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Hugueley v. State

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Jackson

June 28, 2017


          January 4, 2017 Session

         Appeal from the Circuit Court for Hardeman County No. CC-6665 J. Weber McCraw, Judge

          Amy Dawn Harwell and Kristen Marie Stanley, Assistant Federal Public Defenders, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Stephen Lynn Hugueley.

          Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Jeffrey D. Zentner, Assistant Attorney General; D. Michael Dunavant, District Attorney General; and Joe L. VanDyke and Mark E. Davidson, Assistant District Attorneys General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

         The Petitioner, Stephen Lynn Hugueley, was sentenced to death for the 2002 first degree premeditated murder of a prison counselor, Delbert Steed, while the Petitioner was housed at the Hardeman County Correctional Facility, following two prior first degree murder convictions for the shotgun slaying of his mother and the later killing of another inmate. See State v. Hugueley, 185 S.W.3d 356, 364 (Tenn. 2006). He filed a petition for writ of error coram nobis, alleging that his 2013 MRI, which showed that he had congenital brain defects, was "newly discovered evidence" that he was incompetent at the time of his 2003 capital trial, as well as in 2008 when he withdrew his petition for post-conviction relief. The coram nobis court concluded that the Petitioner had made an insufficient showing for the granting of relief. On appeal, the Petitioner argues that the court erred in this determination, asserting that, had his incompetency been known at the time of trial, no judgment of conviction would have been entered and that, as well, he had not been competent to waive the presentation of mitigating evidence at trial or to waive his right to utilize post-conviction procedures. Further, he argues that a relative may pursue, in his behalf, his petition for writ of error coram nobis. Following our review, we conclude that the Petitioner's claim of incompetency before and after his trial does not constitute "newly discovered evidence" and, further, that this claim was untimely. Accordingly, we affirm the order of the coram nobis court denying relief.

         Tenn. R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit Court Affirmed

          Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which John Everett Williams and Camille R. McMullen, JJ., joined.


          ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE


         Before setting out the complicated history of this matter, as well as the Petitioner's shifting and contradictory desires, we first note that the Petitioner has a history of taking actions which appear to be against his self-interest and later, in a series of petitions and motions and appeals, again visits the court system where he seeks to undo his earlier actions. In a previous proceeding, this court observed that the Petitioner appeared to have "a firm grasp of the legal process and the legal ramifications of his decisions." Stephen Lynn Hugueley v. State, No. W2009-00271-CCA-R3-PD, 2011 WL 2361824, at *41 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 8, 2011), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Dec. 13, 2011) (hereinafter "state post-conviction appeal"). Further, we noted the Petitioner's apparent "willingness to use his knowledge of the legal system to manipulate proceedings to further his own interests or agenda." Id. His petition for writ of error coram nobis, the denial of which is the basis for this appeal, appears to be an attempt to relitigate a previous finding by the courts that he was competent. On this latest foray into the court system, the Petitioner argues that the opinions of two new experts that he is presently incompetent and has been since before his 2003 trial constitute "newly discovered evidence, " meaning that his conviction and sentence of death must be set aside. As we will explain, we agree with the error coram nobis court that these two later expert opinions are not "newly discovered evidence" and do not entitle the Petitioner to relief.

         We note that in a parallel federal proceeding, reviewing issues very similar to those raised by this appeal, Chief Judge J. Daniel Breen concluded in 2015 that the Petitioner's chance of success in his state coram nobis proceeding, which is the basis for this appeal, was "minimal." Stephen Hugueley v. Wayne Carpenter, Warden, No. 09-1181-JDB-egb, 2015 WL 225053, at *20 (W.D. Tenn. Jan. 15, 2015) (hereinafter "federal habeas corpus action"). Much of the difficulty in writing this opinion is that the Petitioner's extensive psychiatric history was not set out in his coram nobis petition, other than in a report of one of the new mental health experts, Dr. George Woods, who criticized the prior examinations. However, the Petitioner's mental health history is set out in detail in the state post-conviction appeal and in the federal habeas corpus action, neither of which is revealed in either of the Petitioner's briefs filed in this matter. The state post-conviction appeal reviewed in 2011 the Petitioner's claim that he was incompetent to withdraw his 2008 post-conviction relief petition, while the federal habeas corpus action considered essentially the same claims presented by this appeal. The Petitioner was unsuccessful in both of those actions.

         We will set out the complicated history of this matter.

         The Petitioner was convicted in 1986 of the first degree murder of his mother; in 1992 of the first degree murder of an inmate; in 1998 of criminal attempt to commit the first degree murder of a second inmate; and in 2003 of the first degree premeditated murder of Mr. Steed, whom he stabbed thirty-six times with a homemade knife, or "shank, " in 2002. At his trial for the homicide of Mr. Steed, the Petitioner waived presenting a defense at the guilt phase or mitigating evidence at the sentencing phase.

         This appeal concerns the Petitioner's conviction, and sentence of death, only for the 2002 murder of Mr. Steed. In the past, the Petitioner has been evaluated by a number of mental health professionals. Prior to his trial, he was examined by Dr. Keith Caruso, who found him competent to stand trial in 2003. Dr. Caruso's extensive examination is set out in great detail in Stephen Hugueley, 2015 WL 225053, at *3-5.

         Following the Petitioner's MRI in 2013, two new mental health experts concluded, based on the MRI results, and contrary to all other experts who previously examined him, that the Petitioner had been incompetent to stand trial in the capital case a decade earlier, as well as later when he filed and subsequently withdrew his petition for post-conviction relief. The Petitioner views the two opinions of incompetency as "newly discovered evidence, " which invalidate his third first degree murder conviction, sentence of death, and later withdrawal of his petition for post-conviction relief as to that conviction and sentence.

         As to his seeking post-conviction relief, the Petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in 2008. Stephen Lynn Hugueley, 2011 WL 2361824, at *1. The post-conviction court appointed the Office of the Post-Conviction Defender to represent the Petitioner, and he then wrote the post-conviction court expressing his desire to withdraw his petition. A competency hearing was held in November 2008. On January 8, 2009, the post-conviction court found the Petitioner competent and entered an order dismissing the petition, as he had requested. A notice of appeal was filed on February 19, 2009, and this court affirmed the post-conviction court's determination. The Petitioner then filed a motion to remand the matter to the post-conviction court, predicated upon his new desire to proceed with any and all available challenges to his conviction and sentence. Id.

         Apparently, while that appeal was pending, the Petitioner, arguing that trial counsel was ineffective, filed the federal habeas corpus petition in the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. Stephen Hugueley, 2015 WL 225053, at *1. Then, in November 2013, the Petitioner, through counsel, sought to amend his federal petition to include "claims relating to brain imaging." Id. at *17. In April 2014, this motion was denied, as was the Petitioner's request to hold in abeyance the federal claims, apparently to pursue in state court the brain imaging claims. With the federal habeas corpus matter still pending, the Petitioner next filed in the Circuit Court for Hardeman County a petition for writ of error coram nobis on September 26, 2014, citing the brain imaging claims as "newly discovered evidence." That court dismissed the petition on June 7, 2016, and this appeal followed.

         To explain the Petitioner's extensive psychiatric history, we will set out a lengthy portion of his unsuccessful 2015 federal habeas corpus action, which, in turn, quoted portions of this court's 2011 opinion:

Petitioner's competency has been addressed at various times in the state court. In 2003, prior to trial, neuropsychologist Pamela Auble conducted a records review and forensic neuropsychological evaluation of Petitioner at the request of counsel. (See ECF No. 43-2 at PageID 3433, 3447.) Auble concluded that he "had a history of psychiatric problems and severe behavioral problems" including socialization and impulse control, suicidal ideation and attempts, auditory hallucinations, depression, and aggression. (Id. at PageID 3454.) She noted "patchy impairments" from the neuropsychological testing. (Id. at PageID 3453.) Auble stated that a CT scan in 1987 did not reveal evidence of recurrence of a tumor that was removed from Petitioner's brain. (Id.) However, she recommended medical imaging of [Petitioner's] brain given the neuropsychological data, his "left arm/leg symptoms, and the frequent severe headaches." (Id.)
In 2003, psychiatrist Keith Caruso evaluated Petitioner at the request of his attorney to form an opinion about Petitioner's competency to stand trial, mental state at the time of the offenses, and extenuating or mitigating factors for sentencing. (See id. at PageID 3457.) With regard to his competency, Caruso stated:
Despite a severe mental disease, Intermittent Explosive Disorder, the [Petitioner] understands the nature of the proceedings against him and the possible consequences and can cooperate intelligently with his attorney in his own defense in accordance with the criteria listed in State v. Blackstock. He accurately stated the charge against him as "first degree murder, " and knew the date, victim, and location of the allegation. He was aware that he could face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole, or life with the possibility of parole, although he acknowledged that, compounded with his earlier sentences, even the latter would amount to spending the remainder of his life in prison.
[Petitioner] identified his attorneys as Michie Gibson and T.J. Cross-Jones, stated that they "got along okay, " and felt that they were adequately representing his interests. He identified Elizabeth Rice as the prosecutor who would present evidence against him. He recognized that his attorneys would not want him to make incriminatory statements to the prosecutor, although he had already done so in an effort to ensure that he is given the death penalty. [Petitioner] knew that the Judge was the Honorable Jon Kerry Blackwood and understood the Judge's role to be "to hear all the evidence and make rulings on objections and motions and instruct the jury, make sure Constitutional Rights aren't violated." He further acknowledged that the Judge was impartial.
[Petitioner] knew that the jury heard all evidence, deliberated, and decided issues of guilt or innocence and passed sentence in the event of a first degree murder conviction. He defined evidence as "proof of something, " and stated that witnesses "verify the accuracy of events or provide scientific information, such as DNA or psychiatric opinions." He knew the possible please [sic] of guilty and not guilty and understood the concept of presenting an insanity defense, although he acknowledged that he did not "think that it would fly." He stated that at trial, "the prosecutor puts up evidence proving the defendant committed the crime, and the defense tries to rebut it. The jury is instructed and deliberates." He named potential outcomes as verdicts of "guilty and not guilty, as well as justifiable homicide or a lesser included offense." He stated that a guilty verdict on first degree murder would lead to a sentencing hearing where aggravators and mitigators would be presented to the jury, who would again deliberate and pass sentence.
[Petitioner] stated that he wanted to receive the death penalty. He initially stated, "I'm suicidal, I just ain't got the guts to do it myself." He later corrected himself, saying that he was not suicidal, but did not care whether he lived or died under the current conditions. He further added, "I have no intention of living 30 or 40 years in prison." [Petitioner] stated that he did not believe that life ended at physical death, believing that there was an after-life. He stated that he imagined that he would go to hell if he did not change his ways. He was non-committal as to whether he would change his ways. [Petitioner] also stated that conditions at Unit 2, where he would likely be housed if given a death sentence, were in fact better than conditions had been at other facilities. While this may seem unusual, it is a sentiment that I have heard expressed by several other inmates.
[Petitioner] further added that he understood that, if given the death penalty, he would be executed by lethal injection. He acknowledged that he would have selected this method over electrocution, as that may have led to a more painful death.
[Petitioner] understands the nature of the proceedings against him on a factual and rational level. He also understands the possible consequences of those proceedings, specifically that he could face the death penalty or life in prison. [Petitioner's] current assertion that he wants to be convicted and receive the death penalty requires careful analysis to determine whether he has reached this stance rationally.
A key issue to examine in [Petitioner's] case is the distinction between rational and conventional. Under most circumstances, we would question the reasoning of someone who made efforts to engineer his own death. We must carefully safeguard to be certain that someone is not doing so out of mental illness, such as Major Depression, Bipolar Disorder, or Schizophrenia or some other psychotic disorder. [Petitioner] is not psychotic at this time. He does not suffer currently from delusions, hallucinations, or other forms of disorder in his thinking. He is not seeking to end his life as a means of ending some imagined suffering that is the irrational product of a delusion or hallucination.
Neither does [Petitioner] currently suffer from Major Depression or Bipolar Disorder. Depressed individuals often are so hopeless and tormented by their depression that they see suicide as the only means of escaping their intolerable pain. Conversely, an individual in the throes of a manic episode may be so grandiose as to believe that his death would not be permanent or would serve some other greater societal cause, such as saving the world. Manic individuals lack the insight to project themselves into the future and appreciate the ramifications of their impulsive decisions. In each of these cases, an individual may make an irrational decision that leads to his own death, failing to recognize that he is viewing the world in an irrationally distorted manner and in fact has a condition that may be alleviated by treatment.
[Petitioner's] assertion that he wants the death penalty is conditional. He stated that he would be happy to live as a free man and raise a family, although he recognizes that this is not an option for him. [Petitioner's] desire to be executed is also conditional in that it has arisen in the setting of frustration and thwarted desires. [Petitioner] is a man with little control over his environment. He is constitutionally a man who requires instant gratification; thus, his lack of control and the tedium of prison are difficult for him to tolerate. [Petitioner] never developed a sense that he could enact socially acceptable behavior that would lead to him receiving positive reinforcements. Instead, his life has been a series of disappointments, abandonment, broken promises, and frustration.
[Petitioner] realistically appreciates that his circumstances will not change. He feels that he cannot tolerate "30 to 40 more years in prison, " seeing this as intolerable suffering. While there certainly is a significant degree of suffering involved, this could in no way justify changing his circumstances. He acknowledges that he has tried treatments with various antipsychotic, mood stabilizing, and antidepressant medications without effect, and he does not meet criteria for one of these conditions. While conventionally most people would elect to preserve their lives even in prison without the possibility of parole, [Petitioner] is certainly unconventional. However, his reasoning is not irrational, given his unconventional personality and life's experience.
Finally, [Petitioner] is capable of cooperating with his attorneys in his own defense. At times, he has not chosen to do so; nevertheless, these are again unconventional choices, as opposed to choices driven by irrational delusional beliefs, psychotically disordered thinking, or hallucinations.

(ECF No. 43-2 at PageID 3466-3469.) Petitioner was considered to be competent stand trial in 2003.

         [Petitioner] moved to withdraw his post-conviction petition after issues with his visitation were resolved. See Hugueley v. State, No. W2009-00271-CCA-R3-PD, 2011 WL 2361824, at *4-7 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 8, 2011). A competency hearing was held on November 14, 2008. Id. at *11. (See ECF No. 42-12.) The post-conviction court found Petitioner competent to waive post-conviction review and dismissed the petition in 2009. Hugueley, 2011 WL 2361824, at *16.

         On appeal, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals heard Petitioner's motion to remand the matter to the post-conviction court and the merits of the case contemporaneously. Id. at *1. In 2011, the court determined that Petitioner could not "belatedly withdraw his decision to dismiss his petition for post-conviction relief" and that the post-conviction court did not err in concluding Petitioner was competent. Id. at *1, *43.

         The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals thoroughly reviewed issues related to Petitioner's mental health:

On August 1, 2008, the post-conviction court appointed Dr. Bruce Seidner to evaluate the Petitioner's competency.
During a competency hearing [on] November 14, 2008, Dr. Seidner, a licensed clinical psychologist, testified that he was appointed by the court in August 2008, to evaluate the Petitioner's competency to withdraw his petition for post-conviction relief. Dr. Seidner reported that he met with the Petitioner on August 27 and 28, 2008. He utilized the PAI, which is a self-report inventory, and administered a test of malingering called the VIP. Dr. Seidner also administered the Wisconsin Card Sort Test and the Wechsler Adult Intelligent Scale, 3rd Edition. As a result of this testing, Dr. Seidner opined that the Petitioner "presents as really quite capable." Dr. Seidner determined that the Petitioner was not struggling with ...

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