9th Circuit affirms denial of habeas relief to Arizona death row inmate Robert Murray
Posted on: 3/20/2014 03:52:59 PM by Peoples
In (Robert) Murray v. Schriro (9th Cir. March 17, 2014), the Ninth Circuit (Bybee, with Rawlinson and Ikuta) rejected Murray’s Batson and ineffective assistance of counsel (IAC) at sentencing claims.  Regarding the Batson claim, the appeals court was unpersuaded by Murray’s contention that the state court unreasonably applied clearly established federal law by failing to conduct comparative juror analysis in ruling on his Batson challenge.  The appeals court found that “Batson and the cases that follow it do not require trial courts to conduct a comparative juror analysis.”  Rather, Miller-El established that comparative juror analysis “is an important means for federal courts to review a trial court’s ruling in a Batson challenge.”  Thus, the federal courts often must conduct comparative juror analysis in order to assess the reasonableness of the state court’s factual finding irrespective of whether the state court conducted its own formal comparative juror analysis.  Because the Arizona Supreme Court had merely accepted the trial court’s determination that the prosecutor had not engaged in purposeful discrimination, the appeals court looked to the “reasoned” decision of the trial court in conducting its § 2254(d)(2) analysis.   After applying comparative juror analysis, the appeals court found that the trial court’s decision regarding the strikes was not an unreasonable determination of the facts.  That the prosecutor had initially disputed whether one of the prospective jurors was in fact Hispanic in a “clumsy” and “politically incorrect” statement did not alone prove a racial motivation for the strikes.  The IAC at sentencing claim was disposed of by the appeals court on the deficient performance prong of the ineffectiveness test.  It found, inter alia, that the record did not support Murray’s assertions that background investigation did not commence until after the guilty verdict or that trial counsel failed to provide the mental health expert with sufficient background information.  As for Murray’s complaint that additional mental health experts were not consulted, the appeals court found that trial counsel had no information that would have suggested additional evaluations were necessary.  Finally, the appeals court refused to grant a COA on Murray’s contention that the district court abused its discretion by denying Murray permission to file a second amended petition.  The appeals court agreed with the district court’s conclusion that amendment would have been futile as to the bulk of the new claims because they were procedurally defaulted.  It further found that Martinez v. Ryan would not allow Murray to overcome the default of two  IAC by trial counsel claims because the claims themselves were not “substantial.”  Regarding the claim that trial counsel should have retained certain experts to contest the prosecution’s case during the guilt phase, Murray could not satisfy the prejudice prong because the evidence of his guilt was overwhelming.   The claim of ineffective assistance for failing to question the trial judge about his views on the death penalty was not substantial because Murray offered nothing to suggest bias by the trial judge.  A Ring claim was futile in light of binding precedent and another claim was duplicative of claims already raised.