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Riley v. Taylor

filed: July 27, 1995.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. (D.C. Civil Action No. 91-cv-00438).

Present: Becker, Hutchinson and Alito, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hutchinson


HUTCHINSON, Circuit Judge.

Appellant, James William Riley ("Riley"), a Delaware death row inmate, appeals a final order of the United States District Court for the District of Delaware denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Delaware sentenced Riley to death after a jury found him guilty of felony murder and recommended his execution.*fn1 Riley also appeals several of the district court's interlocutory orders, including its denial of his motion for leave to amend his habeas petition. We hold that the district court's denial of Riley's motion to amend his petition was inconsistent with the exercise of sound discretion. Accordingly, we will reverse the district court's order denying Riley leave to amend his petition, vacate its order denying the original petition and remand for reconsideration of all the issues Riley seeks to raise in his proposed amended petition, including those issues the district court decided on the allegations in the unamended petition.*fn2


After a five and one-half day trial, a jury convicted Riley of two counts of first degree murder (felony murder and intentional murder), second degree conspiracy, possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony and robbery in the first degree. The convictions arose out of a liquor store robbery by Riley and co-defendants, Tyrone Baxter ("Baxter") and Michael Williams ("Williams"). During the robbery, the liquor store owner resisted and hit Riley with a bottle of wine. Riley shot the owner twice, killing him.*fn3

The State's case was largely based on Baxter's and Williams's testimony.*fn4 After the jury found Riley guilty, it heard evidence on whether he should be sentenced to death or life imprisonment.*fn5 The jury unanimously recommended death, and the state trial court sentenced Riley to be hung.*fn6 It also sentenced Riley to life imprisonment without parole for intentional murder, twenty years imprisonment for robbery, five years imprisonment for possession of a deadly weapon and three years imprisonment for conspiracy.

On direct appeal, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed Riley's conviction and his death sentence. Riley v. State, 496 A.2d at 1027. Riley then obtained new counsel, Lawrence Connell ("Connell"), and sought post-conviction relief in the Delaware Superior Court. Riley raised multiple issues, including discriminatory use of peremptory challenges, ineffective assistance of counsel and inadequate voir dire. After holding three evidentiary hearings on the ineffectiveness issue, the Superior Court denied Riley's motion for post-conviction relief. Riley moved for reargument. In considering the reargument motion, the Superior Court held that Riley had established a prima facie case of racial discrimination in the state's use of peremptory challenges against prospective jurors. See Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79, 90 L. Ed. 2d 69, 106 S. Ct. 1712 (1986). It held an evidentiary hearing on the Batson issue, but ultimately decided it against Riley, and reaffirmed its denial of Riley's motion for post-conviction relief.

The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the Superior Court's denial of post-conviction relief. Riley v. State, 585 A.2d 719, 730 (Del. 1990), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1223, 115 L. Ed. 2d 1008, 111 S. Ct. 2840 (1991). It considered and rejected Riley's contentions that: (1) the jury instructions were inadequate at the penalty stage, id. at 722-25; (2) the Superior Court erred in applying Batson, id. at 725; (3) the voir dire was inadequate to identify jurors who would automatically impose the death penalty, id. at 725-26; and (4) trial counsel was ineffective at the penalty stage, id. at 726-30. After the United States Supreme Court denied Riley's petition for a writ of certiorari, the Delaware Superior Court on July 22, 1992 ordered that Riley be executed on August 15, 1991. Three days before the scheduled execution, Riley filed a petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of Delaware and sought an ancillary stay of execution. The district court granted a stay.

In October 1991, after he filed a brief on the issues the petition raised and the State responded, Riley moved for substitution of counsel. He asked that Thomas J. Allingham, III, ("Allingham") and Mary M. MaloneyHuss of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom enter their appearance as lead counsel with Connell to continue as co-counsel. At a hearing on the motion Connell explained that he lacked the time and resources to conduct an adequate investigation of Riley's claims. The district court granted the motion and extended the filing date for Riley's reply brief, the only outstanding submission, to January 31, 1992. The court also stated it anticipated an amended petition, advising Allingham that further extensions beyond January 31, 1992 would not be granted absent extreme circumstances.*fn7 In response Allingham told the court that the January 31 date was suggested "virtually in the dark" after only three days of preparation, but that he would do everything possible to meet it.

On January 10, 1992 Riley sought leave to amend his petition and stay further briefing until an amended petition could be filed. Appended to the motion was an affidavit describing the nature of the work completed, the number of hours spent to date in preparing the case (over 700 hours) and an estimate of time required to complete the investigation (an additional 750-800 hours). The motion for leave to amend did not append the text of a proposed amended petition, but instead sought a six-month extension to prepare one. On February 25, 1992 the district court denied the motion for extension, stating that "the Court concludes that Petitioner essentially seeks time to establish a new case, which ultimately defies the purpose of federal habeas review." Riley v. Taylor, No. 91-438-JJF, slip op. at 4 (D. Del. Feb. 25, 1992) (unpublished Disposition) (citing McCleskey v. Zant, 499 U.S. 467, 111 S. Ct. 1454, 1469-70, 113 L. Ed. 2d 517 (1991) (successive habeas petitions subject to dismissal for abuse of the writ)).

On March 6, 1992 Riley moved for reconsideration. This time he attached the amended petition he proposed to file. The State did not oppose Riley's motion for reconsideration, but the district court denied it anyway. It also denied three other motions filed on Riley's behalf: one seeking expert psychiatric, psychological, and investigative assistance; another for an order directing the State to file copies of missing transcripts; and a third requesting leave to pursue discovery and expand the record. On December 20, 1993 the district court issued an opinion and final order denying Riley's petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The district court concluded, "the state court ...

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