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Bethel v. Bobby

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

March 28, 2018

Robert Bethel, Petitioner,
David Bobby, Warden Respondent.

          OPINION & ORDER


         This matter is before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's May 1, 2017 Decision and Order denying Petitioner's Motion for an Evidentiary Hearing. (Doc. 96). Petitioner filed objections to the Decision and Order (Doc. 100); and the Warden filed a response to Petitioner's objections (Doc. 101). This Court then recommitted the matter for a supplemental opinion, which the Magistrate Judge entered on July 27, 2017. (Doc. 106). Petitioner filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Supplemental Opinion. (Doc. 111).

         For the reasons stated below, the Court OVERRULES in PART and SUSTAINS in PART Petitioner's Objections to the Magistrate Judge's May 1, 2017 Decision and Order and July 27, 2017 Supplemental Opinion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is a capital habeas petition brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In 2003, Petitioner was found guilty of murdering James Reynold and Shannon Hawks. The Magistrate Judge has set forth the factual background and the procedural history of Petitioner's claims. (See Doc. 106, PAGEID #8647-8652). The Court will not repeat the same here, except to the extent necessary to address Petitioner's objections.

         Petitioner filed a Motion for an Evidentiary Hearing on his Fifteenth Ground for relief. In his Fifteenth Ground, Petitioner claims that he “was denied due process and a fair trial under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments when the State failed for provide him with favorable evidence that was material to his defense.” This claim is centered on a report obtained by a private investigator following a public records request on the Columbus Police “for any and all records in the possession of the Columbus Division of Police concerning Robert Bethel's case.” (Doc. 55-7, PAGEID #4610). This report was authored by Daniel Ozbolt, a Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (“ATF”) Special Agent. In Petitioner's state court proceedings, the Franklin County Court of Appeals explained:

In the report entitled “CHAVIS, Jeremy, ” Agent Ozbolt indicates he was contacted by Shannon Williams (“Williams”), an inmate at the Franklin County Jail. According to the report, Williams stated fellow inmate Langbein told Williams that “he was involved in a homicide with an individual who is now incarcerated at the Federal Penn., Ashland, KY, where the victim was shot seventeen times” and that “the other individual who was arrested was the driver following the homicide.” Williams stated he knew of no other details, but would “keep his ears open for further information.” Because Chavis was incarcerated in the federal prison in Kentucky at this time, appellant contends this statement amounts to a “confession” that Langbein, not appellant, was the person who committed the murders with Chavis.

(Doc. 11- 4, PAGEID #238).

         Petitioner claims that the Ozbolt report should have been disclosed to his trial attorneys under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The Ozbolt report was the basis of a previous Motion for Discovery, which the Magistrate Judge denied. (Docs. 69, 85). The denial of that Motion and the current Motion for an Evidentiary Hearing rest on the Ohio courts' rejection of Petitioner's Brady claim. In denying the Motion for an Evidentiary Hearing, the Magistrate Judge explained that the Ohio courts' decision that the Ozbolt report was not Brady material was entitled to AEDPA deference. Accordingly, the Magistrate Judge in both that decision and the decision on the Motion for Evidentiary Hearing analyzed whether the state court judgment “resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States” or “resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The Magistrate Judge concluded that the Ohio courts' decision was neither an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, nor an unreasonable determination of the facts. The Magistrate Judge also found that based on the Ohio courts' denial of Petitioner's Motion for New Trial Based on Newly Discovered Evidence, Petitioner's Brady claim was procedurally defaulted and his Fifteenth Ground should eventually be dismissed.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Applicable standards

         This Court shall consider objections to a magistrate judge's order on a nondispositive matter and “shall modify or set aside any portion of the magistrate judge's order found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). “A finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” United States v. Mabry, 518 F.3d 442, 449 (6th Cir.2008) (quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395, 68 S.Ct. 525, 92 L.Ed. 746 (1948)).

         The Supreme Court has explained that in deciding whether to grant an evidentiary hearing:

a federal court must consider whether such a hearing could enable an applicant to prove the petition's factual allegations, which, if true, would entitle the applicant to federal habeas relief. Mayes v. Gibson, 210 F.3d 1284, 1287 (10th Cir. 2000)). Because the deferential standards prescribed by § 2254 control whether to grant habeas relief, a federal court must take into account those standards in deciding whether an evidentiary hearing is appropriate. See id., at 1287-1288 (“Whether [an applicant's] allegations, if proven, would entitle him to habeas relief is a question governed by [AEDPA]”).
It follows that if the record refutes the applicant's factual allegations or otherwise precludes habeas relief, a district court is not required to hold an evidentiary hearing.

Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474, 127 S.Ct. 1933, 1940, 167 L.Ed.2d 836 2007) (footnote omitted).

         B. ...

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