United States District Court, D. Maryland
Catherine C. Blake United States District Judge
evening of April 2, 1997, in the trees beyond Old Bradley
Road, a single-lane byroad up the east bank of the Nanticoke
River, a short-cut between Mardela Springs and Sharptown, Mr.
Jody Lee Miles shot and killed Mr. Ed Atkinson. What
happened, why it happened, and how the courts probe such
quandaries many years later is the subject herein.
a habeas case. Mr. Miles asks this court to vacate his felony
murder conviction in the Circuit Court for Queen Anne's
County because his trial counsel failed to pursue an adequate
investigation into his life history. This investigation, he
contends, would have uncovered a legacy of devastating sexual
abuse Mr. Miles suffered as a child that would have
recontextualized the facts of this murder case before the
trial jury. Critically, this is now an asserted guilt-phase
deficiency. An adequate investigation, Mr. Miles
asserts, would have provided the jury with a compelling
alternative narrative for the tragedy that transpired: What
took place in the woods that day was not the product of an
preconceived intent to rob the victim, but instead the result
of a post-traumatic stress-related episode arising when he
was reminded of events that took place in the woods outside
his childhood home when he was repeatedly and routinely
sodomized, between the ages of eleven and fourteen, by a man
named Charlie Stevenson, his mother's boyfriend at the
time. (Dr. Blumberg Aff. ¶¶ 3-4, ECF No. 7-1). Had
trial counsel adequately performed his duty and discovered
this evidence, Mr. Miles claims, there is a reasonable
probability that the jury would have declined to find the
requisite intent to rob, thereby rendering a different
here, Mr. Miles must surmount the imposing double-deference
standard erected by Strickland v. Washington, 466
U.S. 668 (1984), and 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).
Strickland requires deference to trial counsel's
decision making, and § 2254(d) requires deference to the
state court's Strickland determination.
Accordingly, Mr. Miles must show that: (1) trial
counsel's performance was deficient, see
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687-88; (2) prejudice resulted
from counsel's deficient performance, see Id. at
691-92; and (3) the Maryland state court decisions rejecting
his ineffective assistance of counsel claims were contrary to
clearly established federal law, or resulted in a decision
based on an unreasonable determination of the facts as
presented in the state court proceedings, see §
2254(d)(1)-(2). This is a heavy burden. Mr. Miles's
claims have been exhausted in state court and are otherwise
procedurally ripe for review here on their merits. While Mr.
Miles does show that his constitutional claim was not
adequately adjudicated by the state courts, he has not
demonstrated that he was prejudiced by his counsel's
allegedly deficient performance. Therefore, his request for
habeas relief will be denied.
Miles shot and killed Mr. Atkinson with a single .22 caliber
bullet to the left rear of his head on April 2, 1997.
Miles v. State, 365 Md. 488, 502-03, 506 (2001). The
basic facts of what transpired have never been in dispute.
Mr. Atkinson was shopping at Small's tuxedo store at a
mall called the Center at Salisbury, Maryland when he
received a page. Id. at 499-500; (Trial Tr., Mar. 9,
1998, at 79:14-81:20, ECF No. 66-1). Mr. Atkinson immediately
left the mall, Miles, 365 Md. at 500, about five or
ten minutes before 4 p.m., (Trial Tr., Mar. 9, 1998, at 81:23
- 82:5). Shortly thereafter, Mr. Miles and Mr.
Atkinson met at a rest stop off Route 50, just past Mardela
Springs, Maryland. (Trial Tr., Mar. 11, 1998, at 31:10-21,
53:2-54:9, 70:2-71:8, ECF No. 66-3). At 5:30 p.m., Harry
Vaughn Hughes., Jr., a man who lived along Old Bradley Road,
was taking out the trash when he saw Mr. Atkinson drive by in
a Toyota Camry. Miles, 365 Md. at 500; (Trial Tr.,
Mar. 9, 1998, at 92:17-93:18, 102:19-25). Old Bradley Road is
a narrow dirt road off Route 50, less than a mile from the
rest stop. (Id., at 107:25-108:13). When Mr. Hughes
saw Mr. Atkinson drive by, he was alone in the car.
(Id. at 97:22-25). Mr. Atkinson smiled and waved at
Mr. Hughes, who waved back. (Id. at 93:18-21).
Fifteen minutes later, Mr. Hughes heard a single gunshot.
(Id. at 93:24-94:3).
events that transpired after the shooting are similarly
undisputed. Mr. Atkinson's body was found two days later
by his brother. Miles, 365 Md. at 500: Mr.
Atkinson's body was located over 300 feet from his car,
which was parked at the mouth of a small cabled path off Old
Bradley Road. (State's Trial Ex. 6, ECF No. 84-6). There
were signs of a struggle, Miles, 365 Md. at 500, and
Mr. Atkinson had sustained one gunshot wound to the back left
of the head, (State's Trial Ex. 13 at.3-4, ECF No.
84-16). Mr. Atkinson's pockets had been emptied, and his
wallet and keys were missing. Miles, 365 Md. at 500.
It was later discovered that Mr. Miles had used Mr.
Atkinson's credit cards to buy, among other things, gas
and a diamond ring. Miles, 365 . Md. at 500-01;
(Trial Tr., Mar. 10, 1998, at 53:2-54:9, ECF No. 66-2). Other
valuables, meanwhile, were left at the scene, including two
strings of pearls in the" center console of Mr.
Atkinson's car. (Trial Tr., Mar. 12, 1998, at 63:10-14,
ECF No. 66-4). Mr. Miles returned to the scene the next day
to bury the body but left because the police were present.
Miles, 365 Md. at 503.
caliber revolver Mr. Miles carried with him on the day of the
murder was discovered to have been taken from James Cooper,
the father of a former girlfriend of Mr. Miles with whom he
has a-daughter.. (Trial Tr., Mar. 10, 1998, at 78:15-82:19,
ECF 66-2). After the murder, Mr. Miles's wife, Ms. Jona
Miles, threw the handgun and other inculpatory evidence into
the Choptank River near Denton, Maryland, where it was later
retrieved. Miles, 365 Md. at 502. Mr. Miles was
arrested on April 22, 1997, and shortly thereafter issued a
lengthy statement in which he admitted to killing Mr.
Atkinson. Id. at 502-03.
the broad strokes of what occurred are not in dispute, the
nature of the encounter between Mr. Miles and Mr. Atkinson,
and specifically the formation of Mr. Miles's intent to
rob Mr. Atkinson, is contested and remains central to Mr.
Miles's plea for post-conviction relief. A brief
background is thus in order. The defense theory at trial was
generally consistent with Mr. Miles's statement that he
was working on behalf of a loan shark to collect a package
from Mr. Atkinson, and that he fired the gun when he became
scared that Mr. Atkinson himself was reaching for something
(presumably a weapon) in his suit jacket pocket. (Trial Tr.,
Mar. 12, 1998, at 60:18-66:18, ECF 66-4). According to this
theory, Mr. Miles is guilty of second-degree murder, but not
premeditated murder or felony-murder based on a preconceived
specific intent to rob. (Id. at
67:23-68:16). The state did not have a different version
of events to offer the jury for how the two men ended up in
the woods; the prosecution simply argued that what occurred
was a robbery and a premeditated murder. (Id. at
post-conviction, Mr. Miles advances a very different account
of what occurred. As reported to Dr. Neil Howard Blumberg,
Mr. Miles, severely intoxicated, stopped to use the bathroom
at a rest area that served as a homosexual pick-up spot. (Dr.
Blumberg Aff. ¶ 5, ECF No. 7-1). The bathroom was
occupied, so he left. (Id.). A man from the rest
area pursued Mr. Miles as he was leaving and trailed him down
Route 50. (Id.). To lose the man, Mr. Miles turned
down a narrow dirt road. (Id.). When he thought the
man was no longer following him, Mr. Miles stepped out of the
car in a wooded area to relieve himself. (Id.). But
then the car pulled up and the man got out. (Id.).
The man started advancing on Mr. Miles, who hid.
(Id.). Mr. Miles then saw the man playing with his
pants zipper, an act Mr. Miles thought was sexually
motivated. (Id.). Mr. Miles felt trapped, recalling
similar circumstances where he was sexually abused as a boy.
(Id.). He then used deadly force to protect himself.
(Id. ¶ 9) Afterward, he took some of Mr.
Atkinson's belongings as a mere
afterthought. Mr. Miles argues that knowledge of his
history of sexual abuse would have given trial counsel
sufficient means to contest the robbery narrative and defeat
a finding of the specific intent to rob. (Third Amended
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Third Am.
Pet.") at 2-3, ECF No. 65).
9, 1997, Mr. Miles was indicted in the Circuit Court for
Wicomico County, Maryland, where the shooting took place, on
homicide, robbery, and related charges. (Third Am. Pet. at
4). The state filed a Notice of Intention to Seek the Death
Penalty on July 29, 1997. (Id.). Thereafter, the
case was removed to the Circuit Court for Queen Anne's
County. (Id.). The case went to trial and remained a
death penalty case. On March 9, 1998, a jury acquitted Mr.
Miles of first-degree premeditated murder, but convicted him
of felony murder, robbery with a deadly weapon, and other
lesser included offenses. (Id.). A capital
sentencing hearing was held the following week, and Mr. Miles
was sentenced to death. (Id.). He filed motions for
a new trial and a new sentencing hearing with the trial
court, but they were denied. (Id. at 5).
came his direct appeal. Mr. Miles timely appealed his
convictions to the Court of Appeals of Maryland. They were
affirmed, albeit in a 4-3 decision. (Id. at
Mr. Miles then filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the
United States Supreme Court from the direct appeal, but it
was denied. (Id.).
Miles's quest for habeas relief began in the Circuit
Court for Queen Anne's County, where he filed a petition
for post-conviction relief on September 19, 2002.
(Id.). The Circuit Court held a hearing in 2006 and
proceeded to deny Mr. Miles's claims for relief in full.
(Id.; Aug. 21, 2006, Mem. Op. and Order, ECF 2-1).
Mr. Miles filed an Application for Leave to Appeal from the
Denial of Post-Conviction Relief, which the Court of Appeals
of Maryland summarily denied in 2007. (Third Am. Pet. at 6,
ECF No. 65; Mar. 13, 2007, Ord, ECF 2-2). . Mr. Miles then
filed his second petition for writ of certiorari with the
United States Supreme Court-this time from his state habeas
denial-which. also was denied. (Third Am. Pet. at 6, ECF No.
Miles filed his first federal habeas petition in this court
on August 13, 2007. (Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus, ECF No.
1). On March 2, .2008, Judge Andre Davis stayed proceedings
on this petition to allow Mr. Miles to pursue and exhaust
state court remedies. (Third Am. Pet. at 6, ECF No. 65). Mr.
Miles did so.
state court, Mr. Miles raised, for the first time, facts
pertaining to sexual assault, claiming that his trial counsel
was ineffective for its failure to investigate, discover, and
present such evidence. (Id. at 7). But Mr.
Miles's motion to reopen proceedings in the Circuit Court
for Queen Anne's County was denied, as was his appeal
from that denial. (Id., at 7-8). Mr. Miles also
filed multiple motions to correct his allegedly illegal
sentence, challenging Maryland's death penalty statute.
(Id. at 8). These' too were denied.
(Id.). In 2012, Mr. Miles filed a second motion to
reopen in the Circuit Court for Queen Anne's County based
on additional evidence of sexual. abuse. (Id.). It
was denied, as was Mr. Miles's application for leave to
appeal. (Id.). In 2015, he filed a third and final
motion to reopen, which also was denied. (Id.).
Miles's claim that his trial counsel was ineffective for
his failure to uncover and present his mental health history
and history of sexual abuse is now before this court. He
contends that, because the Maryland courts have denied this
claim, it has been properly exhausted. (Id). The
state does not argue that Mr. Miles's present habeas
petition should be dismissed for failure to exhaust. (Answer
to Pet. for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Answer") at 20,
ECF No. 74). Mr. Miles has amended his
federal habeas petition since its original filing with
permission of this court. His third amended petition is the
most recent version.
therefore, Mr. Miles's third amended federal habeas
petition-which contains a single claim for ineffective
assistance of counsel at the guilt-innocence phase of his
capital trial-is ripe for review here. He filed his first
§ 2254 petition within the one-year deadline imposed by
28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). Mr. Miles now asks this court to
vacate his felony murder conviction pursuant to §
Standard of Review
the operative statutory regime, promulgated in the
Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
("AEDPA"), a federal district court will only
entertain a state prisoner's application for a writ of
habeas corpus if he or she is "in custody in violation
of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United
States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). Before any such
review may take place, the petitioner must exhaust all state
court remedies, meaning that all claims must be first
presented before available state tribunals. 28 U.S.C. §
2254(b); Jones v. Sussex I State Prison, 591 F.3d
707, 712-13 (4th Cir. 2010). If the state court issues a
ruling on the merits on a claim for post-conviction relief,
§ 2254(d) governs the federal inquiry. Byram v.
Ozmint, 339 F.3d 203, 206 (4th Cir. 2003). §
An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a
person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court
shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was
adjudicated on the merits in State court ...