United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
OPINION AND ORDER
HONORABLE RONALD A. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
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.
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.
sets forth six grounds for relief within the § 2254
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.
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
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
A. Petitioner's direct appeal brief.
B. State's brief in Petitioner's direct appeal.
C. Summary Opinion affirming Petitioner's judgment and
D. Motion to supplement appeal record.
F. State court record.
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;
(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).
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.
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.
was born in January of 1979 and was an adult at the time of
the above offenses. [Doc. 17-2 at 4-5].
I: The record establishes that Petitioner was not competent
when the criminal proceedings were resumed.
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].
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
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.
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.
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
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
Id. at 18-19.
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.
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.
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 ...