FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION, AND IF
Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Broward County,
Eileen M. O'Connor, Judge - Case No. 062001CF014055A88810
And an Original Proceeding - Habeas Corpus
Andre Dupree, Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Southern
Region, Todd Gerald Scher, Assistant Capital Collateral
Regional Counsel, Southern Region, and Jessica Leigh Houston,
Staff Attorney, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for
Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida, and
Lisa-Marie Krause Lerner, Assistant Attorney General, West
Palm Beach, Florida, for Appellee/Respondent.
Knight appeals an order of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit
Court in and for Broward County denying his motion to vacate
his sentence of death filed under Florida Rule of Criminal
Procedure 3.851. Knight also petitions this Court for a writ
of habeas corpus. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), (9),
Fla. Const. For the reasons discussed below, we affirm the
circuit court's denial of Knight's rule 3.851 motion
and deny his petition for a writ of habeas corpus.
STATEMENT OF THE CASE & FACTS
April 26, 2006, a jury found Richard Knight guilty of two
counts of first-degree murder for the deaths of Odessia
Stephens and her four-year-old child, Hanessia Mullings. The
jury unanimously recommended a death sentence for each
murder. Knight v. State, 76 So.3d 879, 884 (Fla.
Trial & Direct Appeal Proceedings
direct appeal, we set forth the following relevant factual
and procedural background:
The evidence presented at trial established that Knight lived
in an apartment with his cousin, Hans Mullings, Mullings'
girlfriend, Odessia Stephens, and their daughter, Hanessia
Mullings. Mullings and Odessia had asked Knight to move out
On the night of the murder, June 27, 2000, Mullings was at
work. At approximately 9 p.m., Mullings spoke to Odessia, who
said she was going to bed, and then Mullings left his office
to run errands. Knight was at the apartment with Odessia and
Around midnight, an upstairs neighbor heard multiple thumping
sounds on the apartment walls and two female voices, one of
which was a child crying. The neighbor called 911 at 12:21
a.m. on June 28, 2000. The cries continued after the police
Officer Vincent Sachs was the first to respond. He arrived at
12:29 a.m. and noted that the lights were on in the master
bedroom and hall area, and that a second bedroom's window
was slightly ajar. After knocking and receiving no response,
he walked around the unit and noticed that the lights had
been turned off and that the previously ajar window was now
completely open and blinds were hanging out of it. Sachs
shined his flashlight through the dining room window. He saw
blood in the dining room and master bedroom. Further, he
noticed Hanessia curled in the fetal position against the
closet door. Once inside, he observed Odessia's body in
the living room. All of the doors were locked and there had
been no ransacking of the apartment.
Officer Natalie Mocny arrived next and walked around the
unit. She also saw the open window and noticed Knight on the
other side of some hedges approximately 100 yards from the
building. She beckoned him over for questioning. Officer
Sachs joined Mocny. According to the officers, Knight had a
scratch on his chest, a scrape on his shoulder, and fresh
cuts on his hands. Although it was not raining, Knight was
visibly wet. Knight was wearing dress clothes and shoes, yet
told Mocny that he had been jogging, and that he lived in the
apartment, but did not have a key to get inside. There was
blood on the shirt he was wearing and on a ten-dollar bill in
The crime scene investigation recovered two wet towels in
Knight's bedroom, a shirt, boxers, and a pair of jean
shorts under the sink in the bathroom near Knight's
bedroom, all of which belonged to Knight and had numerous
bloodstains. Two knife blades were also recovered, one from
under the mattress in the master bedroom, and another from
under Odessia's body.
Odessia's blood was found in the master bedroom between
the bed and the wall, on the master bedroom blinds, on the
living room carpet, on the knives' handles and blades,
and on the knife holder in the kitchen. Odessia's blood
was also discovered on Knight's boxers, shirt, jean
shorts, the clothing Knight had been wearing when arrested,
and his hand. Fingernail scrapings taken from Odessia
contained Knight's DNA profile.
Hanessia's blood was found on one of the knives, on
Knight's boxers, jean shorts, and on the shower curtain.
The shower curtain also contained the blood of Knight's
acquaintance, Victoria Martino.
Dr. Lance Davis, the medical examiner, observed the bodies at
the scene. Odessia was found on the living room floor near
the entrance with several broken knife pieces around her. She
had twenty-one stab wounds: fourteen in the neck, one on the
chin, and the rest on her back and chest. Additionally, she
had twenty-four puncture or scratch wounds and bruising and
ligature marks on her neck. The bruises appeared to have been
made by a belt or similar object. She also had defensive
wounds on both hands and wounds on her leg, chest, back and
neck. Several of the knife wounds were fatal but none would
have resulted in an instantaneous death. She had bruises from
being punched on her scalp and mouth. Davis opined that
Knight began his attack in the bedroom with Odessia fleeing
to the living room. He estimated that Odessia was conscious
for ten to fifteen minutes after the attack.
Davis discovered Hanessia on the floor next to the closet
door. There were broken knife pieces around her. She had a
total of four stab wounds in her upper chest and neck. Her
hand had one additional stab wound and numerous defensive
wounds. Hanessia's arms and upper body had numerous
bruises and scratches. There were bruises on her neck that
were consistent with manual strangulation and bruises on her
arms consistent with being grabbed.
Stephen Whitsett and Knight were housed together from June
29, 2000, to July 22, 2000, at the Broward County Jail.
Knight confessed to Whitsett about the murders as follows:
The night of the murders Knight and Odessia argued. She told
him that she did not want to support him and that he would
have to move. He asked for some more time because he had just
gotten a job, but Odessia refused and told him to leave in
the morning. Knight left the house to go for a walk and he
became increasingly angry. He returned that night, confronted
Odessia in her room, and they argued.
Knight went to the kitchen and got a knife. When he went back
to the master bedroom, Odessia was on one side of the bed and
Hanessia was on the other. He began by stabbing Odessia
multiple times. Odessia eventually stopped defending herself
and balled up into a fetal position. Knight then turned to
four-year-old Hanessia. The knife broke while he was stabbing
Hanessia, so he returned to the kitchen for another. Upon
returning, Knight saw Hanessia had crawled to the closet door
and was drowning in her own blood.
Again, Knight returned to the kitchen and accidentally cut
his hand on one of the broken knives that he had used to stab
Odessia and Hanessia. He grabbed another knife. Odessia had
crawled from the master bedroom to the living room and was
lying in her own blood. He rolled her over and continued his
attack. Odessia's blood covered Knight's hands, so he
wiped them on the carpet.
Knight further confessed that, after he finished with
Odessia, he went to the bathroom, took off the blood soaked
shorts and T-shirt, and tossed them under the sink. He
showered and put on blue polo pants. He wiped down the knives
in the living room. At that time, Knight heard a knock on the
door and saw the police outside through the peep hole. He ran
to his room and out the window. In an attempt to deflect
suspicion away from himself, Knight returned to his bedroom
window where he saw a female police officer.
Knight was charged by indictment on August 15, 2001, for the
murders of Odessia Stephens and Hanessia Mullings. The jury
found Knight guilty of both counts of first-degree murder.
At the penalty phase, Knight called six witnesses, several of
whom testified about his childhood and upbringing in Jamaica.
His teacher, Joscelyn Walker, told the jury that Knight was a
respectful and loving boy raised in a very respected family.
He said that Knight did have a temper when provoked and would
become extremely frustrated at times. Walker had to restrain
him from time to time when Knight wanted to fight another
child. Knight's high school art teacher, Joscelyn Gopie,
described Knight as a pleasant, eager boy who was quite
talented at art. Gopie explained that Knight was adopted as a
toddler by his family. Knight left high school before he
Barbara Weatherly is the mother of Knight's former
fiancée. She described him as a decent, honorable guy
who respected her rules regarding her daughter. He always
helped her younger children with their drawing. He was a
quiet and peaceful person who spent a lot of time alone. One
night at her house he got sick; his eyes rolled back in his
head and he frothed at the mouth before passing out. They
took him to the hospital where the doctor said that he needed
to see a psychiatrist. She last saw him in 1998 when he left
to go to the United States.
A former boss and coworker of Knight's, Stanley Davis,
also testified. Davis explained that Knight had been adopted
into a well respected family and had a close loving
relationship with his family members. Knight took over many
of his father's duties when his father lost a leg. Knight
worked with him at a construction company and was a good
worker. On one occasion Knight fell and blacked out, after
which he had difficulty concentrating and became timid.
Valerie River, the defense investigator, and Knight's
attorney journeyed to Jamaica to interview Knight's
family and friends. Knight was abandoned by his mother and
the Knight family found him at a hospital and took him home.
He was a good brother and son. Knight's close friends and
family said that he was a nice and good person. Knight's
sister-in-law used to have Knight babysit her children but
eventually stopped because he was careless around the house.
Knight blacked out on one occasion. Knight's former boss
Stedman Stevenson said he was a hard worker and a quick
learner. He took Knight to Florida, and Knight decided to
Knight also presented expert Dr. Jon Kotler who practices
nuclear medicine and specializes in PET scans of the brain.
He explained that Knight's physical symptoms indicated
that he might have a brain injury. The MRI done on him was
normal. Dr. Kotler did a PET scan which he interpreted as
showing asymmetrical brain activity indicating possible
pathology of the brain, perhaps a seizure disorder. He could
not say exactly what the pathology might be or how it might
manifest itself in Knight's behavior. Dr. Sfakianakis,
another nuclear medicine doctor, read the PET results as
showing only a mild difference between the brain hemispheres
which was within the normal fluctuations of the brain.
Following the presentation of penalty-phase testimony, the
jury unanimously recommended the death penalty for both
The trial court subsequently conducted a [Spencer v.
State, 615 So.2d 688 (Fla. 1993), ] hearing on August
18, 2006. At the hearing, the defense submitted the report
and deposition of neuropsychologist Dr. Mittenberg who
examined Knight but refused to testify at trial. The State
submitted the report and deposition of Dr. Lopickalo, another
neuropsychologist. Mullings and Eunice Belan also gave victim
Subsequent to the Spencer hearing, the trial court
followed the jury's [unanimous] recommendation and
sentenced Knight to death. In pronouncing Knight's
sentence, the trial court determined that the State had
proven beyond a reasonable doubt two statutory aggravating
circumstances for the murder of Odessia Stephens: (1) a
previous conviction of another violent capital felony, and
(2) that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or
cruel (HAC). The court also found three statutory aggravating
circumstances for the murder of Hanessia Mullings: (1) a
previous conviction of another violent capital felony, (2)
HAC, and (3) the victim was under twelve years of age. The
court found no statutory mitigating circumstances but found
eight nonstatutory mitigators, which are set forth in our
Knight, 76 So.3d at 881-84 (footnote and headings
omitted). On direct appeal, Knight raised five claims: (1)
the trial court abused its discretion by denying Knight's
motion for a mistrial based on Hans Mullings' comment
that he knew Knight to have a violent background; (2) the
trial court abused its discretion in denying Knight's
motion for a mistrial based on the allegation that jurors saw
him wearing shackles; (3) the trial court erred in ruling
that no discovery violation occurred and in denying
Knight's motion for a mistrial based on the State's
expert's testimony regarding DNA evidence; (4) the trial
court erred in denying Knight's motion to seat a new jury
based on Mullings' testimony; and (5) Florida's death
sentencing statute violates the Sixth Amendment and ignores
Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002).
Knight, 76 So.3d at 885. n.3.
affirmed Knight's convictions and sentence of death.
Id. at 885. Knight's sentence became final on
May 14, 2012, when the United States Supreme Court denied
certiorari. Knight v. Florida, 132 S.Ct. 2398 (2012)
Postconviction Relief Proceedings
10, 2013, Knight filed his "Motion to Vacate Judgment of
Conviction and Sentence with Special Request for Leave to
Amend, " pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure
3.851. He raised the following claims: (1) he was improperly
denied access to public records; (2) the one-year deadline in
Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.851 was
unconstitutionally applied to him; (3) he was denied
adversarial testing at the guilt phase; (4) he was denied
adversarial testing at the penalty phase; (5) the rule
prohibiting juror interviews is unconstitutional; and (6)
Florida's lethal injection protocol and procedures are
unconstitutional. The circuit court granted an evidentiary
hearing on Knight's claims. The evidentiary hearing took
place on March 27 and 28, 2014, when the circuit court heard
testimony on Knight's claims of ineffective assistance of
counsel. On July 30, 2014, the circuit court denied all of
Knight's claims for postconviction relief.
POSTCONVICTION RELIEF CLAIMS
Ineffective Assistance of Counsel During Guilt Phase
argues that he is entitled to a new trial because trial
counsel rendered ineffective assistance. First, Knight argues
that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to call as a
witness Dr. Nora Rudin, a DNA analyst who worked for the
defense prior to trial. Second, Knight argues that trial
counsel was ineffective for failing to request a
Frye hearing to examine the reliability of the
DNA testing procedures employed by the State. Third, Knight
argues that trial counsel failed to discover and introduce a
memorandum from one of the State's experts requesting a
voluntary demotion. For the reasons below, we conclude that
the postconviction court did not err in denying Knight's
claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.
accordance with Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S.
668 (1984), to obtain relief on a claim of ineffective
assistance of counsel, a defendant must establish
deficient performance and prejudice, as set forth in
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).
See Rutherford v. State, 727 So.2d 216, 218 (Fla.
1998). As to the first prong, deficient performance, a
defendant must establish conduct on the part of counsel that
is outside the broad range of competent performance under
prevailing professional standards. See Strickland,
466 U.S. at 688. Second, as to the prejudice prong, the
deficient performance must be shown to have so affected the
fairness and reliability of the proceedings that confidence
in the outcome is undermined. See id. at 694;
Rutherford, 727 So.2d at 220.
Gore v. State, 846 So.2d 461, 467 (Fla. 2003)
(parallel citations omitted).
"[W]hen a defendant fails to make a showing as to one
prong, it is not necessary to delve into whether he has made
a showing as to the other prong." Waterhouse v.
State, 792 So.2d 1176, 1182 (Fla. 2001). Further, as the
United States Supreme Court explained in Strickland,
[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be
highly deferential. . . . A fair assessment of attorney
performance requires that every effort be made to eliminate
the distorting effects of hindsight, to reconstruct the
circumstances of counsel's challenged conduct, and to
evaluate the conduct from counsel's perspective at the
time. Because of the difficulties inherent in making the
evaluation, a court must indulge a strong ...