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Warren v. Thomas

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

July 10, 2018

LESLEY EUGENE WARREN, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
EDWARD THOMAS, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: May 10, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, at Greensboro. Catherine C. Eagles, District Judge. (1:05-cv-00260-CCE-JEP)

         ARGUED:

          Kristin Davis Parks, LAW OFFICE OF KRISTIN PARKS, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Jess D. Mekeel, NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Jonathan E. Broun, Elizabeth G. Simpson, NORTH CAROLINA PRISONER LEGAL SERVICES, INC., Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Joshua H. Stein, Attorney General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF NORTH CAROLINA, Raleigh, North Carolina, for Appellee.

          Before NIEMEYER, KEENAN, and HARRIS, Circuit Judges.

          PAMELA HARRIS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         A North Carolina jury convicted Lesley Eugene Warren of the first-degree murder of Katherine Johnson. The government sought the death penalty, and at the sentencing phase it introduced evidence that Warren recently had been convicted of murdering two other women. Because of the death sentence he received for one of those convictions, Warren could not be paroled if sentenced to life for the murder of Johnson, and asked the trial court to so instruct the jury. The court declined to give the instruction, and the jury sentenced Warren to death.

         Under Simmons v. South Carolina, 512 U.S. 154 (1994), a defendant is entitled to inform the jury when the alternative to a death sentence is life in prison without parole, but only if the prosecutor puts at issue the risk that he will be a danger to society if released from prison. The Supreme Court of North Carolina rejected Warren's Simmons claim, holding that the prosecutor in his case had not argued future dangerousness in support of the death penalty, and the district court denied Warren's petition for relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Because the Supreme Court of North Carolina reasonably applied Simmons to Warren's sentencing, we affirm.

         I.

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