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State v. Davis

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Twelfth District

September 9, 2013

STATE OF OHIO, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
VON CLARK DAVIS, Defendant-Appellant.

CRIMINAL APPEAL FROM BUTLER COUNTY COURT OF COMMON PLEAS Case No. CR1983-12-0614

Michael T. Gmoser, Butler County Prosecuting Attorney, Michael A. Oster, Jr., Government Services Center, for plaintiff-appellee.

Carpenter Lipps & Leland, LLP, Kort Gatterdam and Erik P. Henry, for defendant-appellant.

OPINION

S. POWELL, J.

(¶ 1} Appellant, Von Clark Davis, appeals from the Butler County Court of Common Pleas decision dismissing his most recent petition for postconviction relief without first holding an evidentiary hearing or permitting him to conduct discovery. For the reasons outlined below, we affirm.

(¶ 2} In 1971, Davis was sentenced to life imprisonment after he pled guilty to second-degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of his estranged wife, Ernestine Davis. In 1983, after being released on parole, Davis shot and killed his estranged girlfriend, Suzette Butler. Butler died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds to the head. Two eyewitnesses identified Davis as the shooter. The following year, Davis was found guilty of aggravated murder by a three-judge panel and sentenced to death.

(¶ 3} This court affirmed Davis' conviction and sentence in State v. Davis, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA84-06-071, 1986 WL 5989 (May 27, 1986). However, although affirming his conviction on appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court vacated Davis' death sentence in State v. Davis, 38 Ohio St.3d 361 (1988), and remanded the matter to the trial court for resentencing. On remand, the three-judge panel once again imposed the death penalty. This court affirmed the panel's decision to resentence Davis to death in State v. Davis, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA89-09-123, 1990 WL 165137 (Oct. 29, 1990). The Ohio Supreme Court affirmed that decision in State v. Davis, 63 Ohio St.3d 44 (1992).

(¶ 4} On October 8, 1993, Davis filed a petition for postconviction relief requesting the court to vacate or set aside his convictions and sentences in both the 1983 murder of Suzette Butler and the 1971 murder of Ernestine Davis. After holding a hearing on the matter, the trial court dismissed the petition. This court affirmed the trial court's decision dismissing the petition in State v. Davis, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA95-07-124, 1996 WL 551432 (Sept. 30, 1996). The Ohio Supreme Court subsequently declined review in State v. Davis, 77 Ohio St.3d 1520 (1997). This court later denied Davis' motion to reopen his appeal, a decision the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed in State v. Davis, 86 Ohio St.3d 212 (1999).

(¶ 5} In 2001, after exhausting the state appellate process, Davis filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio. The district court denied the petition in Davis v. Bagley, S.D.Ohio No. C-1-97-402, 2002 WL 193579 (Jan. 17, 2002). However, in Davis v. Coyle, 475 F.3d 761 (6th Cir.2007), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the matter to the trial court with instructions that a three-judge panel conduct a third sentencing hearing. Id. at 774-775. In so holding, the Sixth Circuit determined the previous three-judge panel erred by improperly precluding Davis from introducing any evidence of his good behavior while on death row. Id. at 772. On December 19, 2007, the trial court granted Davis' request for a third sentencing hearing in compliance with the Sixth Circuit's mandate.

(¶ 6} A third sentencing hearing was subsequently held on September 8 through September 10, 2009, with Judge Andrew Nastoff presiding. Over the course of the two-day hearing, Davis provided extensive evidence and testimony from, among others, Scott Nowak, Davis' current prison case manager, Cynthia Mausser, the Chairperson of the Ohio Parole Board, and Jeremy Stineman, a volunteer who conducted Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with death row inmates, including Davis. The three-judge panel also heard testimony from Davis' mother, Alluster Tipton, step-father, Charles Tipton, younger sister, Carol Smith, younger brother, Victor Davis, daughter, Sherry Davis, and two friends, Rick Rotundo and Fran Welland. Following this hearing, the three-judge panel once again sentenced Davis to death. This court affirmed Davis' death sentence in State v. Davis, 12th Dist. Butler No. CA2009-10-263, 2011-Ohio-787. Davis' appeal from that decision is still pending before the Ohio Supreme Court in Case No. 2011-0538.

(¶ 7} On October 21, 2011, Davis filed his most recent petition for postconviction relief, as well as a request for an evidentiary hearing and leave of court to conduct discovery. In a decision issued on November 26, 2012, the trial court dismissed Davis' postconviction relief petition without first holding a hearing after finding Davis failed to establish any substantive grounds for relief. Davis now appeals from the trial court's decision, raising three assignments of error for review.

(¶ 8} Assignment of Error No. 1:

(¶ 9} TRIAL COUNSEL RENDERED INEFFECTIVE ASSISTANCE OF COUNSEL IN VIOLATION OF APPELLANT'S RIGHTS UNDER THE FIFTH, SIXTH, EIGHTH, AND FOURTEENTH AMENDMENTS TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION, AND SECTION 1, 2, 5, 9, 10, 16, AND 20, ARTICLE I OF THE OHIO CONSTITUTION.

(¶ 10} In his first assignment of error, Davis claims the trial court erred in denying his petition for postconviction relief because he received ineffective assistance of counsel during his initial trial, as well as during his third sentencing hearing. We disagree.

(¶ 11} Petitions for postconviction relief are governed by R.C. 2953.21, which states, in ...


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