Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Eldridge v. Bear

United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma

September 3, 2019

WILLIE EARL ELDRIDGE, Petitioner,
v.
CARL BEAR, Warden, Respondent.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE RONALD A. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter is before the court on Petitioner's petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for writ of habeas corpus by a person in state custody. [Doc. 4]. A brief in support of the § 2254 petition was also filed with the court. [Doc. 12]. Petitioner, a prisoner in the custody of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, is currently incarcerated at the Joseph Harp Correctional Center in Lexington, Oklahoma.

         Petitioner is attacking his conviction and sentence in Atoka County District Court No. CF-2013-16, for one count of first degree rape of a child under the age of fourteen (21 O.S.2011, § 1114(A)(1)), 22 counts of forcible sodomy (21 O.S.2011, § 888), and eight counts of lewd molestation of a child under the age of twelve (21 O.S.2011, § 1123). In that case, he was sentenced to 40 years of imprisonment for one count of first degree rape, 25 years of imprisonment on each count of lewd molestation, and 20 years of imprisonment on each count of forcible sodomy. He is also attacking his conviction and a 40-year sentence in another case, Atoka County District Court No. CF-2013-78, for one count of first degree rape (21 O.S.2011, § 1114(A)(5)). The state court ordered the sentences in both cases to be served concurrently, resulting in a total imprisonment time of 40 years.

         Petitioner sets forth six grounds for relief within the § 2254 petition:

I. The record establishes that Petitioner was not competent when the criminal proceedings were resumed.
II. Petitioner was denied the effective assistance of counsel in the post-competency examination hearing, resulting in his being forced to trial while incompetent.
III. Petitioner's trial counsel was operating under a conflict of interest in representing both Petitioner as well as Petitioner's older brother.
IV. The Information was vague.
V. The sentence was excessive.
VI. Cumulative error.

         Respondent filed a response on November 14, 2016. [Doc. 16]. Respondent concedes that the § 2254 petition is timely filed and that Petitioner has exhausted his state court remedies for the purpose of federal habeas corpus review. Id. at 2.[1] The grounds for relief asserted herein were also presented to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals (“OCCA”). The following have been submitted for consideration in this matter:

A. Petitioner's direct appeal brief.
B. State's brief in Petitioner's direct appeal.
C. Summary Opinion affirming Petitioner's judgment and sentence.
D. Motion to supplement appeal record.
E. Transcripts.
F. State court record.

         Standard of Review

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, federal habeas corpus relief is proper only when the state court adjudication of a claim:

(1) 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
(2) 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).

         Factual Background

         The first victim in this case, A.J., was born in July of 1998. [Doc. 17-6 at 14]. Petitioner is the former step-uncle of A.J. Id. at 15-16. Petitioner's older brother, Loyd Eldridge, Sr., was A.J.'s step-father. Id. Petitioner lived with his parents in Atoka County, Oklahoma, and was a babysitter for A.J. and her younger brother. Id. at 17. On occasion, Petitioner's parents were present when he babysat A.J. and her brother, and sometimes it was just the children and Petitioner. Id. at 18. When A.J. was around six or seven years old, Petitioner raped her in his bedroom. Id. at 22-23. He also repeatedly sodomized and sexually molested A.J. during the time when she was approximately six to twelve years old. Id. at 19-31.

         The other victim in this case, K.E., was born in April of 1998. Id. at 67. Petitioner is K.E.'s uncle. Id. K.E. suffers from spina bifida and is paralyzed from the knees down. Id. at 78. When K.E. was about ten or eleven years old, she was at Petitioner's house with A.J. Id. at 70. Petitioner took K.E. into his bedroom and raped her. Id. at 68-72, 75-81.

         Petitioner was born in January of 1979 and was an adult at the time of the above offenses. [Doc. 17-2 at 4-5].

         Ground I: The record establishes that Petitioner was not competent when the criminal proceedings were resumed.

         Relying upon cases such as Medina v. California, 505 U.S. 437 (1992), Dusky v. United States, 362 U.S. 402 (1960) (per curiam), and Cooper v. Oklahoma, 517 U.S 348 (1996), Petitioner argues that he was incompetent to stand trial. [Doc. 12 at 17-24]. In short, Petitioner was evaluated by a forensic psychologist, Shawn Roberson, Ph.D. Dr. Roberson prepared a report with findings that Petitioner was competent to stand trial. [Doc. 17-8 at 20-30]. The following year, Petitioner was convicted of all charges following a bench trial. In Ground I, Petitioner argues that the report did not include any information that indicated he was presently competent, but only that it was possible for him to become competent. [Doc. 12 at 18].

         Scrutinizing the report, Petitioner highlights prior scores from four intelligence quotient (“IQ”) tests that were previously administered in public schools, ranging from a low of 75 to a high of 81, along with the IQ score of 66 from Dr. Roberson's test, suggesting that the scores prove incompetence. Id. at 20-21. Petitioner also points out that Dr. Roberson administered the Competence Assessment for Standing Trial for Defendants with Mental Retardation test, noting that Petitioner scored “below the norm for those in the ‘retardation-incompetent' group in his understanding of basic legal concepts and skills to assist in his defense.” Id. at 21. Petitioner ultimately concludes that Dr. Roberson's findings “indicated that [Petitioner] was not competent at the time of the examination, but that he could achieve competence depending on how trial counsel interacted with him.” Id. at 23. He then argues that “[t]his is the crux of the matter __there is no evidence in the record that trial counsel did any of these things, and in fact as outlined below, [Petitioner] asserts that trial counsel was ineffective.” Id.

         In response, Respondent claims Petitioner's Ground I must be denied because Petitioner fails to show the finding by the OCCA was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of, Supreme Court precedent, or an unreasonable determination of the facts. [Doc. 16 at 7-8, 13]. Respondent first asserts that competency to stand trial is a factual issue within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Id. at 8. Relying upon the reasoning in Thompson v. Keohane, 516 U.S. 99, 111 (1995), Respondent argues that “a trial court is better positioned to make decisions regarding factual issues such as competency and has accorded the judgment of the jurist-observer ‘presumptive weight.' ” Id. Then, citing Gilbert v. State, 951 P.2d 98, 103 (Okla. Crim. App. 1997), Respondent reminds the court that, under Oklahoma law, a defendant “is presumed to be competent to stand trial and has the burden of proving his incompetence.” Id. at 9. Next, Respondent asserts that Petitioner “did not present any information at trial, and presented none on appeal, that would show he did not have sufficient ability to consult with his lawyer or that he did not have a rational and actual understanding of the proceedings against him.” Id. at 11. Respondent argues that “[a]t most, Petitioner cites examples of his low intelligence which do not automatically equate to incompetence.” Id. Lastly, Respondent contends that Petitioner's claims are general and speculative assertions, that Petitioner has “presented nothing to rebut the findings of Dr. Roberson that he was competent to stand trial, ” and that “Petitioner's limited intelligence notwithstanding, he failed to show by a preponderance of the evidence that he was legally incompetent to stand trial.” Id. at 13.

         The OCCA rejected Petitioner's claim on direct appeal, finding as follows:

As to Proposition I, Appellant's request for a competency evaluation was granted without objection by the State. The forensic psychologist concluded that Appellant, while suffering from intellectual deficits, was nevertheless competent to proceed. Appellant then waived his right to a trial on the issue. He offers no convincing reason for this Court to question either the examiner's findings, or his own ability to waive further challenge to same. Doyle v. State, 1989 OK CR 85, ¶¶ 19-25, 785 P.2d 317, 324-26; Kiser v. State, 1989 OK CR 76, ¶¶ 6-10, 782 P.2d 405, 407-09. Proposition I is denied.

Eldridge, slip op. at 2.

         After carefully reviewing the documents filed herein, this court agrees. On February 13, 2013, Petitioner appeared with his attorney of record, Ryan Rennie, at the Preliminary Hearing Conference in the District Court for Atoka County, Oklahoma. [Doc. 17-8 at 17]. At Petitioner's request, and with no objection from the State, the Honorable Judge Preston Harbuck ordered a competency evaluation. Id. The criminal proceedings were stayed until further order of the court. Id. The court specifically ordered that the Petitioner “be examined by a qualified forensic evaluator with the intent to determine if [Petitioner] suffers from a mental illness or DDSD pursuant to Title 43A of the Oklahoma Statutes.” Id. at 18. The court further ordered that the qualified forensic examiner shall examine Petitioner and answer the following questions:

1. If the person is able to appreciate the nature of the charges made against such person;
2. If the person is able to consult with the lawyer and rationally assist in the preparation of the defense of such person;
3. If the person is unable to appreciate the nature of the charges or to consult and rationally assist in the preparation of the defense, whether the person can attain competency within a reasonable period of time as defined in Section 1175.1 of this title if provided with a course of treatment, therapy or training;
4. If the person is a person requiring treatment as defined by Section 1-103 of Title 43A of the Oklahoma Statutes;
5. If the person is incompetent because the person is mentally retarded as defined in Section 1408 of Title 10 of the Oklahoma Statutes;
6. If the answers to questions 4 and 5 are “No”, why Defendant is incompetent; [and]
7. If the person were released, whether such person would presently be dangerous as defined in Section 1175.1 of this title.

Id. at 18-19.

         Soon thereafter, Dr. Roberson examined Petitioner on an outpatient basis. He reviewed the criminal complaint information and probable cause affidavit, along with available medical and educational records. Dr. Roberson also interviewed several witnesses, including Petitioner's mother, Petitioner's attorney, and a staff member at the Atoka County Detention Center. A ten-page report was prepared and submitted to Judge Harbuck on March 29, 2013. [Doc. 17-8 at 20-30]. Ultimately, and of particular importance herein, Dr. Roberson provided the following report summary:

Mr. Eldridge's intelligence was consistently tested to be in the high Borderline (between Mental Retardation and Low Average) to low Average ranges while in school; though currently it tested in the range of Mild Mental Retardation. Mental Retardation must have an onset prior to age 18 and the available data does not support that Mr. Eldridge meets diagnostic criteria. I suspect that his current score was depressed due to his current situation. During the current evaluation Mr. Eldridge's responses supported that he appreciated the nature of the charges against him. He demonstrated a poor understanding of basic legal and case information. However, given his lower than average intelligence and lack of experience with the criminal justice system, this may be remediated through a meeting with his attorney. In addition, a Borderline to Low Average range of intelligence is not associated with incompetence. Therefore, it is the opinion of this examiner that he can consult with his attorney and rationally assist in his defense.

Id. at 28-29.

         On April 10, 2013, at the Post-Competency hearing, Petitioner was once again present in state court with his attorney. [Doc. 17-8 at 32]. The parties announced that they had reviewed the report from Dr. Roberson. [Doc. 17-1 at 3]. Petitioner answered questions from Mr. Rennie, waived his right to a competency trial, and stipulated to post competency evaluation. Id. at 3-5. Judge Harbuck accepted the stipulation and Petitioner was found competent. Id. at 5-6.

         Separate preliminary hearings for each case were held on June 26, 2013. Before the hearings began, and once again in the presence of Judge Harbuck, counsel informed Petitioner of the range of punishment for each charge. Petitioner answered questions from counsel and also rejected a plea offer of 30 years of imprisonment in both cases to run concurrently. [Doc. 17-3 at 3-6]. K.E. and a sheriff's employee testified at the preliminary hearing in No. CF-2013-78 and Petitioner was bound over for trial on the Information as charged. Id. at 42. Only A.J. testified at the preliminary hearing in No. CF-2013-16, and at its conclusion, Judge Harbuck ordered Petitioner to ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.