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Gregory Hunt v. Commissioner

January 5, 2012


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama D. C. Docket No. 06-01209-CV-LSC-PWG

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





(January 5, 2012)

Before DUBINA, Chief Judge, and TJOFLAT and WILSON, Circuit Judges.

Gregory Hunt is a death-row inmate in the Alabama prison system as a result of his conviction for capital murder on June 19, 1990. Hunt seeks a writ of habeas corpus on the ground that he received ineffective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. To obtain the writ, Hunt must establish that the decision of the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals rejecting his claims "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." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The district court, concluding that Hunt had established neither point, denied the writ. After reviewing the record and considering the parties' arguments, we affirm.



On March 27, 1989, a Walker County, Alabama, grand jury returned an indictment charging Hunt with three counts of capital murder: intentional murder during the sexual abuse of a victim incapable of consent, intentional murder during sexual abuse by forcible compulsion, and intentional murder during a burglary.*fn1 In June 1990, Hunt went to trial in the Walker County Circuit Court. Through the testimony of several witnesses the State presented in its case in chief, the jury heard the following.

Hunt had been dating the victim, Karen Lane, for about one month before her death on Tuesday, August 2, 1988. At the time, Lane was living with Tina Gilliland, Hunt's cousin, in Gilliland's apartment at 105 Elliott Heights, Cordova, Alabama. Hunt was with Lane at the apartment in the afternoon on Monday, August 1, when Gilliland's ex-husband arrived with his fiancee, Shirley Romine, to pick up his and Gilliland's two children. Gilliland was taking a nap at the time.

According to Romine, after Lane left the room where they had gathered, Hunt voiced frustration with Lane. He said that "he was tired of everything and that he was moving back to Miami, Florida." He also said, "She makes me so mad I could kill that [b]itch."

When Gilliland awoke, at about 6 p.m., Hunt was gone.*fn2 Shortly after 6 p.m., Gilliland and Lane left in Gilliland's beige 1986 Yugo. After stopping to buy cigarettes, they went to the residence of Gilliland's then-fiance, Clinton Cook, in Parrish, Alabama.*fn3 When they arrived, at about 7 p.m., they saw Hunt's van outside. Gilliland got out of the car and entered the residence; Lane left in the Yugo.

Once inside, Gilliland encountered Hunt. Hunt, having noticed Lane in the Yugo, asked Gilliland, "You mean Karen is with you and she didn't get out because I was here? Where was she going?" Gilliland replied that Lane had gone to her mother's home. Hunt left.

After leaving, Hunt drove to the home of James Mullinax and Hortencia Ovalle in Jasper, Alabama, arriving at about 8 or 8:30 p.m.*fn4 While there, Hunt again discussed his frustration with Lane. Mullinax testified that Hunt "kept on saying he was going to have to do something about the problem." Both Mullinax and Ovalle testified that as he left, Hunt said he was going to "fuck somebody up."

Hunt then returned to Cordova.*fn5 At about 9:40 p.m., he called Cook's residence to speak to Gilliland. Hunt's mother, Ruby Savage, lived in Cordova, at 407 Second Street, and Hunt made the call from there.*fn6 According to Gilliland, Hunt asked where Lane was. Gilliland told him that Lane told her she was going to her mother's home. Hunt warned, "I know how you women are. You better tell me where she's at." When Gilliland replied that she did not know where Karen was, Hunt again insisted, "You better tell me where she is at. . . . Or, it is going to be detrimental to you." Hunt said he was ready to go back to prison if that was what it took.

Later that night, in Cordova, Lane's father, W.O. Sanders, discovered that a house Lane had previously occupied was on fire.*fn7 Sanders, who lived about two hundred yards from that house, testified that he heard Hunt's van pass his house twice that night. It was after the second time the van passed that Sanders discovered the fire.

After calling Gilliland and driving by Sanders's house, Hunt left Cordova and returned to Jasper. When Debra Twilley left work at 11 p.m. and returned to her home in Jasper, Hunt was there, using her telephone. According to Twilley, it appeared that Hunt "had been drinking." Hunt followed her into the kitchen, where he asked to borrow her car. "I've got some stuff I need to do," he explained. "It's not wise that I'm seen in my van."

After Twilley refused his request, the conversation turned to Lane. Hunt said that he and Lane had been having problems and that he was "tired of her crap." And he admitted that he had burned her house. He had "poured gas on it," he said, "and set it afire." When Twilley asked why, he replied, "I'm just tired of everything." He asked Twilley to drive him to Cordova. He did not know whether the house had "burnt down all the way," he said. But, he told Twilley, he hoped it had.

After that conversation, Hunt returned to Cordova. Amy Sheree Long testified that, at about midnight or 12:30 a.m. the next day, August 2, as she was standing in the parking lot at the First National Bank, she saw Hunt in his van, chasing Lane in a beige Yugo at a high speed.

Hunt then returned to his mother's home in Cordova and, at 12:55 a.m., again called Cook's residence.*fn8 This time he spoke with Cook. According to Cook, Hunt said that "something had happened, materialistically, and that Karen's family and Karen [were] going to be upset with him . . . because of what he had done." Hunt said he would have to move back to Florida. But, he said, "people didn't screw him over like this and get away with it."

Around 1 a.m., Hunt called Lane's mother, Betty Jo Sanders.*fn9 According to Sanders, Hunt asked her if Karen was there, and she answered no. Sanders told him that Karen's house had burned. "Well," Hunt said, "Karen will really be hurt about that because she really loved that place. . . . It will really depress her." Hunt also told Sanders that he had been looking for Karen. "[S]he is running stop signs and lights," Hunt said, "and all I want to do is say 'Hi' to her but she will not stop." Hunt also threatened violence against Gilliland. "You know, Tina [Gilliland] is scum," he said. "I'm going to throw her up against the wall, do you know what I mean? I won't do to m[e]ss with. I grew up in violence. I know what it's all about."

Later, shortly before 2 a.m., Mary Turner, who lived at 103 Elliott Heights, in an apartment separated from Gilliland's by one other apartment, heard a noise that sounded like glass breaking. Turner testified that when she looked to see what had caused the noise, she saw Hunt reach his hand into the window of Gilliland's apartment and then enter through the adjacent door. After Hunt entered, Turner heard "peculiar noises"-one that sounded "like somebody had hit real hard, hit the floor," and another "like somebody sitting in a chair and just sliding it across the floor." Then, at about 2 a.m., she heard the door slam and looked out her window to see Hunt leaving the apartment.

At 2:44 a.m., Cook received another telephone call from Hunt.*fn10 Hunt was calling from Gilliland's apartment. Hunt told him that Karen was "lying [t]here in the kitchen floor" and asked Cook to "get somebody up [t]here to get her to the hospital." Karen Lane's body was discovered in Gilliland's apartment later that morning.

Evidently, after calling Cook, Hunt returned to Jasper. Both Mullinax and Ovalle testified that they found Hunt's van outside their home at about 6 a.m. According to Mullinax, Hunt was in the van and, as Mullinax left for work, "raised up a little bit and went back down."

Later that day, Hunt drove to Cullman, Alabama, to Jack and Jean Kilpatrick's house.*fn11 From there, at about 7 or 8 p.m., Hunt called his brother-inlaw, Russell Davenport, at his home in Cooper City, Florida. According to Davenport, Hunt said he had "been out partying" with a woman and had gotten into a fight with her. "I don't think I killed her," Hunt said. "I'm not sure how she was when I left her. I checked with the hospitals and newspapers and I can't find anything else out about her at all."

Hunt was arrested later that month. In October, his sister, Loretta Martin, visited him in jail. Martin testified that they discussed Karen Lane's death. During their conversation, she asked Hunt, "You did kill her?" Hunt said, "Yes, I did." Hunt explained that he and Lane had a fight on the night of her death. Hunt said he "hit her and lost his head and couldn't control himself." Hunt told Martin that he had "[gone] out looking for [Lane]" and "chased her through Cordova." When Martin asked him if he had been drinking, he said he had been "drinking and taking some medication that the doctor had prescribed for him."

Later, in June 1990, while he was detained in jail pending trial, Hunt also confessed to his cellmate. The cellmate, James Carr Sanders, testified that Hunt said that he and Lane had fought because she was dating someone else. He had "knocked her down and choked her and kicked her." He also inserted a broomstick into her vagina. After that, he saw that she was bleeding, became scared, and called the police.

Dr. Joseph Embry, the physician who autopsied Karen Lane's body, testified that Lane had sustained some sixty injuries. Among those were about twenty injuries to the head, including lacerations, external bruises, bruises to the brain, fractured cheekbones, and nasal bones broken into small pieces. Lane also had twelve rib fractures on each side of her body and a fractured breastbone. Her heart and lungs were bruised, as was her pancreas, and she had a three-quarter-inch tear in her aorta and three tears in her liver. She also had bleeding in the muscles in her neck, as well as numerous bruises and lacerations on her arms, legs, chest, and back.

Larry Huys, a serologist employed by the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences, analyzed swabs from Lane's vagina, mouth, and anus. According to Huys, the oral swabs revealed that Lane's mouth contained semen. Huys said that the quantity and condition of the sperm found in Lane's mouth suggested that the semen was deposited "very close . . . to the time of death"-no more than an hour before-"if not post-mortem."

Huys also examined a broomstick found between Lane's legs at the scene of the killing. He testified that on that broomstick he found epithelial cells indicating the presence of mucus secretions. Those mucus secretions, he said, could have come from Lane's vagina.

A fingerprint analyst, John Vaughn, testified that a bloody palm print found at the scene of the crime had been successfully matched to Hunt. Vaughn also testified that prints found on the screen from the kitchen window of Gilliland's apartment were matched to Hunt's right palm, right index finger, and left ring finger.


The strategy Hunt's attorneys pursued in confronting the State's case was to create a reasonable doubt about Hunt's guilt through cross-examination of the State's witnesses, as well as through their own evidence presented after the State rested. To that end, they brought out through John Vaughn on cross-examination that some fingerprints found at the scene of the crime could not be matched to Hunt or Lane, and that no fingerprints were found on the stool and broomstick found near Lane's body. They also established through ...

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