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Hampton v. State

Supreme Court of Florida

May 4, 2017

JULIE L. JONES, etc., Respondent.


         An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Pinellas County, Richard A. Luce, Judge - Case No. 522007CF012699XXXXNO And an Original Proceeding - Habeas Corpus

          James Vincent Viggiano, Jr., Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, and James L. Driscoll, Jr., David Dixon Hendry, and Gregory W. Brown, Assistant Capital Collateral Regional Counsel, Middle Region, Temple Terrace, Florida, for Appellant/Petitioner

          Pamela Jo Bondi, Attorney General, Tallahassee, Florida; and Christina Z. Pacheco, Assistant Attorney General, Tampa, Florida, for Appellee/Respondent

          PER CURIAM.

         John Lee Hampton appeals an order of the circuit court denying his motion to vacate his conviction of first-degree murder and sentence of death filed under Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.851, and petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), (9), Fla. Const. For the reasons explained below, we affirm the postconviction court's order to the extent it denies Hampton relief based upon his claim of ineffective assistance of guilt phase counsel. However, we decline to address the remaining issues because we grant the habeas petition and order that Hampton receive a new penalty phase proceeding in light of Hurst v. State (Hurst), 202 So.3d 40 (Fla. 2016), petition for cert. filed, No. 16-998 (U.S. Feb. 13, 2017).


         This Court set forth the following facts on direct appeal:

On June 10, 2007, at approximately 10 a.m., the nude body of Renee McKinness (the victim), a twenty-five-year-old single mother of three, was found dead, lying face up in her own blood on the floor of her bedroom in her apartment in Clearwater, Florida. The victim's bedroom was in a state of disarray, with drawers, clothes, and a mattress strewn about the room. The victim had suffered numerous injuries, including hemorrhaging of the brain, multiple sharp trauma injuries, defensive wounds, and the complete severing of her jugular vein. The victim's face and eyes were bruised and swollen. The victim's legs were spread open and her body had a petroleum-like odor. A blue soapy liquid was found in her vagina, along with semen. Two bloody handprints were found on the floor, one on each side of the body; and the walls and floor of the victim's bedroom had blood spatters and stains suggestive of a struggle occurring on the floor.
A police officer who was called to the scene inspected the contents of a garbage dumpster outside the victim's apartment and found bloody socks, a canister of lighter fluid, a bottle of cleaning solution, and bloody bed linens-all of which were collected for testing. While the police were processing the crime scene and gathering information by talking to the victim's friends and neighbors, Reginald Span and his wife Dorothy, family friends of the victim who had received a telephone call regarding the victim's demise, drove to the crime scene and approached the police. Dorothy's brother-in-law, John Lee Hampton (the defendant), a thirty-three-year-old man who had recently moved from Georgia into the Span household, had come with the Spans to the crime scene at Dorothy's insistence. Although the Spans immediately approached the police, Hampton indicated he was "not going up there, " and walked to another part of the apartment complex to avoid the police.
Unbeknownst to Dorothy Span, her husband Reginald was having a romantic affair with the victim. And, on the previous evening into the early morning hours, Reginald, the victim, Hampton, and a female friend of the victim were at the victim's apartment drinking gin and playing cards. Although Reginald Span knew that his story would not help his marriage, he told the police and his wife about the "card party" at the victim's apartment. Upon hearing her husband's version of events, Dorothy Span set out to find Hampton to encourage him to talk to the police. The lead detective from the Clearwater Police Department spoke to Hampton at the crime scene, and he noticed that Hampton was not wearing socks. The detective also noticed that Hampton had what appeared to be dried blood on his feet, pants, and his necklace. . . .
. . . .
. . . Testimony introduced at trial established that none of the physical evidence that was collected linked Reginald Span to the murder of the victim.
Hampton's Post-Miranda Statement
At the Clearwater Police Department, Hampton was photographed and swabs were taken from his feet, pants, and his necklace for DNA testing. Other than a small scrape on Hampton's right foot, he had no injuries. After waiving his Miranda[1] rights, Hampton gave a two-hour videotaped statement to the police. During his post-Miranda statement, Hampton relayed at least eight different descriptions of what occurred in the early morning hours preceding the victim's death. . . .
In his first account of the events, Hampton told police that once he arrived at the Span residence in the early morning hours, he went inside, drank a beer, and went to sleep in a chair downstairs. After further questioning, Hampton then relayed another version of the events, one that indirectly implicated Reginald Span as the individual who might have harmed the victim. In this narrative, Hampton stated that he "dozed off" at the victim's apartment after playing cards, and was awakened by Reginald Span who declared it was time to go home. Hampton recounted that he saw the victim lying on the floor, and that he tried to help her by performing CPR on her. Hampton reported that this was how his socks became saturated with the victim's blood. In this version of the events, Reginald Span and Hampton then went back to the Span residence at 3 a.m. and went to sleep. While relaying this story, Hampton twice told the detectives that he did not have sex with the victim.
After further questioning by police, Hampton provided numerous additional narratives wherein he and the victim had sexual intercourse and he thereafter killed the victim. In each of the varying descriptions of his sexual encounter with the victim, Hampton reported that at some time during or after the sexual event, the victim attacked him with a knife, and that his act of killing the victim was in self-defense or accidental. In his final version of the events leading up to the victim's death, Hampton stated that he and Reginald Span left the victim's apartment at approximately 3 a.m., and after they arrived at the Span residence, Hampton did not go inside, but rather returned alone to the victim's apartment. Hampton recounted that upon his return to the victim's apartment, he had sex with her, she fell asleep, and he then attempted to steal money or drugs from her. According to Hampton, the victim caught Hampton riffling through her drawers, and in response to her attempt to stop him, he killed her with a knife. In this version of the story-consistent with the testimony of Reginald and Dorothy Span-Hampton returned to the Span residence when it was light outside. Hampton also admitted to using a rag, cleaning solution, and lighter fluid to try to clean his semen from the victim's vagina. Nevertheless, he insisted that his sexual encounter with the victim was consensual. Hampton also admitted to throwing his bloody socks, the bloody bed linens, and the cleaning solution in the dumpster near the victim's apartment. Upon further questioning, Hampton told police that Reginald Span was not involved in the victim's death, and that Span was not at the victim's apartment when Hampton killed her. Based on the evidence collected by the Clearwater Police Department, Hampton was charged on a single count of first-degree murder. Hampton pled not guilty.
The Trial
. . . After the jury was empaneled and sworn, the State introduced the testimony of Reginald and Dorothy Span, the detectives who processed the crime scene, forensic experts, and other witnesses who observed the crime scene and confirmed the occurrence of the card party. . . . A DNA analyst testified that the substance found on Hampton's pants, feet, and necklace was the victim's blood, and that Hampton's semen was found inside the victim's vagina. . . . During its case-in-chief, the State played the video of Hampton's post-Miranda statement, wherein he admitted numerous times to killing the victim in the early morning hours of June 10, 2007.
After the State rested its case-in-chief, Hampton testified on his own behalf. He testified that he did not kill, harm, or steal from the victim, and his post-Miranda confessions admitting as much were lies. At trial, Hampton furnished a new narrative regarding his sexual encounter with the victim, one that differed from the various accounts furnished to the police in his post-Miranda statement. According to Hampton's trial testimony, at some point during the card party Reginald Span stepped outside of the victim's apartment to make a series of telephone calls, and during this time, Hampton and the victim had consensual sex in the victim's bedroom. Hampton testified that Reginald Span then came back into the victim's apartment, and Hampton fell asleep on a sofa. According to Hampton, he was later awakened by Reginald Span who said it was time to go home. Hampton saw the victim lying on the floor wounded and he tried to help her, but his efforts were thwarted by Span. According to Hampton, he noticed the blood on his socks, removed them, and threw them into a plastic trash can, which he then threw into the dumpster. Thereafter, according to Hampton's trial testimony, he and Reginald drove back to the Spans' apartment, where they each drank a beer and went to sleep. At trial, Hampton stated that the reason he told the police in his post-Miranda statement that he killed the victim was because he had told the police the truth at first, but grew tired of answering questions.
On cross-examination at trial, Hampton testified that he had previously been convicted of four felonies, including a conviction for a crime involving dishonesty, and that he was on felony probation at the time of the victim's death. . . . Hampton admitted that consistent with his post-Miranda statement, he indeed attempted to remove his semen from inside the victim's vagina with a rag and cleaning solutions. He testified that he did this while the victim was gasping for air and pleading for help. . . .
. . . After deliberation, the jury unanimously reached a guilty verdict on the charge of first-degree murder, the only charge filed against Hampton. . . .
. . . On June 25, 2009, the jury made a recommendation of death by a vote of nine to three . . . .

Hampton v. State, 103 So.3d 98, 103-07 (Fla. 2012).

         After conducting a Spencer[2] hearing, the trial court entered a sentencing order following the jury's recommendation and imposing the death penalty. The court found three aggravating circumstances, each of which was afforded great weight: (1) the murder was committed by a person previously convicted of a felony and on probation; (2) the murder was committed during the commission of a robbery, sexual battery, and burglary; and (3) the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel (HAC). Id. at 108. Regarding mitigation, the trial court found that while Hampton had "mental health issues, " he failed to establish statutory mental mitigation. However, his mental health issues were considered nonstatutory mitigation and afforded little weight. Id. at 108-09. In addition, the court found Hampton established the following six nonstatutory mitigators, each of which was afforded little weight: (1) Hampton was neglected during his childhood; (2) Hampton was physically abused by his stepfather during his childhood; (3) Hampton was abandoned by his parents and was raised poorly; (4) Hampton has a family that cares about him; (5) Hampton has an exemplary discipline record in jail and displayed model behavior during his week-long trial; and (6) the nonunanimous (nine to three) jury verdict. Id. at 109. The trial court found the aggravating factors were "horrendous" and greatly outweighed the "comparatively insignificant mitigating factors, " and therefore the death penalty was appropriate and proportional. Id.

         Direct Appeal Proceedings

         Hampton raised five issues on direct appeal: (1) whether the trial court erred in denying Hampton's requests for a juror interview or a new trial based on the assertion that one member of the jury was "under prosecution" while serving; (2) whether the trial court erred when it instructed the jury that it could find Hampton committed first-degree felony murder based on the commission of the underlying felony of sexual battery; (3) whether the trial court erred in allowing the introduction of certain autopsy photographs; (4) whether Florida's capital sentencing scheme violates Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002); and (5) whether the trial court erred in rejecting the testimony of forensic psychologist Dr. Robert Berland, introduced during the Spencer hearing. This Court rejected all claims and affirmed Hampton's conviction and sentence. Hampton, 103 So.3d at 122.

         Postconviction Proceedings

         In April 2014, Hampton timely filed a Motion to Vacate Judgment of Conviction and Sentence pursuant to Florida Rule of Criminal Procedure 3.851. In his motion, Hampton raised six claims: (1)(a) Hampton was not competent to stand trial, (b) trial counsel should not have stipulated to the expert's finding that he was competent, and (c) trial counsel should have requested a third "tiebreaker" expert regarding competence; (2) Hampton is intellectually disabled, prohibiting imposition of the death penalty, and trial counsel were ineffective for failing to raise this claim; (3) trial counsel were ineffective for (a) failing to prepare Hampton to testify, (b) allowing the State to present evidence that Hampton had an active warrant, (c) failing to move to redact portions of Hampton's video interrogation, and (d) allowing improper victim impact testimony without a proper limiting instruction; (4) trial counsel were ineffective during the penalty phase for failing to investigate, develop, and present mitigation regarding the underlying causes of Hampton's drug abuse and bad behavior; (5) trial counsel were ineffective during the penalty phase for not presenting the testimony of Dr. Robert Berland to the jury, and for failing to present evidence of Hampton's brain injury; and (6) cumulative error.

         An evidentiary hearing was granted on all claims. Fourteen witnesses testified, including Hampton's trial counsel, Randall Lane Lastinger and Richard Watts, [3] several medical experts, and family members.

         Following the evidentiary hearing, the postconviction court entered an order denying all claims. Hampton appeals the denial of his motion, raising five issues: (1) whether trial counsel were ineffective for stipulating to Hampton's competency to stand trial and failing to obtain an additional competency evaluation; (2) whether trial counsel were ineffective for allowing the State to present evidence of Hampton's outstanding warrant, failing to redact portions of the videotaped interrogation, and allowing improper victim impact evidence; (3) whether trial counsel were ineffective for failing to fully investigate and present mitigation; (4) whether trial counsel were ineffective for failing to present mental health mitigation to the jury and for failing to obtain a positron emission tomography (PET) scan; and (5) whether Hampton is intellectually disabled, and whether trial counsel were ineffective for failing to raise this claim.

         Hampton also filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus with this Court in which he raised the following claims: (1) whether appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge Florida's capital punishment scheme on grounds that it violates the Eighth Amendment; (2) whether Hampton's sentence is unconstitutional under Hurst; and (3) whether the execution of Hampton would violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments' prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment because Hampton is mentally ill.


         I. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

         A defendant alleging ineffective assistance of counsel must prove: (1) counsel's performance was deficient; and (2) the deficiency prejudiced the defendant. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984); see also Rutherford v. State, 727 So.2d 216 (Fla. 1998). If the defendant fails to establish prejudice, the reviewing court need not make a specific ruling regarding deficiency. See Schoenwetter v. State, 46 So.3d 535, 546 (Fla. 2010).

         To establish deficiency, the defendant must show a specific act or omission by counsel that falls below an objective standard of reasonableness under prevailing professional norms. Francois v. State, 423 So.2d 357, 359 (Fla. 1982). The act or omission must constitute an error "so serious that counsel was not functioning as the 'counsel' guaranteed . . . by the Sixth Amendment." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687. However, there is a strong presumption that trial counsel's performance was not ineffective, and "[j]udicial scrutiny of counsel's performance must be highly deferential." Id. at 689. We have held "strategic decisions do not constitute ineffective assistance of counsel if alternative courses have been considered and rejected and counsel's decision was reasonable under the norms of professional conduct." Occhiocone v. State, 768 So.2d 1037, 1048 (Fla. 2000). Therefore, "the defendant must overcome the presumption that, under the circumstances, the challenged action 'might be considered sound trial strategy.' " Strickland, 466 U.S. at 689 (quoting Michel v. Louisiana, 350 U.S. 91, 101 (1955)). Moreover, "[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." Id.

         To establish prejudice, the defendant must demonstrate that "there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694. "Reasonable probability" is defined as "a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Id. Mere speculation is not sufficient to form the basis for postconviction relief. See Derrick v. State, 983 So.2d 443, 462 (Fla. 2008) ("[I]n order to sufficiently undermine this Court's confidence in the outcome of resentencing, [the defendant] must rely on more than mere speculation."); see also Maharaj v. State, 778 So.2d 944, 951 (Fla. 2000) ("Postconviction relief cannot be based on speculation or possibility.").

         When reviewing a postconviction court's ruling on an ineffectiveness claim, this Court employs a mixed standard of review, deferring to the trial court's findings on factual issues that are supported by competent, substantial evidence, and reviewing the trial court's legal conclusions de novo. Bruno v. State, 807 So.2d 55, 62 (Fla. 2001).

         A. ...

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