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James Guzman v. Secretary

December 7, 2011


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida D.C. Docket No. 6:06-cv-012171-MSS-GJK

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martin, Circuit Judge


Before TJOFLAT, MARCUS, and MARTIN, Circuit Judges.

We previously issued an opinion in this case. Guzman v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., ‐‐‐F.3d‐‐‐, 2011 WL 5083235 (11th Cir. Oct. 27, 2011) (No. 10‐11442). The panel has decided to vacate that opinion and substitute this one. The new opinion deletes three paragraphs but otherwise remains identical to the first.

In this death penalty case, Respondents-Appellees appeal the District Court's Order granting Petitioner Guzman a new trial based upon Brady*fn1 and Giglio*fn2 errors involving the State's payment of $500 in reward money to Martha Cronin, the state's key witness.*fn3 As to the Giglio violation, Guzman argues that Cronin and the lead detective in this case, Allison Sylvester, both testified falsely at trial that Cronin received no benefit for her testimony against Guzman, other than being taken to a motel rather than to jail after she was arrested on unrelated charges. With respect to the Brady violation, Guzman contends that the State failed to disclose that Cronin was paid a $500 reward for her testimony. However, since we ultimately hold that the writ should issue based on Guzman's Giglio claim, thereby vacating his conviction, we need not decide his Brady claim. See Cooper v. Sec'y, Dep't of Corr., 646 F.3d 1328, 1331 n.1 (11th Cir. 2011). Because the Florida Supreme Court adjudicated and rejected Guzman's Giglio claim on the merits, we must determine whether the District Court, in granting Guzman habeas relief, violated the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act's (AEDPA) deferential standards of review. More specifically, this appeal requires us to decide whether the state court's decision:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Because we hold that Guzman demonstrated an unreasonable application by the state court of the Giglio standard, we affirm the District Court's Order granting habeas relief.

As a preliminary matter, we observe that in this case, there are no issues of procedural bar, exhaustion, statute of limitations, or non-retroactivity often encountered in habeas cases. Neither are the facts themselves in dispute. Our limited role here is to apply the "materiality" standard of Giglio, which is a question of law not entitled a presumption of correctness under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (e). Moon v. Head, 285 F.3d 1301, 1310-11 (11th Cir. 2002). We now turn to the facts underlying Guzman's Giglio claim.


On December 13, 1991, Guzman was arrested for the murder of David Colvin. Guzman's second trial began on December 2, 1996, and, in this trial, Guzman waived his right to a jury in both the guilt and penalty phases of the trial.*fn4 After a bench trial before the Honorable William C. Johnson, Circuit Judge, Guzman was found guilty of first degree murder and armed robbery with a deadly weapon.*fn5 The trial court sentenced Guzman to death as to the murder count and to life imprisonment on the armed robbery count, with the sentences to run consecutively.*fn6

As described by the Florida Supreme Court, the State presented the following evidence implicating Guzman as Colvin's murderer:

Approximately one week prior to the murder, Guzman and Martha Cronin, a prostitute and crack cocaine addict, began living together at the Imperial Motor Lodge. Colvin also resided at the motel, and Guzman and Colvin became acquainted. On the morning of August 10, Colvin and Guzman left the hotel in Colvin's car. Guzman and Colvin first proceeded to a tavern and drank beer, then the men went to the International House of Pancakes and ate breakfast. Guzman testified that he and Colvin returned to the motel at approximately 12 noon. Guzman stated that he gave Colvin's car and room keys back to Colvin and returned to his room. Guzman testified that at approximately 3 p.m. Curtis Wallace gave him a diamond ring that he could sell or trade for drugs.*fn7 Guzman admitted that he gave the ring to Leroy Gadson in exchange for drugs and money.*fn8 However, Guzman denied any involvement in Colvin's robbery and murder.

Cronin's trial testimony contradicted Guzman's. Cronin testified that Guzman told her prior to the murder that Colvin would be easy to rob because he was always drunk and usually had money. Cronin stated that Guzman told her in another conversation that if he ever robbed anybody, he "would have to kill them" because "a dead witness can't talk." Cronin testified that Guzman was holding his survival knife at the time this statement was made. Cronin claimed that, on the morning of especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel (HAC).

August 10, Guzman told her that he was going to drive Colvin to the bank. Cronin stated that Guzman returned to their room that morning and showed her Colvin's car keys and room keys. Cronin testified that at approximately 3 p.m. Guzman appeared at their room with a garbage bag that contained rags. Cronin said that Guzman looked upset, and that she asked him what was wrong. Cronin testified that Guzman responded, "I did it," and confessed to murdering Colvin. Cronin stated that Guzman told her that Colvin awakened while he was taking money from Colvin's room. Cronin testified that Guzman said that he hit Colvin in the head and then stabbed him with the samurai sword. Cronin stated that Guzman showed her a diamond ring and money that he had taken from Colvin.*fn9 Cronin also stated that Guzman said he committed the murder for her.

Upon questioning by the police shortly after the discovery of Colvin's body, Guzman and Cronin both claimed to know nothing about the murder. In the latter part of November 1991, Cronin informed the police that Guzman had confessed to her that he killed Colvin. Cronin testified that Guzman had instructed her to tell the police that she knew nothing about the murder. Cronin also testified that she did not come forward earlier because Guzman threatened to harm her if she revealed what she knew about the crime. Guzman admitted that he told Cronin prior to his first trial to "do the right thing girl-it's a small world." Paul Rogers and Guzman became friends while sharing a jail cell in the Spring of 1992. Rogers testified that Guzman confessed to him that he robbed and killed Colvin. Rogers said that Guzman told him that he used Colvin's key to enter his room after the men returned from drinking, and that Colvin awakened while Guzman was robbing him. Rogers further testified that Guzman stated that, after Colvin sat up in the bed, Guzman struck Colvin ten or eleven times with the sword. Rogers stated that Guzman said he cleaned the sword and put "everything" in a garbage bag which he disposed of in a dumpster. Rogers also stated that Guzman admitted that he took Colvin's ring and some money and traded the ring for drugs. Guzman allegedly told Rogers that he robbed and killed Colvin so Cronin would not have to earn money as a prostitute. Rogers said that Guzman threatened to kill him and his family if he informed the police about his knowledge of the murder.

Guzman II, 721 So. 2d at 1157-58. On direct appeal, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed Guzman's convictions and sentences, although it held that the evidence did not support the cold, calculated, and premeditated aggravating circumstance. Id. at 1156. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. Guzman v. Florida, 526 U.S. 1102, 119 S. Ct. 1583 (1999).

After his direct appeal became final, Guzman filed a timely motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.850, which he later amended to include a Brady and Giglio claim involving the false testimony of Cronin and the withholding of evidence from the defense concerning a $500 reward paid to Cronin. The state trial court granted Guzman an evidentiary hearing as to his Brady and Giglio claim, as well as a few others, and denied his remaining claims. In support of his various claims, Guzman presented the testimony of eight witnesses and introduced several exhibits during the state evidentiary hearing. Martha Cronin did not testify at the evidentiary hearing.

Based upon the facts adduced at trial and the state evidentiary hearing, the District Court summarized the following facts significant to Guzman's Brady and Giglio claim:

At trial, Detective [Allison] Sylvester testified that she questioned Ms. Cronin on August 12, 1991, and that Ms. Cronin failed to offer any information pertaining to the case. On September 24, 1991, Ms. Cronin was questioned by Detective Sylvester and, again, she denied any information about the homicide. [FN5] . . . Ms. Cronin provided a statement late on November 23, 1991, and into November 24, 1991, near midnight implicating Petitioner as the perpetrator of the homicide. Ms. Cronin had an active warrant for her arrest on November 24, 1991, due to an outstanding warrant for violation of probation. Ms. Cronin was seeking a "deal," but the assistant state attorney handling the case instructed Detective Sylvester to arrest. Detective Sylvester rejected this directive and did not arrest Ms. Cronin. Instead, Ms. Cronin was taken to a hotel and provided with food, which was paid for by the Daytona Beach Police Department, in order to keep "an eye on her while [they] finished [up] following up . . . information." However, Ms. Cronin left the hotel on November 24, 1991, without permission, and law enforcement lost contact with her. Ms. Cronin engaged in prostitution and used crack cocaine after she left the hotel.

FN5. Ms. Cronin confirmed in her trial testimony that she told law enforcement on August 12, 1991, and on September 24, 1991, that she knew nothing about the homicide.

Detective Sylvester then arrested Ms. Cronin on November 27, 1991, for outstanding warrants for violation of probation. When Ms. Cronin was arrested on November 27, 1991, Detective Sylvester was afraid that Ms. Cronin would flee, and Detective Sylvester admitted that Ms. Cronin was arrested because she was the prime witness and was needed for the case. Ms. Cronin was, nevertheless, released from jail on December 5, 1991.Petitioner was arrested on December 13, 1991.

Ms. Cronin testified before the grand jury against Petitioner on January 11, 1992. At the trial, Detective Sylvester denied that she, law enforcement, or the State Attorney's office had offered [Ms. Cronin] any deals in exchange for her testimony. Ms. Cronin also denied ever receiving a deal from law enforcement, although she acknowledged being placed in a hotel room for protection.

At the Rule 3.850 evidentiary hearing, however, after defense investigation had revealed a payment had been made to Ms. Cronin, Detective Sylvester conceded that, on January 3, 1992, just eight days before Ms. Cronin testified before the grand jury she delivered a money order to the Volusia County Jail in the sum of $500 made payable to Ms. Cronin. The money was placed in Ms. Cronin's prison account where she was incarcerated and was provided to her because she had provided information leading to the arrest of Petitioner. Detective Sylvester denied that Ms. Cronin was paid for her testimony. Detective Sylvester could not recall when the reward money had first been offered to Ms. Cronin. However, the reward was originally offered on August 16, 1991, for information "about a man stabbed to death in his motel room." The reward offer was published in the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Orlando Sentinel. Detective Sylvester recalled that Ms. Cronin's mother contacted her on January 2, 1992, "asking if it were possible for [Detective Sylvester] to obtain the reward money to get it to [Ms. Cronin] in case she got out when she went to court that day." Detective Sylvester testified that she had not disclosed to the prosecuting attorney the $500 reward paid to Ms. Cronin. The prosecutor denied any knowledge of the $500 reward.

Guzman v. Sec'y, Dep't Corrs., 698 F. Supp. 2d 1317, 1322-23 (M.D. Fla. 2010) (citations omitted).

After the state court evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied all of Guzman's remaining claims, including his Giglio claim in a written Order on March 4, 2002. In rejecting Guzman's Brady and Giglio claims, the state trial court used the same materiality standard for both claims, stating:

This Court finds that these allegations do not satisfy the tests for a sufficient Brady, Giglio, or ineffective assistance of counsel claim. Trial counsel extensively cross-examined Cronin, for over 88 pages of trial transcripts . . . . Thus, this Court was aware of the fact that Cronin had made an agreement with the State to testify against ...

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