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York v. Lee

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

August 12, 2019

WILLIAM W. YORK, Petitioner,
v.
RANDY LEE, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CLIFTON L. CORKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Petitioner William W. York is a prisoner proceeding pro se on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he challenges the constitutionality of his confinement under a State-court judgment of conviction for two counts of first-degree murder [Doc. 2]. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the State-court record, and the law applicable to Petitioner's claims, the Court finds that the petition should be denied.

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The facts and procedural history of this case have been previously summarized by the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) as follows:

On May 30, 1977, William W. York and two others, Clifford T. Caudill and Wes Finley, Jr., robbed the Hawkins Jewelry Store in Madison, West Virginia. State v. Caudill, 170 W.Va. 74, 289 S.E.2d 748, 750 (1982).
The proprietors of the store, Aubrey and Alberta Hawkins, were held at gunpoint during the robbery by Caudill and York. Finley waited in [Caudill's] car in an alley behind the jewelry store.
After robbing the store, Caudill and York forced Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins to accompany them as they fled. They put Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins in the back seat of [Caudill's] car and left Madison on a highway known as Corridor G. Shortly thereafter the Hawkins were placed in the trunk of the car and held captive. On June 3, 1977, they were found dead near Jellico, Tennessee.
Id. In West Virginia, York was convicted of armed robbery and two counts of kidnapping. In Tennessee, as part of a plea agreement, York pled guilty to two counts of first[-]degree murder for which he received two concurrent life sentences.
York began serving his sentence with the Tennessee Department of Correction in 1989. Since that time, York has unsuccessfully sought release on parole. In each instance, York has resorted to the courts to challenge the statutory and regulatory scheme for determining parole eligibility.
York became eligible for parole consideration in July 2001. York v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. and Parole, No. M2003-00822-COA-R3-CV, 2004 WL 305791, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. Feb. 17, 2004) (hereinafter “York I”). The Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole (the “Board”) denied parole. York appealed, arguing due process, equal protection, and ex post facto violations. Id. This Court affirmed the Board's denial of parole based on the seriousness of the offense. Id. at *3. However, we concluded that the Board's deferral of parole consideration for ten years was arbitrary and remanded for reconsideration of York's next parole review date. Id. at *4.
On remand, the trial court directed the Board to hold a hearing to set a new parole review date. York v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. and Parole, M2005-01488-COA-R3-CV, 2007 WL 1541360, at *1 (Tenn. Ct. App. May 25, 2007) (hereinafter “York II”). On January 4, 2005, the Board conducted the ordered hearing, but rather than only scheduling a new parole review date, the Board again denied York parole based on the seriousness of his offense. Id. The Board set a new parole hearing for January 2011. Id.
In his appeal from the January 4, 2005 review hearing, York again argued that “the existing statutory and regulatory scheme denied him equal protection and due process and further constituted a violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause” and that denial of parole “based solely upon the ‘seriousness of the crime'” was unconstitutional. Id. at *2. We made short work of those arguments, noting that they had been addressed and rejected in the prior appeal. Id. We also concluded that the Board's decision to defer parole consideration for six years was appropriate but modified the judgment such that the six-year period would run from York's parole hearing in July 2001. Id. at *6.
In January 2008, York again came before the Board, and again the Board denied parole based solely on the seriousness of the offense. York v. Tenn. Bd. of Prob. and Parole, No. 3:08-CV-1093, 2010 WL 3522330, at *1 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 12, 2010). York responded by asserting a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court. Id. at *5. Specifically, York alleged that,
“In denying [him] parole on January 7, 2008, the Tennessee Board of Probation and Parole retroactively used current parole laws, policies, and practices that were different from those in effect when [he] committed his crimes in June 1977; and the effect of these changes, individually and cumulatively, created a harsher substantive standard for parole creating a sufficient risk of increased punishment ...

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