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Vaden v. Runnels

June 16, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge


Introduction and Summary

As invited by the court, petitioner has made a second attempt at having the court order an evidentiary hearing. Petitioner has produced what declarations from witnesses as are available. Nevertheless, after scrutinizing the declarations, and expanding the record pursuant to Rule 7 of the 28 U.S.C. § 2254 rules, the undersigned finds that, in part, the records do not demonstrate that petitioner's trial counsel acted unreasonably, and to the extent the counsel's actions could be found unreasonable, the confidence of the court is not undermined by the new evidence and the record as a whole. The motion for evidentiary hearing shall be denied. Background

In order that review of this evidentiary hearing denial may be accomplished by reference to one order, the undersigned borrows generously from the order in this case of August 13, 2008.

Petitioner has requested an evidentiary hearing to prove his allegations of ineffective assistance of counsel with respect to his assertion that counsel should have called witnesses to back up his contentions that he had no motive to aid and abet the kidnappings and attempted murders of two juveniles. Petitioner further asserts that the witnesses might well have buttressed his defense theory that he was simply an unwilling, unknowing chauffeur for the perpetrator.

Respondent opposes the motion for evidentiary hearing on several grounds: petitioner did not develop the facts before the state court with sufficient diligence; the new facts supplied make the claim unexhausted; no evidentiary hearing is warranted in any event even considering the new evidence. The first two grounds are problematic procedural grounds the analysis for which would be difficult, and unwarranted in light of the fact that the motion should be denied on its merits. Therefore, the court will not address the procedural grounds.


The request for evidentiary hearing, and especially the prejudice analysis required for an ineffective assistance claim, require a full detailing of the facts. Those facts set forth by the California Court of Appeal on affirming the verdict satisfy this requirement.

On the night of March 28, 2001,*fn1 seventeen-year-old A.B. was at home in Vallejo with his friend D.R., who was fifteen years old. A.B. received a page and intended to walk to a pay telephone in order to return the call, as the home telephone was disconnected. As they left the house, they saw appellant Ernest Lee Vaden-an acquaintance of A.B.'s mother-outside sharing a beer. Vaden was with another man, Theodore Stith. A.B. asked if he could borrow Vaden's cell phone. Vaden agreed and led A.B. to his car where the cell phone was.

All four of them walked over to where Vaden's Nissan Maxima was parked and got in the car. Vaden sat in the driver's seat, Stith sat behind him, A.B. was in the front passenger seat and D.R. sat in the back seat behind A.B. Vaden said that he had an errand to run while A.B. returned his telephone call. No one objected to riding along with him. Stith asked Vaden to take him to American Canyon to see a girl.*fn2

Once the telephone call was completed, A.B. noticed that the car was on the freeway heading out of Vallejo. Suddenly, Stith loudly accused A.B. of helping someone burglarize Vaden's home. Stith pulled out a silver semiautomatic pistol and pointed it at A.B. Vaden-although less hostile than Stith-encouraged these accusations. Vaden said "If you don't ... tell me who did it, this [is] going to turn into the shit you see on [sic ] the movies." He seemed more upset with the person who had arranged for A.B. to burglarize his home than with A.B. A.B. knew that Vaden's house had been burglarized, but he denied being involved in the crime. The young men wanted to get out of the car, but there was no chance to do so-they were moving too fast on the freeway. On Stith's command, D.R. emptied his pockets and removed most of his clothing. Stith stated his intention to shoot A.B. Vaden drove off the freeway onto a dark country road*fn3 and parked the car. Stith ordered D.R. to remove the last of his clothing. He ordered A.B. to undress, too, ripping the young man's shirt off when he thought A.B. was taking too long to comply. Naked, A.B. and D.R. squatted on the ground as they were ordered to do.

Vaden continued to question A.B. about the burglary. Vaden said "Why don't you just tell us[?]""Save me a lot of trouble.""We know you did it...." "Just ... say who sent you and we can end this."When Stith seemed to believe A.B.'s denials of involvement and wanted to call things off, Vaden refused. "[N]o, ... it's too far gone. This has to be done," he told his companion. He told Stith: "You shoot him, and then I'm going to shoot the other one."Vaden said to A.B.: "I'm gonna count to three, and then if you don't tell me, you are gonna die."Stith wrapped the barrel of the gun in D.R.'s tee-shirt and pointed it in A.B.'s face.

2 Vaden stood nearby in the road, acting as lookout. As Vaden*fn4 counted, Stith shot A.B. in his left eye. D.R. got up and ran when he saw his friend get shot. He fell into a creek and hid in some nearby bushes. He could hear Vaden and Stith splashing in the water asking where he went. They left after a minute or two. D.R. waited another 15 or 30 minutes, then headed back toward the freeway. Naked along the freeway, he flagged down a truck driver and told him that A.B. had gotten shot. The driver called the police.

Meanwhile, A.B. lay on the ground for some time, thinking only of his pain. After a while, he realized that he was alone. A.B. ran up a hill and hid in some bushes. He heard Vaden, who sounded upset, return to the area saying "We gotta find him." A.B. remained in hiding for about five minutes, at which time he saw the Nissan drive away. He walked about three-quarters of a mile down the road where he found a call box. The police located A.B. standing at a freeway call box. He was naked, muddy, very upset, bleeding from one eye, and shivering.

Vaden was arrested the following day. During a prearrest stakeout of Vaden's apartment, police observed Stith visit the apartment complex while they waited for Vaden. Vaden smelled of alcohol when he was questioned by police, who suggested that Stith might have been the shooter. Vaden denied any involvementhe told police that he had been out of the area that night and had not seen Stith. On April 2, Vaden was again interviewed by police.


At trial, D.R. identified Vaden as the driver of the ca*fn5 and told the jury that Stith had threatened to stab and to shoot A.B. He testified that Stith hit A.B. with the gun while the men kept asking "Who did it?" Vaden pulled the car over after Stith told Vaden to do so and advised the driver to lean forward so he would not be spattered with blood when Stith shot A.B. Vaden's brother testified that he saw Vaden asleep in his car about 7:00 a.m. on the morning after the incident. Vaden smelled strongly of alcohol at that time.

Vaden testified that on March 28, he had been intoxicated. He went to A.B.'s house to buy marijuana. Stith was there, too, drinking beer. He asked A.B. if he could purchase some marijuana from him. A.B. told him that his supply was running low and he needed a ride to acquire more. Vaden agreed to drive him. Stith and D.R. came along. Vaden told the jury that Stith pulled out a gun and hit A.B. with it. Stith wanted to know who had taken his drugs. His actions frightened Vaden, who was also concerned that his girlfriend's car would get blood-stained. Stith told him to keep driving ...

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