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Ortiz v. Cain

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 31, 2019

MANUEL ORTIZ, Petitioner
BURL CAIN, Warden, Louisiana State Penitentiary



         This Court previously ruled on the State's procedural objections to the Petitioner's claims (Doc. 80), but the State has belatedly raised five additional procedural objections (Doc. 86). Because the State has not expressly waived these objections, the Court finds that they are properly raised.[1] Accordingly, the Court will consider each objection individually.


         Petitioner Manuel Ortiz is a convicted felon incarcerated at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He was convicted in 1994 for the murder of his wife Tracie Williams Ortiz and her friend Cheryl Mallory. The jury recommended a sentence of death, and Petitioner was formally sentenced to death by lethal injection. On appeal, the Louisiana Supreme Court found insufficient evidence to support a first-degree murder conviction for the death of Mallory. Accordingly, the Court set aside Petitioner's conviction of first- degree murder and his death sentence for the murder of Mallory. The court rendered a judgment of conviction for second-degree murder. On this count, the court imposed a sentence of life imprisonment.

         Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction relief in state court, assigning fourteen claims of error. The court granted Petitioner's prosecutorial misconduct claim and denied his remaining claims. Though Petitioner's convictions were left undisturbed, his death sentence was set aside. Both Petitioner and the State sought supervisory writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court. The court granted the State's application but denied Petitioner's. On January 29, 2013, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed the decision and reinstated Petitioner's death sentence. The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari on October 7, 2013, and the denial of Petitioner's post-conviction relief application became final on November 1, 2013.

         Proceedings in this Court began on September 18, 2012 when Petitioner filed the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. The proceedings were stayed during the pendency of the proceedings at the Louisiana Supreme Court. The Court lifted the stay on January 7, 2015. Petitioner then sought the discovery of files held by the FBI regarding this case. Finding good cause, the Court granted Petitioner's Motion for Discovery on April 23, 2016. After completing discovery, Petitioner filed an amended petition on December 1, 2016. The State initially lodged procedural objections to several of Petitioner's claims, arguing that they are procedurally defaulted and should not be considered by this Court. The Court ruled on these. Now, the Court will consider the belated objections that the State has lodged.


         Pursuant to the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), a petitioner must fully exhaust his remedies in state court before seeking habeas relief from a federal court. “In other words, the state prisoner must give the state courts an opportunity to act on his claims before he presents those claims to a federal court in a habeas petition.”[2] To demonstrate exhaustion, “a petitioner must fairly present his legal claim to the highest state court in a procedurally proper manner.”[3] “The exhaustion doctrine demands more than allusions in state court to facts or legal issues that might be comprehended within a later federal habeas petition.”[4] For exhaustion purposes, it also is not enough for a petitioner to have raised the claims in the lower state courts if the claims were not specifically presented to the state's highest court.[5] The exhaustion requirement “is not satisfied if the petitioner presents new legal theories or new factual claims in his federal application.”[6]Furthermore, a claim is not fairly presented to the state's highest court if that court must read beyond the petition or brief, such as a lower court opinion, to find a claim not otherwise specifically raised.[7]

         Related to the exhaustion requirement is the doctrine of procedural default, a separate but distinct limit on the availability and scope of federal habeas review.[8] “Procedural default exists where (1) a state court clearly and expressly bases its dismissal of a claim on a state procedural rule, and that procedural rule provides an independent and adequate ground for the dismissal, or (2) the petitioner fails to exhaust all available state remedies, and the state court to which he would be required to petition would now find the claims procedurally barred.”[9] In the event of a procedural default, a federal court may only consider a claim if either (1) the petitioner demonstrates cause for the default and resulting prejudice, or (2) the failure to consider the claim would result in a fundamental miscarriage of justice.[10]

         LAW & ANALYSIS

         Respondent avers that the following claims are procedurally defaulted and should not be considered by this Court:

(1) Claim IV(A)(1), alleging that the State withheld information that Carlos Saavedra was incarcerated at the time of his testimony;
(2) Claim IV(A)(2)(d), alleging that the State withheld information that they had investigated but failed to corroborate Carlos Saavedra's claim that Manuel Ortiz was working with an “insider” in the insurance industry who could insure a person without that person's knowledge;
(3) Claim IV(A)(2)(H), alleging that the State withheld information that Tracie Williams Ortiz, and not Manuel Ortiz, was responsible for raising the benefits on her life insurance;
(4) Claim IX, alleging that the prosecution engaged in gross misconduct when it used arguments intended to inflame the ...

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