United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
RONNIE GREER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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], 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
Procedural and Factual Background
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.
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].
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.].
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.” 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
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
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
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
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
“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,
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