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Banks v. Vannoy

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Monroe Division

March 29, 2018

MATT BANKS
v.
DARREL VANNOY, WARDEN LOUISIANA STATE PENITENTIARY

          TERRY A. DOUGHTY JUDGE

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Karen L. Hayes United States Magistrate Judge

         Petitioner Matt Banks, a prisoner in the custody of Louisiana's Department of Corrections, filed the instant Petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on August 21, 2014. [doc. # 1]. Petitioner attacks his two second degree murder convictions and the two life sentences imposed by the Fourth Judicial District Court, Ouachita Parish. This matter was remanded to the District Court from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and referred to the undersigned to conduct an evidentiary hearing, and for review, report, and recommendation in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and the standing orders of the Court.

         I. Background

         The underlying facts in this case were set forth by the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal as follows:

Shortly after 11:00 p.m. on June 29, 2002, firefighters found the bodies of Irma Williams and her brother, Roy Tugler, inside their burning home at 1606 Hwy. 139 in Monroe, Louisiana. Each body revealed blunt force trauma. The body of Williams was partially burned and smelled of accelerant.
Williams and Banks were involved in a violent relationship for over a decade. They had recently broken up, and she was dating another man.
Authorities interviewed Banks on the day after the murders. His truck and home were searched and items removed for analysis. Also occurring on the day after this horrific event was the discovery of an iron plumbing pipe at the crime scene. Banks is a plumber. Human hairs were embedded in one end of the pipe along with what was believed to be blood. None of the physical evidence linked Banks to the crime scene. The case lay dormant for seven years.
In 2009, a former deputy revealed that a neighbor of Banks's might have relevant information. The neighbor stated that on the night of the murders, he heard Banks talking loudly with Williams and then later saw Banks walking away from the neighborhood. After further investigation, Banks was arrested and indicted for two counts of second degree murder. He was convicted as charged.

State v. Banks, 3d 56');">86 So.3d 56, 57 (La.App. 2 Cir. 2012).

         The trial court ordered Petitioner to serve two consecutive life imprisonment sentences at hard labor without benefit of probation, parole, or suspension of sentence. [doc. # 9-3, p. 22-25]. The Second Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed Petitioner's convictions and sentences on January 25, 2012. Banks, 86 So.3d at 66. The Louisiana Supreme Court denied Petitioner's subsequent application for writ of certiorari on May 25, 2012. State v. Banks, 90 So.3d 410 (La. 2012).

         On December 18, 2012, Petitioner filed a pro se application for post-conviction relief in the trial court. [doc. # 1-2, 31');">p. 31]. There, Petitioner claimed that his counsel was ineffective for several reasons: (1) failure to investigate and interview witnesses; (2) failure to inform petitioner of plea deals; (3) failure to object to gruesome photographs; (4) failure to object to prosecutorial misconduct; (5) failure to object to a jury instruction; and (6) failure to seek independent scientific testing of the evidence. Id. The district court denied the application on May 14, 2013. [doc. # 1-3, p. 34]. The Second Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the denial on August 22, 2013. Id. at 54. The Louisiana Supreme Court, on May 2, 2014, denied Petitioner's writ application.

Id. at 257.

         Petitioner filed the instant Petition on August 21, 2014. [doc. # 1]. He raised two assignments of error: insufficient evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel for the six reasons set forth above. Id. On March 12, 2015, this Court entered judgment [doc. #13], denying and dismissing with prejudice Petitioner's petition, and denying Plaintiff's application for a certificate of appealability [doc. #14].

         On March 21, 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit entered an Order granting Petitioner a certificate of appealability on the sole issue of ineffective assistance of counsel for failure to inform Petitioner of plea deals. Banks v. Cain, 5th Cir. Case No. 15-30258, doc. #00513431904. On September 27, 2017, the Fifth Circuit vacated the District Court's judgment on the above-referenced issue and remanded for further proceedings, holding that “the record before us does not conclusively indicate whether Banks's trial counsel actually communicated either of the two plea offers to Banks. . . . [W]e conclude that an evidentiary hearing on the issue is warranted.” Banks v. Cain, 5th Cir. Case No. 15-30258, docs. #00514173097 and #00514173098.

         Thus, the sole remaining claim before this court is Petitioner's ineffective assistance of counsel claim for failure to inform Petitioner of plea offers.

         II. Evidentiary Hearing.

         On March 8, 2018, the undersigned conducted an evidentiary hearing, with testimony from the Petitioner and the two prosecutors from his state court trial.

         A. Neal ...


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