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Webb-El v. Oddo

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 26, 2018

L.J. ODDO, WARDEN, Respondent



         Presently before the court is a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (Doc. 1), filed by petitioner Keith Bryan Webb-El (“Webb”), a federal inmate confined at the United States Penitentiary at Allenwood, in White Deer, Pennsylvania. Webb challenges his 1985 conviction and sentence imposed by the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas. (Id.)

         I. Background

         The factual background of this case has been aptly summarized by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals as follows:

Fort Bliss is a military reservation located in El Paso, Texas. June Webb was a soldier in the United States Army stationed at Fort Bliss at the time of the events in issue in this appeal. June Webb resided in military housing on the base, along with her putative husband Keith Webb, the defendant in this case. Between one and two o'clock in the morning of September 6, 1983, June Webb and Keith Webb appeared at the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) office at Fort Bliss ostensibly to report that June Webb had been raped. Once June Webb was physically separated from Keith Webb in the CID office, June Webb asserted that Keith Webb had killed her son, Steve Marcel Wilson, some weeks earlier.
After obtaining further details from June Webb, the CID agents approached Keith Webb stating that they desired to question him about an alleged homicide. Keith Webb fled the CID office area into the dark, and the agents were unable to locate him. Approximately six hours later, the CID was notified that an unknown individual was on top of a communications tower near the CID office and was threatening to commit suicide. When the CID agents arrived at the tower they were able to identify the individual as Keith Webb. Almost immediately upon being spotted by the CID agents, Webb shouted that if they would get his wife and a priest, he would tell them where the body was buried.
While on the tower, Webb threatened to commit suicide. Unable to persuade Webb to come down from the tower, the CID agents summoned an army psychiatrist and CID crisis negotiator. By means of a mechanical device known as a “cherry picker”, the psychiatrist and negotiator were elevated to a position near the tower where they could communicate with Webb. Initially, Webb was much higher on the tower than the negotiators, but he eventually came down to their level. In order to take Webb's mind off his threatened suicide, and to talk Webb down from the tower, the negotiators engaged Webb in a continuing dialogue. While on the tower, Webb repeatedly confessed to the psychiatrist and negotiator, stating that he had bashed his son's head against a wall, that he had scalded his son, that his son had died, and that he had buried him in the desert. Neither the psychiatrist nor the negotiator gave Webb Miranda warnings.
At approximately 10:00 a.m. Webb climbed down from the tower, was handcuffed and advised of his rights. Webb indicated that he wanted a lawyer before he would answer any questions. Webb was then taken to the CID office and allowed to see June Webb, as Webb had requested. Upon seeing her, Webb stated, “Well, if I'm going down, you're going down with me, so you might as well tell them you're a part of it.” Webb was then allowed to sleep on a couch.
At 11:00 a.m. FBI agents arrived at the CID office. Webb was again given Miranda warnings, and Webb for the second time requested counsel before answering questions. The FBI agents then left to conduct their initial investigation of the alleged homicide. At 1:55 p.m. the FBI agents returned to the CID office and formally arrested Webb. The FBI agents again advised Webb of his rights, and for the third time Webb requested an attorney. Webb was then taken to the FBI office, where he was fingerprinted, photographed, and advised of his rights. For the fourth time, Webb asked for an attorney. At each request for an attorney, the agents properly ceased questioning Webb. The FBI agents then booked Webb into the El Paso County Jail at approximately 3:00 p.m. on September 6, 1983. The booking card stated that Webb was charged with murder on a federal reservation.
The FBI agents returned to their office to prepare a complaint so that Webb could be presented to a magistrate that day. A complaint was presented to a magistrate at 5:15 p.m. that evening, but the magistrate found the complaint unacceptable. The magistrate directed the agents to redraft the complaint and present Webb at 11:00 a.m. the following day. Webb eventually was presented at the designated time on September 7, 1983.
Meanwhile, at the El Paso County Jail, Officer Simmons, the classification officer on duty, allowed Webb to make a telephone call and then gave Webb something to eat and drink. According to Simmons, in order to determine where in the jail population to place Webb, Simmons asked Webb, “[W]hat kind of shit did you get yourself into?” According to Simmons, Webb's surprising reply was: “I murdered my son and buried him in the desert.” Simmons then asked Webb, “Don't you think it be better if he got a Christian burial?” And then Simmons further asked, “Would you like to talk to the people that brought [you] here?” Webb indicated that he did want to talk to the FBI agents. Simmons relayed this information to his superior officer. The FBI was contacted at about 4:15 p.m. and given the message that Webb wished to talk with them.
Two hours later the FBI agents arrived at the jail. The agents again advised Webb of his rights and asked him if he wanted to talk to them. Webb signed a form waiving his rights. After trying to explain where he had buried his son, Webb agreed to lead the agents to the grave. Webb was not questioned on the trip to the grave. Webb indicated where the agents should drive and stop the car; he then walked them to within a few feet of the grave. Webb identified the grave by stating, “There's Stevey.” On the way back to jail, Webb asked the agents what would happen next. The agents began explaining the procedures that would begin with Webb's appearance before the magistrate the next day. Webb, however, wanted to talk about the events leading up to the death of his son. Webb gave the agents a detailed explanation of how his son died, stating that he (Webb) had bashed the child's head against the wall until a soft spot in the skull developed. The child suffered seizures thereafter. Webb also admitted placing the boy in a tub of scalding water to punish the child. After that, the boy's legs began to peel, he became lethargic, and eventually he died. Webb then related how he had wrapped the boy's body in a brown blanket and buried the body in the desert.

United States v. Webb, 755 F.2d 382, 385-86 (5th Cir. 1985) (Webb I) (internal record citations and footnotes omitted).

         In January 1984, Webb was found guilty of one count of second degree murder and two counts of injury to a child. Webb appealed. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit found that statements Webb made while he was on the tower threatening suicide were properly admitted at trial, but others made while he was in custody were not properly admitted. The appellate court reversed ...

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