United States District Court, D. Arizona
A. TEILBRORG SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court previously denied four of the claims in Styers'
habeas petition and stayed the remaining claims pending
issuance of a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
in Styers v. Ryan, 98-cv-2244-JAT. (Doc. 19.) The
Court of Appeals issued its decision on December 30, 2015,
affirming this Court's denial of habeas relief after the
Arizona Supreme Court's independent review of Styers'
death sentence. Styers v. Ryan, 811 F.3d 292 (9th
Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 1332 (2017)
(“Styers IV”). The mandate was issued on
June 21, 2016. This Court then lifted the stay and ordered
Styers to show cause why the stayed claims should not be
denied as meritless based on the opinion of the Ninth
Circuit. (Doc. 22.)
filed a brief arguing that the pending claims are not
meritless. (Doc. 25.) Respondents filed a response arguing
that the claims are moot, procedurally defaulted, and an
abuse of the writ. (Doc. 30.) The Court agrees that the
claims have been rendered moot by the Ninth Circuit's
decision and are meritless. The Court also rejects
Styers's request to reconsider its rulings with respect
to the other claims.
1990, Styers was convicted of first-degree murder and other
charges and sentenced to death. The Arizona Supreme Court
affirmed the murder conviction and death sentence. State
v. Styers, 177 Ariz. 104, 865 P.2d 765, 770 (1993)
(“Styers I ”). Styers sought federal
habeas corpus relief, which this Court denied. (Case No.
98-cv-2244-JAT, Doc. 126.)
appeal, the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded, finding that
the Arizona Supreme Court had violated Eddings v.
Oklahoma, 455 U.S. 104 (1982), by not considering
mitigation evidence of Styers's post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD) because it was not causally connected to
Styers's actions at the time of the murder. Styers v.
Schriro, 547 F.3d 1026, 1028 (9th Cir. 2008)
(“Styers II ”). As directed by the Ninth
Circuit, this Court issued a conditional writ ordering
Styers's release from his death sentence unless the State
initiated proceedings to correct the constitutional error or
to vacate the death sentence and impose a lesser sentence.
Arizona Supreme Court then conducted an independent review of
Styers's death sentence pursuant to A.R.S. § 13-755.
State v. Styers, 227 Ariz. 186, 254 P.3d 1132, 1133
(2011) (en banc) (“Styers III ”). As the
Ninth Circuit explained, the Arizona Supreme Court
“again affirmed the death sentence, after expressly
considering and weighing the mitigation evidence to which
this court's opinion referred.” Styers IV,
811 F.3d at 294.
the Arizona Supreme Court's resentencing, and the
subsequent denial of post-conviction relief, Styers filed
another habeas petition in this court. (Doc. 1.) The Court
granted in part Respondents' motion to dismiss, finding
that some claims constituted a second or successive petition
and staying the matter with respect to claims that could not
have been raised in Styers's first habeas petition. (Doc.
Claim 3 of his habeas petition, Styers alleges that the
Arizona Supreme Court conducted a constitutionally
insufficient review of his sentence and again applied an
improper causal nexus requirement to his mitigation evidence.
(Doc. 1 at 36-44.) In Claims 5 and 7, Styers alleges that the
Arizona Supreme Court's failure to remand for a new
sentencing hearing violated his right under the Sixth
Amendment to a jury determination of aggravating factors and
his rights to due process, equal protection, and freedom from
cruel and unusual punishment. (Id. at 47-59.)
claims are mooted by the Ninth Circuit's decision in
Styers IV, which affirmed the Arizona Supreme
Court's resentencing of Styers. The Ninth Circuit first
explained that a new sentencing by a jury was not required
under Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584, 589 (2002),
which holds that any fact necessary for the imposition of the
death penalty must be found beyond a reasonable doubt by a
jury, not a judge. 811 F.3d at 297-98. The court found that
the Arizona Supreme Court was not unreasonable in determining
that Styers' sentence was final prior to the decision in
Ring. The court also found that the Arizona Supreme
Court did not violate Eddings when it considered but
gave little weight to mitigating evidence that Styers
suffered from PTSD. Id. at 298-99.
respect to Claim 3, Styers now argues that the Arizona
Supreme Court failed to consider additional mitigating
information beyond the PTSD evidence, including Styers's
age, clean prison record, and low risk of future violence.
(Doc. 25 at 5.) Styers asserts that Claim 3 is now a
“much different claim” than that addressed by the
Ninth Circuit and the Arizona Supreme Court in Styers II,
III, and IV. (Doc. 31 at 8.) The Court
disagrees. In fact, Claim 3 does not allege that the Arizona
Supreme Court failed to consider this additional mitigating
evidence; instead, Styers alleges that the existence of the
additional evidence was grounds for “requir[ing] a
remand for proceedings before a jury.” (Doc. 1 at 56.)
The Ninth Circuit squarely addressed and rejected
Styers's claims of a Ring violation. Styers
IV, 811 F.3d at 297-98.
respect to Claims 5 and 7, Styers argues that Clemons v.
Mississippi, 494 U.S. 738 (1990), is no longer good law
after Ring and the Supreme Court's recent
decision in Hurst v. Florida, 136 S.Ct. 616 (2016).
Clemons holds that an appellate court can affirm a
death sentence by independently re-weighing the mitigating
evidence against the remaining valid aggravating factors. 494
U.S. at 748-49; see Richmond v. Lewis, 506 U.S. 40,
49 (1992) (holding that a state appellate court can cure a