The nude, mutilated body of Angela Felton was found on May 20, 1997
in a vacant house on Freedom Ave. in Portsmouth.
She had been abducted the morning before by her
ex-boyfriend, Dexter Vinson. Felton had lived with Vinson for more
than a year but had moved out a few weeks before her death.
On the morning of her abduction, she had gone
back to the home she once shared with Vinson to retrieve mail.
Upon seeing Vinson, Felton attempted to drive
away. Vinson followed in his car, ramming her car from behind until
After he beat her, Vinson and Felton drove away
to a nearby boarded-up house where she was dragged inside and
sexually mutilated, suffering massive cuts and tears to the genital
She also suffered multiple deep cuts to her neck,
forearms, trunk and buttocks and blows to the head and face.
Vinson v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d 170 (Va.
1999) (Direct Appeal).
Vinson v. True, 436 F.3d 412 (4th Cir. Va. 2006) (Habeas).
Fingerprints in the car and the vacant home, and
a match of Felton's DNA with bloodstains on Vinson's shorts linked
him to the crime.
Requested that his last meal not be released to the public.
Virginians for Alternatives to
the Death Penalty
Inmate: Dexter Lee Vinson
County of Conviction: Portsmouth
Conviction(s): murder, carjacking, abduct with intent to defile
DOC #: 266028
Date Received: 2-11-99
Action Alert - Execution Vigil for Dexter Lee
VADP will be holding an execution protest on the
Broad Street sidewalk in front of the Governor's Office which is in
the Patrick Henry Building in Richmond tomorrow, April 27th from
4:00 until 5:00 PM.
This is the first time in recent years that such
a protest has been called. As Governor Kaine is facing four
executions before the end of the summer it is important for us to
raise our voices in protest of this modern day form of human
sacrifice to the death penalty gods.
In addition there will be the evening vigil in
Richmond at St. Peter's Catholic Church at 8:30 PM on the corenr of
Grace & 8th St. Additional vigils will be held in numerous locations
across the commonwealth to protest the execution of Dexter Lee
Vinson. VADP will also conduct a vigil in front of the death house
in Jarratt at the Greensville Correctional Center.
Execution Vigil at the Greensville Correctional
Center: April 27, 2006 8:00—9:30 p.m.
Vigils will also be held in over twenty locations
across the state. A full list of vigil locations and contacts can be
found at www.VADP.org/vigil.htm
Is Vinson guilty? Vinson’s case presents an
extremely unusual set of circumstances. Prosecutors do not dispute
that they presented perjured testimony at the preliminary hearing
and to the grand jury.
A State witness gives Vinson an alibi. Doubts
expressed by witnesses to police were never passed along to defense
counsel or jurors.
DNA evidence was collected but never tested,
including semen from Ms. Felton’s body. Will Virginia allow a
potentially innocent man to be executed without resolving this
evidence of innocence?
Vinson’s lawyers were suing each other for racial
discrimination. In a bizarre, unprecedented twist, throughout the
trial, one of the lawyers appointed to represent Dexter Vinson at
trial was suing the other for discriminating against her because of
her race while she was in his employ.
She claimed that the stress of the lawsuit was so
great it was causing her hair to fall out in clumps. Is this
adequate counsel in a life or death case, or is it just adequate
because Vinson was too poor to obtain a lawyer who did not consider
her co-counsel to be racist?
Vinson’s execution should not go forward at this
time. The federal courts are poised to determine whether the manner
in which Virginia executes using lethal injection is impermissibly
The court has already found the claim to be
worthy of trial and by summer may order Virginia to alter the
specific actions our commonwealth will be allowed or required to
take before an execution can be carried out. Does Virginia want to
proceed blindly with this execution as if unaware that our actions
in carrying it out may soon be outlawed as cruel?
We join those who mourn the loss of Angela Felton
and are determined to eliminate the violence that brought about her
senseless murder. But execution is neither a solution to violence
nor a comfort to mourners. It is part of the problem and increases
the cycle of violence.
Please write to Governor Tim Kaine asking him to
stop this execution, to resolve the unanswered questions in Mr.
Vinson’s case, and commute Dexter Lee Vinson’s sentence to life in
prison without parole.
Feburary, 1999, Dexter Lee Vinson of Suffolk, VA
was sentenced to death for the May 1996 capital murdre of his ex-girlfriend,
Angela Felton. He was also convicted of object sexual penetration,
abduction with the intent to defile, and car jacking. He recieved a
life sentence for each non-capital offense.
Mental health experts testified that Vinson
suffered from "intermittent explosive disorder" which rendered him
incapable of conforming his conduct to lawful requirements at the
time of the offenses. Vinson was 34 years old when the crimes were
Vinson's appeals of his convictions and death
sentence were denied by both the Court of Appeals of Virginia and
the Supreme Court of Virginia. On appeal, Vinson contended that the
trial court erred in refusing to grant him a DNA expert to assist
with his case. A blood stain matching the victim's DNA was found on
a pair of Vinson's shorts. The shorts met the description of the
clothing said to be worn by the perpetrator.
The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed the trial
court's decision reasoning that Vinson had failed to show the
required need for DNA expert assistance. Vinson also argued that the
trial court erred in failing to exclude a juror who initially stated
that she would "probably" automatically impose the death penalty if
Vinson were found guilty.
The Supreme Court of Virginia refused to upset
the trial judge's finding that the juror could be impartial. Vinson
raised several other issues, but the Supreme Court of Virginia
declined hearing them due to procedural default.
Among those issues
was Vinson's argument that the juror verdict form was defective to
the extent that the jury's intent could not be deduced.
During the sentencing phase of the trial,
Vinson's high school band teacher, mother, step-father, former
construction work supervisor, and minister all testified on his
behalf. Vinson was described as a "mentor" to a blind student, "loved"
by the victim's children, and as one who would do "anything for
anybody at work."
Dexter Lee Vinson has been on death row since
February 11, 1999.
Vinson executed for '97 killing
girlfriend's death, he's the first man Kaine has allowed to die
By Jamie C. Ruff - Richmond Times-Dispatch
Friday, April 28, 2006
JARRATT -- After the Supreme Court and Gov.
Timothy M. Kaine declined to intervene, Dexter Lee Vinson was
executed by injection last night for abducting and killing his
Vinson, 43, was sentenced to death for the 1997
murder of Angela Felton in Portsmouth. Felton, a 25-year-old mother
of three, bled to death. She was abducted, sexually assaulted,
stabbed and suffered head injuries.
Vinson was pronounced dead at 9:15 p.m. He made
no last statement, said Larry Traylor, spokesman for the Virginia
Department of Corrections. Traylor said several of Felton's family
members witnessed the execution.
Just after 5 p.m. yesterday, the Virginia
attorney general's office announced that the U.S. Supreme Court had
denied requests by Vinson's legal team for a stay.
The high court heard arguments Wednesday about a
lethal-injection challenge in a Florida case. Vinson's attorneys and
death-penalty opponents had asked Kaine and the Supreme Court to
delay the execution while the matter is considered. Opponents of
lethal injection argue that the drugs used cause extreme and
Kaine's office released a statement after 6 p.m.
announcing that the governor would not stop the execution. "Having
carefully reviewed the petition for clemency and judicial opinions
regarding this case, I find no compelling reasons to doubt Mr.
Vinson's guilt or to invalidate the sentence recommended by the jury
and imposed, and affirmed, by the courts," Kaine said in the
statement. "Accordingly, I decline to intervene."
Vinson and Felton had lived together in
Portsmouth for about a year and a half, separating three weeks
before she was killed on May 19, 1997.
Wilhelmena Gatling, Felton's
former mother-in-law, said Felton's 14-year-old daughter still has
nightmares about her mother's death.
Gatling, 53, of Suffolk, helps care for Felton's
two other children, 16-year-old twin boys. Gatling said she hoped
Vinson's execution would help ease the children's pain. "I think it
will bring closure to the children, but I don't believe in the death
penalty, so it's not going to bring closure to me," Gatling told The
Associated Press. "But as long as the children can go on, I can go
The Vatican and Virginians for Alternatives to
the Death Penalty had asked that Vinson's life be spared and his
sentence commuted to life in prison.
At Greensville Correctional Center last night,
death-penalty opponents protested outside after an earlier
demonstration in front of the governor's office.
set up signs and posters in a field, and said they expected a couple
of more to join them. "I just think state-sanctioned murder is still
murder," said Ric Creech, 39, of Jarratt. He said he has been
joining protests at the prison for eight years.
Stuart Wood, a 19-year-old
volunteer with Virginians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty,
said the Church of the Brethren teaches nonviolence and that human
life should not be taken, especially by the state.
The Richmond rally yesterday afternoon had drawn
only two protestors a half hour after it started: Wood and Jack
Payden-Travers, executive director of Virginians For Alternatives to
the Death Penalty.
Payden-Travers said then that it appeared that
Kaine would not act to spare Vinson's life. "We expected a fresh
breeze here. We expected open windows, but we got closed doors,"
Payden-Travers complained of Kaine. He said attendance was low at
the protest, held between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., because it had not been
scheduled until the day before.
As a candidate for governor, Kaine, a Roman
Catholic, said that while he opposes the death penalty because of
his religious beliefs, he would enforce the law.
The Vinson case was Kaine's first test of that
pledge, and the strain of the decision was evident during his
monthly call-in show on a Washington radio station this week. "The
pressure of trying to make the right decision about whether there is
or is not doubt about guilt when somebody's life is at stake is so
much more pressure than whatever the political pressure that there
would be that the politics of it has not even come onto my radar
screen," Kaine said on Washington Post Radio. "I take very seriously
the decision, and that pressure makes whatever political pressure
there would be just seem like nothing."
In addition to requesting a stay, Vinson's
attorneys, Rob Lee and Matthew Engle with the Virginia Capital
Representation Resource Center, had asked the Supreme Court to
review the case, claiming there were errors made in Vinson's trial.
The high court declined to do so.
A witness testified during Vinson's trial that
she watched him use his car to force Felton to stop and then force
her out of the vehicle. Vinson then drove off with Felton, the
Shortly after that, another witness testified, she saw
the couple parked behind a vacant house. She said she watched Vinson
choke Felton with a rope and slam her head into the car door.
A third witness said she watched Vinson drag
something from the car into the vacant house where Felton's body was
found after she bled to death from deep cuts to her forearms.
But Vinson's attorneys have questioned the
credibility of one of the witnesses and complained that information
was withheld from the defense.
The witness who testified she saw
Vinson with a rope also told prosecutors that she saw the man again
later that day at a time when Vinson was at work in Williamsburg. "Prosecutors
never told Vinson's lawyers about this exculpatory evidence," Lee
The witness also told investigators that the man
she saw had a lot of facial hair, but Vinson was clean-shaven, his
attorney noted. Vinson's attorneys said that the third witness never
saw Felton at all and told police that she did not know whether she
would even be able to recognize the person she saw. That information
was not given to Vinson's defense team, Lee said.
Also, only a small amount of Felton's blood was
found on a pair of Vinson's shorts. "Such a brutal crime, nobody is
going to get only a [speck] of blood on himself," Engle said.
In addition, Vinson's attorneys argued that much
of the forensic evidence collected in the case was never tested and
it was never explained how investigators established a positive
identification of Vinson's palm print inside the vacant house where
Felton's body was found.
There have been 94 executions in Virginia since
1976, when the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the death penalty to
resume. The toll is second among the states to Texas, which has
executed 362 killers.
Kaine Permits Execution To Proceed Despite
Governor Says He Has No Reason to Doubt Killer's
By Candace Rondeaux and Michael D. Shear.
The Washington Post
Friday, April 28, 2006
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine rejected a plea
for clemency yesterday from convicted killer Dexter Lee Vinson,
allowing his execution to go forward in the first test of Kaine's
stated public resolve to uphold the death penalty despite his
Vinson, 43, was executed by lethal injection last
night in Virginia's death chamber for abducting, stabbing and
sexually mutilating his ex-girlfriend in Portsmouth in 1997. He was
pronounced dead at 9:15 at the Greensville Correctional Center in
Jarratt, said Larry Traylor, a Department of Corrections spokesman.
"I find no compelling reasons to doubt Mr.
Vinson's guilt or to invalidate the sentence recommended by the jury
and imposed, and affirmed, by the courts," Kaine said in a brief
statement issued 2 1/2 hours before Vinson was put to death.
I decline to intervene." With those words, Kaine made good on a
promise he spoke directly and repeatedly to Virginians last year at
campaign rallies and in television ads: that his personal and long-standing
opposition to the death penalty, based on his Catholic faith, would
not prevent him from allowing the ultimate punishment to be carried
Kaine's Republican opponent in the governor's
race, former attorney general Jerry W. Kilgore, had repeatedly
slammed Kaine for his stance on the death penalty, and ran ads
featuring the victims of heinous crimes.
In one, the father of a crime victim said Kaine
would not have executed Adolph Hitler. But Kaine responded with ads
of his own, in which he vowed to enforce Virginia's capital
punishment laws. "My faith teaches life is sacred," he said to the
camera. "But I take my oath of office seriously, and I'll enforce
the death penalty."
The campaign-trail bashing proved a boon for
Kaine, whose public declarations about his personal faith appeared
to bolster -- not hurt -- his numbers in the polls and helped lift
him to victory in November.
On Thursday, the new governor waited in his third-floor
office across from the state Capitol to hear the outcome of Vinson's
final court appeals, and to weigh Vinson's request for clemency.
aide said he consulted frequently with his chief counsel, Larry
Roberts, and a small "brain trust of lawyers of his own choosing."
Delacey Skinner, Kaine's communications director, said, "This is a
decision that he makes alone."
The clemency petition called on the governor to
commute the convicted murderer's sentence to life in prison without
parole. Vinson's attorneys contended that a key witness in the case
had lied about seeing Vinson kill the victim, Angela Felton.
also disputed findings about forensic evidence in his case and said
he deserved a new trial because his Portsmouth defense attorneys had
a conflict of interest.
Days before the execution, a Vatican
representative and two Virginia Catholic clergymen -- Arlington
Bishop Paul S. Loverde and Bishop Francis DiLorenzo of Richmond --
also urged Kaine to halt Vinson's execution, calling the death
Years ago, Kaine, who once worked with a Catholic
mission in Honduras, echoed that same view when as a young lawyer in
private practice he defended two death row inmates.
In 1987, as he awaited the execution of one of
his clients, Kaine told The Washington Post that "murder is wrong in
the gulag, in Afghanistan, in Soweto, in the mountains of Guatemala,
in Fairfax County . . . and even the Spring Street Penitentiary."
Shortly before Vinson was put to death yesterday,
some observers speculated that political pressure would push Kaine
to deny Vinson's clemency petition. But during a recent radio
interview Kaine eschewed the suggestion that politics might play a
role in his first death penalty decision and called Vinson's crime "very
"The pressure of trying to make the right
decision about whether there is or is not doubt about guilt when
somebody's life is at stake is so much more pressure than whatever
the political pressure of the day would be," Kaine said. Yesterday's
execution marked the first in Virginia since September 2004.
A Portsmouth jury convicted Vinson in 1998 of
capital murder, carjacking, abduction with intent to defile and
sexual penetration with an inanimate object, a year after the
severely mutilated body of Felton, a 25-year-old mother of three,
was found in a vacant house in Portsmouth.
In the years since her daughter's mutilated body
was found wrapped in a dirty wool blanket in Portsmouth, Frances
Peace has imagined Vinson's death a million times. She said she
always thought she would be there to witness his execution.
beforehand she was unsure if that's what her daughter would have
wanted or if she could even summon the strength to attend. "I want
to be there for her. But I don't think it would be good for me to go,"
Peace said. "I think that's what she's telling me -- 'Mom, don't go.
It's alright.' It's not going to bring her back."
Vinson entered the chamber two minutes before his
scheduled execution. Several of Felton's family members attended the
execution as witnesses.
He offered no resistance as several guards
strapped him to the gurney. Asked if he had any last words, Vinson
shook his head and declined to make a statement. The blue curtain to
the witness chamber closed, and reopened eight minutes later.
Vinson executed; Kaine sides with law
Convicted murderer Dexter Lee Vinson, 43, of
Suffolk, is the 95th person put to death in the state since 1976
By Sabine C. Hirschauer - The Daily Press
April 28, 2006
GREENSVILLE COUNTY -- It took Dexter Lee Vinson
seven minutes to die. In May 1997, Angela Felton, a 25-year-old
mother of three, was abducted, sexually assaulted and mutilated. She
bled to death in an abandoned home in Portsmouth.
At 8:58 p.m. Thursday, Vinson - her ex-boyfriend
and convicted murderer - was walked into the death house at the
Greenville Correctional Center in Jarratt.
Under bright fluorescent lights, seven
correctional officers strapped the 43-year-old Suffolk man to a
gurney. He shook his head twice and refused to make a statement.
Earlier in the day, he'd requested that his last meal not be
released to the public.
At 9:08 p.m., with the first injection, Vinson
slipped into unconsciousness. His chest rose twice, as if he were
taking a big gulp of air. His right toes wiggled. Then it was quiet.
He was pronounced dead at 9:15 p.m.
Vinson was Virginia's 95th person to be executed
since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
The case again thrust Democratic Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's faith into
the limelight. A devout Roman Catholic, Kaine openly spoke against
the death penalty during his gubernatorial campaign, but he also had
vowed that he would uphold Virginia's law including the death
On Thursday, he did exactly that. In his first
death penalty case as governor, Kaine denied Vinson clemency.
Vinson's lawyer tried to save his client's life with two petitions
before the U.S. Supreme Court. Both were also denied late Thursday.
One of the petitions cited several trial errors.
The other centered on whether lethal injection constitutes cruel and
unusual punishment or causes intense pain. Vinson's lawyer wanted
the state to delay the execution to await the decision of a Florida
death row case that similarly challenged how lethal injection is
being administrated. A decision in that case is scheduled for June.
Buddy Davidson, Felton's father, waited seven
years for Vinson to die. For Davidson, who lives in Suffolk and who
came with his daughter Beth to witness the execution Thursday, there
was what he called the good stuff - the fishing trips with his
daughter, the times in the park, the picnics - that keeps him going
Then there is the bad stuff - the haunting images
in his head about the day of her murder, her suffering, the torture
- that pulls him down. "I always called her my little noodle-the-poodle,"
he said Thursday. "He just needs to get off this earth," Davidson
said of Vinson. In 1998, Vinson was convicted of capital murder,
carjacking, abduction with the intent to defile and sexual
penetration with an inanimate object.
Felton, who was married to another man at the
time of the murder, raised twin sons now age 16 and a daughter age
14. She and Vinson lived in Portsmouth about a year and half before
her brutal slaying. "She tried to get away from him," said Beth
Willis of Richmond, Felton's older sister. "She just got mixed up
with the wrong person."
Vinson and Felton had been separated for three
weeks in May 1997 when, according to witness statements, Vinson rear-ended
her car, punched out a window and grabbed Felton. He hit her in the
face and chest and abducted her.
Another witness saw Vinson choking Felton with a
rope and slamming the car door on her head twice. Another witness
testified, seeing Vinson "dragging something... heavy .... a rug...."
into an abandoned house in Portsmouth.
The next day, police found Felton's nude body
inside the house. She'd suffered deep cuts and multiple knife wounds
to her forearms, shoulders, neck and cheek as well as significant
vaginal injuries while she was alive, court documents state.
Forensic evidence such as fingerprints in the car
and the vacant home and a match of Felton's DNA with bloodstains on
Vinson's shorts linked him to the crime, prosecutors said. "Still to
this day I have flashbacks of her body," Willis said. "I've seen
what he did to her. I've seen her body. ... Nothing satisfies me
more than to see him die."
National Coalition to Abolish
the Death Penalty
Dexter Lee Vinson, VA - April 27, 2006
Do Not Execute Dexter Lee Vinson!
Dexter Lee Vinson was convicted of capital murder
and sentenced to death for the May 1996 murder of his ex-girlfriend
Angela Felton, a 25-year-old Portsmouth mother of three. It is
alleged that Vinson abducted her from her home in the Fairwood Homes
subdivision, took her to a nearby vacant house, and killed her. In
conjunction with his conviction for a capital offense, Vinson was
convicted of three separate non-capital offenses and received a life
sentence for each.
Vinson was assigned an execution date by the
Portsmouth Circuit Court despite Vinson’s questionable mental
condition, allegations that the prosecution improperly withheld
evidence, as well as claims that call into question the competency
of Vinson’s defense.
Two mental health experts testified during the
penalty phase of the trial that Vinson suffers from “intermittent
explosive disorder.” As a result, Vinson was unable to conform his
conduct to the lawful requirements at the time of the crimes.
Furthermore, the U.S. Fourth Circuit of Appeals
unanimously rejected Vinson’s claim that his trial attorneys had a
conflict of interest notwithstanding the fact that Vinson’s second
chair counsel was suing Vinson’s lead counsel for employment
discrimination. Vinson initially raised this claim in his state
habeas proceedings, but the Virginia Supreme Court held that the
claim was barred because it could have been brought on direct
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, required by
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act to give “great
deference” to state court’s judgments, found that Vinson did not
establish cause to overcome the Virginia’s Supreme Court’s
The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals also
dismissed several claims that Vinson’s constitutional right to a
competent defense was violated and that the prosecution improperly
withheld evidence regarding contradictory eyewitness testimony.
Vertley Hunter, a key eyewitness for the
prosecution, claimed on one occasion that she had seen the
perpetrator at a time when Vinson was at work, which conflicts with
testimony Hunter made in an affidavit submitted in the state habeas
proceedings in which she claimed she never saw Vinson again after
the time of the crime.
Moreover, in another affidavit, Hunter claimed to
have seen the perpetrator at a time that Vinson was already in
policy custody. Hunter also has stated that the prosecution
threatened her into testifying.
Certainly the issues outlined above make
execution of Vinson unacceptable. If Vinson is executed April 27 it
will be the first execution to occur under recently elected Virginia
Gov. Timothy Kaine.
During his campaign, Gov. Kaine stated that while
he is against the death penalty, he would carry out the laws of
Virginia nonetheless. It should also be noted that Virginia employs
the same lethal injection drug cocktail for its executions that is
currently under dispute in several other states.
Please write to Gov. Tim Kaine on behalf of
Dexter Lee Vinson!
After petitions denied, convicted killer dies by
By John Hopkins.
Hampton Roads Pilot Online
April 28, 2006
JARRATT — Convicted killer Dexter Lee Vinson was
put to death Thursday night for the 1997 abduction and murder of
Angela Felton, a Portmouth mother of three.
Offering no last words, Vinson, 43, died by
lethal injection at 9:15 p.m. at Greensville Correctional Center
after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down a petition to stop the
execution and Gov. Timothy M. Kaine denied an appeal for clemency.
“Having carefully reviewed the Petition for Clemency and judicial
opinions regarding this case, I find no compelling reasons to doubt
Mr. Vinson’s guilt or to invalidate the sentence recommended by the
jury and imposed, and affirmed, by the courts,” Kaine said in a
written statement issued at 6:19 p.m.
The case attracted intense public scrutiny
because it wa s the first clemency request of Kaine’s term. The
governor has said he is morally opposed to the death penalty because
of his Catholic faith. However, he promised as a candidate for
governor last year to follow state laws that prescribe execution for
the most heinous crimes.
Vinson, who was wearing a blue shirt, jeans and
slippers, looked calm and sedate as he was led by seven guards into
the small cinder-block execution chamber at 8:58 p.m. Watching him
through a thick, wire-reinforced window in an adjacent room were six
citizens who volunteered to witness the execution, as well as
journalists and law enforcement officials.
Members of Felton’s family watched from another
room. Virginia Department of Corrections Director Gene M. Johnson
was in the chamber with Vinson and holding a red telephone linked
directly to Kaine’s office. Another prison official was on a second
phone describing the execution for transcription purposes.
The unidentified people who administered the
lethal drugs were hidden from view behind a curtain. Guards quickly
strapped Vinson to a table, spreading his arms out from his body.
Before administering the drugs intravenously through his arms, a
prison official with a recorder asked Vinson whether he had any last
words. Vinson whispered, “No.”
As the drugs were injected, he wiggled his feet
and his stomach rose and fell with his breathing. His chest was
strapped tight. After a few minutes, his stomach stopped moving. “I
think he’s gone now,” one witness said to another. Seven minutes
after the drugs were injected, a prison official announced that
Vinson was dead.
Vinson’s execution comes nine years after Felton
was murdered. Her nude, mutilated body was found May 20, 1997, in a
vacant house in the 500 block of Freedom Ave. , a small street off
Cavalier Boulevard. The 25-year-old woman had been abducted the
Felton’s older sister, Beth Willis of Richmond,
said the death penalty was made for cases such as this one. “I’ve
seen her body,” Willis said in a telephone interview before the
execution. “I’ve seen what he did to her. I think God is weighing
down on all of this.” Felton, who went by the name “Renee,” was the
mother of twin boys, now 16, and a daughter, now 14 . Some of
Felton’s family felt they needed to witness the execution. “The last
9½ years we’ve been waiting for this and it’s finally here,” Willis
said. “The case is a good example of what the death penalty was put
in place for. This is a good example of that.”
Willis, who left the area after her sister’s
death, said she met her sister’s ex-boyfriend twice. “Just a real
shady character,” she said. “You could tell she was almost terrified
Felton had lived with Vinson for more than a year
but had moved out a few weeks before her death. On the morning of
her abduction from what was then the Fairwood Homes subdivision, she
had gone back to the home she once shared with Vinson to retrieve
mail. Upon seeing Vinson, Felton attempted to drive away. Vinson
followed in his car, ramming Felton’s car from behind until she
After he beat her, Vinson and Felton drove away
to a nearby boarded-up house where she died. Felton had been
sexually mutilated, suffering massive cuts and tears to the genital
area. She suffered cuts to the neck, forearms, trunk and buttocks
and blows to the head and face.
Vinson, the second oldest of four siblings, grew
up in Suffolk. He attended John F. Kennedy High School.
His execution was the first this year in
Virginia, a state that has put to death 95 people since the U.S.
Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976. Virginia’s rate
of executions is second only to Texas. James Edward Reid, 58, was
the last person executed in the commonwealth. Reid was put to death
by legal injection Sept. 9, 2004, for the killing of an 87-year-old
Christiansburg woman in 1996.
Vinson, who celebrated a birthday earlier this
month, exhausted legal avenues to get a stay of execution. He tried
unsuccessfully to challenge Virginia’s method of lethal injection. A
federal judge rejected that appeal this month. Vinson’s family had
hoped Kaine’s personal beliefs against the death penalty would cause
him to commute the sentence.
Jewel Bailey , Vinson’s sister, said earlier
Thursday that her brother was “trying to be strong for his family ”
during the days leading up to the execution. “He said he asked God
for forgiveness,” Bailey said. “I really believe he’s ready.”
Vinson v. Commonwealth,
258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d 170 (Va. 1999) (Direct Appeal).
Defendant was convicted in the Circuit Court,
City of Portsmouth, Von L. Piersall, Jr., J., of capital murder in
the commission of abduction with intent to defile, object sexual
penetration, abduction with intent to defile, and carjacking, and
death sentence was imposed. Consolidating defendant's appeal from
capital and noncapital offenses with automatic review of death
sentence, the Supreme Court, Compton, J., held that: (1) circuit
court was not required to independently search for DNA expert for
capital murder defendant; (2) warrantless arrest of defendant was
lawful; (3) custodian's mistake in noting date placed on evidence
envelope containing blood sample did not require exclusion of blood
sample on grounds of improper authentication and defect in chain of
custody; (4) convictions were supported by sufficient evidence; (5)
prior unadjudicated criminal conduct was admissible at penalty stage
to establish future dangerousness; and (6) death sentence was not
On May 19, 1996, Angela Felton was brutally murdered in the City of
Portsmouth. Subsequently, during a 1998 eight-day trial, a jury
convicted defendant Dexter Lee Vinson, upon not guilty pleas, of the
following offenses in connection with the homicide: Capital murder
in the commission of abduction with intent to defile, in violation
of Code § 18.2-31(1); object sexual penetration, in violation of
Code § 18.2-67.2(A); abduction with intent to defile, in violation
of Code § 18.2-48; and carjacking, in violation of Code § 18.2-58.1.
The jury fixed defendant's punishment at death
for the capital offense based upon the vileness and future
dangerousness predicates of the capital murder sentencing statute.
Code § 19.2-264.4.
Also, the jury fixed defendant's punishment at
life imprisonment for each of the noncapital convictions. Following
a February 1999 post-trial hearing, at which the trial court
considered a probation officer's report, the court sentenced
defendant in accord with the jury's verdicts.
The death sentence is before us for automatic
review under Code § 17.1- 313(A), see Rule 5:22, and we have
consolidated this review with defendant's appeal of the capital
murder conviction. In addition, by order entered March 22, 1999, we
certified from the Court of Appeals of Virginia to this Court the
record of defendant's appeals of the noncapital convictions (Record
The effect of this certification is to transfer
jurisdiction over the noncapital appeals to this Court for all
purposes. Code § 17.1- 409(A). Those appeals have been consolidated
with the capital murder appeal (Record No. 990612).
As required by statute, we shall consider not
only the trial errors enumerated by defendant but also whether the
sentence of death was imposed under the influence of passion,
prejudice, or any other arbitrary factor, and whether the sentence
is excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar
cases. Code § 17.1-313(C).
The facts are virtually undisputed. The defendant,
who did not testify at trial, now argues through his attorneys that,
although he was present at the scene of the homicide, there are
certain "inconsistencies" in the prosecution's evidence on the
question whether he was the actual perpetrator of the offenses.
However, when there are inconsistencies in this
evidence, we shall construe the facts in the light most favorable to
the Commonwealth, as required by settled rules of appellate
On May 19, the victim, age 25, and her three
children resided with Nethie Pierce and her children in Portsmouth.
The victim and her children previously had lived with defendant, age
33, in Portsmouth for "about a year and a half." At the time of the
homicide, the unmarried couple had been living apart about three
About 9:00 a.m. on the day in question, the
victim borrowed Pierce's "1988 red Beretta" automobile to take the
victim's children to school. "[I]n a hurry to get the kids to school,"
the victim wore only a "shift-type" robe and underwear. Pierce's 14-year-old
daughter, Willisa Joyner, rode with the victim.
About 6:30 a.m. on the same day, Faye Wilson was
completing a weekend stay with defendant in a Suffolk motel. Wilson
owned a 1988 blue Mercury Tracer automobile, which she allowed
defendant to use that morning. After the victim delivered her
children to school, she drove with Willisa to the home she had
shared with defendant in order to "get the mail."
Upon arrival, Willisa "got out of the car," at
which time the victim saw the defendant driving a blue automobile.
Willisa reentered the red vehicle when the victim said, " 'get back
in the car.' " As the victim "started driving," the defendant twice
rammed the rear of the red car with the front of the blue car.
The victim stopped the red car and the defendant
walked to the driver's side window where the victim was sitting. He
then "punched" out the window. Next, defendant "grabbed" the victim,
hit her in the face and chest with his hand, and "took her out of
The defendant held the victim by the arm and, in
the presence of bystanders, "snatched" off her robe leaving her
standing in her "underclothes," screaming and bleeding from her nose
Next, defendant "took" the victim to the blue car
and "made her get in." When the blue car "wouldn't start up,"
defendant "put her" in the red car "and they drove away." Police
officers arrived on the scene after defendant had abducted the
victim; they obtained a description of defendant and of the red car.
Shortly thereafter, Vertley Hunter noticed from
her home a red car, "wrecked in the back," that was "pulled off the
street and parked behind" a vacant house in her neighborhood; boards
were nailed over the windows of the house. She observed a young "white
female" and a young "black man" sitting in the vehicle, with the
female sitting in the driver's seat with "her hand outside the
window to duck off a cigarette that she was smoking."
According to Hunter, the man "got out on the
passenger side of the car and went to the back ... and got a piece
of rope out." The man "leaned back into the car" holding the rope.
Hunter heard the woman tell the man "to leave her alone so she could
go on with her life," and heard her "ask the Lord to spare her life
because he was going to kill her." At that time, the man was "[c]hoking
her with the rope."
Then, the man "grabbed her by the hair from the
back seat of the car and pulled her over the seat ... and he pulled
the rope from around her neck at the same time." He then "pulled her
down in the floor" and "told her that he was going to kill her."
While the woman was still inside the car, the man "slammed the door
on her head twice," according to Hunter.
Next, Hunter saw the man kick dirt beside the car
to cover blood that was on the ground. He then pulled off "a board"
covering a window of the house, raised the window, and climbed
inside through the window. Hunter saw the man enter the house twice
and wipe blood from his person with a towel.
Hunter watched the events for a period of several
hours until the man drove the red car into the woods behind the
house and left the area around 11:00 a.m. During her testimony,
Hunter identified defendant in open court as the man she observed
committing the acts she described.
Janice Green, who also lived near the vacant
house, testified that during the morning of May 19, she observed a
man "messing around" with a red car in the yard behind the house.
She saw the man pull "boards off the house" and enter the home twice.
The second time, the man "was dragging" into the
house from the car "something heavy"; she "thought it was a rug he
was pulling." Green also identified defendant in open court as the
man she observed at the vacant house.
On May 20, 1997, Portsmouth detective Jan
Westerbeck went to the vacant house and discovered the victim's body
inside a recently "busted wall" in one of the bedrooms. The body was
nude and partially covered with a brown blanket; feces were found on
and under her neck.
Forensic evidence connected defendant with the
crimes. His fingerprints were found on the abandoned red car, on the
kitchen sink of the vacant house, and on a pane of glass from the
house's kitchen window.
Also, the victim's DNA was matched to a blood
stain found on a pair of blue shorts belonging to defendant.
According to the witness Hunter, defendant was wearing a "sky blue
short set" when she observed him. An expert placed the odds of the
DNA on defendant's shorts being that of someone other than the
victim at one in 5.5 billion.
An autopsy performed on the victim's body showed
that she bled to death from deep cuts to both forearms, either of
which would have been sufficient to cause death. The cut to the
right forearm was two inches deep and severed two main arteries; the
left forearm bore a similar wound that cut one artery.
The victim did not die instantaneously; it "probably
would have taken her a few minutes, several minutes to die,"
according to the medical examiner.
The victim sustained numerous other injuries. For
example, there were additional knife wounds on her shoulders, neck,
and cheek. There were scratches on her buttocks and cuts on her
torso and on one of her legs. She suffered "blunt force trauma" to
Additionally, she sustained significant vaginal
injuries inflicted while she was alive. She sustained a laceration
of her inner vaginal lip, massive bruising over her vulva area, and
a "massive laceration," which tore the tissue separating the vagina
from the anus and which tore around her anal opening.
In the medical examiner's opinion, the vaginal
injuries were not caused by an erect penis; the inner damage that
was done in the vaginal area "would have been done by an object
being penetrated in Miss Felton."
During the penalty phase of the trial, to prove
defendant's future dangerousness, the prosecution presented evidence
that defendant had assaulted a police officer in 1987 who was
attempting to arrest him; had assaulted a correctional officer in
1988 who was attempting to move him to a cell; and had resisted
arrest in 1997 near a Suffolk convenience store so violently that it
took eight police officers to subdue him.
Additionally, the Commonwealth presented evidence
that defendant previously had been convicted of receiving stolen
goods, attempted statutory burglary, and two offenses of hit and run
with personal injury.
In mitigation, defendant presented testimony from
his 1982 high school band teacher, his mother, his step-father, his
supervisor in the construction work that he performed, and a
minister. Defendant was described as a "mentor" to a blind student
in the band, as one who was "loved" by the victim's "kids," and as a
person who would "do anything for anybody at work."
Defendant also presented the testimony of two
mental health experts, both of whom concluded that defendant suffers
from "intermittent explosive disorder" and that he was unable to
conform his conduct to the requirements of law at the time of the
crimes because of this disorder.
In rebuttal, the Commonwealth presented testimony
of another mental health expert who, while agreeing that defendant
had "the characteristics" of intermittent explosive disorder, said
that "almost all violent criminals" fit that category of illness.
This expert, Dr. Paul Mansheim, expressed the opinion "that there is
at least a fifty percent chance" that defendant would commit "another
violent offense in the next five years."
On appeal, defendant contends that Virginia's
capital murder statutes are unconstitutional. Every ground of
alleged unconstitutionality relied upon by defendant has been
previously resolved by this Court adversely to his present
contentions, and he has advanced no persuasive reason warranting a
departure from our prior decisions.
Thus, his contentions are rejected. Some of
defendant's assignments of error are procedurally defaulted for lack
of proper objection in the trial court. We will not consider for the
first time on appeal nonjurisdictional issues not raised below. Rule
* * *
Finally, upon the question of disproportionality
and excessiveness, we determine whether other sentencing bodies in
this jurisdiction generally impose the supreme penalty for
comparable or similar crimes, considering both the crimes and the
defendant. Bramblett v. Commonwealth, 257 Va. 263, 278, 513 S.E.2d
400, 410 (1999). See Code § 17.1-313(C)(2).
In determining whether a death sentence is
excessive or disproportionate, we consider records of all capital
murder cases previously reviewed by this Court in which the death
sentence was based upon both the vileness and future dangerousness
predicates, including capital murder cases in which a life sentence
was imposed. Jenkins v. Commonwealth, 244 Va. 445, 462, 423 S.E.2d
360, 371 (1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 1036, 113 S.Ct. 1862, 123
L.Ed.2d 483 (1993).
The defendant does not contend that the sentence
is excessive or disproportionate. He merely reasserts an earlier
contention, which was procedurally defaulted, that "the penalty
verdict form in this case was so defective that the jury's intent
cannot be deduced from it." We will not entertain such an argument
because of the procedural default.
Manifestly, however, this sentence is not
excessive or disproportionate. Defendant brutally beat and abducted
the victim. Following the abduction, he beat and choked her,
sexually assaulted her in a savage manner, and murdered her by
inflicting deep cuts to both forearms.
Furthermore, in addition to the vile nature of
the offenses, the evidence established that defendant is a violent
person who, in the Attorney General's words, "has no respect for
authority and who cannot be rendered non-violent even in a prison
Juries in the Commonwealth generally impose the
death sentence for crimes like those committed by this defendant.
See, e.g., Cherrix v. Commonwealth, 257 Va. 292, 313-14, 513 S.E.2d
642, 655-56 (1999); Hedrick v. Commonwealth, 257 Va. 328, 342-43,
513 S.E.2d 634, 642 (1999); Barnabei v. Commonwealth, 252 Va. 161,
179, 477 S.E.2d 270, 281 (1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1224, 117
S.Ct. 1724, 137 L.Ed.2d 845 (1997); and Clozza v. Commonwealth, 228
Va. 124, 138, 321 S.E.2d 273, 282 (1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S.
1230, 105 S.Ct. 1233, 84 L.Ed.2d 370 (1985).
Consequently, we hold the trial court committed
no error, and we have independently determined from a review of the
entire record that the sentence of death was properly assessed. Thus,
we will affirm the trial court's judgment in the capital murder case
and in the noncapital cases.--Affirmed.
Vinson v. True,
436 F.3d 412 (4th Cir. Va. 2006) (Habeas).
Background: State prisoner petitioned for writ of
habeas corpus after he had been convicted of capital murder, object
sexual penetration, abduction with intent to defile, and carjacking
and his convictions were affirmed on appeal, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d
170. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Virginia, James R. Spencer, J., denied petition. Prisoner appealed.
Holdings: Amending and superseding its prior
opinion, 432 F.3d 310, the Court of Appeals, Diana Gribbon Motz,
Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) petitioner was not entitled to evidentiary hearing on the
question of whether his trial counsel labored under a conflict of
(2) petitioner failed to demonstrate cause for his procedural
default of his conflict of interest claim, barring habeas review;
(3) petitioner was not deprived of effective assistance of counsel
as result of conflict of interest;
(4) counsel's failure to present argument that petitioner lacked
requisite intent to defile did not deprive petitioner of effective
assistance of counsel;
(5) counsel did not fail to investigate and present mitigation
evidence in sentencing phase, as would constitute ineffective
assistance of counsel;
(6) counsel did not deprive petitioner of effective assistance of
counsel in cross-examining prosecution's expert; and
(7) prosecution's disclosure that one of its grand jury witnesses
perjured herself was sufficient to satisfy Brady. Affirmed.
DIANA GRIBBON MOTZ, Circuit Judge.
Dexter Lee Vinson appeals the denial of his federal habeas petition,
in which he sought relief from a death sentence. We granted a
certificate of appealability on three issues: (1) whether the
district court erred in failing to hold an evidentiary hearing on
Vinson's claim that his trial counsel operated under an
unconstitutional conflict of interest; (2) whether Vinson was denied
effective assistance of counsel; and (3) whether the state failed to
disclose material exculpatory evidence. For the reasons that follow,
we affirm the district court's denial of habeas relief.
FN1. A description of the underlying
facts involved in these dreadful crimes can be found in the Supreme
Court of Virginia's decision on Vinson's direct appeal. See Vinson
v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d 170, 173-75 (1999).
Vinson v. Commonwealth, 258 Va. 459, 522 S.E.2d
170 (1999). The Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari.
Vinson v. Commonwealth, 530 U.S. 1218, 120 S.Ct. 2226, 147 L.Ed.2d
257 (2000). Vinson then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus
with the Supreme Court of Virginia, which it dismissed in November
2001. An execution date was subsequently set for February 28, 2002,
but the United States District Court for the Eastern District of
Virginia stayed the execution on February 25, 2002.
Vinson then filed a petition for federal habeas
relief with the district court, which ultimately denied him any
relief and dismissed his petition. We granted Vinson a certificate
of appealability limited to the three issues enumerated above. Under
the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”),
28 U.S.C.A. § 2254(d) (West Supp.2005), federal courts reviewing
petitions for habeas relief must give great deference to state court
judgments on the merits.
A writ should not be granted on any claim
adjudicated on the merits by the state court unless the decision was
“contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly
established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the
United States,” or was “based on an unreasonable determination of
the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court
Vinson initially contends that the district court
erred in not granting him an evidentiary hearing on the question of
whether his trial counsel labored under a conflict of interest.
Vinson argues that under Townsend v. Sain, 372
U.S. 293, 83 S.Ct. 745, 9 L.Ed.2d 770 (1963) and Keeney v.
Tamayo-Reyes, 504 U.S. 1, 112 S.Ct. 1715, 118 L.Ed.2d 318 (1992), a
federal habeas court must grant an evidentiary hearing to determine
whether an actual conflict of interest exists.
Townsend and Keeney establish that a habeas
petitioner “is entitled to an evidentiary hearing if he can show
cause for his failure to develop the facts in state-court
proceedings and actual prejudice resulting from that failure,” or
that “a fundamental miscarriage of justice would result from failure
to hold a federal evidentiary hearing.” Keeney, 504 U.S. at 11-12,
112 S.Ct. 1715.
Vinson relies on Cuyler v. Sullivan, 446 U.S.
335, 100 S.Ct. 1708, 64 L.Ed.2d 333 (1980) for his conflict of
interest claim. In Sullivan, the Supreme Court held that “[i]n order
to establish a violation of the Sixth Amendment, a defendant who
raised no objection at trial must demonstrate that an actual
conflict of interest adversely affected his lawyer's performance.”
Id. at 348, 100 S.Ct. 1708.
If a defendant successfully demonstrates that “a
conflict of interest actually affected the adequacy of his
representation,” he “need not demonstrate prejudice in order to
obtain relief.” Id. at 349-50, 100 S.Ct. 1708.
Vinson's conflict of interest claim arises from
the undisputed fact that during his trial, Vinson's “second chair”
counsel, Tanya Lomax, was suing Vinson's lead counsel, John
Underwood, for employment discrimination that had allegedly occurred
during Lomax's employment at the Portsmouth Public Defender's
Vinson contends that the separate employment
litigation between Lomax and Underwood adversely affected his
representation in two ways: first, Lomax suffered health problems
resulting from the stress of the litigation; and second, the way
Underwood and Lomax divided the work and responsibilities of his
case into distinct guilt and sentencing phases left Lomax
inadequately supervised by Underwood.
When Vinson raised this claim for the first time
in the state habeas proceedings, the Supreme Court of Virginia held
that the claim was barred under state law because it could have been
brought on direct appeal. See Slayton v. Parrigan, 215 Va. 27, 205
S.E.2d 680 (1974).
This procedural bar constitutes an adequate and
independent state law ground for default. See Wright v. Angelone,
151 F.3d 151, 159-60 (4th Cir.1998). Absent a fundamental
miscarriage of justice, which Vinson does not assert, federal habeas
courts may not review procedurally barred claims “unless the
prisoner can demonstrate cause for the default and actual prejudice
as a result of the alleged violation of federal law.” Coleman v.
Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991).
To establish “cause,” a prisoner must “show that
some objective factor external to the defense impeded counsel's
efforts to comply with the State's procedural rule.” Murray v.
Carrier, 477 U.S. 478, 488, 106 S.Ct. 2639, 91 L.Ed.2d 397 (1986) (emphasis
added). This requires a demonstration that “the factual or legal
basis for the claim was not reasonably available to the claimant at
the time of the state proceeding.” Roach v. Angelone, 176 F.3d 210,
222 (4th Cir.1999) (citing McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 494, 111
S.Ct. 1454, 113 L.Ed.2d 517 (1991)).
A petitioner may not establish cause “by pointing
to evidence that the petitioner ‘knew about or could have discovered’
through a ‘reasonable investigation.’ ” Basden v. Lee, 290 F.3d 602,
618 (4th Cir.2002) (quoting McCleskey, 499 U.S. at 497-98, 111 S.Ct.
1454); see also Rose v. Lee, 252 F.3d 676, 687 (4th Cir.2001).
Rather than relying on evidence not “reasonably
available” to him “at the time of the state proceeding,” Vinson
instead “point[s] to evidence” that he clearly “knew about” at the
time of his trial.
Prior to trial Lomax informed Vinson of the facts
giving rise to the asserted conflict, and Vinson consented to
representation by “conflicted” counsel. In a sworn, written waiver,
Vinson explicitly stated that “[w]ith full knowledge and
understanding of Attorney Lomax's complaint and disclosure, I freely
and voluntarily give my consent to have Attorney Lomax continue to
represent me in the above-styled matter.” In Vinson's presence,
defense counsel then presented Vinson's waiver to the trial court.
In light of this waiver, it is plain that the
facts of the alleged conflict between Lomax and Underwood were not
only available to Vinson, but were specifically presented to him for
his consideration and consent. His voluntary, knowing, and informed
decision to continue with Lomax as his counsel precludes any
argument that a factor external to the defense caused the procedural
Vinson thus does not depend on facts that could
not have been previously discovered, and he cannot establish cause
to overcome the procedural bar. Because Vinson cannot show cause,
his Keeney claim also fails. 504 U.S. at 11-12, 112 S.Ct. 1715.
In addition to its holding that the claim was
procedurally barred from habeas review, the Supreme Court of
Virginia also rejected Vinson's conflict claim on the merits. Sworn
statements from both Underwood and Lomax stated inter alia that the
discrimination suit had no effect on their representation of Vinson,
that the two lawyers had a good working relationship with no
friction, problems or issues during their representation of Vinson.
The court explained that Vinson was fully
informed by counsel of the details of the conflict and was told he
could obtain alternate counsel, but that he decided to continue with
Lomax as his counsel. Consequently, the state court held that there
was “no evidence that an actual conflict of interest existed between
lawyer and client.”
Given these facts, we can hardly find the state
court's rejection of Vinson's conflict of interest claim on the
merits contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly
established Supreme Court precedent. See id. § 2254(d).
The Court has explained that to succeed on a
conflict of interest claim, a petitioner must establish that “ ‘his
counsel actively represented conflicting interests,’ ” and that this
conflict “adversely affected his counsel's performance.” Mickens v.
Taylor, 535 U.S. 162, 174-75, 122 S.Ct. 1237, 152 L.Ed.2d 291 (2002)
(quoting Sullivan, 446 U.S. at 350, 100 S.Ct. 1708) (emphasis added
by Mickens Court).
Here the asserted conflict does not involve
Vinson's counsel's “active representation” of “conflicting interests”-Vinson
makes no claim that Underwood and Lomax represented individuals with
conflicting interests. Rather, this is a case in which Vinson's two
attorneys had an independent and unrelated conflict between
In sum, we must reject Vinson's argument that the
district court erred in refusing to provide him an evidentiary
hearing on his conflict claim. The facts underlying Vinson's claim
were available to him at the time of the state court proceedings, he
expressly consented to any alleged conflict, and he does not proffer
facts that establish constitutional error.
Vinson next asserts that he was denied effective
assistance of counsel in violation of Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984).
To prove a Sixth Amendment violation under
Strickland a defendant must demonstrate “that counsel's performance
was deficient,” and that this “deficient performance prejudiced the
defense.” Id. at 687, 104 S.Ct. 2052. To succeed in showing
prejudice, a defendant must demonstrate that there is a “reasonable
probability” that absent the alleged errors, “the result of the
proceeding would have been different.” Id. at 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052.
Vinson raises several ineffective assistance
contentions. He challenges various trial decisions of his lawyers,
their preparation of mitigation and other sentencing evidence, and
their response to prosecution evidence as to future dangerousness.
The Supreme Court of Virginia adjudicated each of
these claims on the merits and determined that Vinson had failed to
establish ineffective assistance under Strickland. For the reasons
that follow, we conclude that none of the Virginia court's rulings
constitutes an unreasonable factual determination or is contrary to
or an unreasonable application of Supreme Court precedent.
Vinson argues that his counsel failed to
sufficiently investigate the nature and extent of the perjured
testimony of a grand jury witness, Priscilla Turner, prior to
deciding not to call her as a witness at trial, and that they failed
to object to assertedly erroneous statements made by the prosecutor
in closing arguments.
The state court examined these allegations,
determined that Vinson's counsel made these decisions for strategic
reasons, and found that neither decision violated the performance or
prejudice prong of Strickland.
On habeas review, a federal court generally
credits “plausible strategic judgments in the trial of a state
case.” Bunch v. Thompson, 949 F.2d 1354, 1364 (4th Cir.1991). Of
course, we would not regard as tactical a decision by counsel if it
made no sense or was unreasonable “under prevailing professional
norms.” See Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 521-24, 123 S.Ct. 2527,
156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003). But that is not the case here. 
The Virginia court also carefully considered
Vinson's claims that his counsel did not adequately present the
argument that Vinson lacked the requisite intent to defile, did not
provide Vinson's court-appointed psychologist, Dr. Schlichter, with
adequate information, and failed to investigate and present evidence
of Vinson's background for mitigation purposes.
The state court rejected these contentions,
finding that presenting evidence as to whether Vinson had the
requisite intent to defile would have been inconsistent with
Vinson's defense that he did not commit the crime at all. The court
further found that counsel responded to Dr. Schlichter's requests
for information, secured an additional expert witness at the
doctor's request, and spoke with him on numerous occasions.
The record also reveals that, although they were
requested to supply mitigation information, Vinson and his family
failed to do so, but that nevertheless defense counsel independently
discovered mitigation evidence.
At sentencing, Vinson's counsel presented a
mitigation case that included Vinson's school records and favorable
testimony from Vinson's mother, his step-father, two court-appointed
expert witnesses, a previous employer, Vinson's high school band
leader, a parole officer, and a church leader. The case at hand thus
stands in stark contrast to Wiggins, on which Vinson heavily relies.
There, the Court found constitutionally
ineffective counsel who relied solely on three documents and failed
to investigate further or present any mitigation evidence on the
defendant's background despite information in these documents that
could have been used to uncover helpful mitigation information.
Wiggins, 539 U.S. at 523-26, 123 S.Ct. 2527.
Finally, the Supreme Court of Virginia examined
Vinson's argument that counsel failed to respond sufficiently to the
prosecution's expert testimony as to future dangerousness. Vinson's
counsel explained that she relied on the defense expert's advice
about how best to discredit the prosecution's expert. She thus
focused her cross-examination on the fact that the prosecution's
expert made his conclusions after meeting with Vinson for only an
hour, and without conducting any tests of his own.
The court concluded that this reliance on the
defense expert's advice did not violate the performance prong of
Strickland. We do not find this assessment of Lomax's method and
strategy of examination to be unreasonable or contrary to Strickland.
All of Vinson's ineffective assistance of counsel
claims were deemed insufficient to satisfy either the performance or
prejudice prongs of Strickland by the Virginia court, and we
conclude that these holdings are neither contrary to nor involve an
unreasonable application of established Supreme Court precedent.
These claims therefore provide no basis for habeas relief.
Vinson also asserts entitlement to habeas relief
on the ground that Virginia withheld material exculpatory evidence
from him in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 83 S.Ct.
1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1965).
Under Brady,“the suppression by the prosecution
of evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due
process where the evidence is material either to guilt or to
punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the
prosecution.” Id. at 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194.
To succeed on a Brady claim, the accused must
prove that the evidence suppressed is favorable to him, either
because it is exculpatory or because it has some impeaching value;
that the prosecution suppressed the evidence; and that prejudice
resulted from the suppression. Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263,
281-82, 119 S.Ct. 1936, 144 L.Ed.2d 286 (1999).
Prejudice exists when there is a reasonable
probability that, had the prosecution disclosed the suppressed
evidence, the result of the trial would have been different. Id. at
289, 119 S.Ct. 1936. Vinson presents several Brady claims, each of
which the Supreme Court of Virginia rejected on the merits.
Vinson contends that the prosecution inadequately
disclosed the extent to which one of its grand jury witnesses,
Priscilla Turner, perjured herself. Rather than informing Vinson
that Turner's entire testimony was false, the Government's
disclosure indicated that one part of her testimony was false and
that it would not call her as a witness at trial.FN3
The Supreme Court of Virginia, noting that “the
Commonwealth attached Turner's statement to the police” to its
Supplemental Discovery and Exculpatory Evidence submission and
“informed the defense that Turner would not be testifying at trial,”
determined that that disclosure was constitutionally sufficient. We
cannot hold the state court's determination contrary to, or an
unreasonable application of, Brady.
In fact, in sworn affidavits, defense counsel
stated that based on the Government's disclosure, they proceeded as
if Turner's entire testimony were false. Thus, the state court's
conclusion that the disclosure sufficed to satisfy Brady was hardly
FN3. Related to this argument is Vinson's
contention that the Government's insufficient disclosure that
perjured testimony was used to obtain his indictment violated his
rights under Brady and Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264, 79 S.Ct.
1173, 3 L.Ed.2d 1217 (1959). In Napue, the Supreme Court held that a
“State may not knowingly use false evidence, including false
testimony, to obtain a tainted conviction.” Id. at 269, 79 S.Ct.
1173 (emphasis added).
There is no evidence in the record that the
Government knew that Turner was lying when she testified before the
grand jury, and once the Government discovered the perjury, it
provided the defense with the supplemental discovery regarding the
perjury. Furthermore, the Government did not call Turner as a
witness at trial. Thus, there was no violation of Napue, and as
discussed above, the Government's disclosure was sufficient to
Other asserted Brady violations center on the
testimony of Vertley Hunter, a critical eyewitness who testified for
the Government. Vinson contends that Hunter made several exculpatory
and material statements that were not disclosed to him at the time
of his trial.
He argues that Hunter made a statement contained
in some handwritten notes in the prosecution's files in which she
claimed to have seen the perpetrator at a time when Vinson was at
work, a statement that conflicts with one Hunter made in an
affidavit submitted in the state habeas proceedings in which she
claimed she never saw Vinson again after the time of the crime.
Vinson also points to a statement made in an
affidavit not submitted until the federal habeas proceedings in
which Hunter claimed to have seen the perpetrator at a time that
Vinson was undisputedly in police custody, and in which she
contended the prosecution threatened her into testifying.
Vinson further claims Brady error from the
Government's failure to disclose that there was a pre-existing
relationship between Hunter and Turner, and that the second eye-witness,
Janice Green, stated that she did not know whether she would
recognize the perpetrator if she saw him again.
The Supreme Court of Virginia concluded that even
if the statement in the handwritten notes regarding the second
sighting of the perpetrator was made by Hunter, it was not material
since, given the substantial evidence against Vinson, there was “no
reasonable probability that had the [handwritten] notes been
disclosed the result of Vinson's trial would have been different.”
The court also explained that there was no
evidence that the Government knew of the relationship between Hunter
and Turner, and in any event, it was immaterial. And it further
found that, even assuming Green's statement could have been used for
impeachment, it too was not material.
Again, AEDPA governs our review of the
conclusions of the state court as to the materiality of the
handwritten statement and the relationship between Hunter and Turner,
and whether the presence of substantial physical and forensic
evidence demonstrating Vinson's guilt weighed against the
materiality of the suppressed evidence.
In particular, the record reveals that the
Government presented evidence of blood on Vinson's shorts matching
the DNA of the victim, Vinson's fingerprints on the car in which the
victim was abducted and in the house where the victim's body was
found, and eyewitness testimony identifying Vinson as the man who
abducted the victim and as the person who pulled a board off of the
abandoned house and dragged something heavy inside.
Given this evidence,FN4 we can only conclude that
the state court's adjudication that the withheld evidence was not
material is not contrary to or an unreasonable application of Brady,
and that the additional statements contained in Hunter's federal
habeas affidavit are insufficient to demonstrate a reasonable
probability of a different result.
FN4. This evidence also forecloses Vinson's
claims that he is entitled to a mandatory evidentiary hearing
regarding the conflicting affidavits prepared by Hunter. Vinson
simply cannot show the required actual prejudice in view of the
substantial evidence presented at trial. See Keeney, 504 U.S. at
11-12, 112 S.Ct. 1715.
Vinson's final Brady contention is that the
materiality analysis conducted by the state court was flawed. He
argues that the cumulative effect of the exculpatory evidence
suppressed by the Government caused actual prejudice and that habeas
relief is therefore required under Kyles v. Whitley, 514 U.S. 419,
115 S.Ct. 1555, 131 L.Ed.2d 490 (1995).
To satisfy Kyles, Vinson must show that,
considering all of the suppressed evidence, there is a reasonable
probability that the outcome of the trial would have been different.
Id. at 434, 115 S.Ct. 1555. In light of the strength of the evidence
in this case, Vinson cannot meet this burden.
The cumulative effect of all of the undisclosed
exculpatory or impeaching evidence simply cannot satisfy the
required showing of a reasonable probability of a different result.
See Strickler, 527 U.S. at 291-96, 119 S.Ct. 1936 (denying relief
where, in light of the “considerable forensic and other physical
evidence linking petitioner to the crime,” petitioner did not show a
reasonable probability of a different outcome had the suppressed
evidence been disclosed). Thus, because Vinson has shown neither
materiality nor actual prejudice, his final Brady claim also fails.
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the
district court denying habeas corpus relief is AFFIRMED.
Dexter Lee Vinson
Angela Felton, the victim.