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Chappell v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

February 1, 2017

Derek Don Chappell, Petitioner,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Respondents.


          Hon. Steven P. Logan, United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Petitioner Derek Don Chappell's Motion for Temporary Stay and Abeyance and for Authorization to Appear in Ancillary State-Court Litigation. (Doc. 94.) Chappell asks the Court to stay and hold his case in abeyance while he pursues state court relief. He also seeks permission for his federal habeas counsel to appear on his behalf in state court. Respondents filed a response opposing a stay and Chappell filed a reply. (Docs. 95, 96.) For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A Maricopa County jury convicted Chappell of first degree murder and child abuse and determined that he should be sentenced to death. The following information concerning the crimes is taken from the Arizona Supreme Court opinion affirming the convictions and sentences. State v. Chappell, 225 Ariz. 229, 233-34, 236 P.3d 1176, 1180-81 (2010).

         Chappell began dating Kristal Shackleford in the fall of 2003. They soon were engaged to be married and Shackleford and her two-year-old son, Devon, moved in with Chappell and his parents.

         On December 10, 2003, Chappell was caring for Devon while Shackleford was at work. While changing Devon's diaper, Chappell forcefully pushed down on Devon's shoulders and neck until his face turned red. Chappell immediately contacted Shackleford, said he had “hurt Devon, ” and asked her to come home right away. A pediatrician examined Devon later that day and found bruising on his face and neck consistent with choking. A Child Protective Services (“CPS”) investigation ensued, and CPS told Chappell he was to have no further contact with Devon. Shackleford and Devon moved out of the Chappell home and into a nearby apartment complex, but Chappell and Shackleford continued dating.

         On March 11, 2004, Shackleford called 911 to report that Devon was missing. Police officers found Devon floating in the swimming pool at Shackleford's apartment complex. Devon was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. An autopsy revealed that the cause of death was drowning. Chappell quickly became a suspect and ultimately confessed to the murder, both to the police and at a press conference he held from jail. Chappell admitted drowning Devon but claimed he was acting at Shackleford's direction.

         Chappell was indicted on charges of child abuse for the 2003 choking incident and first degree murder, and was found guilty on both counts. During the aggravation phase of the trial, the jury found three aggravating circumstances: Chappell had a previous conviction for a serious offense (child abuse), A.R.S. § 13-751(F)(2); the murder was committed in an especially cruel manner, § 13-751(F)(6); and Chappell was an adult and the victim was under fifteen years of age at the time of the murder, § 13-751(F)(9). After the penalty phase, the jury determined that Chappell should be sentenced to death.

         After unsuccessfully pursuing post-conviction relief, Chappell filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in this Court. (Doc. 25.) Respondents filed an answer and Chappell filed a reply. (Docs. 33, 87.) Chappell's brief on evidentiary development, previously due January 23, 2017, is now due on March 9, 2017. (Doc. 99.) He filed the pending motion on December 20, 2016. (Doc. 94.)

         Chappell now seeks a stay so that he can return to state court and present several claims. In asserting that state court remedies remain, Chappell argues that Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. 616 (2016), represents a significant change in the law, under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(g). He also contends that he can present evidence that constitutes newly-discovered material facts under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(e). Finally, Chappell argues that the new evidence demonstrates by clear and convincing evidence that he would not have been found guilty or the court would not have imposed the death penalty, under Arizona Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(h).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Chappell's habeas petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A). Although AEDPA does not deprive courts of the authority to stay habeas corpus petitions, it “does circumscribe their discretion.” Rhines v. Weber, 544 U.S. 269, 276 (2005). The Supreme Court has emphasized that the stay and abeyance of federal habeas petitions is available only in limited circumstances. Id. at 277. “Staying a federal habeas petition frustrates AEDPA's objective of encouraging finality by allowing a petitioner to delay the resolution of the federal proceedings. It also undermines AEDPA's goal of streamlining federal habeas proceedings by decreasing a petitioner's incentive to exhaust all his claims in state court prior to filing his federal petition.” Id.

         A writ of habeas corpus may not be granted unless it appears that a petitioner has exhausted all available state court remedies. 28 U .S.C. § 2254(b)(1); see also Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731 (1991). In Arizona, there are two avenues for petitioners to exhaust federal constitutional claims: direct appeal and post-conviction relief proceedings (“PCR”). Rule 32 of the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure governs PCR proceedings and provides that a petitioner is precluded from relief on any claim that could have been raised on appeal or in a prior PCR petition. Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.2(a)(3). The preclusive effect of Rule 32.2(a) may be avoided only if a claim falls within certain exceptions and the petitioner can justify why the claim was omitted from a prior petition or not presented in a timely manner. See Ariz. R. Crim. P. 32.1(d)-(h), 32.2(b), 32.4(a).

         When a petitioner has an available remedy in state court that he has not procedurally defaulted, it is appropriate for the federal court to stay the habeas proceedings if (1) there was good cause for the petitioner's failure to exhaust his claims first in state court, (2) his unexhausted claims are potentially meritorious, and (3) there is no ...

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