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Slater v. Martin

Supreme Court of West Virginia

June 29, 2018

Joshua Lee Slater, Petitioner Below, Petitioner
v.
Michael Martin, Warden, Huttonsville Correctional Center, Respondent Below, Respondent

          Kanawha County 14-P-130 & 16-P-150

          MEMORANDUM DECISION

         Petitioner Joshua Lee Slater, pro se, appeals the April 17, 2017, order of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County denying his second and third petitions for writ of habeas corpus. Respondent Michael Martin, Warden, Huttonsville Correctional Center, by counsel Sarah B. Massey, filed a response in support of the circuit court's order.[1] Petitioner filed a reply.

         The 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.

         In State v. Slater ("Slater I"), 222 W.Va. 499, 502-03, 665 S.E.2d 674, 677-78 (2008), this Court set forth the underlying facts of this case:

[Petitioner] lived with his long-time girlfriend, Angela Walls, and their two small children in a trailer in Sissonville[, West Virginia]. On November 29, 2005, [petitioner] and Ms. Walls got into an argument. At some point, [petitioner] hit Ms. Walls on the side of her head and threw a hammer, hitting her in the leg and causing minor bruising.
When Ms. Walls indicated that she was taking the children to her mother's house, [petitioner] ordered her to stay at gunpoint. He also threatened to kill Ms. Walls' entire family. [Petitioner] then ordered Ms. Walls into the bedroom where he pointed a twelve-gauge shotgun at her and threatened to shoot her. While they were in the bedroom, [petitioner] ordered Ms. Walls to change into camouflage clothing. After she did so, he informed her that she had 14 hours to live, and then he was going to take her into the woods, tie her to a tree, "buckshot" her in both her knees, knock her teeth out so there would be no dental records, and set her body on fire so she could not be found. Shortly thereafter, Ms. Walls and the children escaped through the bedroom window, and Ms. Walls drove to her mother's house.
Subsequently, [petitioner] went to Ms. Walls' mother's house. By that time, Ms. Walls, her mother Lori Walls, and the children had fled to Ms. Walls' grandmother's house. [Petitioner] attempted to open the door to the Walls' house with a key[, ] but was unable to do so. He then broke the window in the back door with the barrel of a gun and kicked in the back door. A short time later, a police officer arrived at the Walls' house. Although [petitioner] fled the house, he was arrested later that day.

[Petitioner] was found guilty by a jury of kidnaping, for which he was sentenced to life with mercy; domestic battery, for which he received a determinate term of one year; wanton endangerment, for which he was sentenced to a determinate term of five years; and daytime burglary by breaking and entering, for which the trial court sentenced him to an indeterminate term of not less than one nor more than fifteen years. These sentences are to run consecutively.

         In appealing his various convictions and sentences in Slater I, petitioner raised the following assignments of error: (1) sufficiency of evidence to support his burglary conviction; (2) sufficiency of the evidence to support his kidnaping conviction; (3) constitutionality of his aggregate sentence; (4) alleged instructional error regarding the law of wanton endangerment; and (5) alleged instruction error regarding jury inferences. Id. at 503-10, 665 S.E.2d at 678-85. This Court rejected petitioner's arguments and affirmed his convictions and sentences. Id.

         Subsequently, in an initial habeas corpus proceeding where petitioner alleged ineffective assistance of trial counsel, an omnibus hearing was held on July 9, 2010, and April 4, 2011. At the July 9, 2010, hearing, petitioner's habeas attorney presented the testimony of petitioner, his mother, and his aunt. Respondent presented the testimony of petitioner's trial attorney at the April 4, 2011, hearing. By order entered February 22, 2012, the circuit court denied petitioner's habeas petition, finding, inter alia, that petitioner's trial attorney was not ineffective. In State v. Slater ("Slater II"), No. 12-0330, 2013 WL 5418574, at *2-3 (W.Va. September 27, 2013) (memorandum decision), petitioner's habeas appellate attorney challenged the constitutionality of the kidnaping statute, West Virginia Code § 61-2-14a, and the jury instruction regarding inferences. This Court rejected petitioner's arguments and affirmed the circuit court's denial of habeas relief. Id.

         On March 11, 2014, and March 31, 2016, petitioner filed his second and third habeas petitions, alleging that his habeas attorney and his habeas appellate attorney provided ineffective assistance. By order entered April 17, 2017, the circuit court found that no need existed for a hearing or appointment of counsel and denied habeas relief.

         On May 26, 2017, petitioner appealed the circuit court's April 17, 2017, order denying his second and third habeas petitions and, on June 26, 2017, filed a motion for appointment of appellate counsel. By order entered June 30, 2017, this Court ruled that "petitioner's motion for appointment of counsel will be considered with the merits[.]"

We apply the following standard of review in habeas appeals:
"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 ...

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