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Wiggins v. Wright

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

February 11, 2019

MARY WIGGINS, # 279826, Petitioner,
v.
DEIDRA WRIGHT, et al., Respondents.

          RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          STEPHEN M. DOYLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This case is before the court on a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 filed by Alabama inmate Mary Wiggins (“Wiggins”) on November 9, 2016. Doc.1.[1]

         I. BACKGROUND

         In July 2009, a Conecuh County grand jury indicted Wiggins for capital murder, in violation of § 13A-5-40(a)(7), Ala. Code 1975 (“[m]urder done for a pecuniary or other valuable consideration or pursuant to a contract or for hire”), for Wiggins's part in the murder of her husband, Rudy, who was shot and killed by her son, Joe Ruffin. Wiggins's case went to trial in August 2011. The Alabama Court of Criminal summarized the evidence adduced:

[T]he State through testimony and other evidence established that [Joe] Ruffin offered both [Josh] Griffin and [Chris] Mobley $2, 500 to ride with him in a rental car from Ozark to Evergreen.[2] During the trip, Ruffin telephoned his mother, Wiggins, several times to update her on their location and what time they would arrive in Evergreen. When Ruffin, Griffin, and Mobley arrived in Evergreen they drove to Jerusalem Church Road-a oneway, dead-end street-and parked their rental car behind a church. Ruffin then telephoned Wiggins and told her to “send him out.” Wiggins asked Rudy to go outside and retrieve a bag out of her SUV. When Rudy walked outside, Ruffin approached him and fired several shots hitting Rudy three times-in his neck, his chest, and his arm. Ruffin, Griffin, and Mobley left Evergreen and drove to Montgomery. While driving to Montgomery, Griffin threw Ruffin's clothes in a trash can and Ruffin threw the gun out of the passenger-side window of the rental car. After the three arrived in Montgomery they drove back to Ozark. The evidence further established that Rudy had an accidental life insurance policy of $750 plus additional coverage of $125, 000, of which Wiggins was the beneficiary. Because the policy covered only accidental death, Wiggins could not recover under the policy if Rudy, who was 74 years old and in poor health at the time of the shooting, died of natural causes.[3] Even though Wiggins was not present when Ruffin shot Rudy, there was ample circumstantial evidence to show that she intended to assist in the commission of the offense when she sent Rudy out of the mobile home under the guise of getting a bag out of her SUV after Ruffin told her to “send him out.”[4]

Doc. 7-1 at 16.

         On August 16, 2011, the jury found Wiggins guilty of the capital-murder charge in the indictment. On October 6, 2011, the trial court sentenced Wiggins to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

         Wiggins appealed, arguing that (1) the main evidence connecting her to the murder was inadmissible hearsay testimony; (2) the involvement of a police detective who was fired shortly after her trial improperly influenced her case; and (3) the State's evidence was insufficient to support her capital-murder conviction.

         On May 11, 2012, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed Wiggins's conviction and sentence by memorandum opinion. Doc. 7-1 Wiggins applied for rehearing, which was overruled. On August 10, 2012, the Alabama Supreme Court denied Wiggins's petition for writ of certiorari. Doc. 7-2.

         On August 9, 2013, Wiggins, through retained counsel, filed a petition in the trial court seeking relief under Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Criminal Procedure. Doc. 7-3 at 6-10. In her Rule 32 petition, Wiggins presented claims that (1) the State violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to disclose exculpatory evidence to the defense, specifically, a memo written by ABI investigator Simon Benson in which Benson noted that Ruffin told him after his arrest that his reasons for killing Rudy went “deeper than insurance” and that he had “been trying to get Rudy for a long time because of something that happened when he was a child”; and (2) Wiggins's trial counsel was ineffective for failing to seek the suppression of certain statements attributed to Wiggins by law enforcement officers.

         The trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Wiggins's Rule 32 petition on November 19, 2014. Doc. 7-3 at 45-125. The court heard testimony from Joseph Sawyer, Wiggins's trial counsel, and Kenneth Ausby, an investigator with the Conecuh County District Attorney's Office. In a written order including findings of fact and conclusions of law, the trial court denied Wiggins's Rule 32 petition on April 21, 2015. Doc. 7-3 at 31- 33.

         Wiggins appealed, pursuing the claims she raised in her Rule 32 petition and asserting two new claims of ineffective assistance by her trial counsel. On February 2, 2016, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals issued a memorandum opinion affirming the trial court's judgment. Doc. 7-4. In its memorandum opinion, the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the trial court's merits rulings denying Wiggins's Brady claim and her claim that her counsel was ineffective for failing to seek the suppression of her statements to law enforcement. Doc. 7-4 at 8-9. The Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals further held that Wiggins's two new claims of ineffective assistance of counsel were not subject to appellate review because Wiggins raised them for the first time in her brief on appeal. Doc. 7-4 at 8. Wiggins applied for rehearing, which was overruled. On August 12, 2016, the Alabama Supreme Court denied Wiggins's petition for writ of certiorari. Doc. 7-5.

         On November 9, 2016, Wiggins, represented by counsel, initiated this habeas action by filing a § 2254 petition reasserting the Brady claim in her Rule 32 petition. See Docs. 1 & 2. Wiggins maintains that the factual conclusions reached by the state courts in denying her Brady claim were “patently unreasonable.” Doc. 2 at 20. The Respondents argue that the state courts correctly denied this claim. Doc. 7. For the reasons that follow, the Magistrate Judge finds that Wiggins's § 2254 petition should be denied without an evidentiary hearing.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. AEDPA ...


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