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Owens v. Parris

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 30, 2019

Lonnie Lee Owens, Petitioner-Appellee,
v.
Mike Parris, Warden, Respondent-Appellant.

          Argued: March 20, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Winchester. No. 4:14-cv-00018-Harry S. Mattice, Jr., District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Richard D. Douglas, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Kasdin M. Mitchell, KIRKLAND & ELLIS LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Richard D. Douglas, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Kasdin M. Mitchell, KIRKLAND & ELLIS LLP, Washington, D.C., for Appellee.

          Lonnie Lee Owens, Tiptonville, Tennessee, pro se.

          Before: McKEAGUE, KETHLEDGE, and THAPAR, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          Kethledge, Circuit Judge.

         Lonnie Lee Owens covered his estranged wife's nose and mouth with duct tape, hogtied her arms and legs behind her back, and left her alone in a shed to die. A Tennessee jury convicted Owens of second-degree murder. The trial judge increased Owens's sentence based in part on the judge's finding that a sentencing enhancement was warranted for "exceptional cruelty." Owens now seeks federal habeas relief, arguing that the Sixth Amendment required the jury, rather than the judge, to make that finding. The district court agreed and granted the writ. We hold that the state court's error was harmless, and reverse.

         I.

         Owens and his wife Heather separated in September 2002 and agreed to share custody of their two young children. Soon thereafter, Owens screamed at Heather that, if she took their children away from him, he would kill her. ...


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