United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville
BRANDON A. COMPTON, Petitioner,
DAVID SEXTON, Warden, Respondent.
S. MATTICE, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Brandon A. Compton, a Tennessee inmate proceeding pro
se, has filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his Tennessee convictions for
second-degree murder and resulting 50-year sentence. Having
considered the submissions of the parties, the State-court
record, and the law applicable to Compton's claims, the
Court finds that the petition should be denied.
SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
13, 2003, Kellan Shown arranged to purchase marijuana from
Brandon Compton at the home of Timothy Williams, who was
living in the residence with two couples, the Lindseys and
Talbots, and their families. State v. Compton, No.
E2005-01419-CCA-R3-CD, 2006 WL 2924992, at *1 (Tenn. Crim.
App. Oct. 13, 2006) (“Compton I”),
perm. app. denied (Tenn. Feb. 26, 2007). On the
night of the drug sale, many of these individuals, including
young children, were present at the home. Id.
along with Clayton Hall, arrived at the home and purchased
marijuana from Compton for $1, 000. Id. Compton
quickly discovered the funds were counterfeit and demanded
return of the drugs, but Shown and Hall proceeded to the door
of the home with the marijuana. Id. Compton followed
the pair down the hall, trailed by Williams and Mr. Lindsey,
who saw Compton fire his gun at Shown and Hall. Id.
At least four shots were heard, and Mr. Lindsey heard Compton
say, “That's what you get for stealing my
weed.” Id. Compton picked up the marijuana and
fled the home. Id. The victims' bodies were
dragged outside, and the police were called. Id.
arrival, police officers discovered four shell casings in the
area where the shooting occurred, along with a bullet in the
living room that had gone through a wall. Id. at *2.
A fifth shell casing was later found in a plant. Id.
No. weapons were recovered at the scene. Id. Two
bullets were recovered from each victim during an autopsy.
was indicted by a Knox County Grand Jury for two counts of
first-degree premeditated murder for the deaths of Kellan
Shown and Clayton Hall [Doc. 22-1 p. 6-7]. Petitioner
testified on his own behalf, claiming that he fired his gun
in self-defense after Hall first fired at him. Compton
I, 2006 WL 2924992, at *2. Following a jury trial,
Compton was convicted as charged, and the trial court imposed
two consecutive sentences of life imprisonment [Doc. 22-7 p.
102; Doc. 22-8 p. 24-26; Doc. 22-2 p. 78-79].
direct appeal, the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals
(“TCCA”) vacated the judgments of conviction for
first-degree murder, entered convictions for second-degree
murder, and remanded the case to the trial court for
resentencing. Compton I, 2006 WL 2924992, at *2-8.
The Tennessee Supreme Court declined discretionary review
remand, the trial court found that, pursuant to Tenn. Code
Ann. § 40-35-114, the following enhancement factors were
applicable: Compton had a previous history of criminal
convictions or criminal behavior in addition to those
necessary to establish the appropriate range; he had no
hesitation about committing a crime when the risk to human
life was high; he was released on probation at the time the
offense was committed; and he failed to comply with the
conditions of a sentence involving release into the community
[Doc. 22-19 p. 40-43]. The trial court imposed a 25-year sentence
for each conviction and aligned the sentences consecutively,
for an effective sentence of 50 years [Id. at 44;
see also Doc. No. 22-18 p. 23-24].
appeal, the TCCA affirmed the sentences. State v.
Compton, No. E2007-01790-CCA-R3-CD, 2008 WL 4071825, at
*4-8 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 2, 2008) (“Compton
II”), perm. app. denied (Tenn. Feb. 17,
2009). The Tennessee Supreme Court declined discretionary
review [Doc. 22-26].
Compton timely filed a pro se petition for post-conviction
review [Doc. 22-7 p. 5');">27 p. 5-15]. The post-conviction court
appointed counsel, who filed an amended petition
[Id. at 27-28, 30-33]. Compton then filed a motion
to remove counsel, which the post-conviction court granted
[Id. at 37-40, 41]. The post-conviction court
subsequently appointed new counsel [Id. at 42].
evidentiary hearing was held where Compton and his trial
counsel, Robert Kurtz, testified [Doc. 22-28 p. 5-104; Doc.
22-29 p. 3-61]. When questioned about the investigative
efforts made by Kurtz, Compton recalled meeting with a man,
perhaps named “Michael Cohan, ” and an
unidentified woman who asked him questions about the case,
but neither person testified at trial. [Doc. 22-28 p. 16].
Compton stated that trial counsel did not discuss with him
any reports that these persons created [Id. at 17].
counsel Kurtz stated that he used Michael Cohan, a former
Knox County police officer, as an investigator for
Compton's case [Id. at 98]. Kurtz stated that he
and Cohan interviewed the witnesses listed on the indictment
and any witnesses discovered through other sources
[Id.]. If trial counsel did not personally attend an
interview, he received and reviewed a memo summarizing the
interview [Id. at 98-99]. Trial counsel agreed that
he did not interview several police officers listed on the
indictment [Doc. 23-29 p. 15-24]. Trial counsel explained
that he was not able to contact Mr. Lindsey but stated that
he reviewed Mr. Lindsey's testimony from the preliminary
hearing [Id.]. He stated that he also did not
interview several other witnesses, but rather, relied on
their prior statements [Id.].
testified that trial counsel failed to adequately investigate
the possibility of calling Chris Galloway as a witness [Doc.
22-28 p. 12-13]. However, trial counsel testified that he
contacted Galloway, who briefly spoke with trial counsel and
told counsel he would not speak to him further without the
State's attorney being present [Id. at 104; Doc.
22-29 p. 3]. Galloway also told trial counsel he believed his
testimony would be harmful to the defense [Id.].
testified that trial counsel should have called a witness to
testify that, during a drug transaction, the buyer was likely
to be armed [Doc. 22-8 p. 22');">28 p. 22]. Compton admitted that he
never spoke to trial counsel about such a witness, but he
stated that he believed that such a witness was necessary
[Id.]. He also faulted counsel for failing to put on
proof that Compton had a lawful source of income in addition
to selling drugs [Id. at 24]. Trial counsel
testified that he never considered introducing Compton's
tax returns to bolster Compton's testimony that he was
gainfully employed, and he testified that he made a choice to
introduce evidence of Compton's drug-dealing on direct
examination to avoid having the jury hear it for the first
time on cross-examination [Doc. 22-29 p. 13]. Trial counsel
denied ever characterizing Compton's involvement with
drug sales as his “criminal livelihood”
testified that trial counsel should have tested the victims
for gunshot residue and faulted counsel for failing to raise
the issue at trial or request testing [Doc. 22-28 p. 23].
Trial counsel stated he did not recall discussing testing the
victims for gunshot residue [Doc. 22-29 p. 4]. Trial counsel
claimed he considered obtaining the testing but knew that the
medical examiner would testify that any gunshot residue found
on the victims' clothing would have been consistent with
the gunfire that killed them [Id.]. Therefore, trial
counsel did not believe the results of the testing would have
changed the outcome of the trial [Id.].
said that he and trial counsel never discussed trial strategy
[Doc. 22-28 p. 29]. He stated that trial counsel never
attempted to prove that he acted in self-defense, and he
agreed that he never told the police that one of the victims
shot at him first [Id. at 29-30, 41]. Compton could
not explain why the bullet he claimed was fired at him was
found 30 inches above the floor in the wall where the victims
fell when they were shot [Id. at 74-75].
could not recall if he and trial counsel discussed available
funds for expert witnesses [Doc. 22-28 p. 15-16]. Trial
counsel said that he did not think a “gunshot
expert” or crime scene expert was necessary in this
case because Compton testified about his position and the
victims' position at the time of the shooting
[Id. at 102]. Trial counsel noted that there were
five bullets found at the scene, four of which were
associated with the victims [Id. at 102-03]. Trial
counsel stated that he argued that the fifth bullet
corroborated Compton's testimony that one of the victims
fired first [Id.].
this evidentiary hearing, the post-conviction court denied
relief [Doc. 22-7 p. 5');">27 p. 55-58]. On appeal, the TCCA affirmed
the denial of post-conviction relief. Compton v.
State, No. E2013-00373-CCA-R3-PC, 2013 WL 6001935, at *1
(Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 12, 2013) (“Compton
about November 15, 2013, Compton filed the instant habeas
petition, as later amended, raising the following grounds for
relief, as paraphrased by the Court:
Ground1: Counsel rendered ineffective assistance by:
a. Failing to seek an associate and experienced attorney to
help in the case;
b. Failing to properly investigate the case, properly assert
self-defense as an affirmative defense, and investigate alibi
or corroborating witnesses;
c. Failing to investigate the crime scene to determine
d. Failing to retain an expert to reconstruct the crime
scene, independently investigate the crime scene, locate
other possible witnesses to the crime, or to interview any of
the witnesses listed in the indictment;
e. Failing to vigorously cross-examine the State forensic
experts or employ his own experts to determine if there was
gunshot residence on the victims' hands or clothing;
f. Failing to properly advise Compton of the facts of the
case or the State's evidence against him;
g. Never attempting to plea bargain for a reduced charge;
h. Failing to object to the prosecutor's continued
reference to the victims as ...