Richard Scott Bennett, by counsel Scott E. Johnson, appeals
the May 5, 2016, order of the Circuit Court of Monroe County
that denied his petition for post-conviction habeas corpus
relief. Respondent David Ballard, Warden, Mount Olive
Correctional Complex, by counsel Gordon E. Mowen, II, filed a
response in support of the habeas court's order.
Petitioner filed a reply.
Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record
on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately
presented, and the decisional process would not be
significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of
the standard of review, the Court finds no substantial
question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons,
a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order
is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate
October of 2007, Edwina I. (the "victim") died on the
floor of her trailer in Monroe County. The cause of death was
blunt and sharp force trauma to the victim's head caused
when the victim landed face first onto the edge of a metal
bedframe. The trauma caused the victim's brain to bleed
and swell over a period of about two days until her death.
Present at the scene were petitioner, who lived with the
victim, and the victim's three children: an
eleven-year-old daughter (the "older daughter"), a
nine-year-old daughter (the "younger daughter"),
and a four-year-old son.
2008, a grand jury indicted petitioner for the murder of the
victim. Thereafter, the trial court appointed Richard Gunnoe
as petitioner's first trial counsel. A trial date was set
for August of 2008. However, in July of 2008, Mr. Gunnoe
filed a motion to withdraw based on a conflict of interest in
that he had previously represented Elisha F. who was slated
to testify for the State at petitioner's trial.
Thereafter, the circuit appointed Geoffrey Wilcher and
Jeffrey Rodgers to represent petitioner. Petitioner's
four-day trial commenced on July 14, 2009. The State called
more than twenty witnesses during its case-in-chief;
petitioner's counsel cross-examined all but three of
these witnesses. The State's witnesses included the
Owens, a contract social worker for the Bureau of Child
Protective Services ("CPS"), testified that she
knew the victim because she had worked with her on parenting
skills. Ms. Owens testified that, four months prior to the
victim's death, the victim had called her from a
neighbor's house. During the call, the victim claimed
that she was afraid of petitioner because he had a plan to
kill her. However, when Ms. Owens called the victim the next
day, the victim claimed she had been hallucinating on diet
pills when she said petitioner had a plan to kill her. Ms.
Owens testified that, during this call, she heard petitioner
in the background coaching the victim on what to say.
Meadows testified that she had known petitioner for twelve
years and had worked with him. Ms. Meadows testified that she
stopped by petitioner's trailer one day where she met the
victim who had a black eye. Ms. Meadows testified that the
victim said the black eye occurred when she (the victim)
bumped heads with petitioner, but Ms. Meadows believed the
victim was lying to protect petitioner.
F. testified that she met the victim at the victim's
trailer. The victim would not look her in the eye. The
victim's throat was purple, the whites of her eyes were
"nothing but blood, " and she had bruises all over
her face and body. On a second trip to the trailer, Elisha F.
noticed that petitioner, his sister, the sister's
boyfriend, and the victim's younger daughter were
"being mean" to the victim. When Elisha F. asked
petitioner why they were being mean to the victim, petitioner
told her that the victim and the children's biological
father had sexually abused the victim's children.
Petitioner then had the victim's children explain in
detail what the victim and their biological father had done
to them. Elisha F. asked petitioner why the victim was still
around the children if the victim had done such things.
Petitioner replied that the victim, whom he described as a
"fat ass" and a "whore, " "ain't
going to be here long"; that he was going to kill the
victim for what she had done to her children; and that he
intended to take the victim's body and "throw her in
one of them caves." Elisha F. testified that petitioner
threatened to kill the victim at least ten times during this
conversation and appeared very serious when he spoke. Elisha
F. was so upset by what she heard, she called her own CPS
caseworker, Jennifer Ratliff, to report petitioner's
caseworker Jennifer Ratliff testified that she received a
call from Elisha F. regarding petitioner's threats and
the children's claims of abuse. Ms. Ratliff testified
that Elisha F.'s claims were very vague and that Elisha
F. had lied to CPS in the past; therefore, no investigation
victim's younger daughter, who was then eleven years old,
testified as follows: At petitioner's trailer, she slept
alone with petitioner in the largest bedroom. She witnessed
petitioner hit and kick the victim all over her body many
times; hit the victim with a metal pole; put a rope around
the victim's neck and drag her around by the rope with
his car; and push the victim into a fire. Petitioner hit her
and her siblings. She tried to call the police, but
petitioner took the phone out of her hands. Petitioner made
her hit the victim on several occasions. On the night the
victim was mortally wounded, she saw petitioner push the
victim down the trailer's steps. The victim landed on
some bedsprings and cut her head. As a result, the victim was
bleeding and crying. The victim crawled up the steps and into
her bedroom. She went to the victim's room and observed a
"big scar" down the victim's face. The victim
said, "Help me." The victim could only crawl and
mumble the next day. The victim bled a lot and blood was
"everywhere." Petitioner burned everything with
blood on it. The morning after the victim died, she and her
siblings accompanied petitioner to petitioner's
sister's house. Petitioner told his sister he had killed
the victim and begged his sister not to call the police.
Petitioner left his sister's home and went to buy lime.
Petitioner told the sales person that the lime was for
plants. Petitioner was going to chop up the victim's body
and place it in the sewer, but decided to place lime on the
victim's body instead. The day after the victim died, she
(the younger daughter) talked to "Monica" (a
forensic investigator). She told the forensic investigator
that the victim was with the children's biological father
on the night the victim was injured.
cross-examination, Defense Counsel Wilcher, asked the younger
daughter, "Do you remember telling [the forensic
investigator] you missed [petitioner]?" The younger
daughter replied, "Yes, 'cause we didn't know
what to do 'cause we was brainwashed." The younger
daughter further testified that "brainwashed"
meant, "when someone else, like, confuses your mind and
get into your mind and changes-twists up different things in
your mind to believe them."
victim's older daughter, who was then thirteen years old,
testified as follows: When she was ten-years-old, she lived
with the victim and her biological father. Her parents hired
her out to men for money. The men would touch her and make
her touch them. Her father sexually abused her and stuck a
carrot "up her little brother's butt." When
she, her siblings, and the victim moved into petitioner's
trailer, her biological father put the victim's head
through a glass window and went to jail as a result. In the
trailer, petitioner slept in the largest bedroom with her
younger sister. Petitioner frequently hit and kicked the
victim, hit the victim with a hammer, dragged the victim
around with a rope around her neck, and pushed her into a
fire. Petitioner forced the victim to put their dog's
"privates into her mouth." Petitioner hit her (the
older daughter) because he did not want her to tell any of
the things that happened at the trailer. Petitioner forced
her to hit the victim and to stab the victim with a knife.
Petitioner also made her younger sister and her little
brother hit the victim.
older daughter also testified that on the night the victim
hit her head, petitioner kicked the victim down the trailer
steps. The victim fell through the bannister and her head
landed on a "pointy-edge hooked to the bed frame."
The hook gauged into the victim's face, around her eye
area. The victim crawled into the house dripping blood. She
and her younger sister tried to bandage the wound that was
"massively bleeding." Awhile later, petitioner
carried the victim to a vacant trailer that was adjacent to
his trailer. There, petitioner put his knee on the
victim's head and "blood flew everywhere."
Petitioner then painted the floor with red and silver spray
paint. Petitioner left the victim in the vacant trailer until
the next day, when he returned the victim to his trailer. At
that time, the victim "wasn't acting right, "
"couldn't talk right, " and "couldn't
walk." The victim was still alive that night, but died
in "a day or two." After the victim died, she,
petitioner, and her sister cleaned up all the blood and
burned everything they could not clean. Petitioner told her
he was going to put lime on the victim's body. Petitioner
and the three children went to petitioner's sister's
house where petitioner told his sister and her boyfriend what
had happened, and asked them not to call the police.
Thereafter, petitioner and the children purchased lime and
returned to the trailer. The police came to the trailer soon
cross-examination, the older daughter admitted she told the
forensic investigator that the victim had been with the
children's biological father on the night the victim was
injured. She also testified that petitioner
"brainwashed" her to say that and that the story
about her biological father was not true.
examiner and forensic pathologist Nabila Haikal, M.D.,
testified as follows: The victim's head injury was likely
fatal, but the open wounds on the victim's head could
have contributed to her death. The victim had a black eye and
other face and neck injuries. There were brown and yellowing
bruises on the victim's face; injuries to her chest and
abdomen; bruising and scrapes on her back; bruising on her
buttock; seven fractured ribs; defensive wounds on the back
of her forearms and the palms of her hands; and wounds
consistent with stabbing.
Scott, petitioner's sister testified as follows:
Petitioner and the victim's children came to her trailer
while she and her then-boyfriend, Dale Bragg, were at home.
Petitioner was shaking and crying and admitted he beat the
victim to death. Petitioner asked both she and Mr. Bragg to
help him move the victim's body. Petitioner said he
intended to take the body behind the couple's trailer and
cover it with lime. She made up various excuses as to why she
could not help petitioner move the body. Petitioner called a
hardware store from Ms. Scott's home to inquire about
purchasing lime. As soon as petitioner left, she and Mr.
Bragg went to a second location and called the police. She
also testified that she had seen (1) petitioner hit the
victim and the victim's daughters; (2) bruises and a
black eye on the victim; and (3) petitioner be mean to the
Bragg, petitioner's sister's boyfriend, confirmed
petitioner's sister's testimony.
Scott Keaton testified that, in response to petitioner's
sister's call to the police, he and other officers
responded to petitioner's trailer. When petitioner saw
the police cruisers, he jumped in his car and drove away. The
officers pursued petitioner for about five miles. Thereafter,
petitioner's car accelerated, left the road, and struck a
tree. The police captured petitioner and searched his car
where they found bags of lime.
Magnetti, the victim's daughters' treating
psychologist, testified at length about petitioner's
sexual abuse of the younger daughter. Ms. Magnetti also
testified that both daughters suffered from Post-Traumatic
Stress Disorder and Child Sexual-Abuse Accommodation Syndrome
("CSAAS"). Ms. Magnetti opined that the CSAAS
explained why the daughters initially ...