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Leonhart v. Jenkins

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

January 16, 2018





         Petitioner, a state prisoner, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 2254, the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”). This matter is before the Court on the Petition (Doc. 1), Respondent's Return of Writ (Doc. 11), Petitioner's Traverse (Doc. 17), and the exhibits of the parties. For the reasons that follow, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Petition be DENIED and that this action be DISMISSED.


         The state appellate court summarized the facts and procedural history of this case as follows:

In January 2012, Leonhart drove his all-terrain vehicle to the home of Willard Baker, where Leonhart's ex-girlfriend, Holly Fickiesen, was staying. Leonhart, who was armed with a loaded shotgun and intended to kill Fickiesen, waited for Baker to leave for work. When Baker left, Leonhart forced his way through a door and assaulted Fickiesen. Holding her at gunpoint, Leonhart told her that he was going to shoot her, set the house on fire, and then shoot himself.
When Baker unexpectedly returned to the home and walked into the kitchen, Leonhart shot him to death. Fickiesen fled the house and pounded on the door of the next-door neighbor, Mike Lisk. When Lisk opened the door, Fickiesen ran inside and hid. Leonhart then struggled with Lisk, knocking him down and breaking his hip. After Leonhart fled, the police subsequently arrested him and obtained his confession to breaking into Baker's house and shooting him.
A Washington County grand jury charged Leonhart with aggravated murder and other felonies, the trial court determined that Leonhart was indigent and appointed him trial counsel. Leonhart entered a plea of not guilty to the charges and also filed a motion to waive court costs because of his indigency . . . .
Leonhart then filed a written plea of not guilty by reason of insanity and suggestion of incompetency. The trial court ordered evaluations to determine his competency to stand trial and his mental condition at the time of the commission of the charged offenses. Denise A. Kohler, Ph.D., a clinical and forensic psychologist, diagnosed Leonhart with a severe mental illness consisting of major depression and alcohol dependence. But Dr. Kohler concluded that Leonhart was capable of understanding the nature and the objective of the proceedings against him and was able to assist his attorney with his defense. Dr. Kohler further concluded that although Leonhart suffered from a severe mental disease consisting of anxiety and depression at the time the crimes occurred, he knew the wrongfulness of his actions.
Following a hearing at which the parties stipulated to the report's conclusion of his competency to stand trial, the trial court determined Leonhart was competent to stand trial because he was capable of understanding the nature and objective of the proceedings against him and was capable of assisting in his defense.
Leonhart withdrew his former pleas of not guilty and pleaded guilty to the charges of aggravated murder and the accompanying specifications, one of the two counts of aggravated burglary, and felonious assault. The state dismissed the remaining charges. The trial court conducted a colloquy to determine whether Leonhart was fully informed of his rights and understood the consequence of his guilty plea. Upon being satisfied that Leonhart knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily entered his plea and waived his constitutional rights, the court accepted his plea and convicted him of the charges upon the facts stipulated by the parties.
After a hearing the trial court imposed a sentence of life with parole eligibility after 30 years on the aggravated murder charge, 3 years for the accompanying firearm specification, 11 years on the aggravated burglary charge, and 8 years on the felonious assault charge. The court specified that these prison sentences would be served consecutively so that the aggregate sentence would be life without parole eligibility until he had served 52 years. The court also ordered the requested forfeiture, ordered restitution in an undetermined amount, and ordered that costs be taxed against him. At the conclusion of the hearing, the trial court noted that it understood that Leonhart was indigent and was unable to hire counsel for appeal and that counsel would be appointed for purposes of appeal. In November 2013, the trial court issued a journal entry reflecting its orally announced sentence, except that it did not specify any restitution order or resolve Leonhart's original kidnapping charge.
We dismissed Leonhart's initial appeal for lack of a final, appealable order because the sentencing entry failed to address both the restitution order made at the sentencing hearing and the disposition of the kidnapping charge.
Then through new counsel Leonhart filed a motion to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming that he had been advised by his trial counsel that he would be eligible for parole after 30 to 35 years in prison. Leonhart contended any lengthier sentence would be tantamount to life in prison without parole. In a reply to the state's response, Leonhart included the affidavit of his trial counsel stating that: (1) at a pretrial conference the trial court stated that it would not impose either the maximum sentence for aggravated murder of life without the possibility for parole nor the minimum sentence for that charge, (2) based on the trial court's statement, trial counsel advised Leonhart that he would receive a maximum sentence of life with parole eligibility after 35 years, (3) trial counsel advised Leonhart that any sentence greater than that would be the equivalent of a life sentence without the possibility of parole, (4) after Leonhart entered his guilty plea, trial counsel “was shocked” when the trial court imposed an aggregate sentence of life without the possibility of parole after 52 years, and (5) if he had known that the trial court would impose that sentence, trial counsel would have advised him to proceed to trial rather than enter a guilty plea. Leonhart also filed a supplemental affidavit in which his mother confirmed trial counsel's recollection of his statement to Leonhart that pleading guilty would result in a maximum sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 35 years, which would give him a meaningful opportunity to be released from prison.
The trial court overruled the motion because the record “definitively shows that Defendant's guilty pleas were entered knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily at a hearing where he was repeatedly advised of the potential maximum sentence.” Leonhart then filed a pro se motion and supporting affidavit to withdraw his guilty plea because the trial court purportedly accepted his plea without ensuring that he understood his right to have the court require the state to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and that his plea was not voluntary because of his mental illness. The trial court also denied this motion.
In September 2013, the trial court entered an amended sentencing entry in which it included an order that Leonhart pay restitution of $3, 352.51 to Lisk and specified that the kidnapping charge had been dismissed. The remainder of the entry was the same as the prior sentencing entry. This appeal ensued.
Leonhart assigns the following errors for our review:
1. The Trial [Court] Erred When It Overruled Appellant's Motions to Withdraw his Guilty Pleas.
2. The Trial Court Erred When It Did Not Merge The Offenses of Aggravated Burglary and Felonious Assault.
3. The Trial Court Erred When It Ordered that All Three Sentences Be Served Consecutively.
4. The Trial Court Erred When It Imposed Consecutive Sentences as to Counts 5 and 6 and Ordered that All Sentences ...

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