from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Texas
JONES, SOUTHWICK, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.
an appeal from the district court's denial of an
inmate's petition for habeas relief relating to his
alleged incompetence to stand trial on capital sentencing,
and for a Certificate of Appealability ("COA"). The
district court erroneously granted a hearing on the merits of
petitioner's claims and denied relief. We deny the
petitioner a COA because his claims are procedurally barred
and, alternatively, lack merit.
petitioner, Michael Gonzales, was convicted of the gruesome
murders of an elderly couple and was sentenced to death by an
Ector County district court on December 8, 1995. Significant
evidence supporting Gonzales's conviction was a jailhouse
confession he gave to a prison guard who also happened to be
one of his relatives. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
("TCCA") affirmed his conviction and sentence,
Gonzales v. State, No. AP- 72, 317 (Tex. Crim. App.
June 3, 1998) (not designated for publication), and
subsequently denied his initial state habeas petition. Ex
Parte Gonzales, No. WR-40, 541-01 (Tex. Crim. App. Mar.
10, 1999) (not designated for publication).
following year, Gonzales filed a federal petition for habeas
relief in the federal district court. The district court
denied relief concerning his conviction, but after the Texas
Attorney General's office notified the court about an
error that had occurred during the sentencing phase, the
district court ordered the state court to grant Gonzales a
new sentencing trial. Gonzales v. Cockrell, No.
7:99-cv-00073 (W.D. Tex. Dec. 19, 2002) (not designated for
publication). Gonzales unsuccessfully appealed the district
court's denial of guilt-phase relief to this court.
Gonzales v. Quarterman, 458 F.3d 384 (5th Cir.
2006), cert. denied, 549 U.S. 1323, 127 S.Ct. 1909
2009, Gonzales was again sentenced to death in a second
sentencing trial, presided over by the same judge who oversaw
his previous sentencing trial. The second sentencing
trial-and Gonzales's conduct throughout it-is the subject
of this appeal. The trial court assigned two attorneys, Woody
Leverett and Jason Leach, to serve as trial counsel for
Gonzales during the sentencing trial. After Leverett and
Leach were appointed, Gonzales wrote to them and requested
that they secure the services of a New York mitigation
specialist named Charles Lanier. Leverett responded that he
and Leach had looked into Gonzales's request but learned
that Lanier was not a mitigation specialist, but, rather, a
mental health expert who opposed the death penalty. Those
statements were not accurate. When Lanier told Gonzales that
Leverett's statements were inaccurate, Gonzales
petitioned the court to terminate Leverett's position as
his court-assigned counsel. Gonzales told the court that he
did not "trust [his counsel], plain and simple. When an
attorney lies to you one time, he is going to lie to you
every time, so my point [is] they aren't worth
s***." The court held a hearing and ultimately decided
to keep Leverett in his position as trial co-counsel, basing
its decision partly on Leverett's qualifications and
Leverett's explanation that he had not intended to
mislead Gonzales, as well as the court's distrust of
Lanier's motives for involving himself.
the court denied Gonzales's request to remove Leverett,
Gonzales stopped cooperating with his counsel entirely and
instructed his friends and family members to do the same.
Leverett then filed a motion on his own, asking to be
replaced as counsel for Gonzales because he had
"absolutely no working relationship" with Gonzales,
and because Gonzales repeatedly refused to cooperate with his
defense team (although Gonzales sometimes reached out to his
attorneys for help acquiring items for day-to-day use inside
prison). The court denied the motion.
demeanor in court became increasingly hostile and volatile
over the course of his sentencing trial. On the first day of
testimony, Gonzales's wife was called to testify and was
warned by prosecutors that she could be charged as an
accomplice if she repeated previous statements she had made
to the police. When she appeared confused by the
admonishment, Gonzales spoke out:
GONZALES: If she don't want to testify, leave her alone,
man. That's my wife. She has the right to plead the Fifth
Amendment. She don't got to testify against nobody. You
are harping her, man. You are f***ing with her mind. Leave
her alone. She don't want to testify.
COURT: Retire the jury.
(Jury retired from courtroom).
GONZALES: See how you got her all emotional. You ain't
got to testify, Martha. Don't let them get in your head.
You have got the right to keep the Fifth Amendment. You
should be ashamed of yourself, man.
COURT: Now, where are we?
PROSECUTOR: [Gonzales's wife] has told me that she is
frightened, that she is scared of the defendant, and I think
GONZALES: Godd*** right she is scared because y'all put
her in that f***ing position, man. Just leave her alone. She