JACK R. WATTS, Petitioner Below, Petitioner
DAVID BALLARD, Warden, Respondent Below, Respondent
Submitted: March 7, 2017.
from the Circuit Court of Ohio County Honorable James P.
Mazzone, Judge Civil Action No. 13-C-230
E. Johnson, Esq. Appellate Counsel Public Defender Services
Charleston, West Virginia Attorney for Petitioner
Patrick Morrisey, Esq. Attorney General Nic Dalton, Esq.
Assistant Attorney General Katlyn Miller, Esq. Assistant
Attorney General Attorneys for Respondent.
"In reviewing challenges to the findings and conclusions
of the circuit court in a habeas corpus action, we apply a
three-prong standard of review. We review the final order and
the ultimate disposition under an abuse of discretion
standard; the underlying factual findings under a clearly
erroneous standard; and questions of law are subject to a
de novo review." Syl. Pt. 1, Mathena v.
Haines, 219 W.Va. 417, 633 S.E.2d 771 (2006).
"West Virginia Code section 53-4A-7(c) (1994) requires a
circuit court denying or granting relief in a habeas corpus
proceeding to make specific findings of fact and conclusions
of law relating to each contention advanced by the
petitioner, and to state the grounds upon which the matter
was determined." Syl. Pt. 1, State ex rel. Watson v.
Hill, 200 W.Va. 201, 488 S.E.2d 476 (1997).
"A court having jurisdiction over habeas corpus
proceedings may deny a petition for a writ of habeas corpus
without a hearing . . . if the petition, exhibits, affidavits
or other documentary evidence filed therewith show to such
court's satisfaction that the petitioner is entitled to
no relief." Syl. Pt. 1, in part, Perdue v.
Coiner, 156 W.Va. 467, 194 S.E.2d 657 (1973).
LOUGHRY, Chief Justice.
petitioner, Jack R. Watts, appeals a May 21, 2015, final
order of the Circuit Court of Ohio County denying his
petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The petitioner, argues,
inter alia, that the circuit court's order is
insufficient to permit meaningful appellate review. Having
considered the parties' briefs, oral arguments, the
submitted appendix record, and pertinent authorities, we find
merit to the petitioner's argument and, therefore, remand
this case for the circuit court to make specific findings of
fact and conclusions of law to support its ruling.
Factual and Procedural Background
petitioner was sentenced on October 28, 2011, to an aggregate
term of incarceration of 215 to 705 years and fifty years of
supervised release upon his conviction of four counts of
first degree sexual assault, five counts of first degree
sexual abuse, and nine counts of sexual abuse by a person in
a position of trust to a child. Thereafter, the petitioner
filed a direct appeal of his convictions with this Court. By
memorandum decision entered on April 16, 2013, this Court
affirmed the petitioner's convictions.
17, 2013, the petitioner filed a pro se petition for a writ
of habeas corpus in the Circuit Court of Ohio County
asserting twenty-three grounds for relief. The petitioner
also requested the appointment of habeas counsel. By order
entered on August 16, 2013, the circuit court appointed
attorney Mark Panepinto to serve as the petitioner's
habeas counsel and afforded him ninety days to submit a
revised habeas petition on behalf of the petitioner setting
forth any and all grounds for post-conviction
February 13, 2015, Mr. Panepinto filed a document with the
circuit court that he styled as a "Certificate of No
Merit." Mr. Panepinto indicated in his "Certificate
of No Merit" that he had thoroughly reviewed
approximately 3, 000 pages of transcripts, evidence,
discovery, and related matters pertaining to the
petitioner's case. Mr. Panepinto then stated:
This counsel certifies that based upon the review of the
totality of the documents and information obtained and after
discussions with both former court-appointed counsel of the
Petitioner, that this counsel cannot ethically, and within
the applicable rules, argue any of the issues asserted in the
pending Habeas Corpus Petition. Additionally, counsel
certifies that it is his opinion and belief that there exists
no other viable grounds for Habeas Corpus relief by virtue of
an Amended Petition for Habeas Corpus as a Habeas Corpus
action would have no merit.
response to Mr. Panepinto's "Certificate of No
Merit, " the petitioner filed a motion for a change ...