About the Case
Haywood v. McKenna, Director of Kent Department of Corrections
1. Whether a federal court may grant habeas corpus relief under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to an individual who is innocent of the crime for which he or she was convicted and who was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
2. Whether the Eighth Amendment prohibits the imprisonment of a mentally retarded individual for life without the possibility of parole as punishment for the commission of a non-homicide crime.
Summary of Case:
Crime and Conviction
Francine Church and Theodora Branham were brutally raped in nearly identical fashion and exactly two weeks apart in the vicinity of Rockport, Kent. Both women were working the night shift at a convenience store when a man who was approximately six feet tall and 185 pounds entered the store with a stocking over his head. The man dragged each of the women into a back room and raped them as they fought back. No physical evidence was found at the first crime scene, but a pubic hair collected during Ms. Branham’s rape-kit matched Edward Robert Haywood’s DNA profile. His DNA was collected and his profile was stored in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) after a juvenile felony conviction for robbery of an amount less than twenty dollars. Haywood generally matched the physical description provided by the two victims.
At trial, an eyewitness from the second crime scene identified Haywood as the man he saw entering the convenience store in which Ms. Branham was raped, and expert testimony was heard on the reliability of DNA profiling. Edward Haywood and his sister, Ellen Haywood, testified that he was home the nights of the two rapes, and an expert testified as to Haywood’s mental retardation. Edward Haywood was convicted of two counts of rape by a jury of his peers. Because the rapes were Haywood’s third unrelated felony conviction, the judge sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole under Kent’s “three-strikes” statute. The conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal.
New Evidence and State Post-Conviction Relief
After Haywood’s conviction became final, evidence tending to suggest that Haywood is innocent came to light. Specifically, a new alibi witness came forward, and the original eyewitness recanted his story. Charles Douglas, the new alibi witness, testified that Haywood was with him the night of the second rape. Additionally, video evidence from the second crime scene that had been misplaced by police before anyone was able to view it was found. Although the video is low-resolution, the man pictured does not appear to be Haywood. The Supreme Court also decided Graham v. Florida, 130 S. Ct. 2011 (2010), which found that sentencing juveniles convicted of non-homicide crimes to life without the possibility of parole violated the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, before Haywood’s conviction became final.
Haywood filed a petition in state court for post-conviction relief arguing that sentencing innocent and mentally retarded individuals convicted of non-homicide crimes to life without the possibility of parole violates the Eighth Amendment. His petition was denied because it required the state court to recognize new constitutional rights in the post-conviction setting contrary to the Supreme Court of Kent’s ruling in State v. Mohler, 694 N.E.2d 1129 (Kent 1998), which also held that the basis of the ruling was analogous to but independent of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989). Because the court considered this state procedural bar to constitute an adequate and independent state ground, the Supreme Court of Kent never reached the federal merits. The court noted that the thirty-day period in which Haywood could have requested a new trial had elapsed and that his only remaining state remedy based on actual innocence was executive clemency. The denial was affirmed on appeal.
Federal Habeas Corpus
Haywood filed a habeas corpus petition in federal district court alleging (1) that his confinement is unconstitutional because he is innocent and (2) that his sentence of life without the possibility of parole for the commission of a non-homicide crime is also unconstitutional because he is mentally retarded. The United States District Court for the Southern District of Kent found that the petition was not barred by 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) (2006) because the procedural bar used by the state court to deny the claim was not an adequate and independent state procedural basis for denying a claim since it was intermittently and unpredictably applied. The court also held that the state’s post-conviction determination of the claims did not warrant deference under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e) (2006) since the state court never reached the federal merits of the claim. Id.
Although Haywood’s claims were properly raised, the District Court rejected the petition under Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989), which held that a federal court could not create new constitutional rights in a habeas corpus hearing if those rights would not apply retroactively to cases that were decided prior to the court's determination of the habeas corpus petition. The District Court rejected Haywood’s argument that his claims would apply retroactively. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed on December 17, 2010. Haywood filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court on January 10, 2011. The Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari on January 24, 2011.