from the United States District Court for the Middle District
of Georgia D.C. Docket No. 5:10-cv-00489-MTT
REMAND FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES.
ED CARNES, Chief Judge, WILLIAM PRYOR, and JORDAN, Circuit
WILLIAM PRYOR, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
appeal is on remand from the Supreme Court of the United
States for us to reconsider the denial of Marion Wilson
Jr.'s petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Wilson, a
Georgia prisoner sentenced to death for the murder of Donovan
Corey Parks, argues that he was deprived of a fair trial
because his counsel provided ineffective assistance during
the penalty phase of his trial. In state postconviction
proceedings, Wilson argued that his trial counsel were
constitutionally ineffective because they failed to discover
and introduce mitigating evidence. The state superior court
ruled that Wilson's claim of ineffective assistance of
counsel failed, and the Supreme Court of Georgia declined to
review that decision. After we ruled that the one-line
decision of the Supreme Court of Georgia was the relevant
decision for our review and affirmed the denial of
Wilson's petition, the Supreme Court granted Wilson's
petition for writ of certiorari and reversed. Wilson v.
Sellers, __U.S.__, 138 S.Ct. 1188 (2018). The Supreme
Court held that we must "look through" an
unexplained decision by a state supreme court to the last
reasoned decision and presume that the state supreme court
adopted the reasoning in the decision by the lower state
court. Id. at 1192. Because the superior court
reasonably concluded that counsel provided Wilson effective
assistance, we affirm the denial of Wilson's petition for
a writ of habeas corpus.
divide our discussion of the background in three parts.
First, we discuss the facts of Parks's murder and the
evidence presented at Wilson's trial and sentencing.
Second, we discuss Wilson's state petition for a writ of
habeas corpus. Third, we discuss Wilson's federal
Wilson's Trial and Sentencing
1996, Marion Wilson Jr. and Robert Earl Butts killed Donovan
Parks in Milledgeville, Georgia. Wilson v. State,
525 S.E.2d 339, 343 (Ga. 1999). Wilson and Butts approached
Parks in a Wal-Mart parking lot to ask for a ride.
Id. Wilson, Butts, and Parks then entered
Parks's automobile. Id. A few minutes later,
Parks's dead body was found nearby on a residential
street. Id. Parks's clothing was saturated with
blood, and he had a "gaping" hole in the back of
his head. His skull was filled with metal shotgun pellets and
a spent shot shell cup.
officers arrested Wilson, he told the officers that after
Parks got in the automobile, Butts pulled out a sawed-off
shotgun and ordered Parks to drive around. Id.
According to Wilson, Butts later told Parks to exit the
automobile and lie on the ground, after which Butts shot
Parks in the back of the head. Id. Wilson and Butts
drove Parks's automobile to Atlanta in an attempt to
locate a "chop shop" to dispose of the automobile.
Id. They were unable to find a "chop shop"
so they purchased gasoline cans, drove to Macon, and burned
the automobile. Id. Police later searched
Wilson's residence and found a "sawed-off shotgun
loaded with the type of ammunition used to kill Parks"
and notebooks filled with handwritten gang creeds and
trial, Wilson was represented by two appointed attorneys,
Thomas O'Donnell Jr., who served as lead counsel, and Jon
Phillip Carr. Wilson v. Humphrey, No. 5:10-CV-489
(MTT), 2013 WL 6795024, at *10 (M.D. Ga. Dec. 19, 2013). They
argued that Wilson was "mere[ly] presen[t]" during
Butts's crimes, id. at *34, but the jury
convicted Wilson "of malice murder, felony murder, armed
robbery, hijacking a motor vehicle, possession of a firearm
during the commission of a crime, and possession of a
sawed-off shotgun," id. at *2.
the penalty phase, defense counsel argued that the jury
should not sentence Wilson to death because there was
residual doubt about his guilt. Id. at *16. They
presented evidence that Butts gave inconsistent statements to
the police and that Butts confessed to three other inmates
that he was the triggerman. Trial counsel again tried to
convince the jury that Wilson was "mere[ly]
presen[t]" during the crimes.
counsel introduced testimony from Wilson's mother,
Charlene Cox. She testified that Wilson had a difficult
childhood and did not deserve to die even though he had a
history of criminality. She explained that Wilson's
father played no role in Wilson's upbringing, that she
supported Wilson by working low-wage jobs, and that Wilson
had an 18-month-old daughter. Id. at *25.
counsel also introduced testimony from Dr. Renee Kohanski, a
forensic psychiatrist. Id. at *20. Dr. Kohanski
relied on the records defense counsel requested from
agencies, schools, and medical facilities, and interviewed
Wilson to create a "cursory" social history, but
she did not conduct an independent investigation of
Wilson's background. Id. at *20-21. Dr. Kohanski
testified that Wilson had a difficult, sickly, and violent
childhood. She explained that Wilson was so aggressive as a
child that his elementary school performed a psychological
assessment of him. Id. at *25. The assessment found
that Wilson had difficulty staying on task, a poor
self-image, and an "excessive maternal dependence."
Id. Dr. Kohanski told the jury that school officials
also requested a medical evaluation because they suspected
that Wilson suffered from an attention deficit disorder, but
testing was never performed. Id. She testified that
Wilson had no parental support or male role model, and that,
by age 9 or 10, he fended for himself on the streets and
joined a gang as a substitute for a family. Id. Dr.
Kohanski told the jury that Cox's ...