Executed January 6, 2011 06:10 p.m. CDT by Lethal Injection in Oklahoma
1st murderer executed in U.S. in 2011
1235th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in Oklahoma in 2011
95th murderer executed in Oklahoma since 1976
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Billy Don Alverson
B / M / 24 - 39
|Richard Kevin Yost
W / M / 30
Alverson v. State, 983 P.2d 498 (Okla.Crim. App. 1999). (Direct Appeal).
Alverson v. Workman, 595 F.3d 1142 (10th Cir. 2010). (Habeas)
A large pepperoni and Italian sausage pizza and a large Dr. Pepper.
"First, to the Yost family, I would like to say I'm sorry. Forgive me. And to my own family, I'm all right. God is good. Don't you cry. Uh-uh. Don't do it. I'm all right." He told each of his family members witnessing the execution that he loved them and made a kissing motion toward them.
Oklahoma Department of Corrections
Inmate: BILLY D ALVERSON
ALIAS: Michael R Wilson
Birth Date: 02/08/1971
Height: 5 ft. 10 in.
Weight: 235 pounds
County of Conviction: Tulsa
Date of Conviction: 07-11-97
Convictions: Murder In The First Degree - Death (07-21-97); Robbery With A Dangerous Weapon - Life
Location: Oklahoma State Penitentiary, Mcalester
Reception Date: 10/28/2002
Previous Commitments: 91-1325 TULS Amended To Unauthorized Use Motor Vehicle 12/20/1991 2 Years; 91-4001 TULS Knowingly Concealing Stolen Property 12/20/1991 2 Years; 91-4001 TULS False Personation 12/20/1991 2 Years.
"Oklahoma inmate executed for 1995 slaying." (Associated Press January 7, 2011)
MCALESTER, Okla. — An Oklahoma death row inmate was executed Thursday for the 1995 slaying of a convenience store worker who prosecutors said was brutally beaten with a baseball bat. Billy Don Alverson, 39, was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections said.
Alverson was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die for the Feb, 26, 1995, death of 30-year-old Richard Yost, the night manager of a convenience store in Tulsa. Yost's body was found bound and beaten on the blood-soaked floor of the store's cooler.
Alverson was one of four men convicted of first-degree murder in Yost's death. Prosecutors have said Yost received 54 blows from the bat and all four men participated in the beating, although Alverson has said he never hit Yost. Three of Alverson's co-defendants were also sentenced to death. One of them, 31-year-old Darwin Brown, was executed in January 2009.
Alverson's execution was the first in the U.S. in 2011, according to Kenneth England, spokesman for the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center. Seventeen other executions are scheduled across the nation, including another one in Oklahoma next week, England said.
Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said Alverson requested for his last meal a large pepperoni and Italian sausage pizza and a large Dr. Pepper.
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 in December to deny clemency for Alverson. Members of Yost's family and the president and CEO of Yost's former employer submitted letters to the board asking that it deny clemency.
Angela Houser-Yost, the victim's widow, wrote that her husband's murder had a devastating impact on her and the couple's two sons, who were 8 and 2 when their father was killed. “Anxiety plays a major role in my life now,” Houser-Yost said. “I can also sense when the anniversary of Richard's death is without looking at a calendar. I start shutting down inside and avoid talking with family and friends.”
Chester Cadieux III, president and CEO of QuickTrip Corporation, wrote that Yost's brutal murder had a “devastating effect” on the company's 5,000 employees, “who were all thinking, ‘it could have been me.’” Cadieux said more than 400 employees sought counseling. “These despicable criminals all agreed and planned to commit this crime for money,” Cadieux wrote. “They each bought new tennis shoes with the cash stolen from the register. . How sad that to Billy Don Alverson, a life is only worth a new pair of Nikes.”
The next death row inmate scheduled for execution in Oklahoma is Jeffrey David Matthews, 38. He was convicted in the January 1994 murder of 77-year-old Otis Earl Short, Matthews' great-uncle, during a robbery of Short's home. The execution is set for Tuesday.
"Man executed in death of QuikTrip clerk," by Shannon Muchmore. (Friday, January 07, 2011)
McALESTER - A Tulsa man convicted of murder was executed Thursday night by lethal injection. Billy Don Alverson, 39, was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m. at the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Alverson was convicted in 1997 and sentenced to death for the January 1995 killing of a QuikTrip clerk, 30-year-old Richard Yost.
In his last statement, Alverson apologized for the crime. "First, to the Yost family, I would like to say I'm sorry. Forgive me," he said. "And to my own family, I'm all right. God is good. Don't you cry. Uh-uh. Don't do it. I'm all right." He told each of his family members witnessing the execution that he loved them and made a kissing motion toward them. His mother, father, brother, sister and grandmother were present.
Yost was beaten to death with a baseball bat during a robbery of the convenience store on North Garnett Street. Three other men were involved.
Yost's widow, Angela Houser-Yost, released a statement after the execution. She said she believes in the death penalty but wished she had not had to witness the execution. "Understanding, this execution will not bring Richard back nor will it give me the closure that I am looking for. To be honest I do not know if I will ever have true closure," she wrote. "There are no winners tonight, each of us from both sides of the family have lost. It is a loss that no one will understand unless they have be(en) in the same situation. I want to give my condole(nce)s to the Alverson family. In saying that I also hope the media will leave you alone w(h)ere you can grieve in peace."
The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board voted 3-2 on Dec. 15 to deny clemency for Alverson, but the trial judge has said he is troubled by the sentence and that Alverson was the least culpable of the four defendants. The judge, Ned Turnbull, who now lives in Houston, said last month that Alverson is the only one who has shown remorse and is a follower, not a leader.
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris, Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan and Tulsa County Undersheriff Brian Edwards witnessed the execution. Speaking to reporters after the execution, Harris called Alverson's crime heinous and violent. "This family has waited a long time for justice, and what justice can be accomplished in this human criminal justice system has been accomplished tonight," he said.
Alverson is the second person - after John David Matthews on Dec. 16 - to be executed in Oklahoma with a new drug as part of the lethal injection process.
The state ran out of the anaesthesia drug sodium thiopental in early 2010, and has replaced it with pentrobarbital, which is used for animal euthanasia.
Alverson is the second of the four culprits in the QuikTrip murder to be put to death. Darwin Demond Brown was executed in 2009. Michael L. Wilson is appealing a death sentence, and Richard J. Harjo is serving a life sentence without parole.
Alverson's last meal was a pepperoni and sausage pizza from Pizza Hut and a Dr Pepper.
The next man scheduled for execution in Oklahoma is Jeffrey David Matthews, 38, who was convicted of killing his 77-year-old great-uncle in 1994 during a home-invasion robbery.
"Oklahoma man is first U.S. execution of 2011," by Ben Fenwick. (Thu, Jan 6 2011)
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) - Oklahoma on Thursday executed a man convicted of beating a handcuffed convenience store clerk to death with a baseball bat, the first person put to death this year in the United States. Billy Don Alverson, 39, was pronounced dead at 6:10 p.m. local time, Department of Corrections spokesman Jerry Massie said by telephone from McAlester, Oklahoma.
For the second consecutive time, one of the drugs Oklahoma used to carry out the execution was pentobarbital, which is sometimes used to euthanize animals. The drug was substituted for another that was in short supply.
Alverson was convicted of murdering convenience store clerk Richard Yost on February 25, 1995 by beating him to death with a baseball bat after tying and handcuffing him during a robbery. Three accomplices were also convicted. One, Darwin Demond Brown, was executed in 2009.
Alverson's last words were: "First, I would like to say to the Yost family, I'm sorry, forgive me. To my own family, I'm all right. God is good. Don't you cry."
His last meal was a large pepperoni and Italian sausage pizza and a large Dr. Pepper, Massie said.
KOKI Fox 23 News
Man Convicted Of Tulsa Murder To Be Executed," by Ian Silver. (Last Update: 1/06 10:12 am)
Richard Yost was working at the QuikTrip on North Garnett the night of February 26, 1995 when four men came in to rob him. Instead, the men beat Yost to death with a baseball bat, and the whole thing was captured on surveillance video. One of those four men, Billy Don Alverson, will be executed by the State of Oklahoma Thursday for his involvement in the murder. He will be the second defendant in the case to be executed. Co-defendant Darwin Brown was executed in 2009.
"The QuikTrip murder is how we refer to Mr. Yost's murder," Tulsa Police homicide detective Sgt. Mike Huff said. "It was very personal to a lot of policemen." Huff says the horrific scene is still clear in his memory. "The surveillance tape was really graphic with hearing the victim being beat to death, and how vicious and savage those guys were that went in there," Huff said. "And it was really something that stuck with a lot of us."
Yost's wife spoke to Fox 23 on the phone, saying Richard Yost was a good husband, a good father, and always a hard worker. She and Huff both say Alverson will get what he deserves for taking a life. "I think the logical and justified outcome is tomorrow night with the death penalty," Huff said.
In Alverson's latest appeal hearing questions were raised about whether he was really the killer, or just an accomplice who didn't stop the violence. Huff says it doesn't matter either way. "We really don't know whether or not that he was swinging the bat. I think there's a lot of people that believe that he was. He definitely was in the middle of that situation."
Huff says surveillance video proves Alverson was there during the murder. He also says Alverson tried to get rid of the clothes he was wearing that had Yost's blood on them.
While neither Huff nor Yost's wife believe the execution will bring closure, they agree Alverson's execution must be carried out. "There's justice. He definitely won't kill again. I try not to think about the final outcome. I just try to keep going on. I don't necessarily believe in vengeance, but I do believe in justice."
Yost's wife says she hopes Alverson does not suffer during the execution. She says he has already suffered for almost 16 years waiting for the day to come. She also says she's been thinking a lot about Alverson's family, wishing they didn't have to go through the grief and suffering she knows they will start to feel Thursday.
Two others besides Alverson and Darwin Brown were also convicted in the case. Michael Wilson was also sentenced to death. And Richard Harjo was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Oklahoma Attorney General (News Release)
W.A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney General
Execution Date Set for Alverson
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals today set January 6, 2011, as the execution date for Tulsa County death row inmate Billy Don Alverson. The attorney general’s office requested the execution date on Nov. 1 after the U.S. Supreme Court denied Alverson’s final appeal.
Alverson was convicted and sentenced to death for the Feb. 26, 1995, murder of 30-year-old Richard Kevin Yost during a robbery of the Quik Trip, 215 N. Garnett Street, in Tulsa. Yost was the store’s night clerk.
Currently, one other Oklahoma inmate is scheduled to be executed. Pittsburg County death row inmate John David Duty is scheduled to be executed Dec. 16. Duty was convicted of the December 2001 murder of Curtis Wise, 22. Wise was Duty’s cell mate at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. At the time of Wise’s murder, Duty was serving two concurrent life sentences for 1978 Tillman County convictions of rape and shooting with intent to kill and one life sentence for a 1978 Jackson County robbery conviction.
Alverson v. State, 983 P.2d 498 (Okla.Crim. App. 1999). (Direct Appeal)
Defendant was convicted in the District Court, Tulsa County, E.R. Turnbull, J., of murder in the first degree and robbery with a dangerous weapon, based on his role in murder of convenience store clerk during robbery, and was sentenced to death. Defendant appealed, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, Chapel, J., held that: (1) use of dual jury procedure did not deprive defendant of a fair trial; (2) police officer's explanatory testimony regarding events depicted on surveillance videotape was properly admitted; (3) defendant could not be convicted of second degree felony murder, as it was undisputed that victim was beaten to death with a deadly weapon; (4) defendant was not entitled to relief based on ineffective assistance of counsel, or prosecutorial misconduct; (5) improper admission of autopsy photograph did not require reversal; (6) evidence was sufficient to establish aggravating circumstances of heinous, atrocious, or cruel murder, and murder to avoid arrest or prosecution; (7) victim impact evidence was properly admitted; (8) murder conviction would be treated as conviction for malice murder, rather than felony murder, so that robbery conviction could stand; and (9) death sentence was factually substantiated and appropriate. Affirmed. Lumpkin, V.P.J., concurred in the result and filed opinion. Lile, J., concurred specially and filed opinion.
¶ 1 Appellant, Billy Don Alverson, was charged conjointly with three codefendants FN1 with the crimes of first degree malice murder and, in the alternative, first degree felony murder (Count I) in violation of 21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(A) & (B) and robbery with a dangerous weapon (Count II) in violation of 21 O.S.1991, § 801 in the District Court of Tulsa County, Case No. CF-95-1024. The State filed a bill of particulars alleging three aggravating circumstances. A jury trial was held before the Honorable E.R. “Ned” Turnbull, District Judge. The jury found Alverson guilty of first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon. After the punishment stage, the jury found the existence of two aggravating circumstances: (1) that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; and (2) that the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution. 21 O.S.1991, § 701.12(4) & (5).
FN1. The codefendants were Michael Lee Wilson, Darwin Demond Brown and Richard Harjo. Wilson and Brown were tried conjointly and sentenced to death. Their appeals were affirmed in Wilson v. State, 1998 OK CR 73, 983 P.2d 448 and Brown v. State, 1998 OK CR 77, 983 P.2d 474. Appellant Alverson was tried conjointly with Harjo. Harjo was the only codefendant to receive life without the possibility of parole. Harjo's appeal was affirmed in part and reversed in part by unpublished opinion in Harjo v. State, F-97-1054 (not for publication).
¶ 2 Alverson's co-defendant, Michael Wilson, worked at the QuikTrip convenience store located at 215 N. Garnett Road in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Wilson, Alverson, and two of their friends, Richard Harjo and Darwin Brown, went to the QuikTrip during the early morning hours of February 26, 1995. They chatted with Richard Yost, the night clerk, until the most opportune time arose for them to accost him and force him into the back cooler. They handcuffed him and tied his legs with duct tape. Alverson and Harjo went outside and returned with Harjo carrying a baseball bat.
¶ 3 Yost was found beaten to death in a pool of blood, beer and milk. Part of a broken set of handcuffs was found near his right hip. The medical examiner found a pin from these handcuffs embedded in Yost's skull during the autopsy. Two safes containing over $30,000.00 were stolen, as well as all the money from the cash register and the store's surveillance videotape. All four defendants were arrested later that same day wearing new tennis shoes and carrying wads of cash. The stolen drop safe and the store surveillance videotape, as well as other damaging evidence, was found in a search of Alverson's home. The baseball bat, the victim's bloody QuickTrip jacket, the other cuff from the set of broken handcuffs, and Wilson's Nike jacket which matched the one he wore on the surveillance tape were taken from Wilson's home. For a more detailed rendition of the facts, see Wilson v. State, 1998 OK CR 73, 983 P.2d 448 and Brown v. State, 1998 OK CR 77, 983 P.2d 474.
¶ 4 Alverson raises seventeen (17) propositions of error in his appeal.
II. DUAL JURY ISSUES
¶ 5 Alverson and co-defendant Harjo were tried conjointly, but with separate juries deciding their fate. Alverson complains in his sixth proposition of error that this dual jury procedure is not authorized by law, and that it deprived him of a fair trial. We disagree.
¶ 6 This Court has approved the use of dual juries in codefendant cases.FN2 Additionally, we previously ruled in an “Extraordinary Writ” action initiated by Alverson and his codefendants that the use of dual juries in this case was discretionary with the trial judge since the procedure is not prohibited by Oklahoma law.FN3 Accordingly, collateral estoppel prevents Alverson from arguing the dual jury procedure in this case was contrary to Oklahoma law.FN4 However, we will address Alverson's claims regarding the procedure's effect on his rights.
FN2. Cohee v. State, 942 P.2d 211, 1997 OK CR 30, Guideline 2, 942 P.2d 211, 213. FN3. Harjo et al. v. Turnbull, Order Denying Petitions for Extraordinary Relief, Nos. P 96-1258, P 96-1266, P 96-1278 (Okl.Cr.January 14, 1997) (not for publication). FN4. Wilson v. State, 1998 OK CR 73, ¶ 11, 983 P.2d 448, citing Wilson v. Kane, 1993 OK 65, n. 23, 852 P.2d 717, 727.
¶ 7 Alverson bears the burden of showing actual prejudice before relief will be warranted.FN5 Alverson first claims the procedure had a chilling effect on cross-examination because the attorneys for the respective defendants had to be careful not to ask questions that were prejudicial to one co-defendant without first having the other co-defendant's jury removed. He claims when this occurred, his jury was left to improperly speculate that evidence against him was about to be presented. Alverson does not cite to any instances showing actual prejudice, but rather hypothesizes that his jury was prejudiced in this way. We are not persuaded. FN5. Wilson, 1998 OK CR 73 at ¶ 12, 983 P.2d at 456 (citations omitted).
¶ 8 The trial judge painstakingly instructed Alverson's jury that there would be occasions where evidence would be presented to just one jury and not the other, but they were to decide the case only on the evidence presented to them regarding Alverson. The Court's instructions were designed to alleviate any possible confusion or speculation on the part of the two juries. The record is void of any indication that the juries did not follow the trial court's instructions.
¶ 9 Moreover, Alverson does not cite to any specific instances where the dual jury procedure “chilled” defense counsel's cross-examination of witnesses. There is no indication that his attorney's cross-examination of any witnesses would have been different had the dual jury procedure not been used. Again, Alverson merely hypothesizes in general terms that dual juries tend to chill cross-examination. This is insufficient to show actual prejudice and will not merit relief.
¶ 10 Alverson also claims that the dual jury procedure created a conflict of interest situation because his attorney was ordered not to do anything to prejudice co-defendant Harjo. He asserts this placed his attorney in a position where he had to simultaneously protect the interests of two parties. However, this is not the case. Alverson's attorney was merely instructed not to do anything to prejudice co-defendant Harjo in the presence of Harjo's jury. All Alverson's lawyer had to do was ask the court to remove Harjo's jury if he wanted to proceed along lines which were damaging to Harjo. This in no way made him an advocate or a co-counsel for Harjo, and Alverson's reliance on Holloway v. Arkansas FN6 is entirely misplaced.
FN6. 435 U.S. 475, 98 S.Ct. 1173, 55 L.Ed.2d 426 (1978) (reversible error to order attorney to represent three different codefendants with conflicting interests where counsel warned a possible conflict of interest will occur because of joint representation).
¶ 11 Finally, Alverson complains that he was prejudiced by co-defendant Harjo's questioning of State's witness Mandy Rumsey. Rumsey had testified that she did not see blood on Harjo, whom she knew from school, the night of the murder. She also testified that she had not paid much attention to Alverson because she did not know him. Harjo's counsel asked Rumsey what color clothing Alverson was wearing that night, and she answered that he was wearing a dark blue jacket. Harjo's counsel then asked her if that was one reason she couldn't tell if he did or didn't have blood on his clothing-because of the dark color.
¶ 12 Alverson's attorney did not object to this question in a timely manner, waiving all but plain error. We disagree that the question put Alverson in a position of having to defend against two prosecutors. It was a question asked solely for clarification and did not elicit any information that Alverson's jury did not already have before it. Accordingly, it did not rise to the level of plain error. Having found none of the arguments in this proposition to be of merit, this proposition is denied.
III. FIRST STAGE ISSUES
¶ 13 In his first proposition of error, Alverson contends he was under illegal arrest at the time he was removed from Wilson's vehicle, which he was driving without a license, and handcuffed. He claims his subsequent confession was tainted by this illegal arrest and must be suppressed.
¶ 14 Contrary to Alverson's claim, he was not under arrest, but rather under investigative detention when officers removed him from the car and handcuffed him.FN7 He was being detained not only so officers could investigate his possible involvement in Yost's murder, but also because they had just caught him driving without a license. FN8 Approximately ten minutes into his detention, the officers learned that Alverson had outstanding misdemeanor arrest warrants.FN9 He had not been detained for an unreasonable amount of time before these facts, which gave officers every right to arrest him, came to light.FN10 Accordingly, Alverson's subsequent arrest and transportation to the detective division of the Tulsa Police Department was legal, and the confession which followed was not tainted by any illegality in his arrest. This proposition must be denied.
FN7. Brown v. State, 1998 OK CR 77, ¶ 39-40, 983 P.2d 474 (citations omitted) (defendant under “investigative detention” and not “under arrest” despite being handcuffed at scene; was not “under arrest” until the detention had become unreasonably intrusive-i.e. when vehicle stop was completed and he was transported to the detective division). In any event, unlike his co-defendants, Alverson was caught driving without a license and thus officers had every right to arrest him immediately. (Tr.VI at 15) FN8. Tr.VI at 15. FN9. Alverson claims in his brief that officers did not learn of the existence of these warrants until late that night, after Alverson had been transported to the police station. However, Sgt. Allen testified at trial that he was sure he and the other arresting officers knew about Alverson's arrest warrants at the scene, before they transported him. (Tr.VI at 13; Tr.VII at 4-5) FN10. Cf. Brown, supra. Alverson's reliance on Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89, 85 S.Ct. 223, 13 L.Ed.2d 142 (1964) and other cases involving warrantless arrests is misplaced.
¶ 15 In his third proposition of error, Alverson complains that Detective Makinson improperly provided the jury with an irrelevant and prejudicial “lengthy narrative” regarding what was depicted on the store surveillance videotape. The record is clear that Detective Makinson knew what all four defendants looked like and had viewed the entire videotape before he testified. For the jury's benefit, Makinson identified all four defendants on the tape as it was being played. He discussed the shift change that occurred, and he also testified regarding what could be heard on the tape as the beating took place.
¶ 16 The detective's identifications of the defendants, discussion of what was happening during the shift change, and testimony concerning the audible sounds on the tape were all helpful to the jury. They were based on Makinson's observations of the defendants prior to watching the videotape and his knowledge of the events that had transpired based on his investigation of the crime. Accordingly, his explanatory testimony was properly admitted as lay witness opinion testimony.FN11
FN11. Green v. State, 1985 OK CR 126, ¶ 20, 713 P.2d 1032, 1039 overruled on other grounds, Brewer v. State, 1986 OK CR 55, ¶ 51 n. 1, 718 P.2d 354, 365 n. 1 and cert. denied, 479 U.S. 871, 107 S.Ct. 241, 93 L.Ed.2d 165 (1986); 12 O.S.1991, § 2701. The only arguably improper comment was the detective's statement about “the bat hitting the victim in the head.” However, defense counsel's objection was sustained and he specifically requested the jury not be admonished to disregard the comment. In any event, the comment was not a serious error which would justify relief.
¶ 17 Alverson attempts to distinguish this case from that of United States v. Jones,FN12 which held similar explanatory testimony regarding an audio tape admissible. Jones upheld the testimony of a witness who heard the statements on an unintelligible tape as they were being recorded; his testimony rendered a difficult to understand tape recording admissible. Alverson incorrectly asserts that Jones stands for the proposition that only someone actually present when the recording is made can testify to its contents. On the contrary, Jones simply upheld the admission of an audio-tape recording where one familiar with its contents testified and the recording gave independent support to his testimony.FN13
FN12. 540 F.2d 465 (10th Cir.1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1101, 97 S.Ct. 1125, 51 L.Ed.2d 551 (1977). FN13. Id. at 470.
¶ 18 In this case, Detective Makinson was familiar with all four defendants and was in a position to identify them when he saw them on the videotape. Testimony from Makinson and other witnesses, regarding when the shift change took place and the time of the victim's assault, was corroborated by the videotape. We find no error in the playing of the videotape or in Makinson's explanatory testimony regarding that tape. The “narrative” was similar to the preparation of an accurate transcript for the jury to use as a reference tool when listening to an audio-tape.FN14 More accurately, as already stated above, it was lay witness opinion testimony that was properly admitted because it: (1) was rationally based on the perception of the witness; and (2) aided the trier of fact.FN15
FN14. See, e.g., Brassfield v. State, 1986 OK CR 73, ¶ 6, 719 P.2d 461. FN15. Green, 1985 OK CR 126 at ¶ 20, 713 P.2d at 1039.
¶ 19 In propositions seven and eight, Alverson complains about the introduction of DNA evidence. Alverson argues in proposition seven that the trial court erroneously admitted Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) DNA test results without first holding a Daubert FN16 hearing. Alverson did not object to the admission of this evidence at trial, waiving all but plain error.
FN16. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). This Court adopted Daubert in Taylor v. State, 1995 OK CR 10, ¶ 15, 889 P.2d 319, 328-29 (holding RFLP DNA testing admissible).
¶ 20 We have recently visited this issue and determined that PCR DNA testing is reliable and admissible in the State of Oklahoma.FN17 Alverson concedes this point, but argues that the PCR DNA evidence in this case came from an expert who did not explain how she performed the statistical probability analysis or describe the statistical information on which it was based. Assuming without deciding that the State must elicit such testimony before statistical probability evidence will be admitted, the record reflects that Brown did in fact testify sufficiently regarding these issues.FN18 Thus, the DNA evidence was properly admitted.
FN17. Wood v. State, 1998 OK CR 19, ¶ 40, 959 P.2d 1, 11. FN18. Tr.VI at 234-35.
¶ 21 In Proposition eight, Alverson contends the State failed to establish a sufficient chain of custody for items tested by OSBI serologist Jamie Yorkston. Yorkston examined the following items which had been seized from Wilson's porch: (1) one half of the broken handcuffs (the other half was found at the scene near the victim's body); (2) Yost's QuikTrip jacket; (3) Wilson's Nike jacket; (4) the metal bat; and (5) a piece of broken glass (which matched three pieces of glass found in the QuikTrip cooler). Alverson complains the State failed to demonstrate that this evidence, and samples taken from it, had not been contaminated or altered. Alverson did not object on these grounds during Yorkston's testimony, waiving all but plain error. FN19. Minter v. State, 1988 OK CR 116, ¶ 5, 756 P.2d 10, 11.
¶ 22 “The purpose of the chain of custody rule is to guard against substitution of or tampering with the evidence between the time it is found and the time it is analyzed.” FN20 Although the State has the burden of showing the evidence is in substantially the same condition at the time of offering as when the crime was committed, it is not necessary that all possibility of alteration be negated.FN21 If there is only speculation that tampering or alteration occurred, it is proper to admit the evidence and allow any doubt to go to its weight rather than its admissibility. FN22
FN20. Middaugh v. State, 1988 OK CR 295, ¶ 16, 767 P.2d 432, 436 (citation omitted). FN21. Driskell v. State, 1983 OK CR 22 ¶ 59, 659 P.2d 343, 354. FN22. Contu v. State, 1975 OK CR 55, ¶ 13, 533 P.2d 1000, 1003.
¶ 23 In this case, witnesses including five detectives and one police officer testified that the items in question were in the same condition as when they were found. In addition, the witnesses indicated the items were properly marked for identification and sent to the OSBI. Yorkston's testimony explained how the evidence was handled within the OSBI. Given this testimony, we find the evidence was properly admitted against Appellant.
IV. FIRST STAGE JURY INSTRUCTIONS
¶ 24 In his ninth proposition of error, Alverson contends a second degree murder instruction should have been given. He claims he merely intended to commit robbery by force or fear, the predicate felony for the lesser offense of second degree felony murder, and not robbery with a dangerous weapon, which is the predicate felony for first degree felony murder. We note that Alverson did not request an instruction on murder in the second degree, waiving all but plain error.
¶ 25 In this case, the facts are undisputed that the victim was beaten to death with a baseball bat, which is a dangerous weapon. This weapon was used so the robbery could be completed. Where a robbery is committed with a dangerous weapon, second degree felony murder cannot be accomplished because the offense becomes one of first degree felony murder.FN23 Accordingly, an instruction on second degree felony murder would have been improper. FN24 We find no error here.
FN23. Foster v. State, 1986 OK CR 19, ¶ 31, 714 P.2d 1031, 1039, cert. denied, 479 U.S. 873, 107 S.Ct. 249, 93 L.Ed.2d 173, citing 21 O.S.1981, § 701.7(B). FN24. Id., citing Carlile v. State, 1972 OK CR 22, 493 P.2d 449 (holding lesser included offenses should only be given to the jury when warranted by the evidence).
V. ISSUES ADDRESSING BOTH FIRST AND SECOND STAGE
A. INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL
¶ 26 In his fifth proposition of error, Alverson contends his attorney was ineffective. Our review of an ineffective assistance of counsel claim begins with a presumption of competence, and the burden is on the defendant to demonstrate both deficient performance and resulting prejudice.FN25 There is a strong presumption that counsel's conduct was professional, and the defendant must overcome the presumption that counsel's conduct equaled sound trial strategy.FN26 If we can dispose of the claim on the ground of lack of prejudice, we will not determine whether trial counsel's performance was deficient.FN27
FN25. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984); Lambert v. State, 1994 OK CR 79, ¶ 60, 888 P.2d 494, 506. FN26. Rogers v. State, 1995 OK CR 8, ¶ 5, 890 P.2d 959, 967, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 919, 116 S.Ct. 312, 133 L.Ed.2d 215 (1995). FN27. Lambert, 1994 OK CR 79 at ¶ 60, 888 P.2d at 494, citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697, 104 S.Ct. at 2069-70. See also Coleman v. State, 1984 OK CR 104, ¶ 9, 693 P.2d 4, 7 (“If it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed.”).
¶ 27 Alverson contends first that his attorney was ineffective because he stated during voir dire, “And I anticipate, based on the evidence, that you will be in a second stage, looking at punishment.” FN28 This was asked in the context of exploring a potential juror's feelings toward the death penalty. Throughout the trial, counsel's strategy was to argue Alverson was less culpable than the others in Yost's murder. Given the overwhelming evidence of guilt, including the store surveillance tape and Alverson's confession, counsel's sound trial strategy of attempting damage control regarding punishment did not render him ineffective. FN28. Tr.III at 304.
¶ 28 Next, Alverson contends his attorney was ineffective because he neither cross-examined the State's DNA witnesses nor offered any defense to the DNA evidence presented. Alverson concedes that the State's case did not “hinge” on the DNA evidence.FN29 The State's DNA evidence was that the blood found on the items seized from codefendant Wilson's porch was that of the victim. We fail to see how the outcome of this trial would have differed had Alverson's counsel cross-examined these witnesses or presented evidence refuting the DNA results. Accordingly, Alverson was not prejudiced by counsel's performance and relief is not warranted.FN30
FN29. Br. of Appellant at 30. FN30. Lambert, 1994 OK CR 79 at ¶ 62, 888 P.2d at 506.
¶ 29 Alverson also contends that his attorney was ineffective because he conceded the crime was heinous, atrocious or cruel. In making this argument, Alverson takes one sentence from second stage closing arguments completely out of context. Counsel's exact argument was that while the murder was cruel and atrocious, Alverson was not a major participant. He argued Alverson only intended to commit robbery, not murder, and that his participation was minimal. Arguments as to one defendant's lesser culpability are common in the second stage of capital trials and will not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.FN31
FN31. Rogers, 1995 OK CR 8 at ¶ 5, 890 P.2d at 967 (presumption that counsel's conduct was sound trial strategy).
¶ 30 Next, Alverson complains counsel was ineffective for failing to properly prepare one of his second stage witnesses. Social worker Beverly Jean Carlton was called to present Alverson's social history to the jury. FN32 This witness was not aware of a pre-sentence report prepared from one of Alverson's prior convictions. Because the jury rejected the continuing threat aggravator, we dispose of this claim on a lack of prejudice.FN33
FN32. The trial judge granted Alverson's motion requesting State funds to hire Carlton, a licensed clinical social worker, in preparing his defense. (O.R.II at 287-88) FN33. Lambert, 1994 OK CR 79 at ¶ 60, 888 P.2d at 506, citing Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697, 104 S.Ct. at 2069-70.
¶ 31 Finally, Alverson takes issue with counsel's failure to investigate alleged head injuries Alverson had received as a child. Counsel did request funds to hire an expert to look into this issue, which was properly denied by the trial court.FN34 Because Alverson has presented no evidence to support his contention that ordinary injuries he received as a child resulted in inorganic brain damage, we dispose of this claim on a lack of prejudice as well.FN35
FN34. The defense relied on the results of the MMPI-2 which the previously appointed expert, Jean Carlton, had administered. (O.R.II at 328) Carlon admitted during her testimony that she was not even qualified to administer the MMPI. (Tr.IX at 218-19) Even if she had been qualified, the trial court correctly ruled that the MMPI does not indicate whether a person has neurological problems, and additionally, none of the doctors who examined Alverson following his run-of-the-mill childhood accidents indicated the possibility that they had created neurological damage or that an evaluation for neurological damage was necessary. (Tr.I at 225-29) Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Alverson's motion for expert assistance at State expense. Rogers v. State, 1995 OK CR 8, ¶ 4, 890 P.2d 959, 967 (before a defendant may qualify for court-appointed expert assistance, he must make a showing of need and show that he will be prejudiced by the lack of expert assistance), citing Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985).
FN35. Lambert, 1994 OK CR 79 at ¶ 62, 888 P.2d at 506. In any event, some evidence regarding head injuries was presented in second stage for the jury to consider. The testifying witness acknowledged the injuries were relatively minor-only one football injury required medical care which Alverson received, with no notation that permanent or even serious damage had resulted. (Tr.IX at 158-59, 167, 180-81)
B. GRUESOME PHOTOGRAPHS
¶ 32 In his second proposition of error, Alverson challenges the admissibility of several photographs depicting the victim and his wounds. The admission of photographs is within the trial court's discretion, and this Court will not disturb that ruling absent an abuse of discretion.FN36 This Court has previously held that the question is whether pictures are so unnecessarily hideous as to produce an unfair impact on a jury.FN37
FN36. Le v. State, 1997 OK CR 55, ¶ 25, 947 P.2d 535, 548, cert. denied, 524 U.S. 930, 118 S.Ct. 2329, 141 L.Ed.2d 702 (1998). FN37. Id.
¶ 33 Alverson contends State's Exhibit Nos. 93, 95, 99, 100, 101, 102, and 104 were all improperly admitted into evidence during the first stage of trial.FN38 Exhibit Nos. 93 and 95 were properly introduced to corroborate the medical examiner's testimony concerning defensive wounds to the victim's hands.FN39 Exhibit Nos. 99, 100, 101 and 102 all show multiple injuries to the victim's face and head from different angles and are duplicative.FN40 While they can be characterized as gruesome because of the extensive damage that was done to the victim during his beating, “they accurately depict the result of Appellant's actions and the condition of decedent.” FN41 The medical examiner testified that these photographs were the best method of illustrating the nature and extent of the victim's injuries to the jury.FN42 We find the probative value of all these exhibits was not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting them.
FN38. Alverson also references State's Exhibit No. 113 (an overhead view of the victim's head) in his brief, but states only that it was “arguably probative.” (See Brief of Appellant at 17) We take this to mean that Alverson does not object to its introduction on appeal. In any event, our independent review of the case reveals no error in its introduction. FN39. Romano v. State, 1995 OK CR 74, ¶ 46, 909 P.2d 92, 114, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 855, 117 S.Ct. 151, 136 L.Ed.2d 96 (1996)(pictures depicting nature, extent and location of wounds, including defensive wounds, held relevant); Wood v. State, 1976 OK CR 311, ¶ 22, 557 P.2d 436, 442 (pictures properly admitted where they tended to corroborate pathologist's testimony concerning defensive wounds to head and hands). FN40. No. 99 shows the right side of the victim's face; No. 100 shows the left side of the victim's face; No. 101 shows a full frontal view of the victim's face; No. 102 shows the back side of the victim's head. Different injuries can be seen in each of the pictures. FN41. Romano, 1995 OK CR 74 at ¶ 46, 909 P.2d at 114. FN42. Tr.X at 3-4.
¶ 34 Alverson also contends State's Exhibits Nos. 97 and 115 were improperly admitted in the second stage of trial. Exhibit No. 97 depicts a cut finger on the victim's right hand. This cut showed the extent of the victim's defensive wounds in more detail than the photos admitted in the first stage of trial. It was relevant to show that the victim was conscious and suffered prior to his death. We find its probative value was not outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. Accordingly, its admission was not error.
¶ 35 Exhibit No. 115 is more troublesome. It is a color photograph of the victim's brain cavity, the top of his skull having been removed by the medical examiner. At the pre-trial motion hearing wherein the trial court ruled it admissible, the State argued its purpose was to illustrate the massive crack the victim suffered from one side of his skull to the other.FN43 The medical examiner used it in his second stage testimony for the ostensible purpose of showing the jury this “hinge fracture.” However, it more amply showed the handiwork of the medical examiner, as he had sawed off and removed the top of the victim's skull and also removed the victim's brain.FN44 The photograph is nothing more than an appalling close-up view of the cavity of the victim's skull in gruesome detail. What little probative value it may have had was certainly outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. We find the trial court erred in allowing this photograph into evidence.FN45
FN43. Tr. of 4/29/97 at 122-23. FN44. Tr. of 5/19/97 at 44. In fact, it is impossible to distinguish between where the hinge fracture began and ended and where the medical examiner's sawing took place. FN45. Oxendine v. State, 1958 OK CR 104, ¶ 8, 335 P.2d 940, 943 (Okl.Cr.1958) (holding color pictures of nude victim showing results of autopsy were so shocking, unnecessary and highly prejudicial as to force a reversal).
¶ 36 We now must determine whether the error was harmless. The photograph was admitted in support of the especially heinous, atrocious and cruel aggravator. Other properly admitted photographs which showed wounds to the victim's head and hands were far grimmer than this sterile, clinical photograph. While this particular photograph was more prejudicial than probative, given the other photographs which were properly admitted, we cannot find the death sentence was imposed because of its introduction.FN46 This is especially true given the State's overwhelming evidence that the victim suffered prior to his death,FN47 including the surveillance tape on which one can hear the victim screaming for help and moaning. We can say with the utmost confidence that the admission of this photograph did not deprive Alverson of a substantial right.FN48 Accordingly, this error is harmless.
FN46. Wilson v. State, 1998 OK CR 73, ¶ 94, 983 P.2d 448. FN47. See Proposition X, infra. FN48. Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 87 S.Ct. 824, 17 L.Ed.2d 705 (1967); 20 O.S.1991, § 3001.1 (no judgment shall be set aside or new trial granted by any appellate court unless the error complained of “has probably resulted in a miscarriage of justice, or constitutes a substantial violation of a constitutional or statutory right.”).
C. PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT
¶ 37 Prosecutorial misconduct is the subject of Alverson's fourth proposition of error. We will address each alleged instance of misconduct in the order raised.
¶ 38 Alverson first challenges the prosecutor's “running narrative” of what appears on the store surveillance videotape. Alverson takes issue specifically with: (a) the prosecutor telling the jury that an image on the screen was Alverson since Alverson was not identified at all of the points referenced by the prosecutor in closing argument; (b) the prosecutor arguing that one can see Alverson raising his arms for the purpose of “signaling” the others that it was time for the take down; and (c) the prosecutor's claim that while outside, Alverson handed the baseball bat to Harjo.
¶ 39 We begin by noting the trial court correctly ruled that the videotape was a non-testimonial exhibit.FN49 As such, Alverson's attempts to distinguish this videotape from a photograph, which he concedes could have been referred to in closing arguments, are unsuccessful. This exhibit was properly utilized just like any other exhibit the parties could have used and referred to in closing arguments. The prosecutor was free to follow Alverson's image throughout the tape and comment on what that tape showed from the government's perspective; in fact, Alverson's attorney did exactly the same from the defense's perspective.FN50
FN49. Duvall v. State, 1989 OK CR 61, ¶ 11, 780 P.2d 1178 (holding audio tape recording of Appellant selling cocaine to another was not testimony by a witness and thus was to be treated as any other exhibit). FN50. In first stage, Alverson's lawyer argued the videotape showed Alverson was merely a follower and that Wilson and Brown were the main players in this murder. (Tr.VIII at 37) In second stage, he argued the videotape showed Alverson was merely a lookout who expressed surprise (“we got a problem”) when things got out of hand. (Tr.X at 44-46)
¶ 40 Additionally, it was a fair inference drawn from the evidence that when Alverson raised his arms, it was to signal the others to do the take down, as Yost was attacked immediately following this gesture. The prosecutor's argument that Alverson handed Harjo the bat was likewise a reasonable inference from the evidence. State's witness Mandy Rumsey testified that she saw Alverson getting into the vehicle containing the bat around the time of the murder; she also heard him tell Harjo to “come on.” FN51 The store surveillance videotape shows Alverson leading the way when he and Harjo exit and re-enter the store with the baseball bat. Because Alverson appears to be the leader, one can fairly infer that he retrieved the bat and handed it to Harjo while they were still outside.FN52 We find nothing inappropriate here.
FN51. Tr.IV at 100. FN52. See Hooper v. State, 1997 OK CR 64, ¶¶ 53-56, 947 P.2d 1090, 1110-11, cert. denied, 524 U.S. 943, 118 S.Ct. 2353, 141 L.Ed.2d 722 (1998) (finding prosecutor's theory of how victim died was not inflammatory speculation, but rather a reasonable inference from the evidence).
¶ 41 Alverson also contends the prosecutor improperly punctuated his argument while swinging the baseball bat in front of the jury and striking the floor three times. Alverson did not object when this occurred, waiving all but plain error. We find the prosecutor's use of the bat in this manner, while theatrical and graphic, fell within the wide latitude permitted during closing argument.FN53
FN53. Ellis v. State, 1992 OK CR 45, ¶ 12, 867 P.2d 1289, 1297, cert. denied, 513 U.S. 863, 115 S.Ct. 178, 130 L.Ed.2d 113 (1994) (holding prosecutor's action of “dry-firing” gun while pointing it down may have been overly graphic but was still within the wide latitude permitted during closing argument). Just as in Ellis, Alverson's attempts to compare this prosecutor's conduct to that of the prosecutor in Brewer v. State, 1982 OK CR 128, 650 P.2d 54, cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1150, 103 S.Ct. 794, 74 L.Ed.2d 999 (1983) is tenuous and unpersuasive.
¶ 42 Alverson continues to allege prosecutorial misconduct in the second stage proceedings. He argues the prosecutor blatantly misstated evidence twice: once when he argued that Alverson had told Detective Folks that he planned on killing Yost, and again when he argued that Alverson had admitted to Folks that he knew they were going to rob and kill Yost.
¶ 43 In his statement to Detective Folks, Alverson stated the robbery had been planned about two weeks in advance. He did not go so far as to concede the murder was planned. Therefore, the prosecutor's argument was inaccurate. However, in viewing the record as a whole, we find the error harmless. The trial court reminded the jury after each of defense counsel's objections that the lawyers' statements were not evidence. Additionally, defense counsel argued that his client had not made as sweeping a confession as the prosecutor mistakenly alleged. “Allegations of prosecutorial misconduct do not warrant reversal of a conviction unless the cumulative effect was such to deprive the defendant of a fair trial.” FN54 Because we do not find that the inappropriate comments deprived Appellant of a fair trial or affected the jury's assessment of the death penalty, relief is not warranted.FN55
FN54. Smith v. State, 1996 OK CR 50, ¶ 29, 932 P.2d 521, 531, cert. denied, 521 U.S. 1124, 117 S.Ct. 2522, 138 L.Ed.2d 1023 (1997), citing Duckett v. State, 1995 OK CR 61, 919 P.2d 7, 19, cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1131, 117 S.Ct. 991, 136 L.Ed.2d 872 (1997). FN55. Id.
¶ 44 Alverson further alleges the prosecutor improperly attempted to evoke sympathy for the victim when he stated, “you can let sympathy enter your deliberations at this point.” FN56 No objection was made at trial, waiving all but plain error. We find no error here. This statement was made in the context of discussing the defendant's mitigating evidence. The prosecutor discussed how Alverson's family had come to court to plead for his life, then argued, “you can let sympathy enter your deliberations at this point. But I submit to you that this is not about forgiveness. It's not about sympathy.” FN57 When viewed in context, it is clear that the prosecutor was discussing sympathy for the defendant, not the victim. As such, the statement cannot possibly be viewed as an attempt to evoke victim sympathy.
FN56. Tr.X at 37. FN57. Id.
¶ 45 Alverson also takes issue with the prosecutor's description of the victim as “This innocent man, trying to make a living for his wife and two baby boys.” FN58 Once again, no objection was lodged at trial, waiving all but plain error. We find this description was proper as it was based on the evidence. It is far less of an improper solicitation for victim sympathy than other statements upheld by this Court.FN59
FN58. Tr.X at 68. FN59. Hooper, 1997 OK CR 64 at ¶ 53, 947 P.2d at 1110 (prosecutor's statement that victim “was immersed in a child's worst nightmare of being chased by an evil monster trying to kill her” and request that the jury imagine what she went through held to approach improper solicitation of sympathy for the victim, but not improper as it was based on the evidence presented and on the State's theory of the victim's death).
¶ 46 Likewise, we find the prosecutor did not ask the jury to place themselves in the position of the victim when he asked, “Have you ever taken a metal baseball bat, take it in your hand ... and just barely, barely tap the metal baseball bat on your skull, just barely. It hurts.” FN60 This argument was made to argue the victim felt pain prior to his death, a wholly permissible area of discussion during sentencing stage closing argument.
FN60. Tr.X at 67.
¶ 47 We have reviewed each of the complained-of statements and find none resulted in a miscarriage of justice, deprived the appellant of a substantial trial right, or had any impact whatsoever on the judgment or sentence. FN61 Accordingly, this proposition is denied. FN61. Hawkins v. State, 1994 OK CR 83, ¶ 30, 891 P.2d 586, 595, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 977, 116 S.Ct. 480, 133 L.Ed.2d 408 (1995), citing Staggs v. State, 1991 OK CR 4, 804 P.2d 456; Ashinsky v. State, 1989 OK CR 59, 780 P.2d 201; Fisher v. State, 1987 OK CR 85, 736 P.2d 1003.
V. SECOND STAGE ISSUES
¶ 48 In proposition ten, Alverson argues: (a) the State presented insufficient evidence to show the victim was conscious for a significant length of time before losing consciousness so as to render his death “one preceded by torture or serious physical abuse”; and (b) even if the death was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel, the State failed to show Alverson caused it to be so.
¶ 49 When the sufficiency of the evidence of an aggravating circumstance is challenged on appeal, this Court will view the evidence in the light most favorable to the State and determine whether any competent evidence supports the State's charge that the aggravating circumstance existed.FN62 The standard for determining the existence of the aggravator “especially heinous, atrocious or cruel” is as follows: FN62. Hain v. State, 1996 OK CR 26, ¶ 62, 919 P.2d 1130, 1146 (citation omitted), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1031, 117 S.Ct. 588, 136 L.Ed.2d 517 (1996). [T]his Court has limited this aggravating circumstance to cases in which the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder of the victim was preceded by torture or serious physical abuse, which may include the infliction of either great physical anguish or extreme mental cruelty. “Absent evidence of conscious physical suffering of the victim prior to death, the required torture or serious physical abuse standard is not met.” As to the extreme mental cruelty prong of this aggravating circumstance, “torture creating extreme mental distress must be the result of intentional acts by the defendant. The torture must produce mental anguish in addition to that which of necessity accompanies the underlying killing. Analysis must focus on the acts of the defendant toward the victim and the level of tension created.” FN63. Cheney v. State, 1995 OK CR 72 ¶ 15, 909 P.2d 74, 80 (citations omitted).
¶ 50 In this case, the State's evidence was that Alverson and his three co-defendants jumped Yost and dragged him into the back cooler. Alverson and Harjo then left the cooler to go outside and retrieve handcuffs and a baseball bat. It is safe to infer that restraints were necessary because the victim was struggling. One can hear the victim screaming for help on the surveillance tape as Alverson and Harjo exit the store. We find that even before the baseball bat was brought into the cooler, the victim had already “suffered the extreme mental anguish of being held captive, knowing that his ultimate fate rested in the hands of his attackers whom he could identify if left to live.” FN64. Brown v. State, 1998 OK CR 77, ¶ 70, 983 P.2d 474. This alone is sufficient to uphold the jury's finding of this aggravating circumstance. See Hawkins v. State, 1994 OK CR 83, ¶ 45, 891 P.2d 586, 597, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 977, 116 S.Ct. 480, 133 L.Ed.2d 408 (1995) (upholding heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravator even though victim did not suffer serious physical abuse where she was subjected to extreme mental cruelty).
¶ 51 Once Alverson and Harjo returned to the cooler with the baseball bat, over forty “pings” could be heard as the brutal beating took place. Although the medical examiner testified that many of the blows could have caused instantaneous death or unconsciousness, the defensive wounds on the victim's hands plainly demonstrate that he did not lose consciousness swiftly, but rather was painfully aware of what was happening to him.FN65 Additionally, a hinge from the handcuffs was removed from the victim's skull, indicating at some point he had placed his hands between the bat and his head in a defensive posture. We find ample evidence of both extreme mental anguish and conscious physical suffering prior to the victim's death to support this aggravating circumstance.FN66
FN65. See Walker v. State, 1994 OK CR 66, ¶ 61, 887 P.2d 301, 318, cert. denied, 516 U.S. 859, 116 S.Ct. 166, 133 L.Ed.2d 108 (1995) (while medical examiner testified many of the wounds may have been inflicted while victim was unconscious, the many defensive wounds she incurred established that she was quite alert and active during much of the attack). FN66. Cheney, 1995 OK CR 72 at ¶ 15, 909 P.2d at 80.
¶ 52 Alverson argues in the alternative that even if the evidence is sufficient to support the heinous, atrocious and cruel aggravator, it is legally insufficient to show he inflicted the serious physical abuse or intended that it take place.FN67 We disagree. The evidence showed Alverson was a substantial participant in the murder. He actively participated in the initial attack wherein the victim was dragged into the cooler. Alverson came out of the cooler to straighten up store merchandise that he and his cohorts had knocked off the shelves during the attack, then re-entered the cooler. Alverson actively participated in bringing the baseball bat, and arguably the handcuffs, into the cooler. Although Harjo carried the bat, Alverson led the way outside the store to retrieve it and back inside to the cooler. By introducing a dangerous weapon into the robbery, Alverson “created a desperate situation inherently dangerous to human life.” FN68 Moreover, Alverson was inside the cooler when some of the beating was administered.FN69 Accordingly, we find the evidence clearly showed that even if Alverson did not deliver the blows himself, he knew the murder was to take place and actively participated in it.FN70
FN67. Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137, 107 S.Ct. 1676, 95 L.Ed.2d 127 (1987) (stating that before a defendant is eligible for the death penalty, the State must prove at least that the defendant substantially participated in the killing to the degree that he exhibited reckless indifference to the loss of human life.). FN68. Hain, 1996 OK CR 26 at ¶ 60, 919 P.2d at 1146 (holding defendant's conduct in helping create a desperate situation inherently dangerous to human life showed he was a major participant in the felony, knew the killing would take place, and displayed reckless indifference to human life). FN69. Cf. Barnett v. State, 1993 OK CR 26, ¶ 32, 853 P.2d 226, 234 (evidence sufficient to support heinous, atrocious and cruel aggravator even though the vast majority of the acts upon which this aggravator were based were perpetrated against the victim in the absence of the appellant). FN70. Ha 1996 OK CR 26 at ¶ 60, 919 P.2d at 1146.
¶ 53 In his eleventh proposition of error, Alverson contends: (a) as applied by this Court, the especially heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravating circumstance does not perform the constitutionally required narrowing process; and (b) the jury instructions defining this aggravator failed to perform the constitutionally mandated narrowing process.
¶ 54 The law in Oklahoma is well settled that this aggravating circumstance, as limited by Stouffer v. State FN71 to those murders preceded by torture or serious physical abuse, is sufficiently channeled to satisfy constitutional constraints.FN72 We decline to revisit this issue. FN71. 1987 OK CR 166, 742 P.2d 562, cert. denied, 484 U.S. 1036, 108 S.Ct. 763, 98 L.Ed.2d 779. FN72. Hawkins, 1994 OK CR 83 at ¶ 42, 891 P.2d at 596, c iting Romano v. State, 847 P.2d 368 (Okl.Cr.1993); Woodruff v. State, 846 P.2d 1124 (Okl.Cr.1993); Fisher v. State, 845 P.2d 1272 (Okl.Cr.1992), cert. denied, 509 U.S. 911, 113 S.Ct. 3014, 125 L.Ed.2d 704 (1993).
¶ 55 The trial court gave Alverson's jury the standard instruction defining heinous, atrocious or cruel. This instruction states: As used in these instructions, the term “heinous” means extremely wicked or shockingly evil; “atrocious” means outrageously wicked and vile; “cruel” means pitiless, or designed to inflict a high degree of pain, utter indifference to, or enjoyment of, the sufferings of others. The phrase “especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel” is directed to those crimes where the death of the victim was preceded by torture of the victim or serious physical abuse. FN73. OUJI-CR 2 nd 4-73; O.R.III, 417.
¶ 56 We have previously upheld the constitutionality of this instruction, finding the second paragraph limits the use of this aggravating circumstance to cases where the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder of the victim was preceded by torture or serious physical abuse, “which may include the infliction of either great physical anguish or extreme mental cruelty.” FN74 The jury instruction is sufficient without further explanation, since “torture or serious physical abuse” does not require additional definition.FN75 FN74. Le v. State, 1997 OK CR 55, ¶ 43, 947 P.2d 535, 552, cert. denied, 524 U.S. 930, 118 S.Ct. 2329, 141 L.Ed.2d 702 (1998) (citations omitted). FN75. Id.
¶ 57 Additionally, Alverson argues this Court's practice of interpreting this aggravating circumstance on a case-by-case basis should be declared unconstitutional. We have previously rejected the notion that the criteria for this aggravator may be mechanically applied to all murder cases. FN76 “Just as the jury in each case must decide, based on the facts of that case, whether a defendant meets the specific criteria for this aggravating circumstance, so must this Court review those jury determinations on an individual basis.” FN77
¶ 58 In proposition twelve, Alverson argues that the death penalty scheme in Oklahoma is unconstitutional as applied to the facts of this case. He asks this Court to adopt the American Bar Association's February 3, 1997 resolution recommending a moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty. FN78 Despite the ABA's recommendation, relief will not be granted on the basis of discrimination unless the Appellant can show the jurors in his particular case acted with discriminatory purpose.FN79
FN78. The resolution cites alleged racial and economic discrimination in the application of the death penalty as grounds for the moratorium.FN79. McCleskey v. Kemp, 481 U.S. 279, 107 S.Ct. 1756, 95 L.Ed.2d 262 (1987)(statistical study indicating that death penalty in Georgia was applied in racially discriminatory manner was insufficient to support inference that the decision makers in the case of black defendant sentenced to death for murder of white police officer acted with discriminatory purpose). General, non-case-specific objections to the death penalty are best made to the legislature, a fact the ABA resolution recognizes. Leslie A. Harris, The ABA Calls for a Moratorium on the Death Penalty: The Task Ahead-Reconciling Justice with Politics, FOCUS SPRING 1997, Vol. XII, Number 2 (“if the resolution is to have lasting significance, it is lawmakers-not lawyers-who will have to embrace reform * * * the ABA must direct its message to the American people, as well as to the politicians.”).
¶ 59 In support of his claim that the death penalty was applied unconstitutionally to him, Alverson argues that: (1) of the four codefendants in this case, only the African Americans received death while the fourth, of Native American descent, was spared; (2) out of the seventy-five person jury pool, only five African Americans were present and none made it to his jury after one black juror was excused because she stated she could not impose the death penalty; and (3) because several jurors were excused for cause after stating they could not impose the death penalty, Alverson was left with a “pro-death penalty” jury.
¶ 60 In addressing Alverson's first complaint, that only his non-African American codefendant escaped the death penalty, we find that this is insufficient to prove Alverson's particular jury acted with discriminatory purpose. We will not speculate as to why this occurred, as aggravating and mitigating evidence is different in every case, even in cases of co-defendants. FN80. We do note that Harjo is the youngest of the four defendants, as well as the only one who did not give a statement to police confessing or incriminating himself.
¶ 61 Regarding Alverson's complaint that there were not enough African Americans in his jury pool, we repeat once again that Oklahoma's method of jury selection is constitutionally firm.FN81 Alverson has presented us with no new arguments or evidence to persuade us to reconsider the issue. He has not shown that Oklahoma's jury selection process excludes African Americans or any other distinctive group in the community.FN82
FN81. Hooker v. State, 1994 OK CR 75, ¶ 21, 887 P.2d 1351, 1358, citing Trice v. State, 853 P.2d 203, 207 (Okl.Cr.), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1025, 114 S.Ct. 638, 126 L.Ed.2d 597 (1993), and Fox v. State, 779 P.2d 562 (Okl.Cr.1989), cert. denied, 494 U.S. 1060, 110 S.Ct. 1538, 108 L.Ed.2d 777 (1990). FN82. To establish a prima facie case of a violation of the fair cross-section requirement, one must show (1) that the group alleged to be excluded is a “distinctive” group in the community; (2) that the representation of this group in venires from which juries are selected is not fair and reasonable in relation to the number of such persons in the community; and (3) that this under representation is due to systematic exclusion of the group in the jury selection process. Hooker v. State, 1994 OK CR 75, ¶ 21, 887 P.2d 1351, 1358-59, quoting Duren v. Missouri, 439 U.S. 357, 364, 99 S.Ct. 664, 668, 58 L.Ed.2d 579 (1979). Alverson does not even attempt to make this showing, but rather relies solely on rank speculation that his non-African American jury acted with bias.
¶ 62 Moreover, the fact that prospective juror Smith, an African-American, was excused for cause does nothing to bolster Alverson's claim. The trial court properly excused prospective juror Smith after she stated she opposed the death penalty and would not apply it.FN83 Clearly, “her view on capital punishment could have substantially impaired the performance of her duties as juror in accordance with the instruction and oath.” FN84
FN83. Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 424, 105 S.Ct. 844, 852, 83 L.Ed.2d 841 (1985); Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 (1968). FN84. Robedeaux v. State, 1993 OK CR 57, ¶ 19, 866 P.2d 417, 424, cert. denied, 513 U.S. 833, 115 S.Ct. 110, 130 L.Ed.2d 57 (1994).
¶ 63 Finally, we reject Alverson's contention that the excusal of jurors who stated they would not consider the death penalty left him with a “pro-death penalty” jury. All the jurors who served on this case stated they could consider all three penalties provided by law. FN85. Banks v. State, 1985 OK CR 60 ¶ 8, 701 P.2d 418, 421-422 (a venireperson is only required to be willing to consider all the penalties provided by law and not be irrevocably committed before the trial has begun).
¶ 64 Having rejected all of Alverson's arguments in support of his claim that the death penalty was applied unconstitutionally to him, we find this proposition lacks merit.
¶ 65 In his thirteenth proposition of error, Alverson takes issue with the trial court's anti-sympathy instruction which was incorporated into the second stage instructions. He argues that this instruction prevented the jury from giving effect to mitigating circumstances. We have previously considered and rejected this argument.FN86 We adhere to our prior decisions. FN86. Cannon v. State, 1998 OK CR 28, ¶ 71, 961 P.2d 838, 855 (citations omitted).
¶ 66 In proposition sixteen, Alverson contends the mitigation instructions permitted the jury to ignore mitigating evidence altogether because they did not require consideration of mitigation even after the jury determined it existed. We have previously held that instructing the jury that it “must” consider the mitigating evidence presented would be improper, “as that would take away from the jury its duty to make an individualized determination of the appropriate punishment.” FN87 Thus, the instructions were proper, and this proposition fails.
FN87. Pickens v. State, 1993 OK CR 15, ¶ 45, 850 P.2d 328, 339 (Okl.Cr.1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1100, 114 S.Ct. 942, 127 L.Ed.2d 232 (1994).
¶ 67 In his fourteenth proposition of error, Alverson claims victim impact evidence from the victim's wife and mother should not have been admitted. Both witnesses read prepared statements which the trial court had previously approved.
¶ 68 Victim impact statements and victim impact evidence are admissible in a capital sentencing procedure.FN88 Victims may present their rendition of the circumstances surrounding the crime, the manner in which the crime was perpetrated, and recommend a sentence.FN89 Victim impact evidence should provide a quick glimpse of the life which the defendant chose to extinguish and may include the financial, emotional, psychological and physical effects of the crime on the victim's survivors, as well as some personal characteristics of the victim.FN90
FN88. Willingham v. State, 1997 OK CR 62, ¶ 58, 947 P.2d 1074, 1086 (citations omitted). FN89. Id., citing 22 O.S.Supp.1992, § 984. FN90. Conover v. State, 1997 OK CR 62, ¶ 65, 933 P.2d 904, 920.
¶ 69 However, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment precludes the use of victim impact evidence “that is so unduly prejudicial that it renders the trial fundamentally unfair.” FN91 Inflammatory descriptions designed to invoke an emotional response by the jury do not fall under the statutory provision permitting these types of statements; such emotionally charged personal opinions are more prejudicial than probative and are inadmissible.FN92
FN91. Conover, 1997 OK CR 62 at ¶ 63, 933 P.2d at 920, citing Cargle v. State, 909 P.2d 806, 826 (Okl.Cr.1995), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 831, 117 S.Ct. 100, 136 L.Ed.2d 54 (1996), quoting Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 825, 111 S.Ct. 2597, 2608, 115 L.Ed.2d 720 (1991). FN92. Conover, 1997 OK CR 62 at ¶ 64, 933 P.2d at 920.
¶ 70 In this case, Alverson complains that testimony from the victim's wife and mother exceeded the limitations on victim impact evidence imposed by this Court. Specifically, he contends the victim's wife was improperly allowed to testify that: (1) she enjoyed cooking and ironing for the victim; (2) birthdays and holidays were special to the victim; and (3) the victim loved Christmas because he was raised in a family that did not celebrate it.
¶ 71 These comments properly addressed how the victim's death affected his wife emotionally, psychologically and physically. The only testimony which was arguably impermissible was that describing how the victim did not celebrate Christmas as a child.FN93 However, considering the testimony as a whole, we find this brief reference was not inflammatory enough to run the risk that the jury's sentence of death was something other than a “reasoned moral response” to the evidence.FN94
FN93. See Cargle v. State, 1995 OK CR 77, ¶ 80, 909 P.2d 806, 829 (pointing out victim's attributes as a child “in no way provides insight into the contemporaneous and prospective circumstances surrounding his death”). FN94. Conover, 1997 OK CR 62 at ¶ 66, 933 P.2d at 921, citing Payne v. Tennessee, 501 U.S. 808, 836, 111 S.Ct. 2597, 2614, 115 L.Ed.2d 720 (1991), quoting California v. Brown, 479 U.S. 538, 545, 107 S.Ct. 837, 841, 93 L.Ed.2d 934 (1987). See also Cargle, 1995 OK CR 77 at ¶ 80, 909 P.2d at 829 (testimony, although still emotionally charged, not so inflammatory as to exceed bounds of permissible victim impact evidence), and Le, 1997 OK CR 55 at ¶ 54, 947 P.2d at 551 (prosecutor's irrelevant and improper argument did not merit relief where Appellant could not show that it resulted in a verdict which was not a reasoned moral response).
¶ 72 Alverson also complains that the victim's mother improperly testified that her son did not cause her problems, had in effect long range plans for his life, had a bright future ahead of him, and had promised to take care of her in her old age. We disagree that these statements were inappropriate, prejudicial, or inadmissible hearsay. These statements showed the financial and emotional impact of the crime on one of the victim's survivors. The statement regarding the victim's promise to take care of his mother was not hearsay, as it was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted.FN95 Rather, it demonstrated the financial, psychological and emotional impact of the victim's death. FN95. 12 O.S.1991, § 2801(3).
¶ 73 Alverson further contends that victim impact evidence as a whole negates the narrowing function death penalty procedures are required to provide. He argues it operates as a “superaggravator” that overwhelmed his jury in its function of balancing aggravating and mitigating circumstances. We have consistently rejected this argument.FN96 The State is required to prove at least one aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt before the death penalty may be imposed.FN96. Willingham, 1997 OK CR 62 at ¶ 61, 947 P.2d at 1086 (citations omitted).
¶ 74 In this case, the trial court specifically instructed the jury that victim impact evidence is not the same as an aggravating circumstance and that they could only consider the aggravating circumstances set forth in the instructions.FN98 There is no indication that the jury would not have found the aggravating circumstances but for the victim impact evidence. Accordingly, this proposition is denied. FN98. O.R.III at 425-26.
¶ 75 In proposition fifteen, Alverson contends the aggravator “to avoid lawful arrest or prosecution” is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. We have previously held that this aggravating circumstance is sufficiently limited by the requirements that: (a) a predicate crime existed, apart from the murder, from which the defendant sought to avoid arrest/prosecution; and (b) the State presented evidence establishing the defendant's intent to kill in order to avoid arrest/prosecution.FN99 There is no reason to revisit the issue. The State presented sufficient evidence to support both prongs of this aggravator. This proposition is without merit. FN99. Charm v. State, 1996 OK CR 40, ¶ 73, 924 P.2d 754, 772 (citation omitted).
VII. CUMULATIVE ERROR
¶ 76 In his seventeenth and final proposition of error, Alverson contends that even if none of the errors standing alone warrant reversal, the combined effect of those errors deprived him of a fair trial and sentencing procedure. Alverson raises three new allegations of error under the rubric of this proposition: (1) that the testimony regarding QuikTrip's policy of giving over money during a robbery without resistance was irrelevant; (2) that the prosecutor's reference to Alverson as a “cold blooded murderer” during the cross-examination of Alverson's father in second stage was improper; and (3) that the prosecutor asked the medical examiner improper questions about the number of blows the victim received and whether or not he suffered.
¶ 77 We begin by noting that Alverson cites no caselaw in support of any of these allegations of error. An appellant must support his or her propositions of error by both argument and citation of authority. If this is not done and a review of the record reveals no plain error, we will not search the books for authority to support appellant's bald allegations.FN100 We find none of the complained of instances rise to the level of plain error. FN101
FN100. Romano v. State, 1995 OK CR 74, ¶ 92, 909 P.2d 92, 117 (citations omitted).FN101. First, evidence of the QuikTrip policy was relevant to show that Alverson and his codefendants planned not only to rob the store, but also to murder Yost. Second, defense counsel's objection to the prosecutor's characterization of Alverson as a “cold blooded murderer” were sustained, curing any error. Finally, the questions asked of the medical examiner and his responses thereto were properly presented to aid the jury in deciding whether the victim suffered prior to his death in support of the heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravator.
¶ 78 As no single error requires reversal, the proceedings, as a whole, cannot be deemed unfair. “We have consistently held that where there is no individual error there can be no reversal for cumulative error.” FN102 Alverson's final proposition of error is denied. FN102. Willingham, 1997 OK CR 62 at ¶ 72, 947 P.2d at 1088 (citations omitted).
VIII. DOUBLE JEOPARDY
¶ 79 Approximately six months after the filing of his brief, Alverson filed a motion requesting leave to supplement the brief, or, in the alternative, for this Court to address an issue sua sponte. We deny Alverson's motion to supplement the brief but will address the issue in question sua sponte.
¶ 80 At Alverson's request, the trial court gave two separate verdict forms to the jury regarding Count I, Murder in the First Degree: one for first degree malice murder and one for first degree felony murder (the jury was given a third verdict form for Count II, Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon). The trial court instructed the jury, “if you find that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt the elements of Murder in the First Degree under either or both principles, you would be authorized to return a verdict of ‘guilty’ on Count 1.” FN103 The jury found Alverson guilty of murder under both the felony murder and malice murder theories.FN104 They also found him guilty of robbery with a dangerous weapon.FN105
FN103. O.R.III at 383. FN104. O.R.III at 432-433. FN105. O.R.III at 434.
¶ 81 This presents a somewhat novel situation. We have previously held that when a defendant is charged with alternative theories of murder and the jury's verdict form does not specify under which theory, malice murder or felony murder, the defendant is found guilty, then the verdict will be interpreted as one of felony murder.FN106 We then must reverse with instructions to dismiss the conviction for the underlying felony, since a defendant cannot be convicted of felony murder and the underlying felony. FN107
FN106. Wilson v. State, 1998 OK CR 73, ¶ 60, 983 P.2d 448, citing Munson v. State, 1988 OK CR 124, ¶ 28, 758 P.2d 324, 332, cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1019, 109 S.Ct. 820, 102 L.Ed.2d 809 (1989). FN107. Id.
¶ 82 However, where the jury has separate verdict forms then an entirely new scenario develops, and the Munson analysis is inapplicable. In Munson, the use of a general verdict form made it impossible to divine whether the jury had intended to convict the defendant of malice murder or felony murder. In that case, we decided to interpret the verdict as one of felony murder “in order that appellant receive the benefit of the rule that a defendant cannot be convicted of felony-murder and the underlying felony.” FN108 Under the situation before us today, we do know what the jury found-that the State had proven the crime of murder in the first degree beyond a reasonable doubt under both theories. Accordingly, “interpretation” of the verdict as was done in Munson is not necessary. It is clear the jury found Alverson guilty of malice murder as well as felony murder. FN108. Munson, 1988 OK CR 124 at ¶ 28, 758 P.2d at 332.
¶ 83 The question then arises whether dual findings of guilt raise double jeopardy concerns, and whether the conviction for the underlying felony still stands. We now hold that in situations where the jury finds a defendant guilty of murder in the first degree under both principles of malice murder and felony murder, we will construe the conviction as one of first degree malice murder.FN109 The Judgment and Sentence, which states the defendant is guilty of one Count of Murder in the First Degree, eliminates any possible double jeopardy concerns, as the defendant has been found guilty of only one count of murder and sentenced accordingly.FN110 He has not been doubly convicted nor doubly sentenced.
FN109. Our analysis of this issue in Hamilton v. State, 1997 OK CR 14, ¶¶ 29-30, 937 P.2d 1001, 1009, and in Harjo v. State, Case No. F-97-1054 (not for publication), was in error. In those cases, we continued “interpreting” the jury's verdict as one of felony murder when interpretation was not necessary because the jury clearly found malice murder and felony murder. Our misguided decision to dismiss the underlying felony convictions in those cases gave the defendants undue benefit to which they were not entitled. Having realized our error, we will no longer apply the incorrect analysis to this issue.
FN110. See, e.g., Fitts v. State, 982 S.W.2d 175, 179 (Tex.Ct.App.1998) (distinguishing between cases involving convictions for multiple offenses as opposed to multiple theories for same offense). See also People v. Bigelow, 229 Mich.App. 218, 220, 581 N.W.2d 744, 745-46 (1998) (per curiam) (no double jeopardy violation where defendant's judgment and sentence was modified to specify that conviction was for one count and one sentence of first degree murder supported by two theories: premeditated murder and felony murder).
¶ 84 Because it is possible to determine that the jury convicted Alverson of malice murder, there is no reason to reverse the robbery conviction. FN111 Alverson's convictions on both counts, Murder in the First Degree and Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon, stand. FN111. Accord State v. Burgess, 345 N.C. 372, 382, 480 S.E.2d 638, 643 (“if both theories are submitted to the jury and the jury finds the defendant guilty under both theories the underlying felony need not merge with the murder”), citing State v. Rook, 304 N.C. 201, 283 S.E.2d 732 (1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 1038, 102 S.Ct. 1741, 72 L.Ed.2d 155 (1982).
IX. MANDATORY SENTENCE REVIEW
¶ 85 In accordance with 21 O.S.1991, § 701.13(C), we must determine (1) whether the sentence of death was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor, and (2) whether the evidence supports the jury's finding of aggravating circumstances. Upon review of the record, we cannot say the sentence of death was imposed because the jury was improperly influenced by passion, prejudice or any other arbitrary factor.
¶ 86 Turning to the second inquiry, we note that the trial court instructed Alverson's jury on three aggravating circumstances. The jury found the existence of two aggravating circumstances: that the murder was committed to avoid lawful arrest or prosecution, and that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel. We find that both the law and the evidence support the jury's determination. After careful review of the record, we find the sentence of death is factually substantiated and appropriate.
¶ 87 We find no error warranting reversal of the conviction or sentence of death for first degree murder or robbery with a dangerous weapon. Accordingly, the Judgments and Sentences for the crimes of first degree malice murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon in the District Court of Tulsa County are AFFIRMED.
¶ 88 BILLY DON ALVERSON was tried by jury for Murder in the First Degree and Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon in Case No. CF-95-1024 in the District Court of Tulsa County before the Honorable E.R. Turnbull, District Judge. Alverson was sentenced to death for Murder in the First Degree and life for Robbery with a Dangerous Weapon and perfected this appeal. The Judgments and Sentences are AFFIRMED.
STRUBHAR, P.J., and JOHNSON, J., concur. LUMPKIN, V.P.J., concurs in results. LILE, J., specially concurs.
LUMPKIN, Vice-Presiding Judge: concurs in results.
¶ 1 I concur in the result reached in this case. I do not agree with portions of the rationale, however, and therefore I write separately to address those points of disagreement.
¶ 2 First, Appellant in this case was a party to the Petitions for Extraordinary Relief set out in Footnote 2 of the Court's opinion. The issues raised have been judicially determined. Within the context of criminal procedure that judgment is res judicata and Appellant is procedurally barred from raising the issue a second time. The opinion confuses collateral estoppel with the doctrine of res judicata, i.e. claim preclusion. Rather than use that approach, we should simply state the claim is procedurally barred by res judicata.
¶ 3 Second, while I am of the opinion Oklahoma law does not prevent the trial court, in the exercise of its discretion, from impaneling dual juries, I remain skeptical regarding the value of this procedure, especially in capital cases. Although I do not find reversible error occurred in the instant case, some of the issues raised by Appellant are illustrative of future problems we will likely encounter when dual juries are impaneled. Rather than broadly endorsing the dual jury procedure, as did the majority in Cohee v. State, 942 P.2d 211, 213 (Okl.Cr.1997)(Lumpkin, J. Concurring in part, dissenting in part), I will continue to monitor its impact on the trial on a case-by-case basis.
¶ 4 Third, with respect to proposition two, I believe the opinion goes too far in its discussion of post-autopsy photographs. While I agree with the general principal that post-autopsy photographs should be viewed with a certain degree of suspicion because of their potential to be more prejudicial than probative, we must recognize that post-autopsy photographs may have their place in certain cases. See Mitchell v. State, 884 P.2d 1186, 1196-97 (Okl.Cr.1994), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 827, 116 S.Ct. 95, 133 L.Ed.2d 50 (1995)(post-autopsy photograph more probative than prejudicial). In addition, the post-autopsy photograph of the interior of the skull which revealed the hinge type fracture at the base of the skull did not show “the handiwork of the medical examiner.” It showed the level of force used by Appellant and his co-defendants as they beat the victim to death. If this injury had been visible on the outside of the victim's body, a photograph of those injuries would have been admissible regardless of how prejudicial it might have been. As the Court recognizes “photographs of the numerous wounds to the victim's head suffered by the victim were properly admitted. These photographs were far more prejudicial than the sterile, clinical photograph of the inside of the victim's skull.” (Opinion at pg. ----). I find the photograph was admissible and no error occurred.
¶ 5 Finally, it should be noted the criteria set out in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), for evaluating effectiveness of counsel has been further explained in Lockhart v. Fretwell, 506 U.S. 364, 113 S.Ct. 838, 122 L.Ed.2d 180 (1993). Applying the Lockhart standard, the record is void of any evidence the trial was rendered unfair and the verdict rendered suspect or unreliable.
LILE, J.: specially concurs.
¶ 1 I concur in the opinion. However, I believe that Exhibit No. 115 was properly admitted. This photo showed the extent of the cranial fracture and its probative value outweighs any unfair prejudice.
Alverson v. Workman, 595 F.3d 1142 (10th Cir. 2010). (Habeas)
Background: Defendant, who was convicted of first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to death in connection with the murder conviction, filed petition for writ of habeas corpus. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma, 2008 WL 5122348, denied the petition. After his application for a certificate of appealability (COA) was granted, defendant filed his notice of appeal.
Holdings: The Court of Appeals, Briscoe, Circuit Judge, held that: (1) examination of defendant's Ake claims regarding funds for a neurological expert was proper on federal habeas review; (2) denial of defendant's applications for additional funding for a neuropsychological evaluation was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of Ake; (3) state court's denial of defendant's ineffective assistance claims was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, Strickland; and (4) defendant was not entitled to an evidentiary hearing in federal court. Affirmed. Tymkovich, J., filed a concurring opinion. Kelly, Circuit Judge, filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.
BRISCOE, Circuit Judge.
Petitioner Billy Alverson, an Oklahoma state prisoner convicted of first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon and sentenced to death in connection with the murder conviction, appeals the district court's denial of his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition for writ of habeas corpus. Exercising jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm the judgment of the district court.
A. Factual background The relevant underlying facts of this case were outlined in detail by the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (OCCA) in addressing Alverson's direct appeal:
Alverson's co-defendant, Michael Wilson, worked at the QuikTrip convenience store located at 215 N. Garnett Road in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Wilson, Alverson, and two of their friends, Richard Harjo and Darwin Brown, went to the QuikTrip during the early morning hours of February 26, 1995. They chatted with Richard Yost, the night clerk, until the most opportune time arose for them to accost him and force him into the back cooler. They handcuffed him and tied his legs with duct tape. Alverson and Harjo went outside and returned with Harjo carrying a baseball bat.
Yost was found beaten to death in a pool of blood, beer and milk. Part of a broken set of handcuffs was found near his right hip. The medical examiner found a pin from these handcuffs embedded in Yost's skull during the autopsy. Two safes containing over $30,000.00 were stolen, as well as all the money from the cash register and the store's surveillance videotape. All four defendants were arrested later that same day wearing new tennis shoes and carrying wads of cash. The stolen drop safe and the store surveillance videotape, as well as other damaging evidence, was found in a search of Alverson's home. The baseball bat, the victim's bloody QuickTrip [sic] jacket, the other cuff from the set of broken handcuffs, and Wilson's Nike jacket which matched the one he wore on the surveillance tape were taken from Wilson's home. Alverson v. State, 983 P.2d 498, 506 (Okla.Crim.App.1999) ( Alverson I ) (internal paragraph numbers omitted).
B. Alverson's trial and direct appeal
Alverson, Wilson, Harjo and Brown were “charged conjointly ... with the crimes of first degree malice murder and, in the alternative, first degree felony murder (Count I) in violation of 21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(A) & (B) and robbery with a dangerous weapon (Count II) in violation of 21 O.S.1991, § 801 in the District Court of Tulsa County, Case No. CF-95-1024.” Id. at 505. The State filed a bill of particulars alleging three aggravating circumstances: (1) that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; (2) that the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution; and (3) the existence of a probability that Alverson would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society. “Alverson and co-defendant Harjo were tried conjointly, but with separate juries deciding their fate.” Id. at 506. Alverson's jury found him guilty of first degree murder and robbery with a dangerous weapon. At the conclusion of “the punishment stage, [Alverson's] jury found the existence of two aggravating circumstances: (1) that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; and (2) that the murder was committed for the purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest or prosecution.” Id. The jury rejected the continuing threat aggravator. Ultimately, Alverson's jury fixed his punishment at death for the first degree murder conviction and life imprisonment for the robbery conviction. The state trial court sentenced Alverson in accordance with the jury's verdict.
On May 6, 1999, the OCCA affirmed Alverson's convictions and sentences on direct appeal. Id. at 522. Alverson filed a petition for rehearing, which was denied by the OCCA. Alverson then filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, which was denied on January 10, 2000. Alverson v. Oklahoma, 528 U.S. 1089, 1089, 120 S.Ct. 820, 145 L.Ed.2d 690 (2000).
C. Alverson's application for state post-conviction relief
On April 26, 1999, while his direct appeal was still pending before the OCCA, Alverson filed an application for post-conviction relief directly with the OCCA. In connection with that application, Alverson also filed an application for an evidentiary hearing. On July 19, 1999, the OCCA issued an unpublished order denying Alverson's applications. Alverson v. State, No. PC-98-182 (July 19, 1999) ( Alverson II ).
D. Alverson's federal habeas proceedings
Alverson initiated this federal habeas action on June 27, 2000, by filing a pro se motion to proceed in forma pauperis and a motion for appointment of counsel. Alverson's motions were granted and, on January 9, 2001, Alverson's appointed counsel filed a preliminary petition for writ of habeas corpus asserting eighteen grounds for relief. ROA, Doc. 11. On January 31, 2001, Alverson's appointed counsel filed an amended petition asserting only eight grounds for relief, including a claim of entitlement to a federal evidentiary hearing. Id., Doc. 12. The amended petition expressly stated that it was intended to “supersede [ ] the preliminary petition” and to “delete [ ] claims and more specifically assert facts and authorities in support of the retained claims.” Id. at 1 n. 1. On December 5, 2008, the district court denied Alverson's amended petition. On that same date, the district court entered judgment in favor of respondent and against Alverson.
On December 25, 2008, Alverson filed with the district court an application seeking a certificate of appealability (COA) with respect to four issues: (1) whether the state trial court violated Alverson's rights under Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985), by denying his requests for funding for a neuropsychological examination; (2) whether Alverson's constitutional rights were violated due to the state's introduction of insufficient evidence to establish that he substantially participated in the murder; (3) whether Alverson's trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to conduct an adequate investigation concerning head traumas suffered by Alverson during his youth; and (4) cumulative error. The district court granted Alverson's application in its entirety. Alverson filed his notice of appeal on January 2, 2009.
Our review of Alverson's appeal is governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Snow v. Sirmons, 474 F.3d 693, 696 (10th Cir.2007). Under AEDPA, the standard of review applicable to a particular claim depends upon how that claim was resolved by the state courts. Id.
If a claim was addressed on the merits by the state courts, we may not grant federal habeas relief on the basis of that claim unless the state court decision “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or “was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding,” id. § 2254(d)(2). “When reviewing a state court's application of federal law, we are precluded from issuing the writ simply because we conclude in our independent judgment that the state court applied the law erroneously or incorrectly.” McLuckie v. Abbott, 337 F.3d 1193, 1197 (10th Cir.2003). “Rather, we must be convinced that the application was also objectively unreasonable.” Id. “This standard does not require our abject deference, but nonetheless prohibits us from substituting our own judgment for that of the state court.” Snow, 474 F.3d at 696 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
If a claim was not resolved by the state courts on the merits and is not otherwise procedurally barred, our standard of review is more searching. That is, because § 2254(d)'s deferential standards of review do not apply in such circumstances, we review the district court's legal conclusions de novo and its factual findings, if any, for clear error. McLuckie, 337 F.3d at 1197.
A. Denial of funding for neuropsychological examination
Alverson contends that his due process rights, as outlined in the Supreme Court's decision in Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985), were violated as a result of the state trial court denying his requests for funding to conduct a neuropsychological examination to investigate the possible effects of head injuries that he suffered as a child. Alverson also asserts two related arguments: (1) that he received incompetent mental health assistance from social worker Jean Carlton in the presentation of his second-stage defense; and (2) that he was prejudiced by the lack of qualified expert assistance.
As we shall discuss in greater detail below, the Ake claim was addressed by the OCCA sua sponte in resolving Alverson's direct appeal, and, as a result, the OCCA's resolution of that claim is subject to review under the deferential standards outlined in 2254(d). Further, we conclude the OCCA's resolution of the Ake claim was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. Finally, because the OCCA reasonably rejected Alverson's Ake claim, it is unnecessary to reach the merits of Alverson's two related arguments.
1) Relevant procedural history from state trial court We begin by recounting, in some detail, the procedural history of Alverson's attempts to obtain funding for a neuropsychological examination. On October 29, 1996, Alverson's trial counsel filed with the state trial court a pleading entitled “Application for Funds for Social Study and Psycological [sic] Evaluation for Defendant, Billy Don Alverson.” State ROA at 188. The application alleged that Alverson's “family [wa]s unable or unwilling to pay the costs of a social study on ... Alverson,” and that a “social study [wa]s imperative and necessary insofar as ... Alverson ... [wa]s charged with a first degree murder capital case.” Id. The state trial court summarily denied the application on the ground that Alverson had failed to establish he was indigent.
On March 20, 1997, Alverson filed an “Amended Application for Appointment of Expert Assistance and Funds for a Social Study and Psycological [sic] Evaluation for Defendant, Billy Don Alverson.” Id. at 278. The amended application sought the “appointment of an expert to do a social study and other psychological evaluations of” Alverson for purposes of “the mitigation stage of the trial.” Id. In support of this request, the application alleged that Alverson was indigent. Id. at 279. The application further alleged that trial counsel “ha[d] discussed with Jean Carlton, L.C.S.W. [licensed clinical social worker], a person trained to test and evaluate [Alverson] as to their opinion of such matters such as [Alverson's] psychological make-up, including testing to determine if [Alverson] [wa]s a psychopath, [or suffered from] impulsive disorder, inadequate personality disorders and/or any physical impairments that would be very material as evidence in mitigation and/or assistance to [Alverson] in defending the State's request for the death penalty.” Id. The application ultimately requested “that ... Carlton ... be appointed to conduct any and all necessary tests and testify as to the results of all testing on [Alverson's] behalf.” Id.
That same day, March 20, 1997, the state trial court granted Alverson's amended application and authorized funding for Alverson to hire Carlton “to psychologically evaluate [him] for the purpose of presenting evidence on [his] behalf ... at the time of trial.” Id. at 287. According to the record, Carlton proceeded to test and evaluate Alverson and reported her findings to Alverson's trial counsel.
On May 1, 1997, Alverson filed a second amended “Application for Appointment of Expert Assistance and Funds for a Psycological [sic] Evaluation.” Id. at 327. The pleading alleged that Carlton, “as a result of her testing during the social history background testing found signs of organic brain impairment and believe[d] it [wa]s necessary to confirm by way of additional expert evaluation.” Id. at 328. In particular, the pleading alleged that “[t]he MMPI-2 test which [Alverson] took ... recommended neuropsychological testing for organic brain impairment.” Id. In turn, the application alleged that “[t]he results of neuropsychological testing would definitely prove any brain impairment and to what extent that would impinge and influence [Alverson's] behavior.” Id. Such information, the application alleged, “[wa]s crucial and very important to be placed before the jury as part of [Alverson's] mitigation as help in determining punishment....” Id. Ultimately, the application “requested that Lance Karfgin, Ph.D., be appointed to conduct any and all necessary tests and testify as to the results of all testing on [Alverson's] behalf.” Id.
On May 2, 1997, the state filed an objection to Alverson's second amended application. The state alleged that Carlton “ha[d] not demonstrated that she possesse[d] or ha[d] otherwise obtained appropriate training, education, specialized knowledge, or expertise in the fields of neuro-psychology or neurology to qualify her to draw relevant inferences or to make recommendations as to [Alverson's] stated need for further evaluation in these areas involving questions of neurological functioning....” Id. at 343. Further, the state alleged that “[t]he MMPI-2 ha[d] not been demonstrated to be a reliable and valid assessment or screening measure in the fields of neurology or neuro-psychology for screening or otherwise providing a basis for inferring the evidence of neurological impairment,” id., “[b]ased upon the statements given to ... Carlton by [Alverson] and [his] family members ..., there [wa]s no indication that [Alverson] ha[d] sustained neurological impairment to warrant neurological evaluation and, in fact, these statements [we] re contradictory,” id., and “[b]ased upon the medical reports provided by [Alverson], there [wa]s no evidence from any of the written statements of attending physicians present following any accidents sustained by [Alverson] that a referral for neurological evaluation was indicated or otherwise deemed necessary,” id. at 344. In short, the state alleged that “no evidence exist[ed] to support [Alverson's] ... request for neurological testing,” and that Alverson had failed to establish that he “w[ould] in any way be prejudiced by the lack of expert assistance in this regard.” Id.
On May 5, 1997, the first day of voir dire proceedings, the state trial court held a hearing on Alverson's second amended application and ultimately overruled it. In doing so, the state trial court stated: I have reviewed the records that Ms. Carlton turned over to [defense counsel] and that [defense counsel] in turn turned over to the District Attorney's Office, including her results from the MMPI-2, and the medical records that were turned over to Ms. Carlton, and, again, by [defense counsel] to the District Attorney's Office. And I don't know very much about the MMPI except what I read when people have taken the test, and it's someone coming before the court, but I don't think that from the giving of the MMPI that Ms. Carlton or anyone else, from what I understand about the test, could give us a determination as to whether Mr. Alverson has some neurological problems. I did not find in any of the results from the MMPI of the work that Ms. Carlton did, that Mr. Alverson has sustained any neurological impairment that warrants an evaluation. And in addition, just as [the prosecutor] said in his motion of objection, I didn't see any written statements from any of the physicians that have attended to Mr. Alverson following any of the accidents that you show that he sustained that showed that he had any type of neurological damage or that an evaluation was necessary. As [the prosecutor] said just a minute ago, he had some childhood accidents and has done some things as a child, maybe some things more dangerous than others, but he's had some things happen to him that seem to be pretty run-of-the-mill to me. Tr. of Jury Trial, Vol. I of X (May 5, 1997), at 28-29.
On May 9, 1997, Alverson filed a pleading entitled “Amended Motion to Appoint Psychological Expert” asking the state trial court “to reconsider the denial of the original motion.” State ROA at 358. Attached to the pleading was a letter from Dr. Karfgin to defense counsel that stated as follows:
Thank you for considering using my services a[s] an expert witness in Mr. Alverson's upcoming sentencing trial. I understand that your motion that the court appoint me to provide this service was rejected. As a concerned citizen, I nevertheless would like to make you aware of what I believe may be mitigating circumstances in this case. Had I conducted a formal evaluation of Mr. Alverson, I would have addressed these issues in detail. My impressions at this time are based only on a preliminary review of the psychosocial evaluation of Mr. Alverson, conducted by Ms. Gene [sic] Carlton, LCSW.
During her clinical interview Ms. Carlton found that the defendant several times seemed to lose contact with her for a minute or more. She believed these incidents were more than simply lapses in attention but found them difficult to classify. Since Mr. Alverson did recount having sustained several concussive injuries resulting in loss of consciousness, she concluded he might be experiencing some type of seizure disorder and recommended that he be evaluated for an organic mental syndrome. Although a temporal lobe seizure disorder could account for such transient disruptions, based on my discussion with Ms. Carlton I believe that Mr. Alverson might also be experiencing some form of post-traumatic disorder, with dissociative features manifesting in the dangerous and violent atmosphere of a correctional institution. Ms. Carlton found the defendant to have an extensive history of early physical abuse and parental alcoholism, and to be amnestic for a period of several years in middle childhood. The psychic numbing and avoidance associated with PTSD, as well as a tendency to disassociate in violent situations, could have diminished Mr. Alverson's capacity to prevent or extricate himself from the capital crime of which he was convicted. I believe it would be important to consider this possibility in his upcoming sentencing trial. Id. at 360.
On May 13, 1997, prior to the introduction of the state's evidence, the state trial court held an in-chambers hearing to address Alverson's amended application seeking funding for Dr. Karfgin. The state trial court noted it had examined the parties' submissions, including an exhibit submitted by the state containing Oklahoma Department of Corrections' records regarding Alverson and his prior periods of confinement. The state trial court also noted it had taken into consideration “the times that it ha[d] spent in the court room with Mr. Alverson, both before ... the Jackson v. Denno hearing and also when [they] had the Jackson v. Denno hearing.” Tr. of Jury Trial, Vol. V of X (May 13, 1997), at 4. The state trial court found that Mr. Alverson never demonstrated any of the symptoms that have been alleged while he was in the court's presence; not when he testified and at no time when he ha[d] been in the courtroom. None of these [prior] records indicate those symptoms, any of the symptoms. And none of the records indicate any past problems that Mr. Alverson had claimed to have had from himself or any of his family members, or anyone else, really, that's had contact with him, up until this time. Id. In turn, the state trial court concluded, “based on the records and [its] common sense and time that [it had] spent around Mr. Alverson,” that the application should be overruled. Id.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Alverson presented testimony from twelve witnesses, including Carlton.FN1 On direct examination, Carlton described, in extensive detail, Alverson's upbringing and personal life, with a particular emphasis on Alverson's presence, at age three, at the death of his uncle from a brain tumor, Alverson's father's alcoholism, Alverson's “clumsiness” during his formative years, emotional, physical and psychological abuse inflicted on Alverson by his father, and Alverson's own efforts to be a good father to his four children. Carlton also offered opinions as to the psychological effects of Alverson's childhood experiences, including so-called dissociative episodes, during which Alverson would purportedly become mentally “absent” for a brief period of time, the possibility that Alverson suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, the fact that Alverson dealt with anger by suppressing it or walking away from the source of the conflict, Alverson's poor sense of identity and low self-esteem, and Alverson's difficulty engaging in independent actions and in turn being a follower.
FN1. The remaining eleven witnesses fell into two general categories: witnesses aimed at rebutting the state's second-stage evidence indicating that Alverson had engaged in prior acts of violence; and family members of Alverson who described Alverson and, essentially, asked the jury to spare Alverson's life.
On cross-examination by the state, Carlton conceded that Alverson's family members, when interviewed after Alverson's prior convictions, portrayed their family life as good. Carlton further conceded that in one test she administered to Alverson, she gave him the highest score possible on a checklist concerning pathological lying. Carlton also conceded that she was not qualified to administer the MMPI. Finally, Carlton agreed that a person's past behavior may be the best indicator of their future behavior.
On redirect, Carlton testified she had consulted with Dr. Karfgin regarding Alverson's MMPI test results. On recross-examination, Carlton conceded those test results indicated (a) Alverson was hostile, irritable, moody, angry, antisocial, impulsive and overreactive, (b) that his irresponsible actions were without regard to consequences and could include violence and other criminal activities, (c) he had a low tolerance for frustration and difficulty delaying gratification, (d) he was socially shallow and lacking empathy, (e) he acted out and had typically poor judgment, (f) he had a significant need for excitement and exhibited extremes in search of pleasure and emotional stimulation, and (g) he was free of any inhibiting anxiety, worry or guilt.
2) OCCA's sua sponte analysis of the Ake claim on direct appeal In his direct appeal to the OCCA, Alverson did not challenge the state trial court's denial of his application for funding to hire a neuropsychologist or his motion to reconsider that denial. Nor did he mention or even cite to the Supreme Court's decision in Ake. Instead, Alverson argued only, in the context of a multi-faceted ineffective assistance claim, that his trial counsel “was aware that [Alverson] had received a head injury in his youth,” and that, “[g]iven the fact that there [wa]s an established relationship between the existence of traumatic head injury and persons on death row, this [wa]s a factor in mitigation that should have been explored.” Alverson's Direct Appeal Br. at 31.
When ruling on Alverson's direct appeal, the OCCA rejected on the merits Alverson's claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the purported head injuries: Finally, Alverson takes issue with counsel's failure to investigate alleged head injuries Alverson had received as a child. Counsel did request funds to hire an expert to look into this issue, which was properly denied by the trial court. Because Alverson has presented no evidence to support his contention that ordinary injuries he received as a child resulted in inorganic [sic] brain damage, we dispose of this claim on a lack of prejudice as well. Alverson I, 983 P.2d at 511 (footnotes omitted). In a footnote to this paragraph, the OCCA also addressed, sua sponte, the question of whether the state trial court violated Ake by denying Alverson's applications for funding:
The defense relied on the results of the MMPI-2 which the previously appointed expert, Jean Carlton, had administered. (O.R. II at 328) Carlon [sic] admitted during her testimony that she was not even qualified to administer the MMPI. (Tr. IX at 218-19) Even if she had been qualified, the trial court correctly ruled that the MMPI does not indicate whether a person has neurological problems, and additionally, none of the doctors who examined Alverson following his run-of-the-mill childhood accidents indicated the possibility that they had created neurological damage or that an evaluation for neurological damage was necessary. (Tr. I at 225-29) Accordingly, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Alverson's motion for expert assistance at State expense. Rogers v. State, 1995 OK CR 8, ¶ 4, 890 P.2d 959, 967 (before a defendant may qualify for court-appointed expert assistance, he must make a showing of need and show that he will be prejudiced by the lack of expert assistance), citing Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985). Id. at 511 n. 34. In a second footnote to the same paragraph, the OCCA further noted:
In any event, some evidence regarding head injuries was presented in second stage for the jury to consider. The testifying witness acknowledged the injuries were relatively minor-only one football injury required medical care which Alverson received, with no notation that permanent or even serious damage had resulted. (Tr.IX at 158-59, 167, 180-81) Id. at 511 n. 35.
3) Alverson's assertion of Ake-related claims on post-conviction In his application for state post-conviction relief, Alverson argued to the OCCA, for the first time, that the state trial court's denial of his applications for funding deprived him of the tools necessary for an adequate defense in violation of Ake. Alverson also asserted three related arguments. The OCCA, in denying Alverson's application, concluded that Alverson's arguments were procedurally barred due to Alverson's failure to raise them on direct appeal:
In Proposition I [of his application for post-conviction relief] Alverson claims the trial court's denial of his requests for funds to hire a neuropsychologist deprived him of the tools necessary for his defense in violation of Ake v. Oklahoma. Alverson raises four sub-propositions under the rubric of Proposition I: (a) the requisite showing was made at trial to trigger the trial court's duty to provide expert assistance; (b) Alverson received incompetent mental health assistance in preparation of his defense; (c) the trial court's failure to hold the Ake hearings ex parte violated his Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights; and (d) Alverson was prejudiced by the lack of qualified expert assistance. Alverson presents two affidavits in support of this proposition. One is from Jean Carlton, the licensed clinical social worker who testified on Alverson's behalf at trial, reiterating her suspicions of possible organic brain damage. The second is from Dr. Phillip J. Murphy finding that Alverson suffers from an organic brain disorder of obscure etiology which was not known at the time of his trial.
All four arguments raised in the sub-propositions above could have been raised on direct appeal but were not. Accordingly, they are waived [pursuant to Okla. Stat. tit. 22, § 1089(C)(1)]. In sum, nothing in Proposition I meets the threshold requirements of our post-conviction statutes that a claim (1) was not and could not have been raised on direct appeal; and (2) supports a conclusion that the outcome of the trial would have been different or that Alverson is factually innocent. Alverson II at 2-3. The OCCA also stated, in a footnote to the above-quoted text, that “[i]n any event, we have already determined that the trial court's denial of a neurological Ake expert was proper, albeit in the context of Alverson's ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim on direct appeal.” Id. at 3 n. 7. Lastly, the OCCA denied Alverson's request for an evidentiary hearing in connection with his Ake-based arguments. Id. at 3 n. 8.
4) Federal procedural bar
Alverson contends that the OCCA's sua sponte discussion on direct appeal of the state trial court's denial of his requests for additional funding for a neuropsychological evaluation permits us to reach the merits of his Ake claims. Respondent, in contrast, argues that, notwithstanding the fact that the OCCA on direct appeal sua sponte recognized and addressed the denial of funding issue, Alverson's own failure to present and argue his Ake claims on direct appeal bars federal habeas review of those claims. More specifically, respondent argues that we must give preclusive effect to the OCCA's conclusion in the state post-conviction proceedings that Alverson's Ake claims were not the proper subject of state post-conviction review. The district court, citing our decision in Hawkins v. Mullin, 291 F.3d 658, 663 (10th Cir.2002) (stating that where a state court actually decides an issue on the merits, state procedural bar will not preclude federal habeas corpus review), sided with Alverson on this procedural question and reached the merits of his Ake claims. Exercising de novo review, Williams v. Jones, 571 F.3d 1086, 1089 (10th Cir.2009) (“Our review of the district court's legal analysis is de novo.”), we agree with Alverson and the district court that Alverson's Ake claims may be reviewed on the merits in this federal habeas proceeding.
Supreme Court precedent directs us, in deciding how to resolve a federal claim raised by a state habeas petitioner, to focus on the last state court decision disposing of that federal claim. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 735, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991); Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 801, 111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706 (1991). Here, it is irrefutable that the OCCA's decision denying Alverson's application for state post-conviction relief was the last state court decision that disposed of Alverson's Ake claims. Thus, it is that decision that we turn to in determining whether Alverson's Ake claims may be reviewed on the merits, or are instead procedurally barred, in these federal habeas proceedings.
In its decision denying Alverson's application for post-conviction relief, the OCCA concluded that Alverson's Ake claims “could have been raised on direct appeal but were not,” and were thus “waived” for purposes of post-conviction review. Alverson II at 3. In so concluding, the OCCA was obviously relying on Oklahoma's capital post-conviction statute, which narrowly limits “[t]he ... issues that may be raised [by a capital defendant] in an application for post-conviction relief [to] those that ... [w]ere not and could not have been raised in a direct appeal....” FN2 Okla. Stat. tit. 22, § 1089(C)(1). In sum, the OCCA held that Alverson's Ake claims were not the proper subject of state post-conviction review. FN2. Even if an issue asserted in an application for state post-conviction relief satisfies this narrow threshold requirement, it must also “[s]upport a conclusion either that the outcome of the trial would have been different but for the error [ ] or that the defendant is factually innocent.” Okla. Stat. tit. 22 § 1089(C)(2). Together, these two statutory requirements sharply limit the scope of issues that the OCCA may consider on post-conviction review.
The OCCA also acknowledged, in a footnote, that it “ha[d] already determined that the trial court's denial of a neurological Ake expert was proper, albeit in the context of Alverson's ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim on direct appeal.” Alverson II at 3 n. 7. As we see it, this statement was not intended as an alternative holding because it did not expressly or implicitly presume, for purposes of argument, that Alverson's Ake claims were the proper subject of post-conviction review and did not purport to constitute a contemporaneous ruling on the Ake claims. Cf. Sochor v. Florida, 504 U.S. 527, 534, 112 S.Ct. 2114, 119 L.Ed.2d 326 (1992) (describing state appellate decision that included alternative bases, one procedural and one on the merits, for rejecting petitioner's federal constitutional claim). Nor was the statement intended as a repudiation of the OCCA's prior sua sponte decision (e.g., on the grounds that the Ake claim was not the proper subject of review on direct appeal due to Alverson's failure to argue it). Instead, the statement accurately recounted that the state trial court's denial of funding for a neuropsychological examination had already been affirmed, on the merits, on direct appeal. As a result, we conclude that the OCCA effectively reaffirmed its prior sua sponte decision FN3, and that it is proper for us, on federal habeas review, to examine the merits of that determination.
FN3. According to our research, three other circuits have concluded that a state appellate court's sua sponte consideration of an issue not only satisfies § 2254's exhaustion requirement, but, more importantly for our purposes, also constitutes an adjudication on the merits that is ripe for federal habeas review. See Comer v. Schriro, 463 F.3d 934, 956 (9th Cir.2006) (concluding, for purposes of federal habeas review, that a claim is exhausted and ripe for review on the merits if, under “Arizona's fundamental error review ... the state appellate court ... mentions it is considering the claim sua sponte ”), withdrawn on other grounds, Comer v. Stewart, 471 F.3d 1359 (9th Cir.2006) (granting rehearing en banc to consider whether to grant state habeas petitioner's motion to voluntarily dismiss the federal habeas proceedings); Moormann v. Schriro, 426 F.3d 1044, 1057 (9th Cir.2005); Walton v. Caspari, 916 F.2d 1352, 1356-57 (8th Cir.1990) (holding that a state appellate court's decision to raise and answer a constitutional question sua sponte permits subsequent federal habeas review); Cooper v. Wainwright, 807 F.2d 881, 887 (11th Cir.1986) (“[A] state court's decision to raise and answer a constitutional question sua sponte will also permit subsequent federal habeas review”). Although two of these decisions predate AEDPA, we nevertheless conclude they have persuasive value because the exhaustion principles were essentially the same under pre-AEDPA law. Ultimately, we agree with the stance taken by these three circuits, and in turn conclude that the Ake claim at issue in this case is, as a result of the OCCA's sua sponte consideration of it on direct appeal, exhausted and ripe for review on the merits under the standards of review outlined in § 2254(d).
We emphasize that this is by no means the first time we have reached the merits of a § 2254 claim that was first considered on the merits by a state appellate court and then later rejected by that same court in a post-conviction proceeding as procedurally barred. E.g., Mathis v. Bruce, 148 Fed.Appx. 732, 735 (10th Cir.2005) (considering issue first rejected on the merits by Kansas Court of Appeals on direct appeal, and then subsequently rejected by the Kansas Court of Appeals as the improper subject of state post-conviction proceeding); Johnson v. Champion, 288 F.3d 1215, 1226 (10th Cir.2002) (considering issue first rejected on the merits by OCCA in initial post-conviction proceedings, and then subsequently rejected on procedural grounds by the OCCA in second post-conviction proceeding); Sallahdin v. Gibson, 275 F.3d 1211, 1227 (10th Cir.2002) (considering issue that was implicitly rejected on direct appeal by OCCA, and then rejected as procedurally barred by OCCA in state post-conviction proceeding); cf. Revilla v. Gibson, 283 F.3d 1203, 1214 (10th Cir.2002) (electing “to avoid complex procedural-bar issues” by resolving issue on the merits); Romero v. Furlong, 215 F.3d 1107, 1111 (10th Cir.2000) (same). Although the concurrence suggests that each of these cases “presented unique procedural or other questions that do not pertain here,” Concurrence at 9, noticeably absent from its discussion is a citation to a single case from this circuit or any other that directly supports its position, i.e., that we must treat as procedurally barred a constitutional claim that was first considered and rejected on the merits by a state's highest appellate court, but that was later rejected by that same state appellate court as the improper subject of state post-conviction review.
5) The merits of the Ake claim
To obtain federal habeas relief on his Ake claim, Alverson must establish that the OCCA's sua sponte resolution of the claim “was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). And, the Supreme Court's decision in Ake obviously provides the “clearly established Federal law” that we must consider in assessing Alverson's entitlement to federal habeas relief.
In Ake, the Supreme Court held that “when a State brings its judicial power to bear on an indigent defendant in a criminal proceeding, it must take steps to assure that the defendant has a fair opportunity to present his defense.” 470 U.S. at 76, 105 S.Ct. 1087. Without going so far as holding “that a State must purchase for the indigent defendant all the assistance that his wealthier counterpart might buy,” the Court explained that indigent defendants must have “access to the raw materials,” or “basic tools,” “integral to the building of an effective defense.” Id. at 77, 105 S.Ct. 1087. Armed with this basic principle, the Court then turned its focus to the question of “whether, and under what conditions, the participation of a psychiatrist is important enough to preparation of a defense to require the State to provide an indigent defendant with access to competent psychiatric assistance in preparing the defense.” Id. The Court concluded that “when a defendant demonstrates to the trial judge that his sanity at the time of the offense is to be a significant factor at trial, the State must, at a minimum, assure the defendant access to a competent psychiatrist who will conduct an appropriate examination and assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.” Id. at 83, 105 S.Ct. 1087. Finally, and most relevantly to the present case, the Court held that a “similar conclusion” must be reached “in the context of a capital sentencing proceeding, when the State presents psychiatric evidence of the defendant's future dangerousness.” Id. “In such a circumstance,” the Court explained, “where the consequence of error is so great, the relevance of responsive psychiatric testimony so evident, and the burden on the State so slim, due process requires access to a psychiatric examination on relevant issues, to the testimony of the psychiatrist, and to assistance in preparation at the sentencing phase.” Id. at 84, 105 S.Ct. 1087.
Turning to the facts of Alverson's case, it is true that the state alleged his future dangerousness as an aggravating factor that warranted imposition of the death penalty. That allegation of future dangerousness was not, however, based on state-sponsored psychiatric evidence, but rather on Alverson's history of violent criminal conduct, including his role in the murder. Thus, under Ake, the state trial court was not automatically required to afford Alverson with the assistance of a mental health expert to counter any psychiatric evidence presented by the state. Instead, Alverson was required to demonstrate to the state trial court that his mental health could be a significant factor at trial. Alverson was able to satisfy this burden because the state trial court granted his request to appoint Carlton to conduct a social study and psychological evaluation. Only when Alverson subsequently sought funding for an additional neuropsychological evaluation by Dr. Karfgin did the state trial court deny his requests.
In affirming the state trial court's denial of Alverson's requests for additional funding, the OCCA concluded that Alverson had failed to make a sufficient showing of need for the requested neuropsychological evaluation. In particular, the OCCA rejected Alverson's MMPI test results as a basis for neuropsychological testing, noting that Carlton admitted she was unqualified to administer the MMPI and that, in any event, the MMPI did “not indicate whether a person has neurological problems....” Alverson I, 983 P.2d at 511 n. 34. The OCCA also cited Alverson's medical records, noting that none of the doctors who examined him following “his run-of-the-mill childhood accidents indicated the possibility that they had created neurological damage....” Id.
In this appeal, Alverson argues, and the dissent agrees, that the state trial court erroneously “required [him] to prove the very condition,” i.e., organic brain damage, “he needed expert assistance to demonstrate.” Aplt. Br. at 23. But Alverson's focus, as well as that of the dissent, is misplaced. In assessing whether a state prisoner has established his right to federal habeas relief under § 2254(d), our review is limited to examining whether the highest state court's resolution of a particular claim is contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.FN4 See Johnson v. McKune, 288 F.3d 1187, 1200-01 (10th Cir.2002) (“[W]e examine the decision of the highest state court to address each relevant petition”). In other words, our focus is on the OCCA's rationale for affirming the state trial court's denial of Alverson's requests for additional funding.FN5 And, on that point, Alverson and the dissent are silent. In particular, neither Alverson nor the dissent dispute the OCCA's conclusion that the MMPI results were invalid due to Carlton's lack of qualifications to administer the test, or the OCCA's conclusion that the MMPI results, even if valid, could not indicate the existence of neurological problems. Nor do Alverson or the dissent challenge, as clearly erroneous, the OCCA's finding that Alverson's childhood medical records were void of any evidence to support a finding that Alverson may have suffered neurological damage. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2).
FN4. The dissent fails to acknowledge, let alone apply, the deferential standards of § 2254(d). FN5. Even if we, like Alverson and the dissent, were to focus on the state trial court's rulings, we are not persuaded they were contrary to Ake. To begin with, we reject the dissent's suggestion that the state trial court attempted to “diagnose neurological disorders from the bench” or “denied funds [simply] because he personally did not note any signs of mental deficiency while Mr. Alverson was in court.” Dissent at 2. As we have outlined, the state court records firmly establish that the state trial court considered a variety of information, including the results of Carlton's testing, Alverson's medical records, and Alverson's correctional records, in concluding that Alverson had failed, under Ake, to establish his entitlement to additional funding for a neuropsychological examination.
The most compelling evidence presented by Alverson in support of his requests for funding was Dr. Karfgin's letter. The statements contained in that letter, however, were based not upon Dr. Karfgin's own evaluation of Alverson, but rather upon Carlton's observations and evaluation of Alverson. The state trial court, based upon its review of all the information before it, found Carlton's observations less than credible, and Alverson has not attempted to challenge that factual determination under § 2254(d)(2). Thus, Dr. Karfgin's statements must also be discounted. Although not framed as challenges to the OCCA's ruling, Alverson asserts two additional, but ultimately futile, arguments. First, Alverson suggests that, regardless of the sufficiency of the evidence he presented to the state trial court in support of his requests for funding, the state's mere allegation of his future dangerousness, standing alone, was sufficient to require the state trial court to grant his requests. The problem with this argument is that it is grounded not on Ake. but instead on our decision in Liles v. Saffle, 945 F.2d 333 (10th Cir.1991). In Liles, a pre-AEDPA habeas case applying a de novo standard of review, we extended Ake to a situation where the state had presented non-psychiatric evidence of the indigent capital defendant's future dangerousness, and the defendant established the likelihood that his mental condition could have been a significant mitigating factor.FN6 Id. at 341. Importantly, however, the Supreme Court has never considered, let alone approved of, Liles' extension of Ake. Thus, Liles does not qualify as “clearly established federal law” under AEDPA, since it was not “determined by the Supreme Court of the United States....” FN7 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). See Hawkins v. Mullin, 291 F.3d 658, 671 n. 6 (10th Cir.2002) (questioning whether Liles' progeny could qualify as “clearly established” federal law for purposes of § 2254(d)(1)).
FN6. In December 1998, approximately six months before Alverson's direct appeal was decided, the OCCA followed suit and adopted the Liles standard for use in Oklahoma capital trials. Fitzgerald v. State, 972 P.2d 1157, 1169 (Okla.Crim.App.1998) (“In the absence of any explicit limitation by the Supreme Court and given our extension of Ake to any expert assistance necessary for an adequate defense, logic and fairness dictate that a qualified defendant should receive expert assistance to rebut any State evidence of continuing threat.”). FN7. Even if Liles could operate as “clearly established federal law” for purposes of § 2254(d)(1), we are not persuaded that it would be of any benefit to Alverson. More specifically, the state trial court effectively satisfied Liles' requirement by granting Alverson's request for funding for Carlton. Thus, in seeking additional funding for a neuropsychological examination, Alverson was left to satisfy the normal evidentiary burden outlined in Ake.
Second, Alverson contends he was “entitled to a psychiatric expert because the prosecution alleged that the murder was heinous, atrocious or cruel,” and the OCCA “has held that this aggravating circumstance can be established by the defendant's state of mind.” Aplt. Br. at 25 (citing Browning v. State, 134 P.3d 816, 842 (Okla.Crim.App.2006)). There is no indication, however, that Alverson ever presented this argument to the OCCA. Thus, the claim is unexhausted and, in turn, undoubtedly procedurally barred under Oklahoma state law. Even if the claim could be considered on the merits, it is merit less. In particular, the Supreme Court has never held that the appointment of a mental health expert is necessary to rebut an allegation that the murder at issue was heinous, atrocious or cruel. Moreover, a review of the trial transcript in this case firmly establishes that the heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravator was based not upon Alverson's state of mind, but rather the brutal manner in which the victim was killed.
6) Alverson's Ake-related claims
In addition to his Ake claim, Alverson asserts two related claims in this federal habeas appeal: (1) that he received incompetent mental health assistance from Carlton; and (2) that he was prejudiced by the lack of qualified expert assistance (i.e., the lack of a psychologist to conduct a neuropsychological evaluation and then testify about the results of that evaluation). Because, however, Alverson's Ake claim lacks merit, we find it unnecessary to reach these two related claims, since both would be relevant only if the state trial court were found to have violated Ake by denying Alverson's requests for additional funding.
B. Sufficiency of evidence-HAC aggravator
Alverson next mounts what he frames as a challenge to the heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravator found by the jury in his case, but his contention ultimately appears to be a challenge to the constitutionality of his death sentence. Alverson begins by asserting that the Eighth Amendment requires capital punishment to be based on “ ‘individualized consideration’ ” of a defendant's culpability. Aplt. Br. at 44 (quoting Lockett v. Ohio, 438 U.S. 586, 605, 98 S.Ct. 2954, 57 L.Ed.2d 973 (1978)). In turn, Alverson asserts that his death sentence was based in substantial part on the jury's second-stage finding that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel. Alverson argues, however, that the prosecution presented no evidence that he personally “participate[d] in beating the victim,” or that he even “introduced [the bat] into the cooler area....” Aplt. Br. at 46. “Accordingly,” he argues, “insufficient evidence was presented to support the heinous, atrocious or cruel aggravating circumstance” in his case. Id. at 47. In other words, Alverson argues, “[t]he Eighth Amendment does not permit the finding of the manner-specific heinous[,] atrocious or cruel aggravating circumstance for a defendant who does not personally kill, absent evidence establishing that the defendant intended a specific manner of killing.” Id. at 45.
a) Clearly established federal law
Two lines of Supreme Court precedent supply the “clearly established federal law” applicable to this claim. First, in Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979), the Supreme Court held that, in evaluating the constitutional sufficiency of evidence supporting a criminal conviction, “the relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.” Id. at 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781 (emphasis in original). Second, in Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782, 102 S.Ct. 3368, 73 L.Ed.2d 1140 (1982), and Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137, 107 S.Ct. 1676, 95 L.Ed.2d 127 (1987), the Supreme Court explored the question of “whether a conviction for felony murder contains an adequate determination of [a] defendant['s] culpability such that imposition of the death penalty does not violate the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.” Workman v. Mullin, 342 F.3d 1100, 1110 (10th Cir.2003). In Enmund, the Supreme Court held that the death penalty was a disproportional punishment for a defendant who was a “minor actor in an armed robbery, not on the scene, who neither intended to kill nor was found to have had any culpable mental state.” Tison, 481 U.S. at 149, 107 S.Ct. 1676 (describing Enmund ). In reaching this conclusion, the Court in Enmund “also clearly dealt with the [opposite] case: the felony murderer who actually killed, attempted to kill, or intended to kill.” Id. at 150, 107 S.Ct. 1676. With respect to this category of felony murder, the Court held that the death penalty was a valid penalty under the Eighth Amendment. Id. “The significance of falling into Enmund's category of when a felony murderer has ‘actually killed’ his victim is that the Eighth Amendment's culpability determination for imposition of the death penalty has then been satisfied.” Workman, 342 F.3d at 1111. In Tison, the Court addressed “whether the Eighth Amendment prohibits the death penalty in the intermediate case of the defendant [who did not kill under Enmund but] whose participation [in the felony] is major and whose mental state is one of reckless indifference to the value of human life.” 481 U.S. at 152, 107 S.Ct. 1676. Without “precisely delineat[ing] the particular types of conduct and states of mind warranting imposition of the death penalty” in this intermediate zone of cases, the Court held “that major participation in the felony committed, combined with reckless indifference to human life, is sufficient to satisfy the Enmund culpability requirement.” Id. at 158, 107 S.Ct. 1676.
b) OCCA's resolution of the issue Alverson presented a similar version of this argument on direct appeal. In particular, Alverson argued that, “to make [him] eligible for the death penalty, the State [was required to] prove at least that [he] substantially participated in the killing to the degree that he exhibited reckless indifference to the loss of human life.” State Aplt. Br. at 50-51 (citing Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137, 107 S.Ct. 1676, 95 L.Ed.2d 127 (1985)). Alverson further argued that, “[e]ven using [his] illegally obtained confession as its main source of evidence of his involvement, the State failed to prove the elements of Tison v. Arizona to justify imposition of the death penalty on [him].” Id. at 51.
The OCCA rejected Alverson's arguments: Alverson argues in the alternative that even if the evidence is sufficient to support the heinous, atrocious and cruel aggravator, it is legally insufficient to show he inflicted the serious physical abuse or intended that it take place. We disagree. The evidence showed Alverson was a substantial participant in the murder. He actively participated in the initial attack wherein the victim was dragged into the cooler. Alverson came out of the cooler to straighten up store merchandise that he and his cohorts had knocked off the shelves during the attack, then re-entered the cooler. Alverson actively participated in bringing the baseball bat, and arguably the handcuffs, into the cooler. Although Harjo carried the bat, Alverson led the way outside the store to retrieve it and back inside to the cooler. By introducing a dangerous weapon into the robbery, Alverson “created a desperate situation inherently dangerous to human life.” Moreover, Alverson was inside the cooler when some of the beating was administered. Accordingly, we find the evidence clearly showed that even if Alverson did not deliver the blows himself, he knew the murder was to take place and actively participated in it. Alverson I, 983 P.2d at 516 (emphasis in original; internal paragraph number and footnotes omitted).FN8
FN8. Alverson also challenged the “heinous, atrocious or cruel” aggravator on direct appeal by arguing that “the State presented insufficient evidence to show the victim was conscious for a significant length of time before losing consciousness so as to render his death ‘one preceded by torture or serious physical abuse’....” Alverson I, 983 P.2d at 515. Alverson does not raise this issue in his federal habeas appeal.
c) § 2254(d) analysis
Alverson contends the OCCA's “discussion is flawed” in a number of respects. Aplt. Br. at 47. To begin with, he contends “there [wa]s no proof that [he] obtained the bat that was used to beat Mr. Yost.” Id. at 46. Second, he contends that the OCCA's determination that he “ ‘knew’ a murder was about to take place” “is contradicted by” the fact that “Yost was restrained in the cooler with handcuffs and two of the co-defendants ... watching him.” Id. at 48. Third, Alverson contends “[t]here was no evidence other than mere speculation that [he] knew what Mr. Harjo was about to do,” and “[a]lthough a baseball bat can become a lethal weapon, it is not a gun or a knife.” Id. Finally, Alverson contends “[t]here was insufficient evidence to show that [he] carried handcuffs into the walk-in cooler,” thus explaining why the OCCA said he “ ‘arguably’ did so.” Id.
Alverson's contentions are directly refuted by, and in turn the OCCA's decision FN9 is directly supported by, State's Exhibit Number 1, which is a copy of the surveillance tape that depicts the events that occurred in the QuikTrip on the day of the murder. Although the actual murder is not depicted on the tape, since the cooler area of the store cannot be observed, the tape does show the four codefendants surrounding Yost, attacking him, and dragging him, against his will, into the cooler area. The tape also shows Alverson subsequently leaving the cooler, followed shortly thereafter by Harjo, walking outside to the defendants' car, obtaining the bat which he handed to Harjo, and then returning to the cooler area with the bat (carried by Harjo) and another item, possibly handcuffs, in tow. Further, the tape indicates that Alverson was present in the cooler at the time when Yost was beaten with the bat, since the “pings” of the bats, as well as Yost's moans, can be heard on the audio portion of the tape. Finally, the tape establishes that after codefendants Wilson and Harjo left the cooler, Alverson and Brown remained behind, and one of those two codefendants continued to inflict blows on Yost with the bat (since, again, “pings” can continue to be heard on the audio portion of the tape). In sum, the jury could clearly have inferred, based upon its viewing of (and listening to) the surveillance tape, that Alverson was well aware that a murder was going to occur and may well have directly participated in beating Yost with the bat.
FN9. Respondent suggests that the OCCA made “factual findings” that must be presumed correct under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1) unless rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. Aplee. Br. at 41 n.7. This is incorrect. The OCCA was instead making a legal determination of whether the evidence presented by the State was sufficient to establish that Alverson participated in the murder.
Moreover, Alverson's Enmund/Tison arguments are effectively foreclosed by the jury's first-stage verdicts of guilt of both first degree felony murder and first degree malice aforethought murder. State Court ROA at 432-33. In order to reach this latter verdict, the jury had to find that Alverson caused the victim's death and, in doing so, had “[t]he deliberate intent to take a human life....” Id. at 386 (jury instruction defining “malice aforethought”). Notably, Alverson has made no attempt to challenge the sufficiency of these findings in this federal habeas appeal.
d) Co-defendant Harjo's role in the murder
In the Ake section of his appellate brief, Alverson quotes language from the panel opinion in Wilson v. Sirmons, 536 F.3d 1064 (10th Cir.2008), stating that co-defendant Harjo “ ‘received a life sentence from the jury, presumably because of his youth, even though he [Mr. Harjo] was the one who beat the victim to death with a baseball bat....’ ” Aplt. Br. at 43-44 (quoting Wilson, 536 F.3d at 1095).FN10 Although Alverson does not rely on Wilson to support his claim that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury's finding of the “heinous, atrocious or cruel” aggravator, the quoted statement from Wilson nevertheless deserves at least brief discussion because the record in this case indicates that the statement is inaccurate.
FN10. The quoted language from Wilson garnered the support of only Judge McConnell, the author of the majority opinion, and was not joined by Judge Hartz or Judge Tymkovich. See 536 F.3d at 1070 (noting that neither Judge Hartz nor Judge Tymkovich joined Part III(E) of Judge McConnell's opinion).
The state trial court conducted two trials for the four co-defendants in this case: one trial for Alverson and Harjo, and one trial for Wilson and Brown. At the trial for Alverson and Harjo, the state presented uncontroverted evidence from police witnesses that they observed a significant amount of blood in the cooler area where Yost was murdered, including a pool of blood on the floor near his body and blood spatters on the walls and ceiling of the cooler. In turn, one police witness, Roy Heim, opined that the person who swung the bat at Yost would definitely have been splattered with blood. The state also presented testimony from Mandy Rumsey, who testified that she and a friend of hers stopped at the QuikTrip in the early morning hours of February 26, 1995. When Rumsey and her friend entered the store, they observed Wilson working the cash register, meaning that Yost, the victim, had at that point already been dragged into the cooler and beaten to death. Rumsey testified that, after remaining in the QuikTrip for approximately one hour, she and her friend left the store with Harjo and walked to some nearby apartments, where they remained for approximately thirty minutes before returning to the QuikTrip. On cross-examination by Harjo's counsel, Rumsey testified that she had an opportunity to clearly see everything Harjo was wearing, and she did not recall observing any blood or dark stains on his hands, face, shirt or trousers. On cross-examination by Alverson's counsel, Rumsey testified that she would not have been able to determine if there were blood stains on Alverson's body or clothing. Considered together, this evidence may well explain why the jury imposed a sentence of death for Alverson, but not for Harjo. In particular, the jury could reasonably have inferred from this evidence that although Harjo carried the bat into the cooler, one of the other codefendants, including possibly Alverson, took the bat from Harjo and used it to strike and kill Yost.
C. Ineffective assistance of counsel-failure to investigate head trauma
Alverson next contends that his trial counsel, Jim Fransein, was constitutionally ineffective for failing to properly investigate and evaluate the head trauma that Alverson suffered as a child. In support of this claim, Alverson asserts that Fransein “knew before trial that ... Alverson had suffered head injuries,” but ultimately “failed to investigate the effects of” those injuries “on [Alverson's] behavior.” Aplt. Br. at 53.
1) Applicable clearly established federal law
Alverson correctly notes that the “clearly established federal law” applicable to this claim is the Supreme Court's decision in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). In Strickland, the Supreme Court held that “[a] convicted defendant's claim that counsel's assistance was so defective as to require reversal of a conviction or death sentence has two components.” 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052. “First,” the Court noted, “the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient.” Id. “This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the ‘counsel’ guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment.” Id. “Second,” the Court noted, “the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Id. “This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.” Id. “Unless a defendant makes both showings,” the Court held, “it cannot be said that the conviction or death sentence resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable.” Id.
2) OCCA's rejection of the claim
On direct appeal, Alverson asserted a multi-faceted claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. Included among his arguments was the following: “[T]here was evidence that defense counsel was aware that Billy Alverson had received a head injury in his youth. (O.R.360) Given the fact that there is an established relationship between the existence of traumatic head injury and persons on death row, this is a factor in mitigation that should have been explored.” State Aplt. Br. at 31. The OCCA rejected those arguments on the merits, stating:
Finally, Alverson takes issue with counsel's failure to investigate alleged head injuries Alverson had received as a child. Counsel did request funds to hire an expert to look into this issue, which was properly denied by the trial court. Because Alverson has presented no evidence to support his contention that ordinary injuries he received as a child resulted in inorganic [sic] brain damage, we dispose of this claim on a lack of prejudice as well. Alverson I, 983 P.2d at 511 (footnotes omitted).
c) § 2254(d) analysis
We conclude that the OCCA's rejection of Alverson's ineffective assistance claim was neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, Strickland. With respect to the first prong of the Strickland test, the OCCA correctly noted that Alverson's trial counsel actually requested funds for a neuropsychological examination. Indeed, trial counsel made repeated attempts to obtain such funding. Notably, Alverson has not identified what other action his trial counsel could or should have taken. Thus, the OCCA reasonably concluded, under the first prong of the Strickland test, that trial counsel's performance was not deficient. As for the second prong of the Strickland test, the OCCA reasonably concluded, based on Alverson's failure to present any evidence establishing the probable existence of any organic brain damage (such as evidence of severe head trauma and/or sudden changes in behavior after such trauma), that Alverson could not establish prejudice arising from any asserted failure on the part of his trial counsel. And, again, Alverson has not, in his federal appellate brief, explained why the OCCA's determination in this regard was unreasonable.
To be sure, Alverson presented new evidence with his application for state post-conviction relief, in the form of an affidavit from Dr. Philip Murphy, suggesting that he did, in fact, suffer from an organic brain disorder. Alverson did not, however, attempt to reassert the same ineffective assistance arguments he raised on direct appeal (and even if he had, the new evidence would presumably not have altered the OCCA's analysis of the first Strickland prong).FN11 Thus, the OCCA was never asked to reconsider its ruling in light of the new evidence. To the extent that Alverson's current reliance on that evidence “transform[s] his ineffective assistance of counsel claim into one ... significantly different,” “more substantial,” FN12 and thus unexhausted, Demarest v. Price, 130 F.3d 922, 939 (10th Cir.1997) (internal quotation marks omitted), it in turn is clear “that, were [Alverson] to attempt to now present the claim to the Oklahoma state courts in a second application for post-conviction relief, it would be deemed procedurally barred.” Cummings v. Sirmons, 506 F.3d 1211, 1223 (10th Cir.2007). “Thus, the claim is subject to what we have termed an ‘anticipatory procedural bar.’ ” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Sirmons, 476 F.3d 1131, 1139 n. 7 (10th Cir.2007)). Although Alverson has asserted claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, he has not, to date, asserted that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to obtain an affidavit from Murphy (or another psychologist) to support the ineffectiveness claim that was actually asserted on direct appeal. Nor could Alverson claim that his state post-conviction counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the claim, “because a defendant is not constitutionally entitled to representation by counsel in state post-conviction proceedings.” Id.
FN11. Alverson instead argued, for the first time, that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to seek and obtain ex parte hearings on his applications for funding for a neuropsychological examination. That claim, however, is not at issue in this federal habeas appeal. FN12. It is doubtful that Murphy's affidavit substantially bolsters or transforms the claim in this manner, particularly given the fact that the jury rejected the continuing threat aggravator.
D. Cumulative error
Alverson contends that “the cumulative effect” of the errors asserted in his appellate brief “warrant habeas corpus relief in the form of a new sentencing proceeding.” Aplt. Br. at 54. In the federal habeas context, “ ‘[a] cumulative-error analysis aggregates all [constitutional] errors found to be harmless and analyzes whether their cumulative effect on the outcome of the trial is such that collectively they can no longer be determined to be harmless.’ ” Brown v. Sirmons, 515 F.3d 1072, 1097 (10th Cir.2008) (quoting United States v. Toles, 297 F.3d 959, 972 (10th Cir.2002)).
Because we have rejected each of Alverson's substantive claims of constitutional error, there can be no cumulative error.
E. Request for evidentiary hearing
Finally, Alverson contends the district court erred “by failing to hold an evidentiary hearing before concluding that proffered mitigation evidence was harmless.” Aplt. Br. at 56 (all capitals in original modified to lower case). Alverson does not, however, identify which of his claims the proposed evidentiary hearing would have related to. Presumably, he is asserting the evidentiary hearing would have pertained to his Ake and Ake-related claims.
“Because [Alverson's] petition is governed by AEDPA, he can obtain an evidentiary hearing in federal court [only] by (1) showing he was diligent in developing the factual basis for his claim in state court, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(2) (2000); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 420, 429-31, 120 S.Ct. 1479, 146 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000), and (2) asserting a factual basis that, if true, would entitle him to habeas relief ....” Sandoval v. Ulibarri, 548 F.3d 902, 915 (10th Cir.2008). “Consistent with this standard, ‘an evidentiary hearing is unnecessary if the claim can be resolved on the record.’ ” Id. (quoting Anderson v. Att'y Gen. of Kan., 425 F.3d 853, 859 (10th Cir.2005)).
Even assuming Alverson was diligent in developing the factual basis of his claims in state court, he “has not shown that an evidentiary hearing would have aided his cause.” Id. In particular, in resolving Alverson's Ake and Ake-related claims, there are no unresolved issues of fact to be determined. Rather, those claims hinge on the application of clearly established law to an uncontroverted set of facts. Thus, there was no need for a federal evidentiary hearing.
The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.
TYMKOVICH, Circuit Judge, concurring.
Although I agree with Judge Briscoe's merits analysis, in my view we must apply the independent and adequate state ground doctrine to the Ake claims. FN1 When reviewing a state prisoner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, federalism and comity require us to respect and give effect to state procedural rules. Because Alverson failed to raise a claim based on Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985), on direct appeal-and because the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals relied upon a state procedural law to dispose of the Ake claim on post-conviction review-we are barred from considering the claim.
FN1. I join in all but Part III.A.4. Regarding the merits of Alverson's claim under Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985), I entirely agree with Judge Briscoe that the state court did not unreasonably apply federal law in disposing of the claim, nor did it adjudicate the claim in a manner contrary to federal law. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).
The Supreme Court has never suggested we may ignore a state procedural law if it is raised defensively in federal habeas litigation. To the contrary, the Court has compared state procedural bars to limits on federal judicial power: Without the [independent and adequate state ground doctrine], a federal district court would be able to do in habeas what this Court could not do on direct review; habeas would offer state prisoners whose custody was supported by independent and adequate state grounds an end run around the limits of this Court's jurisdiction and a means to undermine the State's interest in enforcing its laws. Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 730-31, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991). According to the Court, the doctrine is “grounded in concerns of comity and federalism,” id. at 730, 111 S.Ct. 2546, which prevent us from reaching the merits when the last state court to address a claim “fairly appears” to rest its judgment on a state procedural rule. See id. at 740, 111 S.Ct. 2546.
We have previously acknowledged the foundational importance of the independent and adequate state ground doctrine, stating that it “implicates important values that transcend the concerns of the parties to an action.” Hardiman v. Reynolds, 971 F.2d 500, 503 (10th Cir.1992). Indeed, because of the doctrine's importance, we have held that “a federal habeas court can always raise procedural bar sua sponte.' ” Romano v. Gibson, 239 F.3d 1156, 1168 (10th Cir.2001); see also Cummings v. Sirmons, 506 F.3d 1211, 1223 (10th Cir.2007) (describing the doctrine of “anticipatory procedural bar”). Here we need not raise the Oklahoma procedural bar sua sponte, as the question of procedural default was squarely raised below and was raised again on appeal to this court. But our willingness to apply an applicable state procedural bar-even where the state court has not had the opportunity to do so-underscores the important role state procedural law plays in federal habeas review.
In Oklahoma capital cases, only claims that “[w]ere not and could not have been raised in a direct appeal” are eligible for state collateral review. 22 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 1089(C)(1) (1999) (emphasis added). When it disposed of Alverson's post-conviction petition, the OCCA held that Alverson's Ake claim “could have been raised on direct appeal but [was] not,” and it was therefore “waived” under state law. Alverson v. Oklahoma, No. PC 98-1182, Slip Op. at 3 & n.7 (Okla.Ct.Crim.App. July 19, 1999) (unpublished) (citing § 1089(C)(1)). Relying upon this holding by the OCCA, the government has consistently argued Alverson's failure to comply with state procedural law prevents review of the Ake claim in federal court.
Judge Briscoe does not really take issue with the OCCA's finding of waiver. She acknowledges that on direct appeal, Alverson “did not challenge the state trial court's denial of his [ Ake ] application,” and he failed to mention or cite Ake to the OCCA. Maj. Op. at 1150. And even Alverson himself conceded his Ake claim was not properly presented to the OCCA-in the district court, he alleged his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the claim on direct appeal. FN2. As his counsel noted at oral argument, Alverson has since abandoned his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim. Nonetheless, because on direct appeal the OCCA mentioned that no evidence supported an Ake claim while denying Alverson's ineffective assistance claim-and referred to Ake in an alternative holding on collateral review-Judge Briscoe contends the state procedural bar has been overridden. In light of Supreme Court precedent, however, I disagree with this contention.
First, the Supreme Court has directed us to look to the last state court decision disposing of a federal claim, and not some intermediate decision, to determine whether the claim is procedurally barred. See Coleman, 501 U.S. at 735, 111 S.Ct. 2546 (quoting Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 263, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 103 L.Ed.2d 308 (1989)). Only if the last state court opinion to address the claim ignores the procedural bar and reaches the merits may we follow suit. See Ylst v. Nunnemaker, 501 U.S. 797, 801, 111 S.Ct. 2590, 115 L.Ed.2d 706 (1991) (“If the last state court to be presented with a particular federal claim reaches the merits, it removes any bar to federal-court review that might otherwise have been available.' ” (emphasis added)).FN3 Here, the last state court to address the Ake claim explicitly rested its judgment on an Oklahoma procedural rule.
FN3. Even so, a state court cannot prevent federal review of a constitutional claim merely by talismanically invoking a state procedural rule. If the state procedural law is somehow inadequate as a federal matter-for example, if it deprives a habeas petitioner “of any meaningful review” of his constitutional claim-the independent and adequate state ground doctrine is inapplicable and we may reach the merits. Hooks v. Ward, 184 F.3d 1206, 1214 (10th Cir.1999) (quoting Brecheen v. Reynolds, 41 F.3d 1343, 1364 (10th Cir.1994)); see also Phillips v. Ferguson, 182 F.3d 769, 773 (10th Cir.1999) (“[I]f it is determined that the state post-conviction procedure is unconstitutional, then such procedures would not, in most instances, be regarded as an adequate state procedural bar to habeas consideration of the underlying conviction.”).
Second, the Supreme Court requires us to give effect to a state procedural bar even when the state court reaches the merits of a federal claim in an alternative holding. See Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 264 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 103 L.Ed.2d 308 (1989). In Harris, the Supreme Court imported to the habeas context the “plain statement” rule of Michigan v. Long, 463 U.S. 1032, 103 S.Ct. 3469, 77 L.Ed.2d 1201 (1983), a seminal case on the boundaries of the Court's power to review state court judgments. Under that rule, a federal court may not reach a habeas petitioner's constitutional claims if “the last state court rendering a judgment in the case ‘clearly and expressly’ states that its judgment rests on a state procedural bar.” Harris, 489 U.S. at 263, 109 S.Ct. 1038 (quoting Caldwell v. Mississippi, 472 U.S. 320, 327, 105 S.Ct. 2633, 86 L.Ed.2d 231 (1985)).
According to Harris, the plain statement rule applies even under the circumstances presented in this case, where the state court addressed the merits of the federal claim in addition to finding it waived. As the Supreme Court held, “a state court need not fear reaching the merits of a federal claim in an alternative holding.” Harris, 489 U.S. at 264 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 1038 (emphasis in original).FN4 Thus, a federal court is barred from considering “a federal issue on federal habeas as long as the state court explicitly invokes a state procedural bar rule as a separate basis for decision.” Id.; see also Sochor v. Florida, 504 U.S. 527, 534, 112 S.Ct. 2114, 119 L.Ed.2d 326 (1992) (“[T]he rejection of [the habeas petitioner's] claim was based on the alternative state ground that the claim was ‘not preserved for appeal’.... Hence, we hold ourselves to be without authority to address Sochor's claim ....” (emphasis added)).
FN4. Other circuits have repeatedly enforced the “alternative holding” rule set forth in Harris. See, e.g., Stephens v. Branker, 570 F.3d 198, 208 (4th Cir.2009); Campbell v. Burris, 515 F.3d 172, 177 & n. 3 (3d Cir.2008) (noting that whether the state court “actually reviewed” the merits of a petitioner's federal claims is irrelevant if the state court “expressly relies on a state procedural rule” to dispose of the claims), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 71, 172 L.Ed.2d 28; Brooks v. Bagley, 513 F.3d 618, 624 (6th Cir.2008) (citing Harris, 489 U.S. at 264 n. 1, 109 S.Ct. 1038), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1316, 173 L.Ed.2d 596 (2009); Taylor v. Norris, 401 F.3d 883, 886 (8th Cir.2005) (“Although the Arkansas Supreme Court, in its footnote 1, set forth an alternative ruling based on the merits ... the court nevertheless clearly and expressly stated that its decision rested on state procedural grounds.”). Here, the OCCA indeed “explicitly invoked” a state procedural rule to deny the Ake claim on post-conviction review. Harris, 489 U.S. at 264 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 1038. Moreover, the OCCA's discussion of the merits of the Ake claim on post-conviction review (if not on direct appeal) was most certainly framed in the alternative: the OCCA stated in a footnote-after concluding in the text that the Ake claim was waived-that “[i]n any event, the trial court's denial of a neurological Ake expert was proper.” Alverson, No. PC 98-1182, Slip Op. at 3 n.7.FN5 Because this holding was framed in the alternative, it did not eviscerate the procedural bar the OCCA simultaneously-and explicitly-invoked to dispose of the Ake claim.
FN5. The Second Circuit has attempted to draw a distinction between “alternative” holdings and “contrary-to-fact” holdings. See Bell v. Miller, 500 F.3d 149, 155 (2d Cir.2007) (holding that the language, “ if the merits were reached, the result would be the same,” is a contrary-to-fact holding, not an alternative holding (emphasis in original)). Although I do not adopt that distinction, here the OCCA no doubt made an alternative holding on post-conviction review when it utilized the prefatory phrase “in any event” before addressing the merits of the Ake claim. See Sochor, 504 U.S. at 534, 112 S.Ct. 2114 (holding that the portion of a state court opinion following the phrase “in any event” is an alternative holding).
Judge Briscoe cites three decisions from outside the Tenth Circuit that appear to allow us to reach Alverson's Ake claim despite the holdings in Coleman and Harris. According to Judge Briscoe, those decisions conclude that “a state appellate court's sua sponte consideration of an issue not only satisfies § 2254's exhaustion requirement but ... also constitutes an adjudication on the merits that is ripe for federal habeas review.” See Maj. Op. at 1153 n.3 (emphasis added) (citing Comer v. Schriro, 480 F.3d 960 (9th Cir.2007); Walton v. Caspari, 916 F.2d 1352 (8th Cir.1990); Cooper v. Wainwright, 807 F.2d 881 (11th Cir.1986)). For several reasons, I believe those cases do not apply here.
As an initial matter, the doctrine of exhaustion and the doctrine of independent and adequate state grounds are distinct. Exhaustion is a creature of federal statute and is a mandatory prerequisite to federal habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). The independent and adequate state ground doctrine, on the other hand, is based upon the limits of federal jurisdiction contained in Article III of the Constitution, and is meant to give effect to state procedural rules. See Coleman, 501 U.S. at 730-31, 111 S.Ct. 2546; Harris, 489 U.S. at 262-63, 109 S.Ct. 1038. Although the two doctrines may sometimes appear to be intertwined, they are not identical. See Hawkins v. Mullin, 291 F.3d 658, 663-64 (10th Cir.2002) (separately analyzing procedural bar and exhaustion); see also Coleman, 501 U.S. at 731, 111 S.Ct. 2546 (discussing the doctrine of exhaustion and state procedural default separately, but noting they both implicate the principles of comity).
Thus, to the extent the cases cited by Judge Briscoe address whether a federal claim has been exhausted, those cases are inapplicable to Alverson's Ake claim. See Comer, 480 F.3d at 984 (“[W]e will ... consider a claim to be exhausted ... if ... the state court mentions it is considering the claim sua sponte.” (emphasis added)); Walton, 916 F.2d at 1357 (“[W]e hold that [the petitioner] exhausted his state remedies ....” (emphasis added)). The government does not seriously dispute Alverson's Ake claim has been exhausted-he clearly attempted to raise it in his petition for post-conviction relief. The question is whether it was presented in compliance with Oklahoma procedural rules. For the reasons given above, it was not.
Furthermore, the Eleventh Circuit's 1986 holding in Cooper conflicts with and predates the Supreme Court's 1989 and 1991 holdings in Harris and Coleman, and we should not adopt Cooper as the law of the Tenth Circuit. In Cooper, the court reviewed a Florida prisoner's habeas petition. In a state collateral proceeding, the Florida Supreme Court had ruled that a state procedural rule prevented the prisoner from asserting one of his federal claims. Cooper, 807 F.2d at 885. Nonetheless, an earlier decision by the Florida Supreme Court had sua sponte “recognized and passed on the [federal] claim,” and the Eleventh Circuit determined that it could therefore review the claim on the merits. Id. at 886.
Thus, Cooper contravenes the Supreme Court's explicit instruction to examine the “decision of the last state court to which the petitioner presented his federal claims.” Coleman, 501 U.S. at 735, 111 S.Ct. 2546 (emphasis added); see id. at 735-36, 111 S.Ct. 2546 (quoting Harris, 489 U.S. at 263, 109 S.Ct. 1038); see also Ylst, 501 U.S. at 801, 111 S.Ct. 2590. Cooper relied not on the last decision of the Florida Supreme Court, but on an intermediate decision-the decision disposing of the prisoner's direct appeal. See Cooper, 807 F.2d at 884 (referring to the two state court decisions as “ Cooper I ” and “ Cooper II ”). We should not apply the erroneous conclusion in Cooper to the case at hand and thereby taint our own circuit's precedent. FN6. Of course, if a state court conspicuously refuses to invoke a potentially-applicable state procedural rule, and instead addresses a federal claim on the merits, a federal court has “no concomitant duty to apply [the] state procedural bar[ ].” Cone v. Bell, --- U.S. ----, 129 S.Ct. 1769, 1782, 173 L.Ed.2d 701 (2009). This remains true so long as no later state court decision suggests a valid procedural default might apply. See id. But here, as in Cooper, the last state court to address the relevant federal claim explicitly relied upon a state procedural law. Coleman and Harris therefore require us to respect the decision of the OCCA and avoid addressing the merits of Alverson's Ake claim.
Judge Briscoe also cites several cases from this circuit in support of reaching the merits. She notes “[t]his is by no means the first time we have reached the merits of a § 2254 claim that was first considered on the merits by a state appellate court and then later rejected by that same court as procedurally barred.” Maj. Op. at 1153-54 & 1155 n.4 (collecting cases). Each of the cited cases, however, presented unique procedural or other questions that do not pertain here. Indeed, we have never held that we may ignore a procedural bar explicitly invoked by a state court, when neither party suggests the procedural bar is somehow inapplicable or infirm as a matter of federal law.
For example, one of the cases, Mathis v. Bruce, 148 Fed.Appx. 732 (10th Cir.2005), merely denied relief on the merits to avoid a “procedural morass” that we would otherwise have been required to untangle. Id. at 735. We have followed this procedure many times in the past-a point not lost on Judge Briscoe, who cites additional cases to that effect. See Maj. Op. at 1155 n.4; see also Revilla v. Gibson, 283 F.3d 1203, 1214 (10th Cir.2002) ( “[W]e elect to avoid complex procedural bar issues and resolve the matter ‘more easily and succinctly’ on the merits.” (quoting Romero v. Furlong, 215 F.3d 1107, 1111 (10th Cir.2000))).
In denying a claim on the merits instead of addressing a “thorny” and “complex” state procedural question, we do no violence to the doctrine of independent and adequate state grounds. See Revilla, 283 F.3d at 1210-11. Indeed, we actually honor the doctrine by declining to address difficult questions of state law that are more properly the province of the state courts. Here, however, the issue of whether Alverson's Ake claim is procedurally barred is not particularly difficult. The merits question, on the other hand, is more complicated, as evidenced by Judge Kelly's thoughtful dissent.
The other cases, Johnson v. Champion, 288 F.3d 1215 (10th Cir.2002), and Sallahdin v. Gibson, 275 F.3d 1211 (10th Cir.2002), likewise do not apply to Alverson's Ake claim. In Johnson, we excused an otherwise valid state law procedural bar because we concluded the habeas petitioner had shown “cause and prejudice” for his failure to comply with applicable state procedural rules. Johnson, 288 F.3d at 1226-27; see also id. (“Generally speaking, this court ‘does not address issues that have been defaulted in state court on an independent and adequate state procedural ground, unless the petitioner can demonstrate cause and prejudice or a fundamental miscarriage of justice.’ ” (emphasis added) (quoting English v. Cody, 146 F.3d 1257, 1259 (10th Cir.1998))). In Sallahdin, we addressed the merits of a constitutional claim because the OCCA had given the petitioner permission to raise it on direct appeal, yet inexplicably failed to address the claim. 275 F.3d at 1227.
Here, nothing in the record suggests the procedural bar the OCCA invoked is somehow inapplicable. We have previously held that the Oklahoma procedural bar at issue is “independent and adequate” as a matter of federal law when applied to claims based on Ake, and Alverson has not argued otherwise. See Smith v. Workman, 550 F.3d 1258, 1267 (10th Cir.2008) (“We agree that Petitioner's substantive Ake claim is procedurally barred given that the OCCA deemed the claims waived on an independent and adequate state law ground ... because it was not raised on direct appeal.”), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 130 S.Ct. 238, 175 L.Ed.2d 163 (2009). And Alverson does not assert that an exception to the independent and adequate state ground doctrine applies. That is, he has not alleged cause for his failure to comply with state law, that the state procedural law actually prejudiced him, or that he is factually innocent and a “fundamental miscarriage of justice” will occur if the procedural bar is enforced. See Ellis v. Hargett, 302 F.3d 1182, 1186 & n. 1 (10th Cir.2002) (discussing the exceptions to the independent and adequate state ground doctrine).
Thus, nothing in our case law-including the cases invoked by Judge Briscoe-suggests we are free to disregard the OCCA's state law disposition of Alverson's Ake claim. * * * Supreme Court precedent commands us to respect the OCCA's conclusion that Alverson waived his Ake claim when he failed to present it on direct appeal. Nothing in the record suggests the procedural rule the OCCA applied is somehow infirm, and Alverson has not argued he is eligible for an exception to the independent and adequate state ground doctrine. To honor the principles of federalism and comity that underlie our habeas corpus jurisprudence, we must heed Coleman and Harris, and allow the OCCA's state law decision to stand.
KELLY, Circuit Judge, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I concur in the court's opinion except for Part III(A)(5), the Ake claim. As to that part, I must dissent.To execute a person because he could not come up with the $2,050 to employ an appropriate mental health expert plainly violates due process. Ake v. Oklahoma, 470 U.S. 68, 105 S.Ct. 1087, 84 L.Ed.2d 53 (1985), is clear. When a defendant ex parte shows that his “mental condition” may well be a “significant factor” at sentencing, the defendant has the “readily apparent” due process right to “a competent psychiatrist who will conduct an appropriate examination and assist in evaluation, preparation, and presentation of the defense.” Ake, 470 U.S. at 82-83, 105 S.Ct. 1087.
Mr. Alverson merited expert assistance under Ake, and the state trial court properly authorized $750 for Jean Carlton, a social worker. Ct. Op. at 25. But after Ms. Carlton identified symptoms of a major brain disorder, the trial court wrongly rejected Mr. Alverson's requests for funds for a neuro-psychologist.
That Ms. Carlton was not competent to diagnose brain injury did not negate Mr. Alverson's showing of need for testing. Mr. Alverson's counsel submitted Ms. Carlton's evaluations because they raised strong suspicions of brain disorder, and he had no other way to prove Mr. Alverson's need for further investigation. 1 State Tr. at 26 (transcripts); 2 State R. at 328 (pleadings). The State demanded more evidence. But it withheld the funds that would enable Mr. Alverson to provide it. Requiring a defendant to prove, in advance, what he needed the money to prove gets it backwards.
Ms. Carlton's competence or incompetence can only factor in favor of granting funds. Either Ms. Carlton was incompetent, such that reliance upon her alone violated Mr. Alverson's right to a competent expert, or she was competent, such that her recommendation merited funds for a neurological expert. Ake, 470 U.S. at 78-79, 105 S.Ct. 1087. And if her reports were insufficient, surely the neuro-psychologist's recommendation for testing, submitted pro bono and as a concerned citizen, made the minimal showing of need. 2 State R. at 358, 360. Silent records cannot cancel out these suspicions.
It is clear that the trial judge ignored Mr. Alverson's experts. He denied funds because he personally did not note any signs of mental deficiency while Mr. Alverson was in court. 4 State Tr. at 57, 63; 5 State Tr. at 4.
That the trial judge could not diagnose neurological disorders from the bench is a totally improper and insufficient basis to deny the modest funds needed to properly defend an indigent defendant.FN1 1 State Tr. at 28-29. Though this court suggests that the state trial court considered several other sources in denying the additional funds, these sources simply cannot negate the suspicions raised and the need for further investigation by a competent and qualified professional neuro-psychologist. Thus, this court's comment that neither Mr. Alverson nor the dissent have addressed the rationale of the OCCA in upholding the denial of funds is not correct-the findings of the OCCA cannot justify its result.
FN1. In an intervening case between Mr. Alverson's trial and his direct appeal, the OCCA reaffirmed that Ake required provision of the requested services and criticized the same trial judge for using this illegal heightened showing standard. Fitzgerald v. State, 972 P.2d 1157, 1166-68 (Okla.Crim.App.1998). The OCCA apparently ignored this precedent when it jumped to decide this issue without the benefits of briefing or a full recitation of facts. Alverson v. State, 983 P.2d 498, 511 (Okla.Crim.App.1999). The federal district court also concluded that the violation did not have “substantial and injurious effect or influence in determining the jury's [death penalty] verdict,” Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 623, 113 S.Ct. 1710, 123 L.Ed.2d 353 (1993), because (1) the jury rejected Mr. Alverson's future dangerousness as an aggravating factor and (2) any mitigating evidence that could have resulted from a neurological examination would not have affected the jury's finding of the other two aggravating factors. Alverson v. Sirmons, No. 00-CV-528-TCK-SAJ, 2008 WL 5122348, at *10-12 (N.D.Okla. Dec. 5, 2008). This overlooks that Mr. Alverson merited an expert's aid (1) to demonstrate his culpability for the crime, (2) to disprove the two aggravating factors implicating his mental state, (3) to mitigate against a death sentence, and (4) to help the jury decide upon a final sentence.
This court apparently agrees with the State's observation that the trial court only denied “additional” evaluation and that Ms. Carlton adequately testified. Ct. Op. at 13-15, 25, 29; Aplee Br. at 29-30, 34-35. This observation is patently incorrect. On cross examination, the State revealed that Ms. Carlton was so unqualified and incompetent that her testimony said nothing whatsoever about Mr. Alverson's psychology. 9 State Tr. at 176-219; 10 State Tr. at 37. The State marched through a harrowing list of Mr. Alverson's mental and personality traits, and Ms. Carlton agreed time after time that these traits were psychopathic. 9 State Tr. at 203-219, 230-232. Besides this “adequate” testimony, Mr. Alverson had no mitigating case to speak of. 3 State R. at 422.
On the one hand, the State holds up the social worker's initial evaluation as “proof” that Mr. Alverson received the help he needed. On the other hand, the State went to great lengths to convince the jury that Ms. Carlton was totally inept and unqualified. All this is doublespeak, merely to save the State a few dollars and to ensure that the jury would sentence Mr. Alverson to death as a psychopath.
If Mr. Alverson had received a competent evaluation, he very well could have presented evidence that he was not a psychopath and that he suffered from an undiagnosed organic brain disorder reducing his culpability for his behavior. Affidavit of Dr. Philip J. Murphy, Application for Post-Conviction Relief at Ex. 5, Alverson v. State, No. PC-98-1182 (Okla.Crim.App. April 26, 1999). This evidence would have provided Mr. Alverson a mitigation case and could well have tipped the scales in a jury's choice of a final sentence.
If Oklahoma is going to continue to seek to exact the ultimate punishment, it ought to pay the cost of ensuring that it does not carry out its quest for vengeance on a person who, with appropriate assistance, might be spared. I would remand the case to the district court with instructions to conditionally grant the writ.