KWAME A. ROCKWELL, Petitioner-Appellant,
LORIE DAVIS, Director, Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Correctional Institutions Division, Respondent-Appellee.
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Texas
JONES, SMITH, and DENNIS, Circuit Judges.
E. SMITH, Circuit Judge.
Rockwell seeks a certificate of appealability
("COA") to challenge the denial of habeas corpus
relief. Because reasonable jurists would not debate that the
district court acted properly in denying Rockwell's
claims, we deny his application for a COA.
jury convicted Rockwell of murdering a gas-station clerk,
Daniel Rojas, in the course of a robbery. The jury sentenced
Rockwell to death. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals
affirmed the conviction and death sentence.Rockwell filed a state petition for writ of
habeas corpus, which was denied.He filed a federal habeas petition, which
the district court denied.
state prisoner whose petition for a writ of habeas corpus is
denied by a federal district court does not enjoy an absolute
right to appeal. Federal law requires that he first obtain a
COA from a circuit justice or judge." Buck v.
Davis, 137 S.Ct. 759, 773 (2017) (citing 28 U.S.C.
§ 2253(c)(1)). "A COA may issue 'only if the
applicant has made a substantial showing of the denial of a
constitutional right.'" Id. (quoting 28
U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2)). "Until the prisoner secures a
COA, the Court of Appeals may not rule on the merits of his
case." Id. (citing Miller-El v.
Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322, 336 (2003)).
COA inquiry . . . is not coextensive with a merits analysis.
At the COA stage, the only question is whether the applicant
has shown that 'jurists of reason could disagree with the
district court's resolution of his constitutional claims
or that jurists could conclude the issues presented are
adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed
further.'" Id. (quoting Miller-El,
537 U.S. at 327). Federal courts cannot grant habeas relief
if a claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court
unless the state-court decision "was contrary to, or
involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established
Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United
States" or "was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. §
claims that reasonable jurists would debate (1) whether his
trial counsel's decision not to present evidence that he
suffers from schizophrenia constitutes ineffective assistance
of trial counsel ("IATC"), (2) whether his trial
counsel's decision not to present evidence of his steroid
use constitutes IATC, (3) whether he is eligible for the
death penalty under Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U.S. 304
(2002), in light of his purported mental illness, and (4)
whether Texas's death-penalty statute unconstitutionally
forbids juries from considering mitigating evidence. The
state habeas court and the district court rejected each of
first brings two IATC claims, on which he must show
"both that counsel performed deficiently and that
counsel's deficient performance caused him
prejudice." Buck, 137 S.Ct. at 775 (citing
Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984)).
"Strickland's first prong sets a high
bar." Id. Trial counsel is "strongly presumed
to have rendered adequate assistance and made all significant
decisions in the exercise of reasonable professional
judgment." Cullen v. Pinholster, 563 U.S. 170,
189 (2011) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
In federal habeas proceedings, a petitioner must also show
that "the state court's application of the
Strickland standard was unreasonable."
Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 101 (2011).
first claim is that his lawyers were ineffective because they
failed adequately to investigate his purported schizophrenia
and present evidence of it to the jury. Rockwell began
exhibiting symptoms of mental illness shortly after his
incarceration. Jail medical staff examined him and monitored
his symptoms. Ultimately, ...