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United States v. Slone

United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Southern Division, London

August 13, 2019

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff/Respondent,
v.
EUGENE SLONE, Defendant/Petitioner.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Recommended Dispositions filed by United States Magistrate Judge Hanly A. Ingram. The Defendant, Eugene Slone, first filed a pro se motion to vacate his sentence pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2255. [R. 747.] Judge Ingram reviewed the motion, and prepared a Recommended Disposition. [R. 840.] Mr. Slone filed objections to this Recommendation. [R. 844.] The United States filed a response to those objections. [R. 845.]

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(2), a petitioner has fourteen days after service to register any objections to the Recommended Disposition or else waive his rights to appeal. In order to receive de novo review by this Court, any objection to the recommended disposition must be specific. Mira v. Marshall, 806 F.2d 636, 637 (6th Cir. 1986). A specific objection “explain[s] and cite[s] specific portions of the report which [counsel] deem[s] problematic.” Robert v. Tesson, 507 F.3d 981, 994 (6th Cir. 2007). A general objection that fails to identify specific factual or legal issues from the recommendation, however, is not permitted, since it duplicates the Magistrate's efforts and wastes judicial economy. Howard v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). When no objections are made, however, this Court is not required to “review . . . a magistrate's factual or legal conclusions, under a de novo or any other standard . . . .” Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). Parties who fail to object to a Magistrate's report and recommendation are also barred from appealing a district court's order adopting that report and recommendation. United States v. Walters, 638 F.2d 947 (6th Cir. 1981).

         Mr. Slone filed timely objections to the initial Recommended Disposition. [R. 844.] The Court acknowledges its duty to review Mr. Slone's filings under a more lenient standard than the one applied to attorneys because he is proceeding pro se. See Franklin v. Rose, 765 F.2d 82, 84-85 (6th Cir. 1985). Under this more lenient construction, the objections are sufficiently definite to trigger the Court's obligation to conduct a de novo review. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(c). The Court has satisfied that duty, reviewing the entire record, including the pleadings, the parties' arguments, relevant case law and statutory authority, as well as applicable procedural rules. For the following reasons, Mr. Slone's objections will be OVERRULED.

         I

         Judge Ingram sets forth the factual and procedural background of the case in his initial Recommended Disposition. The Court mentions only key facts to frame its discussion and analysis, incorporating Judge Ingram's discussion of the record into this Order.

         Mr. Slone was charged with one count of conspiring to distribute oxycodone. [R. 1.] Afterwards, he hired Brandon Storm to represent him. [R. 13.] A Superseding Indictment was then issued in August that added eleven codefendants. [R. 18.] Two months later, Slone added Martin Pinales and Candace Crouse to his defense team. [R. 117, 118.] Then, in December 2012, a Second Superseding Indictment was issued, which charged Slone with “killing with the intent to retaliate for providing information to law enforcement.” [R. 129; R. 840 at 2.] As a result of these charges, the government informed Slone's attorneys that it intended to seek the death penalty and moved the Court to declare the case complex. [R. 148.] So, Slone's counsel asked the Court to appoint an attorney with capital litigation experience, i.e. learned counsel. [R. 165.] The Court granted the government's request to deem the case “complex” under the Speedy Trial Act. [R. 174.] And, the Court appointed David Baugh as learned counsel for Slone. [R. 199.] Slone moved unsuccessfully to dismiss the Second Superseding Indictment. [R. 324, 357.] After a presentation to the Capital Crimes Unit, the government filed notice that it would not seek the death penalty. [R. 431.] As a result, Mr. Baugh withdrew as counsel. [R. 437.]

         Again, in February 2014, Mr. Slone made a motion, accompanied by a Speedy Trial waiver[1], for the Court to declare the case complex. [R. 499.] Mr. Slone's request was granted. [R. 456.] As the case prolonged, Mr. Slone exhausted his retainer and the Court appointed Mr. Storm and Ms. Crouse as counsel under the Criminal Justice Act. [R. 475.] Mr. Slone moved for another continuance in September 2014, attended by a Speedy Trial waiver, to November. [R. 513, 518.] The trial then received its final date of January 20, 2015. [R. 523.]

         A week before trial, the defense learned for the first time who the United States' witnesses were and what they said about Mr. Slone's involvement in the murders. [R. 778-3 at 8.] As a result of discussions about these materials, Mr. Slone asked for a plea deal. Id. Mr. Slone was offered a 25-year binding plea sentence in exchange for pleading guilty to all three counts-a “per se lenient” sentence. [R. 635; R. 747-7 at 28-29.]

         Then, on January 16, 2015, Mr. Slone pleaded guilty in front of Judge Thapar. [R. 633.] For the murders in Counts Two and Three, Mr. Slone admitted that:

(b) On June 25, 2012, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents executed a search warrant at the residence of Ruth Beckner in Manchester, Kentucky, where the Defendant also lived. As a result of this search, the Defendant believed that someone had provided information to federal agents regarding his oxycodone distribution activities. The Defendant and others ultimately concluded that those informants were Davey Sparkman and Keisha Sexton.
(c) After the DEA's search on June 25, 2012, the Defendant conspired and agreed with others to kill Davey Sparkman and Keisha Sexton in retaliation for their believed cooperation with law enforcement. Specifically, the Defendant provided cash to another member of the conspiracy as payment to kill Sparkman and Sexton. On July 19, 2012, the Defendant contacted Sparkman and Sexton and directed them to an abandoned mine site in Knott County, Kentucky, for a meeting. The Defendant did so with the specific knowledge that members of the conspiracy would be waiting to kill them upon their arrival. When Sparkman and Sexton arrived, they were shot to death and the vehicle they were riding in was set on fire.

[R. 840 at 3] [citing D.E. 635 at 3.] Mr. Slone's plea deal also included a broad waiver provision that precluded any right to collaterally attack his plea, conviction, or sentence except for claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Id. at 3-4. On May 19, 2015, Mr. Slone was sentenced to 300 months imprisonment with no presentence report. [R. 715, 718.]

         On May 12, 2016, Mr. Slone filed his Motion to Vacate pursuant to § 2255, alleging four claims relating to ineffective assistance of counsel. [R. 747.] Because key facts were in dispute an evidentiary hearing was held. [R. 799.] Mr. Slone was appointed counsel for that hearing. [R. 804.] During the hearing Mr. Slone, Mr. Storm and Ms. Crouse testified, and were questioned by both sides. [R. 822.] Despite not hearing each other's testimonies, Mr. Storm and Ms. Crouse's testimonies were consistent. Mr. Slone's testimony, on the other hand, contradicted his motion and affidavits. [R. 747 at 14; 747-1 at 8; R. 786 at 21.] Included in these contradictions was his live retraction of the written allegation that Mr. Storm coached him to lie at his rearraignment hearing. [R. 824 at 43, 67-68.] Mr. Slone also contradicted the sworn testimony of his rearraignment when he claimed to be innocent at the evidentiary hearing. [R. 837 at 4-5; R. 825 at 38-39.] And, Mr. Slone's proclamations of innocence contradict his interview with Agent Richard Dalrymple. [R. 825 at 81-89.] Agent Dalrymple's report conveyed Mr. Slone's confession that he paid $10, 000 to kill Davey Sparkman. Id. at 87.

         On November 9, 2017, Judge Ingram issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending all of Mr. Slone's claims be denied. [R. 840.] Mr. Slone objected to that Recommendation. [R. 844.] The ...


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