A federal death row inmate convicted of murder and robbery in Arkansas has won habeas relief from his robbery conviction and one of his death sentences.
Jeffery William Paul — who is housed at Terre Haute U.S. Penitentiary, where federal executions take place — was granted habeas relief on Tuesday against his conviction for the use of a firearm in connection with a violent crime, robbery, in violation of 18 § USC 924(c). Southern Indiana District Court Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson also overturned his death sentence, subject to a new trial in the penalty phase.
However, Paul’s conviction for aiding and abetting homicide, for which he was also sentenced to death, was not overturned.
Paul was convicted in 1997 in federal court in Arkansas of the robbery and shooting death of Sherman Williams.
By order of Magnus-Stinson, Paul and a man named Trinity Ingle followed Williams into Hot Springs State Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where they took Williams’ wallet and keys, tied him up with duct tape and shot him in the head and shoulder. . They then took $98 from Williams’ wallet and left his body in the woods before driving off in his car, which was later found in a pit in the national park.
Paul was sentenced to death for both convictions.
His convictions and sentence were upheld on appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and his collateral attack under 28 USC § 2255 was dismissed. He then filed a habeas petition in the Southern District of Indiana Court, which stayed the case to allow Paul to successfully pursue the § 2255 petition.
The 8the Circuit refused to grant the successor petition, so Paul sued the court for the Southern District of Indiana for habeas under 28 USC § 2241, known as the saving clause. He argued that he is in fact innocent of murder, that he is not eligible for the death penalty due to serious mental illness and that his conviction under section 924(c) must be overturned because “robbery” is not a crime of violence.
Initially, Magnus-Stinson determined that the true allegation of innocence could not be raised under the escape clause, and even if it could, the claim would fail.
She also determined that the mental illness complaint was not yet ripe given that Paul’s execution was not scheduled and the Justice Department did not indicate when it might resume federal executions.
Further, while the judge found that “neither the indictment nor the jury instructions properly stated the elements of the offense (of robbery)”, she also determined that Paul could have raised this question in motion § 2255. But she noted that while her indictment contained language similar to 18 USC § 2111, it did not include any statutory citation for robbery.
Paul was successful on his argument that his robbery conviction was not a crime of violence.
Specifically, Magnus-Stinson pointed out Borden v. United States, 141 S.Ct. 1817 (2021), which held that the phrase “violent crime” in 18 USC 924(e)(2)(B)(i) includes only offenses having a mens rea requirement of purpose or knowledge as to the violent actus reus.
Borden was issued long after Paul’s first petition in 2255, Magnus-Stinson noted, and it is a substantive rule that applies retroactively to collateral examination, thus satisfying two of the three elements that Paul had to to respect to present a request for a saving clause. The judge then determined that Paul had proven the third element: that “there was a fundamental flaw in the procedure which is properly characterized as a miscarriage of justice.”
Specifically, “neither Mr. Paul’s indictment nor his instructions to the jury required that it be shown that he knowingly used force during a robbery. And in the circuit where Mr. Paul was sentenced, the mens rea of knowledge did not apply to the force and violence elements of robbery § 2111, which is the robbery offense most closely resembling the conduct with which he was charged,” Magnus-Stinson wrote.
“For these reasons, the theft underlying Mr. Paul’s § 924(c) conviction did not require the conscious use of force, so it was not a crime of violence under bordin,She was holding. “And the conviction of an offense that is not actually criminalized constitutes a fundamental defect and a miscarriage of justice.”
Magnus-Stinson later overturned Paul’s sentence for robbery, writing that “the jury was not asked to specify the offense or offenses for which it imposed the death penalty.”
“Without this information,” she wrote, “the Court cannot determine whether Mr. Paul’s 924(C) conviction influenced his sentence.”
The case is Jeffery William Paul c. Superintendent, et al., 2:13-cv-00304.