United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Russ Walker United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on a pro se petition for
writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by
Alabama inmate William Robert Sanders
(“Sanders”). Doc. No. 1. Sanders challenges his 2008
guilty plea conviction for solicitation to commit murder and
his 20-year sentence entered by the Circuit Court of
Montgomery County. He argues that he was not mentally
competent to enter his guilty plea. For the reasons that
follow, the undersigned recommends that Sanders's §
2254 petition be denied without an evidentiary hearing and
that this case be dismissed with prejudice.
Indictment and Arraignment
November 2005, a Montgomery County grand jury indicted
Sanders on charges of conspiracy to commit murder, in
violation of §§ 13A-4-1 & 13A-6-2, Ala. Code
1975, and solicitation to commit murder, in violation of
§§ 13A-4-3 & 13A-6-2, Ala. Code 1975 (1975).
See Doc. No. 15-1 at 21-24. The charges were related
to Sanders's alleged scheme to hire Ossie Sanders and
Bernetta Carter to kill David Hataway, Sanders's ex
son-in-law. Id.; Doc. No. 21-2 at 2; Doc. No. 15-7
at 8-12. Sanders was arrested before the murder could be
carried out. Doc. No. 21-2 at 2; Doc. No. 15-7 at 12.
November 2005 arraignment, Sanders entered pleas of not
guilty and not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect,
after which the trial court ordered that Sanders undergo a
psychological evaluation of his competency at the time of the
offense and his competency to stand trial. Doc. No. 15-1 at
24; Doc. No. 15-16 at 32-35.
Initial Psychological and Neurological Evaluations
February 2006, Dr. Glen King, a certified forensic examiner
with Clinical Psychologists PC in Montgomery, evaluated
Sanders at the jail where he was being held. Doc. No. 15-16
at 55-56. Dr. King filed a report with the trial court which
diagnosed Sanders with dementia associated with
Alzheimer's disease and indicated that Sanders, as a
result, might have significant memory difficulties
interfering with his ability to assist his counsel in his own
defense. Id. Dr. King recommended that Sanders not
be allowed to proceed with disposition of the charges against
him until his intellectual functioning was further evaluated.
Id. He also recommended that Sanders undergo
evaluation to determine if he could regain competency. Doc.
No. 25-1 at 4.
on Dr. King's diagnosis and report, the trial court
ordered a battery of neurological testing of Sanders,
including a PET scan. Doc. No. 15-16 at 72-73. Results of the
PET scan indicated that Sanders had “diminished
metabolic activity throughout the temporal, parietal, and
occipital lobes and the cerebellum, consistent with fairly
advanced Alzheimer's disease.” Id. at 73;
see Doc. No. 15-16 at 65.
First Competency Hearing and Trial Court's
March 27, 2007, a brief hearing was held on Sanders's
competency to stand trial. Doc. No. 25-1 at 1-11. At that hearing,
Dr. King reaffirmed his diagnosis that Sanders was suffering
from dementia. Id. at 5. Dr. King stated that he
believed Sanders's ability to participate in the legal
proceedings against him was “spotty” and that
Sanders “had some critical deficits in certain
areas.” Id. at 6. He offered the opinion that
Sanders was not competent to stand trial, although he could
not say this with absolute certainty. Id.
Accordingly, he recommended that Sanders undergo lengthy
review and observation by the Alabama Department of Mental
Health (“ADMH”). Id.
the March 27, 2007 hearing, the trial court entered an order
finding Sanders had a mental defect preventing him from
assisting his attorneys in his own defense and was
incompetent to proceed to trial at that time. Doc. No. 15-16
at 73. The court found there was need for further evaluation
of Sanders to determine whether he might become competent
“within a reasonable period of time.”
Id. The court ordered that Sanders be evaluated by
the ADMH at the Taylor Hardin Secure Medical Facility in
Tuscaloosa (“Taylor Hardin”), “to determine
whether it is feasible and/or worthwhile to initiate training
designed to increase defendant's knowledge of courtroom
procedures and improve his ability to assist his attorney in
his own defense.” Id. at 73-74.
underwent evaluation at Taylor Hardin. On July 12, 2007,
after reviewing initial mental and medical reports from
Taylor Hardin, the trial court found that Sanders needed
additional and closely monitored evaluation, treatment, and
competency training. Doc. No. 15-16 at 79. Under Rule 11.3(b)
of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure, the trial court
ordered that Sanders be committed to the ADMH “for a
reasonable period of time necessary to conduct further
evaluation by a psychologist or psychiatrist as to whether
the defendant has sufficient present ability to assist in his
own defense, by consulting with counsel, with a reasonable
degree of rational understanding of the facts and the legal
proceedings against the defendant and as to the
defendant's mental state at the time of the alleged
Final Competency Hearing
January 22, 2008, a final hearing was held on Sanders's
competency to stand trial. See Doc. No. 25-2 at
2-77. At the hearing, the trial court heard testimony (both
live and by telephone) from several doctors who evaluated
Sanders regarding his competency.
Larry Epperson, a neurologist presented by the defense,
testified about his evaluation of Sanders in October 2006
(approximately fifteen months before the final competency
hearing). That evaluation included a question-and-answer
memory test (“the Mini-Mental State
Examination”), blood work, and various brain scans.
Id. at 4-15. Dr. Epperson stated that Sanders scored
below average on the Mini-Mental State Examination,
indicating Sanders had cognitive problems, but he
acknowledged it was possible for someone to malinger on this
test. Id. at 4 & 12-14. Dr. Epperson testified
that Sanders's brain scans revealed physical conditions,
including atrophy and atherosclerosis, consistent with
“an Alzheimer's type of dementia.”
Id. at 6-7. He stated that the results of such brain
scans are objective and not susceptible to being faked.
Id. at 7. Dr. Epperson testified that the cognitive
problems stemming from dementia could worsen progressively
over several years. Id. at 8-10. He stated such
cognitive problems might vary from day to day, and
individuals with dementia could experience fluctuations in
their lucidity. Id. at 10-11. When asked his opinion
on whether Sanders could assist his counsel in his defense
and whether Sanders was competent to stand trial, Dr.
Epperson answered that Sanders had “some serious
cognitive problems” that would make it difficult for
him to assist in his defense. Id. at 7-8. Dr.
Epperson acknowledged he had not previously performed any
evaluations of defendants' competency to stand trial.
Id. at 14.
Glen King also testified on behalf of the defense at the
January 22, 2008 hearing. It was Dr. King's opinion that
Sanders was not malingering during the memory tests
administered to him by Dr. Epperson. Id. at 38-40.
Dr. King stood by his original diagnosis that Sanders was
suffering from dementia. Id. While he thought
Sanders understood the charges against him and possessed a
reasonable understanding of the roles of the participants in
the criminal proceedings, Dr. King stated he remained
concerned about Sanders's “memory issues” in
terms of his ability to consult with his attorneys.
Id. at 37- 38 & 41.
Russ Bates, an internal medicine physician in charge of
Sanders's care at the county jail after his arrest,
testified on behalf of the State at the January 22, 2008
hearing. Dr. Bates stated that neither he nor the nursing
staff at the jail saw Sanders exhibit any characteristics of
Alzheimer's disease, including problems with short-term
memory. Id. at 21-22 & 26. Dr. Bates testified
that, while at the jail, Sanders was initially taking
Aricept, an Alzheimer's medication prescribed for him by
doctors at Taylor Hardin. Id. at 19-21. Dr. Bates
stopped administering Aricept to Sanders. Id. at 21.
Dr. Bates testified that Sanders told his wife during a jail
visit that he had stopped receiving Aricept. Id. at
21. According to Dr. Bates, a person with Alzheimer's
disease, especially advanced Alzheimer's disease, would
typically have such a diminished short-term memory that he
would not remember to tell someone his medication has been
stopped. Id. Dr. Bates testified that the results of
Sanders's brain scans did not sway his opinion regarding
Sanders's mental faculties, because many people have
organic brain abnormalities while still functioning normally.
Id. at 22 & 26. It was Dr. Bates's opinion
that Sanders did not have Alzheimer's disease.
Id. at 23. Dr. Bates acknowledged that he conducted
no formal verbal and memory testing of Sanders at the jail.
Id. at 24-25.
James F. Hooper
testifying on behalf of the State at the January 22, 2008
hearing was Dr. James F. Hooper, medical director at Taylor
Hardin and a board-certified forensic psychiatrist. Dr.
Hooper testified regarding four separate examinations of
Sanders conducted at Taylor Hardin during October and
November 2007, including a detailed neurological exam
conducted on November 8, 2007. The pertinent part of Dr.
Hooper's testimony is quoted here at length:
The issue with this man has been raised largely based on
scans and MRIs; however, they also did an EEG, which was
. . . .
Well, the scans show you a picture. Okay. The MRI shows you a
picture. If you took a picture of my leg now and compared it
to my leg when I was 20, it would show atrophy. My leg is not
as big and strong as it was when I was a young man. I can
still walk, however, and the fact that my leg is smaller
means probably I can't walk as far. But it still
The EEG measures the global functioning of the brain, which
Everything that we did with Mr. Sanders was either
inconsistent or grossly normal. When I went through the
sub-types of Alzheimer's-because he came to us with a
diagnosis of Alzheimer's. He says he doesn't remember
things. I mean, you know, it's sort of like Dr. King
said. That's where you start is thinking, okay, what do
we do to evaluate this.
He was already on Aricept. We didn't have a whole lot to
do more to treat that, so we just wanted to clarify whether
that was an accurate diagnosis or not. Mr. Sanders continued
to exhibit no problems with short-term memory. His
difficulties were primarily not being able to remember the
things that had to do with the index crime and not being able
to remember anything when he was formally tested. But in
terms of activities in the program, remembering who the staff
were, functioning within the hospital environment, he had no
So I went through all of the criteria for the various types
of Alzheimer's, and it's in my report. And I've
got-I don't know that I can quote it off the top of my
head. But, basically, for Alzheimer's dementia, you need
some specific things, and we specifically tested for those
things, and he didn't have any of them. So I said
Alzheimer's is not the diagnosis.
For Lewy Body dementia, it's a rare type of dementia, and
people are really, really disorganized and nonfunctional, and