, the officers found inter alia, a copy of the birth certificate and identification card for [AB] and a deeply disturbing document in a file cabinet, in a folder labeled “April Bell.” The document provided as follows.
“Dear Diary, I, April Bell, am hereby agreeing to repay Patrick for the full amount of an airline ticket for [my daughter, AB] to fly out to Colorado Springs to visit. The purpose of this visit is so Patrick can f-k her little girl p---y and cum her vagina. I also give Patrick full permission to Patrick to cum in her mouth while [AB] is sucking Pat's big c--k. This visit in December 2009 is intended solely for the purpose of Patrick getting his jollies off with [AB]. Patrick has full permission to bend [AB] over and F--k her doggystyle, and to bounce [AB] off his c--k! I give permission for Patrick to urinate in [AB's] vagina, and insert various objects into her ass and vagina - penetrating her and getting [AB] off. I further agree to hold Patrick and/or [AB] up in case either lose consciousness or pass out from too much excitement. Patrick is hereby Released from all Liability. Patrick is not responsible for any loss or damages to [AB] that may result from any of the above listed actions. The above list is not all inclusive, and other things can and will result - as long as the end results is Patrick cuming all over/or in [AB].
The document was dated October 23, 2009, and signed with the defendant's signature and printed name, along with the title “Parent of [AB].” Graphic stick figures are included as well as sexual connotations for the figures. After finding this document, the officers suspended their search and obtained and executed a third search warrant. Items seized included the defendant's computer, which was provided to Detective Mark Pfoff for forensic examination.
On February 7, 2011, the El Paso County Sheriff's Office interviewed the defendant and Maxfield at the police station. Maxfield admitted that he had corresponded with [AB] via telephone and computer, but had never personally met the child. He admitted that he and Bell had discussed April transporting [AB] to Colorado Springs for a visit with him. His interview terminated when he requested an attorney.
On February 8, 2011, the officers interviewed the defendant. She stated that Maxfield forced her to write the document about [AB], admitted it was her handwriting and signature, and admitted that Maxfield “kind of controlled me.” The defendant stated that Maxfield expected her to fly [AB] out to Colorado to meet him, but she had no intention of allowing her to visit with him. Defendant Bell otherwise denied the symptoms of battered wife syndrome and apologized for Maxfield's behavior.
On February 18, 2011, Detective Pfoff completed a pre-review of Maxfield's computer and located images of what appeared to be child pornography. He then suspended his examination and obtained a fourth search warrant to conduct a complete examination of Maxfield's computer and storage media. That search yielded seven images of what was later identified as [AB], age approximately 5 years old, in the lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic areas. The seven images were labeled “slut one, two, ...” and found in a computer folder labeled “[AB], the one and only.” The images depict [AB] in various stages of nudity, and in provocative poses focusing on her vagina and her anus. Most of the images incorporate symbols of sexuality (poses) along with symbols of young childhood (pigtails, stuffed animals).
On March 2, 2011, [AB] was interviewed by Stephanie Furches, a Forensic Interviewer with the Johnson County, Tennessee Children's Advocacy Center in Mountain City, Tennessee. [AB] refused to discuss the photographs, but stated that she “knows Patrick Maxfield and has engaged in ...

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