Terry Allen Blevins, by counsel Ward Morgan, appeals the
Circuit Court of Mercer County's April 3, 2017, order
denying his petition for writ of habeas corpus.Respondent Ralph
Terry, Acting Warden, by counsel Benjamin F. Yancey III,
filed a response. Petitioner filed a supplemental appendix.
On appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in
finding that he received effective assistance of counsel
where counsel failed to object to the introduction of
previously suppressed evidence.
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 briefs, and the record presented,
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 Procedure.
August 11, 2008, Delores and James Barton, husband and wife,
were found dead on their property. State v. Blevins,
231 W.Va. 135, 143, 744 S.E.2d 245, 253 (2013). A passing
motorist removed Ms. Barton's body from her burning home,
and Mr. Barton's body was found in a locked storage
building on their property. Id. It was later
determined that these individuals had been beaten to death.
February of 2009, petitioner was indicted in connection with
these murders for one count of burglary, two counts of
first-degree murder, one count of arson, and one count of
Possession with Intent to Deliver a Schedule I Controlled
Substance. The possession charge was severed from the
remaining charges, and petitioner proceeded to a jury trial
on the remaining charges on April 13, 2010. The jury found
petitioner guilty of the two first-degree murder charges and
the arson charge. The circuit court sentenced petitioner to
two consecutive terms of life in prison without the
possibility of parole for his first-degree murder convictions
and a determinate term of twenty years for his arson
conviction, which was to run consecutively to the sentences
imposed for his murder convictions. We affirmed
petitioner's convictions and sentences in
Blevins. Id. at 159, 744 S.E.2d at
filed a pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus on April 2,
2014. Following appointment of counsel, petitioner filed
amended petitions for habeas relief. Although petitioner
asserted numerous grounds for relief, the only ground of
relevance to the instant appeal is ineffective assistance of
counsel. Specifically, petitioner argued that his trial
counsel rendered ineffective assistance by failing to object
to trial testimony that Ms. Barton's driver's license
was found several miles from his residence. Prior to trial,
the circuit court ruled that only evidence found within 100
yards of petitioner's residence was admissible. On
November 12, 2015, the circuit court held an omnibus habeas
corpus hearing on these petitions. After considering the
ineffective assistance claim and all others raised by
petitioner, the circuit court denied him habeas relief on
April 3, 2017. It is from this order that petitioner appeals.
Court reviews appeals of circuit court orders denying habeas
corpus relief under the following standard:
"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." Syllabus point 1, Mathena
v. Haines, 219 W.Va. 417, 633 S.E.2d 771 (2006).
Syl. Pt. 1, State ex rel. Franklin v. McBride, 226
W.Va. 375, 701 S.E.2d 97 (2009).
appeal, petitioner argues that the circuit court erred in
concluding that he received effective assistance of counsel
where counsel failed to object to testimony concerning Ms.
Barton's driver's license. The circuit court ruled
prior to trial that evidence found outside of the 100-yard
radius of petitioner's residence was only speculatively
connected and, therefore, inadmissible. Petitioner asserts
that the circuit court, "with little discussion, "
found that the outcome at trial would not have been
different, and that such constitutes an insufficient factual
basis for ruling on the claim.
review ineffective assistance of counsel claims as follows:
In the West Virginia courts, claims of ineffective assistance
of counsel are to be governed by the two-pronged test
established in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S.
668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984): (1) Counsel's
performance was deficient under an objective standard of
reasonableness; and (2) there is a reasonable probability
that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result
of the proceedings would have been different.
Syl. Pt. 5, State v. Miller, 194 W.Va. 3, 459 S.E.2d
114 (1995). Furthermore, "[i]n deciding ineffective
assistance claims, a court need not address both prongs of
the conjunctive [Strickland/Miller]
standard[, ] . . . but may dispose of such a claim based
solely on a petitioner's failure to meet either prong of
the test." Syl. Pt. 5, State ex rel. Daniel v.
Legursky, 195 W.Va. 314, 456 S.E.2d 416 (1995).
no merit to petitioner's argument that, but for
counsel's alleged ineffective assistance, the result of
the proceedings would have been different. Sufficient
evidence existed to connect petitioner to the victims without
considering the driver's license. We recounted some ...