Dexter Lee Vinson

Executed April 27, 2006 09:15 p.m. by Lethal Injection in Virginia

16th murderer executed in U.S. in 2006
1020th murderer executed in U.S. since 1976
1st murderer executed in Virginia in 2006
95th murderer executed in Virginia since 1976

Since 1976
Date of Execution
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder-Execution)
Date of
(Race/Sex/Age at Murder)
Date of
Method of
to Murderer
Date of
Lethal Injection
Dexter Lee Vinson

B / M / 34 - 43

Angela Felton

W / F / 25

Stabbing with knife

The nude, mutilated body of Angela Felton was found on May 20, 1997 in a vacant house on Freedom Ave. in Portsmouth. She had been abducted the morning before by her ex-boyfriend, Dexter Vinson. Felton had lived with Vinson for more than a year but had moved out a few weeks before her death. On the morning of her abduction, she had gone back to the home she once shared with Vinson to retrieve mail. Upon seeing Vinson, Felton attempted to drive away. Vinson followed in his car, ramming her car from behind until she stopped. After he beat her, Vinson and Felton drove away to a nearby boarded-up house where she was dragged inside and sexually mutilated, suffering massive cuts and tears to the genital area. She also suffered multiple deep cuts to her neck, forearms, trunk and buttocks and blows to the head and face. Fingerprints in the car and the vacant home, and a match of Felton's DNA with bloodstains on Vinson's shorts linked him to the crime.

Vinson v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d 170 (Va. 1999) (Direct Appeal).
Vinson v. True, 436 F.3d 412 (4th Cir. Va. 2006) (Habeas).

Final Meal:
Requested that his last meal not be released to the public.

Final Words:

Internet Sources:

Virginians for Alternatives to the Deathy Penalty

Inmate: Dexter Lee Vinson
DOB: 4-03-63
County of Conviction: Portsmouth
Conviction(s): murder, carjacking, abduct with intent to defile
DOC #: 266028
Date Received: 2-11-99

Action Alert - Execution Vigil for Dexter Lee Vinson

VADP will be holding an execution protest on the Broad Street sidewalk in front of the Governor's Office which is in the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond tomorrow, April 27th from 4:00 until 5:00 PM. This is the first time in recent years that such a protest has been called. As Governor Kaine is facing four executions before the end of the summer it is important for us to raise our voices in protest of this modern day form of human sacrifice to the death penalty gods.

In addition there will be the evening vigil in Richmond at St. Peter's Catholic Church at 8:30 PM on the corenr of Grace & 8th St. Additional vigils will be held in numerous locations across the commonwealth to protest the execution of Dexter Lee Vinson. VADP will also conduct a vigil in front of the death house in Jarratt at the Greensville Correctional Center.

Execution Vigil at the Greensville Correctional Center: April 27, 2006 8:00—9:30 p.m.

Vigils will also be held in over twenty locations across the state. A full list of vigil locations and contacts can be found at

Is Vinson guilty? Vinson’s case presents an extremely unusual set of circumstances. Prosecutors do not dispute that they presented perjured testimony at the preliminary hearing and to the grand jury. A State witness gives Vinson an alibi. Doubts expressed by witnesses to police were never passed along to defense counsel or jurors. DNA evidence was collected but never tested, including semen from Ms. Felton’s body. Will Virginia allow a potentially innocent man to be executed without resolving this evidence of innocence?

Vinson’s lawyers were suing each other for racial discrimination. In a bizarre, unprecedented twist, throughout the trial, one of the lawyers appointed to represent Dexter Vinson at trial was suing the other for discriminating against her because of her race while she was in his employ. She claimed that the stress of the lawsuit was so great it was causing her hair to fall out in clumps. Is this adequate counsel in a life or death case, or is it just adequate because Vinson was too poor to obtain a lawyer who did not consider her co-counsel to be racist?

Vinson’s execution should not go forward at this time. The federal courts are poised to determine whether the manner in which Virginia executes using lethal injection is impermissibly cruel. The court has already found the claim to be worthy of trial and by summer may order Virginia to alter the specific actions our commonwealth will be allowed or required to take before an execution can be carried out. Does Virginia want to proceed blindly with this execution as if unaware that our actions in carrying it out may soon be outlawed as cruel?

We join those who mourn the loss of Angela Felton and are determined to eliminate the violence that brought about her senseless murder. But execution is neither a solution to violence nor a comfort to mourners. It is part of the problem and increases the cycle of violence.

Please write to Governor Tim Kaine asking him to stop this execution, to resolve the unanswered questions in Mr. Vinson’s case, and commute Dexter Lee Vinson’s sentence to life in prison without parole.

Dexter Vinson

Feburary, 1999, Dexter Lee Vinson of Suffolk, VA was sentenced to death for the May 1996 capital murdre of his ex-girlfriend, Angela Felton. He was also convicted of object sexual penetration, abduction with the intent to defile, and car jacking. He recieved a life sentence for each non-capital offense. Mental health experts testified that Vinson suffered from "intermittent explosive disorder" which rendered him incapable of conforming his conduct to lawful requirements at the time of the offenses. Vinson was 34 years old when the crimes were committed.

Vinson's appeals of his convictions and death sentence were denied by both the Court of Appeals of Virginia and the Supreme Court of Virginia. On appeal, Vinson contended that the trial court erred in refusing to grant him a DNA expert to assist with his case. A blood stain matching the victim's DNA was found on a pair of Vinson's shorts. The shorts met the description of the clothing said to be worn by the perpetrator. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the trial court's decision reasoning that Vinson had failed to show the required need for DNA expert assistance. Vinson also argued that the trial court erred in failing to exclude a juror who initially stated that she would "probably" automatically impose the death penalty if Vinson were found guilty. The Supreme Court of Virginia refused to upset the trial judge's finding that the juror could be impartial. Vinson raised several other issues, but the Supreme Court of Virginia declined hearing them due to procedural default. Among those issues was Vinson's argument that the juror verdict form was defective to the extent that the jury's intent could not be deduced.

During the sentencing phase of the trial, Vinson's high school band teacher, mother, step-father, former construction work supervisor, and minister all testified on his behalf. Vinson was described as a "mentor" to a blind student, "loved" by the victim's children, and as one who would do "anything for anybody at work."

Dexter Lee Vinson has been on death row since February 11, 1999.

Richmond Times-Dispatch

"Vinson executed for '97 killing; Convicted in girlfriend's death, he's the first man Kaine has allowed to die," by Jamie C. Ruff. (Friday, April 28, 2006)

JARRATT -- After the Supreme Court and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine declined to intervene, Dexter Lee Vinson was executed by injection last night for abducting and killing his former girlfriend. Vinson, 43, was sentenced to death for the 1997 murder of Angela Felton in Portsmouth. Felton, a 25-year-old mother of three, bled to death. She was abducted, sexually assaulted, stabbed and suffered head injuries.

Vinson was pronounced dead at 9:15 p.m. He made no last statement, said Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Corrections. Traylor said several of Felton's family members witnessed the execution.

Just after 5 p.m. yesterday, the Virginia attorney general's office announced that the U.S. Supreme Court had denied requests by Vinson's legal team for a stay. The high court heard arguments Wednesday about a lethal-injection challenge in a Florida case. Vinson's attorneys and death-penalty opponents had asked Kaine and the Supreme Court to delay the execution while the matter is considered. Opponents of lethal injection argue that the drugs used cause extreme and unnecessary pain.

Kaine's office released a statement after 6 p.m. announcing that the governor would not stop the execution. "Having carefully reviewed the petition for clemency and judicial opinions regarding this case, I find no compelling reasons to doubt Mr. Vinson's guilt or to invalidate the sentence recommended by the jury and imposed, and affirmed, by the courts," Kaine said in the statement. "Accordingly, I decline to intervene."

Vinson and Felton had lived together in Portsmouth for about a year and a half, separating three weeks before she was killed on May 19, 1997. Wilhelmena Gatling, Felton's former mother-in-law, said Felton's 14-year-old daughter still has nightmares about her mother's death. Gatling, 53, of Suffolk, helps care for Felton's two other children, 16-year-old twin boys. Gatling said she hoped Vinson's execution would help ease the children's pain. "I think it will bring closure to the children, but I don't believe in the death penalty, so it's not going to bring closure to me," Gatling told The Associated Press. "But as long as the children can go on, I can go on."

The Vatican and Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty had asked that Vinson's life be spared and his sentence commuted to life in prison. At Greensville Correctional Center last night, death-penalty opponents protested outside after an earlier demonstration in front of the governor's office. Three protesters set up signs and posters in a field, and said they expected a couple of more to join them. "I just think state-sanctioned murder is still murder," said Ric Creech, 39, of Jarratt. He said he has been joining protests at the prison for eight years. Stuart Wood, a 19-year-old volunteer with Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, said the Church of the Brethren teaches nonviolence and that human life should not be taken, especially by the state. The Richmond rally yesterday afternoon had drawn only two protestors a half hour after it started: Wood and Jack Payden-Travers, executive director of Virginians For Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Payden-Travers said then that it appeared that Kaine would not act to spare Vinson's life. "We expected a fresh breeze here. We expected open windows, but we got closed doors," Payden-Travers complained of Kaine. He said attendance was low at the protest, held between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., because it had not been scheduled until the day before.

As a candidate for governor, Kaine, a Roman Catholic, said that while he opposes the death penalty because of his religious beliefs, he would enforce the law. The Vinson case was Kaine's first test of that pledge, and the strain of the decision was evident during his monthly call-in show on a Washington radio station this week. "The pressure of trying to make the right decision about whether there is or is not doubt about guilt when somebody's life is at stake is so much more pressure than whatever the political pressure that there would be that the politics of it has not even come onto my radar screen," Kaine said on Washington Post Radio. "I take very seriously the decision, and that pressure makes whatever political pressure there would be just seem like nothing."

In addition to requesting a stay, Vinson's attorneys, Rob Lee and Matthew Engle with the Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, had asked the Supreme Court to review the case, claiming there were errors made in Vinson's trial. The high court declined to do so. A witness testified during Vinson's trial that she watched him use his car to force Felton to stop and then force her out of the vehicle. Vinson then drove off with Felton, the witness said. Shortly after that, another witness testified, she saw the couple parked behind a vacant house. She said she watched Vinson choke Felton with a rope and slam her head into the car door. A third witness said she watched Vinson drag something from the car into the vacant house where Felton's body was found after she bled to death from deep cuts to her forearms.

But Vinson's attorneys have questioned the credibility of one of the witnesses and complained that information was withheld from the defense. The witness who testified she saw Vinson with a rope also told prosecutors that she saw the man again later that day at a time when Vinson was at work in Williamsburg. "Prosecutors never told Vinson's lawyers about this exculpatory evidence," Lee said. The witness also told investigators that the man she saw had a lot of facial hair, but Vinson was clean-shaven, his attorney noted. Vinson's attorneys said that the third witness never saw Felton at all and told police that she did not know whether she would even be able to recognize the person she saw. That information was not given to Vinson's defense team, Lee said.

Also, only a small amount of Felton's blood was found on a pair of Vinson's shorts. "Such a brutal crime, nobody is going to get only a [speck] of blood on himself," Engle said. In addition, Vinson's attorneys argued that much of the forensic evidence collected in the case was never tested and it was never explained how investigators established a positive identification of Vinson's palm print inside the vacant house where Felton's body was found.

There have been 94 executions in Virginia since 1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to resume. The toll is second among the states to Texas, which has executed 362 killers.

Washington Post

"Kaine Permits Execution To Proceed Despite Beliefs; Governor Says He Has No Reason to Doubt Killer's Guilt," by Candace Rondeaux and Michael D. Shear. (Friday, April 28, 2006)

Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine rejected a plea for clemency yesterday from convicted killer Dexter Lee Vinson, allowing his execution to go forward in the first test of Kaine's stated public resolve to uphold the death penalty despite his personal opposition. Vinson, 43, was executed by lethal injection last night in Virginia's death chamber for abducting, stabbing and sexually mutilating his ex-girlfriend in Portsmouth in 1997. He was pronounced dead at 9:15 at the Greensville Correctional Center in Jarratt, said Larry Traylor, a Department of Corrections spokesman.

"I find no compelling reasons to doubt Mr. Vinson's guilt or to invalidate the sentence recommended by the jury and imposed, and affirmed, by the courts," Kaine said in a brief statement issued 2 1/2 hours before Vinson was put to death. "Accordingly, I decline to intervene." With those words, Kaine made good on a promise he spoke directly and repeatedly to Virginians last year at campaign rallies and in television ads: that his personal and long-standing opposition to the death penalty, based on his Catholic faith, would not prevent him from allowing the ultimate punishment to be carried out.

Kaine's Republican opponent in the governor's race, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, had repeatedly slammed Kaine for his stance on the death penalty, and ran ads featuring the victims of heinous crimes. In one, the father of a crime victim said Kaine would not have executed Adolph Hitler. But Kaine responded with ads of his own, in which he vowed to enforce Virginia's capital punishment laws. "My faith teaches life is sacred," he said to the camera. "But I take my oath of office seriously, and I'll enforce the death penalty." The campaign-trail bashing proved a boon for Kaine, whose public declarations about his personal faith appeared to bolster -- not hurt -- his numbers in the polls and helped lift him to victory in November.

On Thursday, the new governor waited in his third-floor office across from the state Capitol to hear the outcome of Vinson's final court appeals, and to weigh Vinson's request for clemency. An aide said he consulted frequently with his chief counsel, Larry Roberts, and a small "brain trust of lawyers of his own choosing." Delacey Skinner, Kaine's communications director, said, "This is a decision that he makes alone."

The clemency petition called on the governor to commute the convicted murderer's sentence to life in prison without parole. Vinson's attorneys contended that a key witness in the case had lied about seeing Vinson kill the victim, Angela Felton. They also disputed findings about forensic evidence in his case and said he deserved a new trial because his Portsmouth defense attorneys had a conflict of interest. Days before the execution, a Vatican representative and two Virginia Catholic clergymen -- Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde and Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond -- also urged Kaine to halt Vinson's execution, calling the death penalty "unjustified."

Years ago, Kaine, who once worked with a Catholic mission in Honduras, echoed that same view when as a young lawyer in private practice he defended two death row inmates. In 1987, as he awaited the execution of one of his clients, Kaine told The Washington Post that "murder is wrong in the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala, in Fairfax County . . . and even the Spring Street Penitentiary."

Shortly before Vinson was put to death yesterday, some observers speculated that political pressure would push Kaine to deny Vinson's clemency petition. But during a recent radio interview Kaine eschewed the suggestion that politics might play a role in his first death penalty decision and called Vinson's crime "very gruesome." "The pressure of trying to make the right decision about whether there is or is not doubt about guilt when somebody's life is at stake is so much more pressure than whatever the political pressure of the day would be," Kaine said. Yesterday's execution marked the first in Virginia since September 2004.

A Portsmouth jury convicted Vinson in 1998 of capital murder, carjacking, abduction with intent to defile and sexual penetration with an inanimate object, a year after the severely mutilated body of Felton, a 25-year-old mother of three, was found in a vacant house in Portsmouth.

In the years since her daughter's mutilated body was found wrapped in a dirty wool blanket in Portsmouth, Frances Peace has imagined Vinson's death a million times. She said she always thought she would be there to witness his execution. But days beforehand she was unsure if that's what her daughter would have wanted or if she could even summon the strength to attend. "I want to be there for her. But I don't think it would be good for me to go," Peace said. "I think that's what she's telling me -- 'Mom, don't go. It's alright.' It's not going to bring her back."

Vinson entered the chamber two minutes before his scheduled execution. Several of Felton's family members attended the execution as witnesses. He offered no resistance as several guards strapped him to the gurney. Asked if he had any last words, Vinson shook his head and declined to make a statement. The blue curtain to the witness chamber closed, and reopened eight minutes later.

The Daily Press

"Vinson executed; Kaine sides with law; Convicted murderer Dexter Lee Vinson, 43, of Suffolk, is the 95th person put to death in the state since 1976," by Sabine C. Hirschauer. (April 28, 2006)

GREENSVILLE COUNTY -- It took Dexter Lee Vinson seven minutes to die. In May 1997, Angela Felton, a 25-year-old mother of three, was abducted, sexually assaulted and mutilated. She bled to death in an abandoned home in Portsmouth. At 8:58 p.m. Thursday, Vinson - her ex-boyfriend and convicted murderer - was walked into the death house at the Greenville Correctional Center in Jarratt.

Under bright fluorescent lights, seven correctional officers strapped the 43-year-old Suffolk man to a gurney. He shook his head twice and refused to make a statement. Earlier in the day, he'd requested that his last meal not be released to the public. At 9:08 p.m., with the first injection, Vinson slipped into unconsciousness. His chest rose twice, as if he were taking a big gulp of air. His right toes wiggled. Then it was quiet. He was pronounced dead at 9:15 p.m.

Vinson was Virginia's 95th person to be executed since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. The case again thrust Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's faith into the limelight. A devout Roman Catholic, Kaine openly spoke against the death penalty during his gubernatorial campaign, but he also had vowed that he would uphold Virginia's law including the death penalty. On Thursday, he did exactly that. In his first death penalty case as governor, Kaine denied Vinson clemency. Vinson's lawyer tried to save his client's life with two petitions before the U.S. Supreme Court. Both were also denied late Thursday.

One of the petitions cited several trial errors. The other centered on whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment or causes intense pain. Vinson's lawyer wanted the state to delay the execution to await the decision of a Florida death row case that similarly challenged how lethal injection is being administrated. A decision in that case is scheduled for June.

Buddy Davidson, Felton's father, waited seven years for Vinson to die. For Davidson, who lives in Suffolk and who came with his daughter Beth to witness the execution Thursday, there was what he called the good stuff - the fishing trips with his daughter, the times in the park, the picnics - that keeps him going every day. Then there is the bad stuff - the haunting images in his head about the day of her murder, her suffering, the torture - that pulls him down. "I always called her my little noodle-the-poodle," he said Thursday. "He just needs to get off this earth," Davidson said of Vinson. In 1998, Vinson was convicted of capital murder, carjacking, abduction with the intent to defile and sexual penetration with an inanimate object.

Felton, who was married to another man at the time of the murder, raised twin sons now age 16 and a daughter age 14. She and Vinson lived in Portsmouth about a year and half before her brutal slaying. "She tried to get away from him," said Beth Willis of Richmond, Felton's older sister. "She just got mixed up with the wrong person."

Vinson and Felton had been separated for three weeks in May 1997 when, according to witness statements, Vinson rear-ended her car, punched out a window and grabbed Felton. He hit her in the face and chest and abducted her. Another witness saw Vinson choking Felton with a rope and slamming the car door on her head twice. Another witness testified, seeing Vinson "dragging something... heavy .... a rug...." into an abandoned house in Portsmouth.

The next day, police found Felton's nude body inside the house. She'd suffered deep cuts and multiple knife wounds to her forearms, shoulders, neck and cheek as well as significant vaginal injuries while she was alive, court documents state. Forensic evidence such as fingerprints in the car and the vacant home and a match of Felton's DNA with bloodstains on Vinson's shorts linked him to the crime, prosecutors said. "Still to this day I have flashbacks of her body," Willis said. "I've seen what he did to her. I've seen her body. ... Nothing satisfies me more than to see him die."


National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Dexter Lee Vinson, VA - April 27, 2006

Do Not Execute Dexter Lee Vinson!

Dexter Lee Vinson was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death for the May 1996 murder of his ex-girlfriend Angela Felton, a 25-year-old Portsmouth mother of three. It is alleged that Vinson abducted her from her home in the Fairwood Homes subdivision, took her to a nearby vacant house, and killed her. In conjunction with his conviction for a capital offense, Vinson was convicted of three separate non-capital offenses and received a life sentence for each.

Vinson was assigned an execution date by the Portsmouth Circuit Court despite Vinson’s questionable mental condition, allegations that the prosecution improperly withheld evidence, as well as claims that call into question the competency of Vinson’s defense. Two mental health experts testified during the penalty phase of the trial that Vinson suffers from “intermittent explosive disorder.” As a result, Vinson was unable to conform his conduct to the lawful requirements at the time of the crimes. Furthermore, the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals unanimously rejected Vinson’s claim that his trial attorneys had a conflict of interest notwithstanding the fact that Vinson’s second chair counsel was suing Vinson’s lead counsel for employment discrimination. Vinson initially raised this claim in his state habeas proceedings, but the Virginia Supreme Court held that the claim was barred because it could have been brought on direct appeal. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, required by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act to give “great deference” to state court’s judgments, found that Vinson did not establish cause to overcome the Virginia’s Supreme Court’s procedural bar.

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals also dismissed several claims that Vinson’s constitutional right to a competent defense was violated and that the prosecution improperly withheld evidence regarding contradictory eyewitness testimony. Vertley Hunter, a key eyewitness for the prosecution, claimed on one occasion that she had seen the perpetrator at a time when Vinson was at work, which conflicts with testimony Hunter made in an affidavit submitted in the state habeas proceedings in which she claimed she never saw Vinson again after the time of the crime. Moreover, in another affidavit, Hunter claimed to have seen the perpetrator at a time that Vinson was already in policy custody. Hunter also has stated that the prosecution threatened her into testifying.

Certainly the issues outlined above make execution of Vinson unacceptable. If Vinson is executed April 27 it will be the first execution to occur under recently elected Virginia Gov. Timothy Kaine. During his campaign, Gov. Kaine stated that while he is against the death penalty, he would carry out the laws of Virginia nonetheless. It should also be noted that Virginia employs the same lethal injection drug cocktail for its executions that is currently under dispute in several other states.

Please write to Gov. Tim Kaine on behalf of Dexter Lee Vinson!

Hampton Roads Pilot Online

"After petitions denied, convicted killer dies by lethal injection," by John Hopkins. (April 28, 2006)

JARRATT — Convicted killer Dexter Lee Vinson was put to death Thursday night for the 1997 abduction and murder of Angela Felton, a Portmouth mother of three.

Offering no last words, Vinson, 43, died by lethal injection at 9:15 p.m. at Greensville Correctional Center after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a petition to stop the execution and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine denied an appeal for clemency. “Having carefully reviewed the Petition for Clemency and judicial opinions regarding this case, I find no compelling reasons to doubt Mr. Vinson’s guilt or to invalidate the sentence recommended by the jury and imposed, and affirmed, by the courts,” Kaine said in a written statement issued at 6:19 p.m.

The case attracted intense public scrutiny because it wa s the first clemency request of Kaine’s term. The governor has said he is morally opposed to the death penalty because of his Catholic faith. However, he promised as a candidate for governor last year to follow state laws that prescribe execution for the most heinous crimes.

Vinson, who was wearing a blue shirt, jeans and slippers, looked calm and sedate as he was led by seven guards into the small cinder-block execution chamber at 8:58 p.m. Watching him through a thick, wire-reinforced window in an adjacent room were six citizens who volunteered to witness the execution, as well as journalists and law enforcement officials. Members of Felton’s family watched from another room. Virginia Department of Corrections Director Gene M. Johnson was in the chamber with Vinson and holding a red telephone linked directly to Kaine’s office. Another prison official was on a second phone describing the execution for transcription purposes.

The unidentified people who administered the lethal drugs were hidden from view behind a curtain. Guards quickly strapped Vinson to a table, spreading his arms out from his body. Before administering the drugs intravenously through his arms, a prison official with a recorder asked Vinson whether he had any last words. Vinson whispered, “No.”

As the drugs were injected, he wiggled his feet and his stomach rose and fell with his breathing. His chest was strapped tight. After a few minutes, his stomach stopped moving. “I think he’s gone now,” one witness said to another. Seven minutes after the drugs were injected, a prison official announced that Vinson was dead.

Vinson’s execution comes nine years after Felton was murdered. Her nude, mutilated body was found May 20, 1997, in a vacant house in the 500 block of Freedom Ave. , a small street off Cavalier Boulevard. The 25-year-old woman had been abducted the morning before.

Felton’s older sister, Beth Willis of Richmond, said the death penalty was made for cases such as this one. “I’ve seen her body,” Willis said in a telephone interview before the execution. “I’ve seen what he did to her. I think God is weighing down on all of this.” Felton, who went by the name “Renee,” was the mother of twin boys, now 16, and a daughter, now 14 . Some of Felton’s family felt they needed to witness the execution. “The last 9½ years we’ve been waiting for this and it’s finally here,” Willis said. “The case is a good example of what the death penalty was put in place for. This is a good example of that.”

Willis, who left the area after her sister’s death, said she met her sister’s ex-boyfriend twice. “Just a real shady character,” she said. “You could tell she was almost terrified of him.”

Felton had lived with Vinson for more than a year but had moved out a few weeks before her death. On the morning of her abduction from what was then the Fairwood Homes subdivision, she had gone back to the home she once shared with Vinson to retrieve mail. Upon seeing Vinson, Felton attempted to drive away. Vinson followed in his car, ramming Felton’s car from behind until she stopped. After he beat her, Vinson and Felton drove away to a nearby boarded-up house where she died. Felton had been sexually mutilated, suffering massive cuts and tears to the genital area. She suffered cuts to the neck, forearms, trunk and buttocks and blows to the head and face.

Vinson, the second oldest of four siblings, grew up in Suffolk. He attended John F. Kennedy High School.

His execution was the first this year in Virginia, a state that has put to death 95 people since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Virginia’s rate of executions is second only to Texas. James Edward Reid, 58, was the last person executed in the commonwealth. Reid was put to death by legal injection Sept. 9, 2004, for the killing of an 87-year-old Christiansburg woman in 1996.

Vinson, who celebrated a birthday earlier this month, exhausted legal avenues to get a stay of execution. He tried unsuccessfully to challenge Virginia’s method of lethal injection. A federal judge rejected that appeal this month. Vinson’s family had hoped Kaine’s personal beliefs against the death penalty would cause him to commute the sentence.

Jewel Bailey , Vinson’s sister, said earlier Thursday that her brother was “trying to be strong for his family ” during the days leading up to the execution. “He said he asked God for forgiveness,” Bailey said. “I really believe he’s ready.”

Vinson v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d 170 (Va. 1999) (Direct Appeal).

Defendant was convicted in the Circuit Court, City of Portsmouth, Von L. Piersall, Jr., J., of capital murder in the commission of abduction with intent to defile, object sexual penetration, abduction with intent to defile, and carjacking, and death sentence was imposed. Consolidating defendant's appeal from capital and noncapital offenses with automatic review of death sentence, the Supreme Court, Compton, J., held that: (1) circuit court was not required to independently search for DNA expert for capital murder defendant; (2) warrantless arrest of defendant was lawful; (3) custodian's mistake in noting date placed on evidence envelope containing blood sample did not require exclusion of blood sample on grounds of improper authentication and defect in chain of custody; (4) convictions were supported by sufficient evidence; (5) prior unadjudicated criminal conduct was admissible at penalty stage to establish future dangerousness; and (6) death sentence was not disproportionate. Affirmed.

COMPTON, Justice.
On May 19, 1996, Angela Felton was brutally murdered in the City of Portsmouth. Subsequently, during a 1998 eight-day trial, a jury convicted defendant Dexter Lee Vinson, upon not guilty pleas, of the following offenses in connection with the homicide: Capital murder in the commission of abduction with intent to defile, in violation of Code § 18.2-31(1); object sexual penetration, in violation of Code § 18.2-67.2(A); abduction with intent to defile, in violation of Code § 18.2-48; and carjacking, in violation of Code § 18.2-58.1.

The jury fixed defendant's punishment at death for the capital offense based upon the vileness and future dangerousness predicates of the capital murder sentencing statute. Code § 19.2-264.4. Also, the jury fixed defendant's punishment at life imprisonment for each of the noncapital convictions. Following a February 1999 post-trial hearing, at which the trial court considered a probation officer's report, the court sentenced defendant in accord with the jury's verdicts. The death sentence is before us for automatic review under Code § 17.1- 313(A), see Rule 5:22, and we have consolidated this review with defendant's appeal of the capital murder conviction. In addition, by order entered March 22, 1999, we certified from the Court of Appeals of Virginia to this Court the record of defendant's appeals of the noncapital convictions (Record No. 990613). The effect of this certification is to transfer jurisdiction over the noncapital appeals to this Court for all purposes. Code § 17.1- 409(A). Those appeals have been consolidated with the capital murder appeal (Record No. 990612). As required by statute, we shall consider not only the trial errors enumerated by defendant but also whether the sentence of death was imposed under the influence of passion, prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor, and whether the sentence is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases. Code § 17.1-313(C).

The facts are virtually undisputed. The defendant, who did not testify at trial, now argues through his attorneys that, although he was present at the scene of the homicide, there are certain "inconsistencies" in the prosecution's evidence on the question whether he was the actual perpetrator of the offenses. However, when there are inconsistencies in this evidence, we shall construe the facts in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth, as required by settled rules of appellate procedure.

On May 19, the victim, age 25, and her three children resided with Nethie Pierce and her children in Portsmouth. The victim and her children previously had lived with defendant, age 33, in Portsmouth for "about a year and a half." At the time of the homicide, the unmarried couple had been living apart about three weeks. About 9:00 a.m. on the day in question, the victim borrowed Pierce's "1988 red Beretta" automobile to take the victim's children to school. "[I]n a hurry to get the kids to school," the victim wore only a "shift-type" robe and underwear. Pierce's 14-year-old daughter, Willisa Joyner, rode with the victim.

About 6:30 a.m. on the same day, Faye Wilson was completing a weekend stay with defendant in a Suffolk motel. Wilson owned a 1988 blue Mercury Tracer automobile, which she allowed defendant to use that morning. After the victim delivered her children to school, she drove with Willisa to the home she had shared with defendant in order to "get the mail." Upon arrival, Willisa "got out of the car," at which time the victim saw the defendant driving a blue automobile. Willisa reentered the red vehicle when the victim said, " 'get back in the car.' " As the victim "started driving," the defendant twice rammed the rear of the red car with the front of the blue car.

The victim stopped the red car and the defendant walked to the driver's side window where the victim was sitting. He then "punched" out the window. Next, defendant "grabbed" the victim, hit her in the face and chest with his hand, and "took her out of the car." The defendant held the victim by the arm and, in the presence of bystanders, "snatched" off her robe leaving her standing in her "underclothes," screaming and bleeding from her nose and mouth. Next, defendant "took" the victim to the blue car and "made her get in." When the blue car "wouldn't start up," defendant "put her" in the red car "and they drove away." Police officers arrived on the scene after defendant had abducted the victim; they obtained a description of defendant and of the red car. Shortly thereafter, Vertley Hunter noticed from her home a red car, "wrecked in the back," that was "pulled off the street and parked behind" a vacant house in her neighborhood; boards were nailed over the windows of the house. She observed a young "white female" and a young "black man" sitting in the vehicle, with the female sitting in the driver's seat with "her hand outside the window to duck off a cigarette that she was smoking."

According to Hunter, the man "got out on the passenger side of the car and went to the back ... and got a piece of rope out." The man "leaned back into the car" holding the rope. Hunter heard the woman tell the man "to leave her alone so she could go on with her life," and heard her "ask the Lord to spare her life because he was going to kill her." At that time, the man was "[c]hoking her with the rope." Then, the man "grabbed her by the hair from the back seat of the car and pulled her over the seat ... and he pulled the rope from around her neck at the same time." He then "pulled her down in the floor" and "told her that he was going to kill her." While the woman was still inside the car, the man "slammed the door on her head twice," according to Hunter.

Next, Hunter saw the man kick dirt beside the car to cover blood that was on the ground. He then pulled off "a board" covering a window of the house, raised the window, and climbed inside through the window. Hunter saw the man enter the house twice and wipe blood from his person with a towel. Hunter watched the events for a period of several hours until the man drove the red car into the woods behind the house and left the area around 11:00 a.m. During her testimony, Hunter identified defendant in open court as the man she observed committing the acts she described.

Janice Green, who also lived near the vacant house, testified that during the morning of May 19, she observed a man "messing around" with a red car in the yard behind the house. She saw the man pull "boards off the house" and enter the home twice. The second time, the man "was dragging" into the house from the car "something heavy"; she "thought it was a rug he was pulling." Green also identified defendant in open court as the man she observed at the vacant house. On May 20, 1997, Portsmouth detective Jan Westerbeck went to the vacant house and discovered the victim's body inside a recently "busted wall" in one of the bedrooms. The body was nude and partially covered with a brown blanket; feces were found on and under her neck.

Forensic evidence connected defendant with the crimes. His fingerprints were found on the abandoned red car, on the kitchen sink of the vacant house, and on a pane of glass from the house's kitchen window. Also, the victim's DNA was matched to a blood stain found on a pair of blue shorts belonging to defendant. According to the witness Hunter, defendant was wearing a "sky blue short set" when she observed him. An expert placed the odds of the DNA on defendant's shorts being that of someone other than the victim at one in 5.5 billion.

An autopsy performed on the victim's body showed that she bled to death from deep cuts to both forearms, either of which would have been sufficient to cause death. The cut to the right forearm was two inches deep and severed two main arteries; the left forearm bore a similar wound that cut one artery. The victim did not die instantaneously; it "probably would have taken her a few minutes, several minutes to die," according to the medical examiner. The victim sustained numerous other injuries. For example, there were additional knife wounds on her shoulders, neck, and cheek. There were scratches on her buttocks and cuts on her torso and on one of her legs. She suffered "blunt force trauma" to her head.

Additionally, she sustained significant vaginal injuries inflicted while she was alive. She sustained a laceration of her inner vaginal lip, massive bruising over her vulva area, and a "massive laceration," which tore the tissue separating the vagina from the anus and which tore around her anal opening. In the medical examiner's opinion, the vaginal injuries were not caused by an erect penis; the inner damage that was done in the vaginal area "would have been done by an object being penetrated in Miss Felton."

During the penalty phase of the trial, to prove defendant's future dangerousness, the prosecution presented evidence that defendant had assaulted a police officer in 1987 who was attempting to arrest him; had assaulted a correctional officer in 1988 who was attempting to move him to a cell; and had resisted arrest in 1997 near a Suffolk convenience store so violently that it took eight police officers to subdue him. Additionally, the Commonwealth presented evidence that defendant previously had been convicted of receiving stolen goods, attempted statutory burglary, and two offenses of hit and run with personal injury.

In mitigation, defendant presented testimony from his 1982 high school band teacher, his mother, his step-father, his supervisor in the construction work that he performed, and a minister. Defendant was described as a "mentor" to a blind student in the band, as one who was "loved" by the victim's "kids," and as a person who would "do anything for anybody at work." Defendant also presented the testimony of two mental health experts, both of whom concluded that defendant suffers from "intermittent explosive disorder" and that he was unable to conform his conduct to the requirements of law at the time of the crimes because of this disorder. In rebuttal, the Commonwealth presented testimony of another mental health expert who, while agreeing that defendant had "the characteristics" of intermittent explosive disorder, said that "almost all violent criminals" fit that category of illness. This expert, Dr. Paul Mansheim, expressed the opinion "that there is at least a fifty percent chance" that defendant would commit "another violent offense in the next five years."

On appeal, defendant contends that Virginia's capital murder statutes are unconstitutional. Every ground of alleged unconstitutionality relied upon by defendant has been previously resolved by this Court adversely to his present contentions, and he has advanced no persuasive reason warranting a departure from our prior decisions. Thus, his contentions are rejected. Some of defendant's assignments of error are procedurally defaulted for lack of proper objection in the trial court. We will not consider for the first time on appeal nonjurisdictional issues not raised below. Rule 5:25.

* * *

Finally, upon the question of disproportionality and excessiveness, we determine whether other sentencing bodies in this jurisdiction generally impose the supreme penalty for comparable or similar crimes, considering both the crimes and the defendant. Bramblett v. Commonwealth, 257 Va. 263, 278, 513 S.E.2d 400, 410 (1999). See Code § 17.1-313(C)(2). In determining whether a death sentence is excessive or disproportionate, we consider records of all capital murder cases previously reviewed by this Court in which the death sentence was based upon both the vileness and future dangerousness predicates, including capital murder cases in which a life sentence was imposed. Jenkins v. Commonwealth, 244 Va. 445, 462, 423 S.E.2d 360, 371 (1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 1036, 113 S.Ct. 1862, 123 L.Ed.2d 483 (1993).

The defendant does not contend that the sentence is excessive or disproportionate. He merely reasserts an earlier contention, which was procedurally defaulted, that "the penalty verdict form in this case was so defective that the jury's intent cannot be deduced from it." We will not entertain such an argument because of the procedural default.

Manifestly, however, this sentence is not excessive or disproportionate. Defendant brutally beat and abducted the victim. Following the abduction, he beat and choked her, sexually assaulted her in a savage manner, and murdered her by inflicting deep cuts to both forearms. Furthermore, in addition to the vile nature of the offenses, the evidence established that defendant is a violent person who, in the Attorney General's words, "has no respect for authority and who cannot be rendered non-violent even in a prison setting." Juries in the Commonwealth generally impose the death sentence for crimes like those committed by this defendant. See, e.g., Cherrix v. Commonwealth, 257 Va. 292, 313-14, 513 S.E.2d 642, 655-56 (1999); Hedrick v. Commonwealth, 257 Va. 328, 342-43, 513 S.E.2d 634, 642 (1999); Barnabei v. Commonwealth, 252 Va. 161, 179, 477 S.E.2d 270, 281 (1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1224, 117 S.Ct. 1724, 137 L.Ed.2d 845 (1997); and Clozza v. Commonwealth, 228 Va. 124, 138, 321 S.E.2d 273, 282 (1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1230, 105 S.Ct. 1233, 84 L.Ed.2d 370 (1985). Consequently, we hold the trial court committed no error, and we have independently determined from a review of the entire record that the sentence of death was properly assessed. Thus, we will affirm the trial court's judgment in the capital murder case and in the noncapital cases.--Affirmed.

Vinson v. True, 436 F.3d 412 (4th Cir. Va. 2006) (Habeas).

Background: State prisoner petitioned for writ of habeas corpus after he had been convicted of capital murder, object sexual penetration, abduction with intent to defile, and carjacking and his convictions were affirmed on appeal, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d 170. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, James R. Spencer, J., denied petition. Prisoner appealed.

Holdings: Amending and superseding its prior opinion, 432 F.3d 310, the Court of Appeals, Diana Gribbon Motz, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) petitioner was not entitled to evidentiary hearing on the question of whether his trial counsel labored under a conflict of interest;
(2) petitioner failed to demonstrate cause for his procedural default of his conflict of interest claim, barring habeas review;
(3) petitioner was not deprived of effective assistance of counsel as result of conflict of interest;
(4) counsel's failure to present argument that petitioner lacked requisite intent to defile did not deprive petitioner of effective assistance of counsel;
(5) counsel did not fail to investigate and present mitigation evidence in sentencing phase, as would constitute ineffective assistance of counsel;
(6) counsel did not deprive petitioner of effective assistance of counsel in cross-examining prosecution's expert; and
(7) prosecution's disclosure that one of its grand jury witnesses perjured herself was sufficient to satisfy Brady. Affirmed.

Dexter Lee Vinson appeals the denial of his federal habeas petition, in which he sought relief from a death sentence. We granted a certificate of appealability on three issues: (1) whether the district court erred in failing to hold an evidentiary hearing on Vinson's claim that his trial counsel operated under an unconstitutional conflict of interest; (2) whether Vinson was denied effective assistance of counsel; and (3) whether the state failed to disclose material exculpatory evidence. For the reasons that follow, we affirm the district court's denial of habeas relief.


FN1. A description of the underlying facts involved in these dreadful crimes can be found in the Supreme Court of Virginia's decision on Vinson's direct appeal. See Vinson v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d 170, 173-75 (1999).

Vinson v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d 170 (1999). The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari. Vinson v. Commonwealth, 530 U.S. 1218, 120 S.Ct. 2226, 147 L.Ed.2d 257 (2000). Vinson then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus with the Supreme Court of Virginia, which it dismissed in November 2001. An execution date was subsequently set for February 28, 2002, but the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia stayed the execution on February 25, 2002. Vinson then filed a petition for federal habeas relief with the district court, which ultimately denied him any relief and dismissed his petition. We granted Vinson a certificate of appealability limited to the three issues enumerated above. Under the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C.A. § 2254(d) (West Supp.2005), federal courts reviewing petitions for habeas relief must give great deference to state court judgments on the merits. A writ should not be granted on any claim adjudicated on the merits by the state court unless the decision was “contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States,” or was “based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” Id.


Vinson initially contends that the district court erred in not granting him an evidentiary hearing on the question of whether his trial counsel labored under a conflict of interest.

Vinson argues that under Townsend v. Sain, 372 U.S. 293, 83 S.Ct. 745, 9 L.Ed.2d 770 (1963) and Keeney v. Tamayo-Reyes, 504 U.S. 1, 112 S.Ct. 1715, 118 L.Ed.2d 318 (1992), a federal habeas court must grant an evidentiary hearing to determine whether an actual conflict of interest exists. Townsend and Keeney establish that a habeas petitioner “is entitled to an evidentiary hearing if he can show cause for his failure to develop the facts in state-court proceedings and actual prejudice resulting from that failure,” or that “a fundamental miscarriage of justice would result from failure to hold a federal evidentiary hearing.” Keeney, 504 U.S. at 11-12, 112 S.Ct. 1715.

Vinson relies on Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S. 335, 100 S.Ct. 1708, 64 L.Ed.2d 333 (1980) for his conflict of interest claim. In Sullivan, the Supreme Court held that “[i]n order to establish a violation of the Sixth Amendment, a defendant who raised no objection at trial must demonstrate that an actual conflict of interest adversely affected his lawyer's performance.” Id. at 348, 100 S.Ct. 1708. If a defendant successfully demonstrates that “a conflict of interest actually affected the adequacy of his representation,” he “need not demonstrate prejudice in order to obtain relief.” Id. at 349-50, 100 S.Ct. 1708.

Vinson's conflict of interest claim arises from the undisputed fact that during his trial, Vinson's “second chair” counsel, Tanya Lomax, was suing Vinson's lead counsel, John Underwood, for employment discrimination that had allegedly occurred during Lomax's employment at the Portsmouth Public Defender's Office. Vinson contends that the separate employment litigation between Lomax and Underwood adversely affected his representation in two ways: first, Lomax suffered health problems resulting from the stress of the litigation; and second, the way Underwood and Lomax divided the work and responsibilities of his case into distinct guilt and sentencing phases left Lomax inadequately supervised by Underwood.

When Vinson raised this claim for the first time in the state habeas proceedings, the Supreme Court of Virginia held that the claim was barred under state law because it could have been brought on direct appeal. See Slayton v. Parrigan, 215 Va. 27, 205 S.E.2d 680 (1974). This procedural bar constitutes an adequate and independent state law ground for default. See Wright v. Angelone, 151 F.3d 151, 159-60 (4th Cir.1998). Absent a fundamental miscarriage of justice, which Vinson does not assert, federal habeas courts may not review procedurally barred claims “unless the prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the alleged violation of federal law.” Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991). To establish “cause,” a prisoner must “show that some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule.” Murray v. Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986) (emphasis added). This requires a demonstration that “the factual or legal basis for the claim was not reasonably available to the claimant at the time of the state proceeding.” Roach v. Angelone, 176 F.3d 210, 222 (4th Cir.1999) (citing McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 494, 111 S.Ct. 1454, 113 L.Ed.2d 517 (1991)). A petitioner may not establish cause “by pointing to evidence that the petitioner ‘knew about or could have discovered’ through a ‘reasonable investigation.’ ” Basden v. Lee, 290 F.3d 602, 618 (4th Cir.2002) (quoting McCleskey, 499 U.S. at 497-98, 111 S.Ct. 1454); see also Rose v. Lee, 252 F.3d 676, 687 (4th Cir.2001).

Rather than relying on evidence not “reasonably available” to him “at the time of the state proceeding,” Vinson instead “point[s] to evidence” that he clearly “knew about” at the time of his trial. Prior to trial Lomax informed Vinson of the facts giving rise to the asserted conflict, and Vinson consented to representation by “conflicted” counsel. In a sworn, written waiver, Vinson explicitly stated that “[w]ith full knowledge and understanding of Attorney Lomax's complaint and disclosure, I freely and voluntarily give my consent to have Attorney Lomax continue to represent me in the above-styled matter.” In Vinson's presence, defense counsel then presented Vinson's waiver to the trial court. In light of this waiver, it is plain that the facts of the alleged conflict between Lomax and Underwood were not only available to Vinson, but were specifically presented to him for his consideration and consent. His voluntary, knowing, and informed decision to continue with Lomax as his counsel precludes any argument that a factor external to the defense caused the procedural default. Vinson thus does not depend on facts that could not have been previously discovered, and he cannot establish cause to overcome the procedural bar. Because Vinson cannot show cause, his Keeney claim also fails. 504 U.S. at 11-12, 112 S.Ct. 1715.

In addition to its holding that the claim was procedurally barred from habeas review, the Supreme Court of Virginia also rejected Vinson's conflict claim on the merits. Sworn statements from both Underwood and Lomax stated inter alia that the discrimination suit had no effect on their representation of Vinson, that the two lawyers had a good working relationship with no friction, problems or issues during their representation of Vinson. The court explained that Vinson was fully informed by counsel of the details of the conflict and was told he could obtain alternate counsel, but that he decided to continue with Lomax as his counsel. Consequently, the state court held that there was “no evidence that an actual conflict of interest existed between lawyer and client.”

Given these facts, we can hardly find the state court's rejection of Vinson's conflict of interest claim on the merits contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent. See id. § 2254(d). The Court has explained that to succeed on a conflict of interest claim, a petitioner must establish that “ ‘his counsel actively represented conflicting interests,’ ” and that this conflict “adversely affected his counsel's performance.” Mickens v. Taylor, 535 U.S. 162, 174-75, 122 S.Ct. 1237, 152 L.Ed.2d 291 (2002) (quoting Sullivan, 446 U.S. at 350, 100 S.Ct. 1708) (emphasis added by Mickens Court). Here the asserted conflict does not involve Vinson's counsel's “active representation” of “conflicting interests”-Vinson makes no claim that Underwood and Lomax represented individuals with conflicting interests. Rather, this is a case in which Vinson's two attorneys had an independent and unrelated conflict between themselves.

In sum, we must reject Vinson's argument that the district court erred in refusing to provide him an evidentiary hearing on his conflict claim. The facts underlying Vinson's claim were available to him at the time of the state court proceedings, he expressly consented to any alleged conflict, and he does not proffer facts that establish constitutional error.


Vinson next asserts that he was denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984). To prove a Sixth Amendment violation under Strickland a defendant must demonstrate “that counsel's performance was deficient,” and that this “deficient performance prejudiced the defense.” Id. at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052. To succeed in showing prejudice, a defendant must demonstrate that there is a “reasonable probability” that absent the alleged errors, “the result of the proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052. Vinson raises several ineffective assistance contentions. He challenges various trial decisions of his lawyers, their preparation of mitigation and other sentencing evidence, and their response to prosecution evidence as to future dangerousness. The Supreme Court of Virginia adjudicated each of these claims on the merits and determined that Vinson had failed to establish ineffective assistance under Strickland. For the reasons that follow, we conclude that none of the Virginia court's rulings constitutes an unreasonable factual determination or is contrary to or an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent.

Vinson argues that his counsel failed to sufficiently investigate the nature and extent of the perjured testimony of a grand jury witness, Priscilla Turner, prior to deciding not to call her as a witness at trial, and that they failed to object to assertedly erroneous statements made by the prosecutor in closing arguments. The state court examined these allegations, determined that Vinson's counsel made these decisions for strategic reasons, and found that neither decision violated the performance or prejudice prong of Strickland. On habeas review, a federal court generally credits “plausible strategic judgments in the trial of a state case.” Bunch v. Thompson, 949 F.2d 1354, 1364 (4th Cir.1991). Of course, we would not regard as tactical a decision by counsel if it made no sense or was unreasonable “under prevailing professional norms.” See Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 521-24, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003). But that is not the case here. [12] The Virginia court also carefully considered Vinson's claims that his counsel did not adequately present the argument that Vinson lacked the requisite intent to defile, did not provide Vinson's court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Schlichter, with adequate information, and failed to investigate and present evidence of Vinson's background for mitigation purposes. The state court rejected these contentions, finding that presenting evidence as to whether Vinson had the requisite intent to defile would have been inconsistent with Vinson's defense that he did not commit the crime at all. The court further found that counsel responded to Dr. Schlichter's requests for information, secured an additional expert witness at the doctor's request, and spoke with him on numerous occasions.

The record also reveals that, although they were requested to supply mitigation information, Vinson and his family failed to do so, but that nevertheless defense counsel independently discovered mitigation evidence. At sentencing, Vinson's counsel presented a mitigation case that included Vinson's school records and favorable testimony from Vinson's mother, his step-father, two court-appointed expert witnesses, a previous employer, Vinson's high school band leader, a parole officer, and a church leader. The case at hand thus stands in stark contrast to Wiggins, on which Vinson heavily relies. There, the Court found constitutionally ineffective counsel who relied solely on three documents and failed to investigate further or present any mitigation evidence on the defendant's background despite information in these documents that could have been used to uncover helpful mitigation information. Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 523-26, 123 S.Ct. 2527.

Finally, the Supreme Court of Virginia examined Vinson's argument that counsel failed to respond sufficiently to the prosecution's expert testimony as to future dangerousness. Vinson's counsel explained that she relied on the defense expert's advice about how best to discredit the prosecution's expert. She thus focused her cross-examination on the fact that the prosecution's expert made his conclusions after meeting with Vinson for only an hour, and without conducting any tests of his own. The court concluded that this reliance on the defense expert's advice did not violate the performance prong of Strickland. We do not find this assessment of Lomax's method and strategy of examination to be unreasonable or contrary to Strickland. All of Vinson's ineffective assistance of counsel claims were deemed insufficient to satisfy either the performance or prejudice prongs of Strickland by the Virginia court, and we conclude that these holdings are neither contrary to nor involve an unreasonable application of established Supreme Court precedent. These claims therefore provide no basis for habeas relief.


Vinson also asserts entitlement to habeas relief on the ground that Virginia withheld material exculpatory evidence from him in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1965).

Under Brady,“the suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution.” Id. at 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194. To succeed on a Brady claim, the accused must prove that the evidence suppressed is favorable to him, either because it is exculpatory or because it has some impeaching value; that the prosecution suppressed the evidence; and that prejudice resulted from the suppression. Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 281-82, 119 S.Ct. 1936, 144 L.Ed.2d 286 (1999). Prejudice exists when there is a reasonable probability that, had the prosecution disclosed the suppressed evidence, the result of the trial would have been different. Id. at 289, 119 S.Ct. 1936. Vinson presents several Brady claims, each of which the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected on the merits.

Vinson contends that the prosecution inadequately disclosed the extent to which one of its grand jury witnesses, Priscilla Turner, perjured herself. Rather than informing Vinson that Turner's entire testimony was false, the Government's disclosure indicated that one part of her testimony was false and that it would not call her as a witness at trial.FN3 The Supreme Court of Virginia, noting that “the Commonwealth attached Turner's statement to the police” to its Supplemental Discovery and Exculpatory Evidence submission and “informed the defense that Turner would not be testifying at trial,” determined that that disclosure was constitutionally sufficient. We cannot hold the state court's determination contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Brady. In fact, in sworn affidavits, defense counsel stated that based on the Government's disclosure, they proceeded as if Turner's entire testimony were false. Thus, the state court's conclusion that the disclosure sufficed to satisfy Brady was hardly unreasonable.

FN3. Related to this argument is Vinson's contention that the Government's insufficient disclosure that perjured testimony was used to obtain his indictment violated his rights under Brady and Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 79 S.Ct. 1173, 3 L.Ed.2d 1217 (1959). In Napue, the Supreme Court held that a “State may not knowingly use false evidence, including false testimony, to obtain a tainted conviction.” Id. at 269, 79 S.Ct. 1173 (emphasis added). There is no evidence in the record that the Government knew that Turner was lying when she testified before the grand jury, and once the Government discovered the perjury, it provided the defense with the supplemental discovery regarding the perjury. Furthermore, the Government did not call Turner as a witness at trial. Thus, there was no violation of Napue, and as discussed above, the Government's disclosure was sufficient to satisfy Brady.

Other asserted Brady violations center on the testimony of Vertley Hunter, a critical eyewitness who testified for the Government. Vinson contends that Hunter made several exculpatory and material statements that were not disclosed to him at the time of his trial. He argues that Hunter made a statement contained in some handwritten notes in the prosecution's files in which she claimed to have seen the perpetrator at a time when Vinson was at work, a statement that conflicts with one Hunter made in an affidavit submitted in the state habeas proceedings in which she claimed she never saw Vinson again after the time of the crime. Vinson also points to a statement made in an affidavit not submitted until the federal habeas proceedings in which Hunter claimed to have seen the perpetrator at a time that Vinson was undisputedly in police custody, and in which she contended the prosecution threatened her into testifying. Vinson further claims Brady error from the Government's failure to disclose that there was a pre-existing relationship between Hunter and Turner, and that the second eye-witness, Janice Green, stated that she did not know whether she would recognize the perpetrator if she saw him again.

The Supreme Court of Virginia concluded that even if the statement in the handwritten notes regarding the second sighting of the perpetrator was made by Hunter, it was not material since, given the substantial evidence against Vinson, there was “no reasonable probability that had the [handwritten] notes been disclosed the result of Vinson's trial would have been different.” The court also explained that there was no evidence that the Government knew of the relationship between Hunter and Turner, and in any event, it was immaterial. And it further found that, even assuming Green's statement could have been used for impeachment, it too was not material.

Again, AEDPA governs our review of the conclusions of the state court as to the materiality of the handwritten statement and the relationship between Hunter and Turner, and whether the presence of substantial physical and forensic evidence demonstrating Vinson's guilt weighed against the materiality of the suppressed evidence. In particular, the record reveals that the Government presented evidence of blood on Vinson's shorts matching the DNA of the victim, Vinson's fingerprints on the car in which the victim was abducted and in the house where the victim's body was found, and eyewitness testimony identifying Vinson as the man who abducted the victim and as the person who pulled a board off of the abandoned house and dragged something heavy inside. Given this evidence,FN4 we can only conclude that the state court's adjudication that the withheld evidence was not material is not contrary to or an unreasonable application of Brady, and that the additional statements contained in Hunter's federal habeas affidavit are insufficient to demonstrate a reasonable probability of a different result.

FN4. This evidence also forecloses Vinson's claims that he is entitled to a mandatory evidentiary hearing regarding the conflicting affidavits prepared by Hunter. Vinson simply cannot show the required actual prejudice in view of the substantial evidence presented at trial. See Keeney, 504 U.S. at 11-12, 112 S.Ct. 1715.

Vinson's final Brady contention is that the materiality analysis conducted by the state court was flawed. He argues that the cumulative effect of the exculpatory evidence suppressed by the Government caused actual prejudice and that habeas relief is therefore required under Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419, 115 S.Ct. 1555, 131 L.Ed.2d 490 (1995). To satisfy Kyles, Vinson must show that, considering all of the suppressed evidence, there is a reasonable probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different. Id. at 434, 115 S.Ct. 1555. In light of the strength of the evidence in this case, Vinson cannot meet this burden. The cumulative effect of all of the undisclosed exculpatory or impeaching evidence simply cannot satisfy the required showing of a reasonable probability of a different result. See Strickler, 527 U.S. at 291-96, 119 S.Ct. 1936 (denying relief where, in light of the “considerable forensic and other physical evidence linking petitioner to the crime,” petitioner did not show a reasonable probability of a different outcome had the suppressed evidence been disclosed). Thus, because Vinson has shown neither materiality nor actual prejudice, his final Brady claim also fails.


For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the district court denying habeas corpus relief is AFFIRMED.