United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge United States District
Derek Rene Edmonds petitions for writ of habeas corpus, ECF
No. 1. Respondent Warden Aaron Smith answered in opposition,
ECF No. 15. The magistrate judge made findings of fact,
conclusions of law, and a recommendation (“report and
recommendation”), ECF No. 21. Edmonds objects to the
report and recommendation, ECF No. 23. The Warden did not
reasons below, the Court will adopt the magistrate
judge's report and recommendation in full. The Court will
deny Edmonds' petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The
Court will deny Edmonds a certificate of appealability.
Magistrate Judge's Factual Findings
petitions for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §
2254. Pet. 1, ECF No. 1. He challenges his state court
conviction for the 2004 robbery, sodomy, and murder of
Clifton Agnew. R. & R. 1, ECF No. 21. The jury found that
Edmonds and his younger brother, Dwayne Edmonds, and Tyreese
Hall found Agnew sleeping in an alley behind the Salvation
Army in Louisville, Kentucky. Id. The evidence
produced at trial showed that the three men robbed Agnew.
Id. Then Edmonds and Hall kicked, punched, and
stabbed him. Id. They hit him in the head with a
crockpot. Id. Then they repeatedly impaled him on a
27-inch long wooden stick, which punctured his rectum and
left lung. Id. Agnew never regained consciousness
and died nearly eight weeks later from his injuries.
denied all the charges. Id. The jury convicted Hall
and Edmonds for murder, first-degree robbery, and
first-degree sodomy. Id. at 1-2. Edmonds was
sentenced to life without the possibility of parole or
probation for murder, 20 years for first-degree robbery, and
a corrected sentence of life for first-degree sodomy,
following appeal. Id. at 2.
and Hall appealed directly to the Supreme Court of Kentucky.
Id. Their convictions were affirmed, although the
court altered Edmonds' sentence for first-degree sodomy.
Id. Hall petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Id. In 2012, the
District Court for the Western District of Kentucky denied
Hall's petition. Id. The Sixth Circuit affirmed
the denial. Id. Edmonds moved in the Jefferson
County, Kentucky Circuit Court to vacate his judgment.
Edmonds v. Commonwealth, No. 2013-CA-001467-MR, 2015
WL 865440, at *1 (Ky. Ct. App. Feb. 27, 2015). The Jefferson
Circuit Court denied his motion. Id. In 2015, the
Court of Appeals of Kentucky affirmed that denial.
Id. at *3. The Supreme Court of Kentucky denied
Edmonds' motion for discretionary review later that year.
Id. Edmonds brought the instant petition in November
of 2015. Pet. 1, ECF No. 1.
Magistrate Judge's Conclusions of Law and
raises eight constitutional claims in his petition. First, he
argues that the state trial court violated his due process
rights when it limited each defendant to a jury voir dire of
two minutes per prospective juror, prohibited defense counsel
from asking leading questions, and prohibited defense counsel
from asking questions related to specific types of
mitigation. Pet. 12- 14, ECF No. 1. Second, he argues that
the trial court violated the same constitutional rights
during jury selection when it failed to grant his “for
cause” challenges to certain jurors and when all
African-American jurors were struck from the jury.
Id. at 15-18. Third, Edmonds argues that the trial
court violated the same constitutional rights when it
permitted a prosecution witness, Kaye Thomas, to testify
during the guilt phase about her observations of the comatose
victim and the outpouring of public support for him.
Id. at 19-22. Fourth, he argues that the trial court
violated the same constitutional rights when it instructed
the jury not to consider an eye-witness identification of
Hall that failed to identify Edmonds at the crime scene.
Id. at 23-24. Fifth, Edmonds argues that the trial
court violated the same constitutional rights and his First
Amendment right to freedom of religion when it refused to
allow his defense counsel to compare Edmonds to Jesus Christ
at the crucifixion or to contrast Edmonds with more notorious
criminals like Jack the Ripper, Jeffrey Dahmer, or John Wayne
Gacy. Id. at 25-27. Sixth, Edmonds argues that the
trial court violated his due process rights when it denied
him full access to Hall's psychiatric records.
Id. at 28-30. Seventh, Edmonds argues that the trial
court violated the same constitutional rights when it failed
to find him mentally incompetent to stand trial and also
apparently told Edmonds that he could not testify in his own
defense. Id. at 31-33. Eighth, Edmonds argues that
both his trial and appellate attorneys repeatedly rendered
ineffective assistance. Id. at 34.
magistrate judge concluded that Edmonds' first four
grounds for relief are precluded by the “law of the
case” doctrine because they were raised by Hall in his
petition for a writ of habeas corpus. R. & R. 3, ECF No.
21. As to the other grounds, the magistrate judge concluded
that they were either reasonably rejected on their merits in
the state courts or were procedurally defaulted. Id.
at 4. Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended that
Edmonds' petition be denied and that he be denied a
certificate of appealability. Id.
objects to the magistrate judge's report and
recommendation. Obj. R. & R., ECF No. 23. This Court
“must determine de novo any proposed finding or
recommendation to which objection is made.” Rule 8 of
the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases. This Court “may
accept, reject, or modify any proposed finding or
recommendation.” Id. The Court has conducted a
de novo review of the issues discussed in Edmonds'
petition, the Warden's response in opposition, the
magistrate judge's report and recommendation, and
Edmonds' objections. The Court finds that the magistrate
judge has conducted a thorough analysis in his 67-page report
and recommendation. For the purpose of clarity, the Court
will not rehash every conclusion that the magistrate judge
made. The Court will, however, address specific arguments
that Edmonds made in his objection.
Edmonds objects to the magistrate judge's reliance on the
outcome of Hall's petition for a writ of habeas corpus in
dismissing the first four grounds of Edmonds' petition.
Obj. R. & R. 1-3, ECF No. 23. Edmonds argues that his
petition is distinguishable from Hall's petition because
Hall pleaded guilty in his criminal trial. Id.
Edmonds is mistaken. Hall did not plead guilty. Rather, he
agreed to testify in exchange for a guarantee that the state
would not pursue a sentence of “life without the
possibility of parole.” R. & R. 7, ECF No. 21; App.
165- 66, ECF No. 15-1. Thus, Edmonds' petition is not
wholly distinguishable from Hall's petition. As the
magistrate judge concluded, the “law of the case”
doctrine applies and Edmonds is precluded from obtaining
relief on the first four grounds of his petition. The Court
will overrule this objection.
Edmonds objects to the magistrate judge's conclusion on
Edmonds' fifth ground for relief. Obj. R. & R. 3, ECF
No. 23. Edmonds appears to argue that his counsel should have
been permitted to contrast Edmonds with Jack the Ripper,
Jeffrey Dahmer, and John Wayne Gacy to rebut the
prosecution's case. Id. This argument is no
different than what Edmonds has argued before. As the
magistrate judge pointed out, the trial judge enjoys broad
discretion over the manner and content of closing argument.
R. & R. 35, ECF No. 21 (citing Herring v. New
York, 422 U.S. 853, 862 (1975)). Edmonds fails to show
that fair-minded jurists could not reasonably debate that the
decision of the state court here was contrary to or an