Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Porter v. Zook

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

September 22, 2016

THOMAS ALEXANDER PORTER, Petitioner,
v.
DAVID ZOOK, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          James R. Spencer Senior U.S. District Judge.

         Thomas Alexander Porter filed this petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his capital murder conviction and death sentence for the 2005 shooting death of a Norfolk police officer.[1] The matter is before the Court on Porter's Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e) ("Rule 59(e) Motion/' ECF No. 100). For the reasons set forth below, the Rule 59(e) Motion will be DENIED.

         I. Standard for Relief Under Rule 59(e)

         "[R]econsideration of a judgment after its entry is an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly." Pac. Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recognizes three grounds for relief under Rule 59(e): "(1)to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or (3) to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." Hutchinson v. Staton, 994 F.2d 1076, 1081 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing Weyerhaeuser Corp. v. Koppers Co., 771 F.Supp. 1406, 1419 (D. Md. 1991); Atkins v. Marathon LeTourneau Co., 130 F.R.D. 625, 626 (S.D.Miss. 1990)). Porter contends that he is entitled to Rule 59(e) relief because the Court committed a clear error of law. Porter is wrong.

         II. Procedural History

         By Memorandum Opinion and Order entered on August 21, 2014, the Court granted Respondent's Motion to Dismiss the § 2254 Petition. See Porter v. Davis, No. 3:12-CV-550-JRS, 2014 WL 4182677, at *1 (E.D. Va. Aug. 21, 2014). Porter appealed. On October 20, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed Porter's appeal and remanded the matter back to this Court. See Porter v. Zook, 803 F.3d 694, 695 (4th Cir. 2015). The Fourth Circuit observed that, "[a]mong the multiple claims Porter presented to the district court was one alleging that a juror [2] in his case was 'actually biased, ' in violation of his right to trial by an impartial jury." Id. (citing Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209, 215 (1982)). The Fourth Circuit noted that, "[b]ecause the district court did not resolve [the actual bias] claim, its decision was not a final order over which we have jurisdiction" and remanded the matter to this Court. Id.

         During the voir dire at Porter's trial, venire persons were asked: "[I]s anyone here, or a member of your close personal family, worked in law enforcement in any capacity as a volunteer or an employee?" Porter v. Zook, No. 3:12CV550, 2016 WL 1688765, at *2 (E.D. Va. Apr. 25, 2016) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). Juror Treakle readily volunteered that his "nephew is an Arlington County police officer." Id. (citation omitted). Porter's actual bias claim is based upon his discovery on state habeas that Juror Treakle also had a brother, Pernell Treakle, who was employed as a "Deputy Sheriff with the Chesapeake Sheriffs Office in Chesapeake, Virginia and had been employed in that position" at the time of Porter's trial. Id. at *4 (citation omitted). Specifically, after his conviction and direct appeal, Maryl Sattler and Dawn Davidson, members of Porter's state habeas team, interviewed Juror Treakle. Id. During the state habeas proceeding, Porter submitted an affidavit from Sattler memorializing the conversation with Juror Treakle. Id. The Sattler Affidavit stated in pertinent part:

Ms. Davison asked Mr. Treakle which of the witnesses made the greatest impression on him during the trial. Without hesitation, Mr. Treakle replied that he found the officer's wife (Treva Reaves) to be a very powerful witness. He indicated that he found her testimony moving and very emotional for him because his brother is a sheriffs officer in Norfolk. [3] We were very surprised by this statement because we had read his voir dire prior to the interview and Mr. Treakle had never said anything about this brother. When Ms. Davison asked for clarification, Mr. Treakle repeated that this brother works for the sheriffs department "down in Norfolk." Mr. Treakle said sitting through Mrs. Reaves's testimony had been difficult for him. He expressed sympathy for law enforcement officers, and emphasized that they put their lives on the line every day for the community.

Id. On state habeas, the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected Porter's actual bias claim because it found that "petitioner has provided no admissible evidence that Juror Twas biased against petitioner as a result of his brother's employments Id. at *6 (quoting Porter v. Warden of Sussex I State Prison, 722 S.E.2d 534, 549 (Va. 2012).

         On federal habeas, after the remand from the Fourth Circuit, this Court observed that "[i]n finding that Porter provided no admissible evidence of bias, the Supreme Court of Virginia apparently relied upon 'the general rule that the testimony of jurors should not be received to impeach their verdict, especially on the ground of their own misconduct.'" Id. (quoting Caterpillar Tractor Co. v. Hulvey, 353 S.E.2d 747, 750-51 (Va. 1987)).[4] In his Rule 59(e) Motion, Porter argues that this "conclusion is contrary to the state court record, extends Caterpillar to a situation it does not govern, and ignores the well-established exception to the rule against jurors impeaching their own verdict." (Rule 59(e) Mot. 3.) As explained below, Porter is wrong on all counts and fails to demonstrate any error in the Court's dismissal of Porter's actual bias claim.

         III. Analysis

         Porter insists that the Supreme Court of Virginia's conclusion that Porter had not provided admissible evidence of actual bias must have been based upon an erroneous interpretation of Virginia's hearsay rules, rather than a rule precluding the use of juror testimony to impeach a verdict. (Rule 59(e) Mot. 4-6.) To support this argument Porter points to the fact that, on state habeas, the Warden moved to strike the Sattler Affidavit and other affidavits on hearsay grounds. (Rule 59(e) Mot. 4 (citations omitted).) Such an argument might be persuasive if the Supreme Court of Virginia had granted the Motion to Strike, but it did not. See Porter v. Warden of Sussex I State Prison, 722 S.E.2d 534, 550 (Va. 2012). Moreover, the Supreme Court of Virginia's statement that it would "apply the appropriate evidentiary rules, " id, to the affidavits tendered by Porter supports the conclusion that its rejection of the Sattler Affidavit was based on the well-established rule that, absent a limited exception for extrinsic influences, [5] the testimony of jurors should not be received to impeach their verdict. Kasi v. Commonwealth, 508 S.E.2d 57, 67 (Va. 1998) ("Virginia has been more careful than most states to protect the inviolability and secrecy of jury deliberations, adhering to the general rule that the testimony of jurors should not be received to impeach their verdict, especially on the ground of their own misconduct." (citing Jenkins v. Commonwealth, 423 S.E.2d 360, 370 (Va. 1992))); see Caterpillar Tractor Co., 353 S.E.2d at 751 (addressing the admissibility of juror testimony even though defendant failed to make a contemporaneous objection, the issue was only "mentioned in defendant's appellate briefs" and the issue was not the focus of defendant's "main argument" on appeal).

         Additionally, Porter has yet to demonstrate that the relevant portion of the Sattler Affidavit is admissible under either Virginia or federal law for the purpose of establishing actual bias. With respect to Virginia law, Porter fails to direct the Court to any instance where the Supreme Court of Virginia permitted the introduction of similar evidence to impeach a juror verdict. More to point, the Supreme Court of Virginia concluded that the Sattler Affidavit was not admissible. That conclusion ends the matter as far as admissibility under Virginia law because "[i]t is beyond the mandate of federal habeas courts ... to correct the interpretation by state courts of a state's own laws." Sharpe v. Bell, 593 F.3d 372, 383 (4th Cir. 2010) (citing Cagle v. Branker, 520 F.3d 320, 324 (4th Cir. 2008)).

         Moreover, Porter has not bothered to address, much less demonstrate error in, the Court's conclusion that the relevant portion of the Sattler's Affidavit was inadmissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 606(b).[6]See Porter, 2016 WL 1688765, at *10-13. Additionally, Porter fails to address or demonstrate error in the Court's conclusion that he ultimately failed to demonstrate actual bias on the part of Juror Treakle. Id. at *13 ("[E]ven if the Court could consider Bruce Treakle's post-verdict mental impression of the trial evidence and decide the matter under a denovo standard of review, no relief is warranted because Treakle's innocuous statements do not indicate that he was biased." (citing Bacon v. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.