The federal 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently denied habeas corpus relief for a death row inmate after finding that he presented no new arguments in a second motion for habeas relief.
The ruling vacated the judgment of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Dayton, which had denied the Rule 60(B) motion of Antonio Franklin based on its merits.
The 6th Circuit court held that the district court did not have jurisdiction to consider the motion in the first place.
Franklin was 19 years old in 1997 when he was arrested and charged for the murders of his grandparents and uncle.
According to court documents, Franklin escaped his alcoholic mother’s abuse as an adolescent by moving in with this grandparents in Dayton.
As he approached the age of 17, his behavior began to change and he began to exhibit signs of mental illness, at one point expressing a fear that he would be abducted by extraterrestrials.
On another occasion, he showed up at his girlfriend’s mother’s home in the middle of the night, appearing dazed and confused. He also began using marijuana, which caused a rift between him and his grandparents.
Case summary states that, on April 17, 1997, Franklin’s grandparents and his uncle informed him that he would have to find his own place to live.
Later that evening, Franklin and his uncle got into an argument during which Franklin picked up a baseball bat and attacked his uncle.
Court documents state that Franklin then turned on his grandparents and after severely beating all three of the adults in the home, he grabbed a gun and shot his grandmother in the head, killing her.
Franklin then set fire to the house, leaving his grandfather and uncle to die as he fled to Tennessee in his grandfather’s car with some of his grandmother’s jewelry in his pocket.
He was promptly apprehended by state police and confessed his role in the killings.
Upon being returned to Ohio, Franklin faced six counts of aggravated arson, two counts of aggravated robbery and six counts of aggravated murder to which he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.
After being found competent to stand trial, Franklin engaged in various forms of disruptive behavior during the proceedings.
Court records indicate that he flashed gang signs at the jury, belched loudly, repeatedly interrupted the judge, and played shadow puppets in light cast upon a screen that showed slides of his deceased family members and the burned house in which they died.
In light of the overwhelming evidence of his guilt, Franklin was found guilty and sentenced to death.
In his direct appeal, Franklin argued that his trial attorneys were ineffective for failing to request a new competency hearing in the middle of his trial because his behavior should have alerted them to the fact that he was incompetent.
He also pointed to statements from his attorney that he was unable to assist in his own defense and an expert witness who consistently testified that Franklin suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.
The Ohio Supreme Court, however, upheld Franklin’s convictions, ruling that the jury had heard evidence of Franklin’s mental illness and that the strange behavior that the defendant exhibited during trial “illustrated a pattern of rudeness rather than incompetence to stand trial.”
Franklin made the same ineffective assistance of counsel argument in postconviction motions in state court and then in the district court, presenting new evidence consisting of affidavits from trial counsel and a new psychologist.
“Franklin claimed that his trial attorneys had been ineffective for their failure to seek ‘another competency hearing when (he) was unable to assist them or maintain decorum during the guilt phase of trial,’” Judge Danny Boggs wrote on behalf of the 6th Circuit court’s three-judge appellate panel. “Although Franklin’s habeas application was governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the district court conducted an evidentiary hearing in accordance with the prevailing law prior to Cullen v. Pinholster.”
At the hearing, Franklin called his trial lawyers, who testified that Franklin was not “mentally, emotionally (or) intellectually at the trial” and could not assist in his defense.
“The attorneys recounted that Franklin was unable to communicate with them inside or outside of court, had no reaction to the guilty verdict whatsoever, and expressed confusion when the trial judge pronounced a death sentence,” Boggs wrote.
The circuit court’s appellate panel held that Franklin’s postconviction claim of ineffective assistance of trial counsel merely offered additional support for a claim that he already litigated.
“And, as we have explained, because district courts lack jurisdiction to consider ‘second or successive’ habeas applications without prior authorization from the appropriate court of appeals, the district court erred by reaching the merits of Franklin’s filing in the absence of any such authorization from this court,” Boggs wrote.
Because Franklin is barred from relitigating claims that have already been decided, the court of appeals vacated the district court’s order and denied Franklin’s request to file a habeas petition.
Chief Judge R. Guy Cole and Judge Julia Gibbons joined Boggs to form the majority.
The case is cited Franklin v. Jenkins, case No. 15-3180.