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Middlebrooks v. Carpenter

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

December 19, 2016

Donald Ray Middlebrooks, Petitioner-Appellant,
Wayne Carpenter, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee at Nashville. No. 3:03-cv-00814-William J. Haynes, Jr., District Judge.

          Paul R. Bottei, Gretchen L. Swift, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Jennifer L. Smith, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: MOORE, CLAY, and WHITE, Circuit Judges.


          KAREN NELSON MOORE, Circuit Judge.

          Petitioner-Appellant Donald Middlebrooks appeals from the district court's denial of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Middlebrooks was convicted in Tennessee state court for the 1987 kidnapping and murder of Kerrick Majors, a fourteen-year-old African American. A jury sentenced Middlebrooks to death. This is Middlebrooks's second appeal from the denial of his habeas claims. In 2010, we affirmed the district court's first dismissal of Middlebrooks's petition; the Supreme Court vacated our decision, however, in light of the Court's holding in Martinez v. Ryan, 132 S.Ct. 1309 (2012). On remand, the district court concluded that Middlebrooks was not entitled to relief under Martinez and Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S.Ct. 1911 (2013). For the reasons discussed below, we AFFIRM the district court's judgment denying Middlebrooks's habeas petition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Tennessee Supreme Court summarized the evidence presented during Middlebrooks's capital trial as follows:

[O]n the evening of Sunday, April 26, 1987, around 7:00 p.m., the victim, Kerrick Majors, a 14-year-old black male, was with four friends on Gallatin Road in East Nashville, Tennessee, when they saw a table with a "lot of stuff" being set up across the street as a flea market by three homeless street persons: the defendant, Donald Middlebrooks (a 24-year-old white male); his wife, 17-year-old Tammy Middlebrooks; and their companion, 16-year-old Roger Brewington. The five boys ran across Gallatin Road and were looking at the flea market when Tammy Middlebrooks called out, "Hey, leave our stuff alone!" The boys started running. The defendant and Brewington chased them until they caught Majors. Brewington grabbed Majors in a "sleeper hold" around his neck and head. The defendant held his hand. When Majors said, "Hey man, you know me, " Brewington responded, "Shut up, you nigger." Shannon Stewart and another of the boys, Tony Watson, saw the two men drag Majors toward the table and observed the defendant strike him in the face, knocking him to the ground. Frightened, the boys took off running. Later that evening, they reported these events to the victim's mother, who called the police.
The next afternoon, Kerrick Majors' nude body was discovered lying face up in a dry creek bed under a foam mattress in a heavily wooded area behind a drugstore on Gallatin Road in the area where the defendant and Brewington had caught Majors. A bloodstained T-shirt was tied around his neck. A red rope belt was tied around Majors' left wrist, and there was a two-inch laceration in his right wrist. Abrasions, swelling, and bruising were present on the victim's head, his left eye, his nose, his lips, and inside his mouth. An "X" with a vertical line running through it had been cut into his chest. The forensic pathologist, Dr. Charles Harlan, testified that these incisions had been made while Majors was alive. There were two deep stab wounds in the center of the body. One of these penetrated the left lung and pulmonary artery and caused the victim to bleed to death over a period of ten to thirty minutes, during part of which Majors was conscious. Investigating officers noticed a smell of urine about the face, and there were bruises and skinned areas on the back. A wooden stick with blood stains on one end was found lying close to the victim's head.
Around 1:10 a.m. on April 28, police investigators met Brewington at a doughnut shop several miles from the Gallatin Road area. Brewington directed the officers to the location of a knife with a brass knuckle handle, which was bloodstained. Dr. Harlan testified that this knife could have inflicted the deep stab wounds on the victim's body. Brewington also directed the police to a wooded area between Gallatin Road and Ellington Parkway in Nashville where, around 7:00 a.m. on April 28, Donald and Tammy Middlebrooks were apprehended at a small plywood shack. The defendant, who resisted the arresting officers, had a knife with him. He was arrested with the aid of police dogs, taken to the hospital for treatment of the dog bites, and later transported to police headquarters.
At 12:30 p.m. that day, the defendant gave a lengthy video-taped statement about his involvement in the death of Kerrick Majors. The defendant admitted participating in the beating and mistreatment of Majors, but described his role as minor and depicted Roger Brewington as the primary perpetrator of the offense. After Majors was caught, Middlebrooks said Brewington suggested they "have some fun, " and the three of them took Majors back into the woods. His hands were tied. Brewington slapped him, beat him with the knife's brass knuckles, hit him with a stick, and urinated into his mouth. The defendant admitted striking Majors with his open hand and on the leg with a switch. Defendant said that his wife Tammy had slapped Majors and burned Majors' nose with a cigarette lighter as Brewington urged her on. Brewington hit Majors on his testicles, threatened to cut "it" open, stuck a stick up Majors' anus, hit him some more with the brass knuckles, wiped the victim's blood on himself, beat his mouth and tongue with a stick, dropped the knife on him, gagged him, and slashed his wrist. Finally, when the defendant asked Brewington to stop because the victim's crying and pleading were getting on his nerves, Brewington gave the victim "the kiss of death" on the forehead. Brewington then gave the defendant the knife and told him to stab Majors. When the defendant refused, Brewington stabbed Majors. The defendant then reluctantly stabbed the victim, according to him, "to prove to Roger that I guess I was cooler" and to put Majors out of his misery. In a previous statement, however, the defendant had said that he had stabbed Majors twice. The victim's ordeal began at 7:30 p.m. and ended at 11:00 p.m. that night with the stabbing.
The next day, the defendant said he and Brewington went back to where they had left the body. Brewington kicked it and made the "X" lacerations at this time. The defendant said he then covered Majors with a foam mattress. The defendant admitted that before beating and killing Majors, he and Brewington had drunk alcohol and smoked marijuana.
The defendant presented no proof.

State v. Middlebrooks, 840 S.W.2d 317, 323-25 (Tenn. 1992).

          As we explained in our prior opinion, "[o]n the basis of this evidence, the jury convicted Middlebrooks of felony murder and aggravated kidnapping but acquitted him of first-degree premediated murder, armed robbery, and aggravated sexual battery." Middlebrooks v. Bell, 619 F.3d 526, 532 (6th Cir. 2010), cert. granted, vacated sub nom. Middlebrooks v. Colson, 132 S.Ct. 1791 (2012). The jury sentenced Middlebrooks to death. Middlebrooks, 619 F.3d at 532. "[T]he jury found two aggravating circumstances-that the murder was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel in that it involved torture or depravity of mind, and that it was committed while Middlebrooks perpetrated a felony." Id.

         The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld Middlebrooks's convictions on direct appeal but vacated Middlebrooks's death sentence, finding that the second aggravating circumstance "duplicated the offense of felony murder and therefore failed to narrow the class of death-eligible defendants under Article I, § 16 of the Tennessee Constitution." State v. Middlebrooks, 995 S.W.2d 550, 552-53 (Tenn. 1999); see also State v. Middlebrooks, 840 S.W.2d at 323.

         The Tennessee Supreme Court remanded the case for a second sentencing proceeding, and the following evidence was presented:

According to the State's proof, fourteen-year-old Majors was small for his age. He was described as a good student who loved school. He was not a violent person, nor did he carry a weapon. Since his murder, his mother's health has deteriorated. She has been on medication and will not leave the house except for doctor appointments. She has had a nervous breakdown, suffers from panic attacks, and has not been able to sleep at night since the murder. Majors' older brother blames himself for Majors' death and now suffers from mood swings. Shannon Stewart testified that he had spoken with Middlebrooks the morning of the murder. Middlebrooks had told Stewart that he was a member of the KKK, that he "hated niggers, " and that he punched a black man just for saying hello. Stewart also testified that he overheard Middlebrooks order Majors to "shut up nigger."
The defense introduced mitigation evidence as follows: Middlebrooks' cousins, James and Carol Sue Little, and his half-sister, Sharon Fuchs, testified about Middlebrooks' childhood. Middlebrooks grew up in Texas. His father died when he was four. His mother remarried and had another child, Ms. Fuchs, before she again divorced. Middlebrooks' mother either left the children at night with relatives or else would take them to bars with her.
According to the proof, Middlebrooks' mother would often bring men to the house, and the children sometimes heard or saw their mother having sex. Ms. Fuchs testified that sometimes these men would molest her while her mother watched. She further testified that she, Middlebrooks, and other children in the family were molested by different family members. For example, Middlebrooks was often left alone with a male relative who had sexually abused him, and Middlebrooks' mother would grab him between his legs and also watch him use the bathroom. According to Sharon Fuchs, the small town in which they grew up lacked counseling services or social service agencies where they could seek help for sexual abuse. According to her, no one in the family ever discussed or admitted the family's problems.
The proof further indicated that Middlebrooks was often angry and got into trouble. He was sent to a Methodist Home for Children in Waco for two years. Later, he was twice sent to prison. Between prison stays, Middlebrooks started to have seizures. On one occasion he climbed a water tower and threatened to commit suicide. He was hospitalized more than once at a mental institution.
A psychologist, Dr. Jeffrey L. Smalldon, performed neuropsychological and psychological evaluations of Middlebrooks. From these evaluations, interviews, testing, and prior education and medical records, Smalldon concluded that Middlebrooks has a severe borderline personality disorder. Middlebrooks exhibited several characteristics of the disorder including inconsistent behavior, instability of mood, a marked identity disturbance, impulsive and reckless behavior, poor anger control, and recurring suicidal or self-destructive acts. Smalldon testified that the documents from other mental health professionals who have evaluated Middlebrooks indicate that he suffers from substance abuse, psychotic personality disorder, and schizophrenia. Middlebrooks also suffers a mild degree of organic brain impairment which causes him to be more impulsive and less able to delay his responses. Finally, Smalldon testified that Middlebrooks has also exhibited characteristics of adults who were sexually abused as children.
During cross-examination, Dr. Smalldon admitted that Middlebrooks confessed to a greater involvement in Majors' death than he had in the video-taped confession. For instance, Smalldon disclosed that Middlebrooks admitted to him that it was his idea to hold Majors for ransom, that he helped tie Majors up, and that he urinated on Majors. In an attempt to resolve the discrepancies between the videotaped confession to the police and the confession made to him in the interview, Smalldon explained that Middlebrooks is a chronic liar. Dr. Smalldon conceded that Middlebrooks had never expressed any remorse to him. Smalldon agreed that there were some indications in the medical records of Middlebrooks' malingering, but testified that these indications were not inconsistent with mental illness.
In rebuttal, the State introduced the testimony of two experts indicating that Middlebrooks was exaggerating his mental illness symptoms, that he was competent to stand trial, that he did not have a defense of insanity, and that he was not committable. One expert testified that he could not say whether Middlebrooks was mentally ill. The other expert testified that he made no finding of mental illness and did not consider a personality disorder to be a mental illness.

State v. Middlebrooks, 995 S.W.2d at 554-56. Following the presentation of this evidence, the jury found "that the murder was 'especially heinous, atrocious, or cruel in that it involved torture or depravity of mind, '" and that this "outweighed the evidence of mitigating factors." Id. at 556 (quoting Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-2-203(i)(5)). Middlebrooks was resentenced to death, and this sentence was affirmed on direct appeal by the Tennessee Supreme Court. See id. at 553.

         Middlebrooks filed a petition for postconviction relief in state court in November 1999. Appellee App. at 1. Middlebrooks raised several grounds for relief in his petition, including numerous arguments that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. See id. at 8-9. After an evidentiary hearing, the state court dismissed Middlebrooks's petition in July 2001. Id. at 47. Middlebrooks appealed, and the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. Middlebrooks v. State, No. M2001-01865-CCA-R3-PD, 2003 WL 61244, at *13 (Tenn. Ct. Crim. App. Jan. 9, 2003).

         Middlebrooks filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal district court in 2003, and amended his petition in 2004. See Appellant App. at 168. The district court denied relief on May 26, 2005, finding that many of Middlebrooks's claims were procedurally defaulted and others were non-meritorious. See id. at 206-83. The district court denied a Certificate of Appealability ("COA") for all of Middlebrooks's claims. Id. at 283; see also Middlebrooks v. Bell, No. 3:03-0814, 2007 WL 760441 (M.D. Tenn. Mar. 8, 2007). We granted a COA on seven ...

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