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April 17, 2003


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thelton E. Henderson, United States District Judge



This matter is now before the Court for consideration of Ira Carl King's pro se petition for writ of habeas corpus concerning his 2000 conviction for first-degree murder in Alameda County Superior Court. Petitioner challenges his incarceration on six grounds: (1) his conviction violated due process because the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to convict him of first-degree murder; (2) the jury's finding that the alleged murder-robbery special circumstance was true violated due process because the evidence introduced at trial was insufficient to support such a finding; (3) the trial court's modified jury instruction regarding the claim of right defense violated due process and deprived him of his right to a fair trial because it was an erroneous statement of law; (4) trial counsel's submission of an erroneous claim of right jury instruction deprived him of effective assistance of counsel; (5) the trial court's failure to specifically instruct the jury on the prosecution's burden in disproving his claim of right defense violated due process; and (6) the trial court's instructions to the jury regarding the order of deliberations violated due process.

For the reasons discussed below, the petition is DENIED.


A. Procedural History

After receiving a trial by jury, Ira Carl King ("Petitioner") was convicted of first degree murder on May 8, 2000. People v. King, A092494, at 2 (Cal. Ct. App., 1st App. Dist. Feb. 8, 2002) ("Slip Op."); Reporter's Transcript ("R.T.") at 1000-07. The information charged him with first degree murder (Cal. Penal Code § 187) for his alleged role in causing the death of Claude Williamson. Slip Op. at 2. The information also alleged the following, which affect sentencing under California law: that Petitioner caused Williamson's death through use of a deadly and dangerous weapon; that Petitioner knew or should have known that Williamson was over 65 years old; that Petitioner caused Williamson's death during the course of a robbery, a "special circumstance" under California law; and that Petitioner had suffered three prior felony convictions. Slip Op. at 2. After finding Petitioner guilty of first-degree murder, the jury found the special circumstance of robbery to be true, found the deadly weapon allegation to be true, but found the elderly victim allegation untrue. Slip Op. at 10. The trial court struck the prior conviction allegations and stayed the deadly weapon sentencing enhancement. Slip Op. at 10. Following the jury's conviction, the court sentenced Petitioner to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Slip Op. at 10.

B. Jurisdiction and Venue

This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this habeas petition pursuant to Title 28, Section 2254 of the United States Code. 28 U.S.C. § 1331. This Court is the proper venue for consideration of the petition because the conviction occurred in Alameda County, which is located within this judicial district. 28 U.S.C. § 2241(d).

C. Exhaustion and Timeliness

The parties do not dispute that Petitioner has exhausted all present claims in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b), (c). Likewise, the petition is timely. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d).

D. Facts

1. Evidence Regarding Petitioner's Attack on Claude Williamson

On the evening of October 14, 1996, Petitioner struck Claude Williamson in the head with an axe handle. Williamson died as a result of his injuries. Undisputed evidence at trial showed that prior to arriving at the scene of the assault, Petitioner was carrying less than $17 in cash. Also undisputed was that upon observing Petitioner's actions immediately following the assault, Petitioner's companions — his brother and nephew — asked Petitioner whether he had managed to get any money from Williamson's pocket.

Claude Williamson was a scrap-metal dealer who conducted business and lived with his wife in the upstairs portion of his house in Oakland. On the evening Williamson was killed, Petitioner, along with brother Lee King and nephew Frank Workman, brought a shopping cart of cans to Williamson's house. They sought to sell the cans on behalf of a friend, Mary. Whatever proceeds might be garnered were to be split such that Lee would get half and Mary would receive the other half. Mary was then to allocate an indeterminate amount of her share to Petitioner.

On arriving at Williamson's house, Lee climbed the stairs to Williamson's living quarters. Paul Smith, an acquaintance of the men and a neighbor of Williamson's, wished to speak with Williamson regarding other matters and joined Lee on the stairs. Petitioner and Workman waited below, in Williamson's backyard, with the cans. Lee then knocked on the door.

Inside the house, a short while before the knock at his door, Williamson had counted out $1,250 in cash and placed the money in his front pants pocket. Williamson then counted another $600 in cash, which he placed into a wallet in his back pants pocket. Williamson's wife observed him count the money and place it in his pockets.

After Williamson answered Lee's knock, he and Lee negotiated a sale price of $20 for the cans. Williamson gave Lee the $20 while Williamson, Lee and Smith remained on the stairs and Petitioner and Workman stayed in the yard below. Lee disclosed the $20 payment to Workman, who then informed Petitioner of the amount. Once the transaction was complete, Petitioner, Lee, and Workman left Williamson's yard and headed for a local store while Williamson began unloading the cans.

Upon arriving at the store, Lee told his companions that he had lost the money. Petitioner grew angry and suspicious of Lee, who he did not trust based on past experience. The three returned to Williamson's yard to look for the money. Petitioner believed that Lee, perhaps conspiring with Williamson, was engaged in a scheme to deprive him of his share of the proceeds. After repeatedly stating that he would not return to Mary empty-handed, Petitioner said, "Fuck this, I'm going to get my money from someone somehow." He then picked up an axe handle and swung it with both hands, striking Williamson in the head. As he left the yard, Petitioner encountered Smith, who he invited to accompany him to the store and elsewhere.

About 20 minutes after the assault, a friend notified Williamson's nephew, Ronald Archie, that Williamson lay prone in his yard, his head bloodied. Archie then observed Williamson lying on the ground with his pants pockets turned out and empty.

a) Defense Evidence at Trial

For his defense at trial, Petitioner relied in part on his own testimony, in which he denied that he had removed anything from Williamson's person after striking him, denied that he had struck Williamson with the intent to harm him, and denied that he had struck Williamson with the intent to rob him. Petitioner contested the intent element of robbery, as required for both the felony murder conviction and a finding of true on the special circumstance, by arguing that he had a "claim of right" under California law. In so doing, Petitioner testified that his intent in striking Williamson was to reclaim property that Petitioner believed was his. Additionally, Petitioner relied on testimony from his nephew that it appeared Petitioner was trying to strike his brother, not Williamson. Petitioner further relied on a ...

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