from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Mississippi
DAVIS, CLEMENT, and COSTA, Circuit Judges.
COSTA, Circuit Judge
Mississippi jury convicted Lisa Jo Chamberlin of two counts
of capital murder and sentenced her to death. The district
court granted Chamberlin's petition for writ of habeas
corpus on the ground that the state court erred in finding
that there was no racial exclusion of jurors at her trial. We
the standards of capital cases, the double murder in this
case was gruesome. It occurred in Hattiesburg, Mississippi,
where Chamberlin and her then boyfriend, Roger Gillett, had
recently moved in with Gillett's cousin, Vernon Hulett,
and Hulett's girlfriend, Linda Heintzelman. After an
argument, Hulett and Heintzelman told Chamberlin and Gillett
to move out. Unwilling to leave, Gillett began beating Hulett
and Heintzelman and demanded that Hulett tell him the
combination to a safe in Hulett's bedroom. Although
Hulett eventually disclosed a combination, no one was able to
open the safe. In an escalating rage, Gillett continued to
physically assault Hulett, and he and Chamberlin physically
and sexually assaulted Heintzelman.
Chamberlin told Gillett they should murder Hulett and
Heintzelman and flee. Gillett struck Hulett in the head with
a hammer and slashed his throat. Chamberlin attempted to
strangle Heintzelman but was not strong enough to suffocate
her, so Gillett stabbed Heintzelman. Chamberlin and Gillett
left the home to dispose of the knife and hammer. When they
returned, Heintzelman was lying on the floor, still
breathing. After leaving her there for most of the day, the
couple finally decided to suffocate her. They bound her hands
with duct tape and put plastic bags over her head until she
couple put both bodies in Hulett's freezer, and, taking
with them the freezer and all the evidence they could
collect, they left Mississippi. They ended up in Kansas,
where Gillett had family. Almost immediately, Kansas
authorities took them into custody on drug charges and
obtained a search warrant for a farm where authorities
suspected the couple was manufacturing crystal meth. During
the search, sheriff's deputies found the bodies in the
Mississippi, Gillett and Chamberlin were tried separately.
Both trials resulted in death sentences, though Gillett's
sentence was vacated on state postconviction review.
for the most horrific of crimes with the most culpable of
defendants, there are certain trial errors that are deemed
structural and require automatic reversal. Sullivan v.
Louisiana, 508 U.S. 275, 281 (1993). The ground on which
the district court granted Chamberlin relief, exclusion of
jurors on racial grounds, is one example.
"Discrimination in jury selection . . . causes harms to
the litigants, the community, and the individual jurors who
are wrongfully excluded from participation in the judicial
process." J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B., 511
U.S. 127, 140 (1994). Going all the way back to one of its
first cases finding a violation of the Equal Protection
Clause (Strauder v. West Virginia, 100 U.S. 303, 312
(1880)), the Supreme Court thus "has followed an
automatic reversal rule once a violation of equal protection
in the selection of jurors has been proven." Winston
v. Boatwright, 649 F.3d 618, 627 (7th Cir. 2011);
see also Scott v. Hubert, 610 F.App'x. 433, 434
(5th Cir. 2015) ("[D]iscrimination on the basis of race
in the selection of . . . jurors is a form of structural
error that voids a conviction."). And because such
error "casts doubt on the integrity of the judicial
process and places the fairness of a criminal proceeding in
doubt, " a defendant may challenge the exclusion of
jurors of a different race. Powers v. Ohio, 499 U.S.
400, 406-11 (1991) (internal citations omitted).
a white defendant, invokes that rule to challenge the
exclusion of black jurors. After the trial judge narrowed an
initial pool of several hundred prospective jurors to 42
qualified jurors, 31% of whom were black, both sides
exercised peremptory strikes. The prosecutor first went
through the list of qualified prospective jurors in order,
striking and accepting jurors as he went, until the State
proffered a prospective jury of twelve. The defense then had
an opportunity to strike or accept the proffered jurors.
prosecutor struck two of the first three black jurors and
accepted eleven of the first twelve white jurors, proffering
an initial proposed jury of eleven white jurors and one black
juror. After defense counsel struck several of those jurors,
the State continued in the same manner, striking the next
five black jurors (including Thomas Sturgis and David Minor
who will become important), before accepting two black
jurors. Even this low number is more than the State planned
to accept. The prosecutor believed the second black juror had
been struck for cause prior to the peremptory phase.
the prosecutor used eight of his thirteen strikes,
62%, against black jurors. Ten white jurors and two black
jurors sat on the jury; both alternates were white.
objected to the strikes, arguing they constituted a prima
facie case of discrimination under Batson v.
Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), which established a
framework for determining if peremptory strikes are racially
motivated. Applying Batson, the court asked
the prosecutor if he had race-neutral reasons for the
strikes. For the jurors relevant to this appeal, Sturgis and
Minor, the prosecutor pointed to their answers to three
questions on written questionnaires the jurors had completed
before trial. The prosecutor claimed he struck them because
of the answers they checked in response to questions 30, 34,
and 35, in which both stated: (1) they were "not
sure" if they were emotionally capable of announcing a
verdict of death; (2) they were "not sure, "
because it was a capital case, if they would hold the State
to a higher burden of proof than the law requires; and (3)
"yes, " because the defendant faced the death
penalty, they would want to be one hundred percent certain
before finding the defendant guilty.
trial court accepted these race-neutral reasons. Defense
counsel responded by noting that Sturgis generally favored
the death penalty and that Minor had no opinion on the death
penalty, and, like other jurors the prosecutor had accepted,
Minor had a relative in law enforcement. Based on "the
totality of their questionnaire[s], " defense counsel
argued, "it appears that they could be absolutely open-
and fair-minded jurors on the question of the death
penalty." Defense counsel also pointed out that the
State had not sought to question Sturgis or Minor
individually to follow up on their questionnaires. Without
commenting on the defense's arguments, the trial court
rejected the Batson claim.
court did not conduct a "comparative juror
analysis": an analysis of whether reasons given by the
prosecutor for striking black jurors apply equally to white
jurors the prosecutor accepted. See Reed v.
Quarterman, 555 F.3d 364, 369 (5th Cir. 2009).
Chamberlin did not point out, and the court did not consider,
that a white juror the prosecutor had accepted, Brannon
Cooper, gave the same answers as Sturgis and Minor to
questions 30, 34, and 35. Like Sturgis and Minor, Cooper was
"not sure" if he was "emotionally capable of
standing up in court and announcing [a] verdict as to the
defendant being put to death." Like them, he was
"not sure" if he would "hold the state to a
greater burden of proof than the law requires because this
case is one in which the death penalty may be imposed."
And, "because this case involves the death penalty,
" he would "want to be 100% certain" of guilt
before returning a guilty verdict. Despite the three men
giving the same answers, the prosecutor accepted Cooper yet
struck Sturgis and Minor.
direct appeal, Chamberlin claimed she was entitled to relief
on six grounds, including Batson. Chamberlin v.
State, 989 So.2d 320 (Miss. 2008). Chamberlin again did
not compare Sturgis and Minor to Cooper. Without conducting a
comparative juror analysis, the Supreme Court of Mississippi
denied relief, finding with regards to Sturgis and Minor that
"the defense did not meet its burden to show that the
facts and circumstances give rise to the inference that the
prosecutor exercised the peremptory challenges with a
discriminatory purpose." Id. at
federal petition, Chamberlin asserted she was entitled to
relief on thirteen grounds, including that the state court
clearly erred when it found there was no Batson
violation. Chamberlin v. Fisher, 2015 WL 1485901, at
*12 n.3 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 31, 2015). The district court agreed:
a Batson violation had occurred which warranted
vacating Chamberlin's conviction and sentence.
Id. at *21-23. The State appeals.
district court granted the writ in a proceeding governed by
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). It
found that Chamberlin's Batson claim warranted
federal relief under either of the two grounds on which a
federal court can grant a writ based on a claim that was
decided in state court. Those are when the state court
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved
an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal
law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States;
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented
in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d); see Wiggins v. Smith, 539
U.S. 510, 520 (2003).
district court held that the legal error subsection (d)(1)
describes existed because the Supreme Court of Mississippi
did not conduct the comparative juror analysis used in
Miller-El v. Dretke, 545 U.S. 231 (2005)
(Miller-El II). It also held that the factual error
subsection (d)(2) describes existed because, after using
comparative juror analysis, it concluded that the state
court's finding of race-neutral strikes for Sturgis and
Minor was unreasonable.
not reach the section 2254(d)(1) question whether the state
court contravened Miller-El II in failing to conduct
a comparative juror analysis. Compare McDaniels v.
Kirkland, 813 F.3d 770, 777 (9th Cir. 2015) (en banc)
(not deciding whether Miller-El II requires state
courts to conduct comparative juror analysis when reviewing
Batson claims), with id. at 782 (Ikuta, J.,
concurring) (arguing that "Miller-El II could
not and did not establish any such rule"
requiring state courts to conduct such analysis,
though recognizing that comparative juror analysis may be
used in conducting the section 2254(d)(2) inquiry). That is
because we affirm the judgment on the ground that the
Mississippi court's decision was based on an unreasonable
determination of the facts under section 2254(d)(2). See
Miller-El II, 545 U.S. at 240, 266 (granting relief
under section 2254(d)(2)). In conducting that factual review,
both the Supreme Court and this court have used the
comparative juror analysis even when state courts rejecting
the Batson claim never did. See id. at 241,
241 n.2 (conducting comparative analysis on habeas review
despite no such analysis being presented to state courts);
Reed, 555 F.3d at 372-73 (same); Woodward v.
Epps, 580 F.3d 318, 338 (5th Cir. 2009) (same).
may grant relief for the factual error section 2254(d)(2)
captures when it concludes that the state court's
"decision was unreasonable or that the factual premise
was incorrect." Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S.
322, 340 (2003) (Miller-El I). The state court's
factual findings are presumed to be sound unless the
petitioner rebuts the "presumption of correctness by
clear and convincing evidence." 28 U.S.C. §
2254(e)(1). "The standard is demanding but not
insatiable; . . . '[d]eference does not by definition
preclude relief.'" Miller-El II, 545 U.S.
at 240 (quoting Miller-El I, 537 U.S. at 340).
recognize some ambiguity in the district court's opinion
about whether it applied the deference that section
2254(d)(2) requires. It first states that because of the
legal error it found under section (d)(1), no AEDPA deference
to factual findings was required. In the next breath,
however, it recognizes that Chamberlin "must demonstrate
that the state court's factual findings were unreasonable
in light of the evidence presented" and cited
Miller-El II's use of the demanding "clear
and convincing" standard required to overcome state
court findings. We need not resolve this ambiguity because
we can affirm on any ground supported by the record below.
Dorsey v. Stephens, 720 F.3d 309, 314 (5th Cir.
2013). Applying AEDPA's deferential standard, we conclude
that the state court's rejection of the Batson
claim was based on an unreasonable determination of the
Supreme Court and this court have both granted writs based on
findings that state courts had made unreasonable factual
determinations in rejecting Batson claims.
Miller-El II, 545 U.S. at 266; Reed, 555
F.3d at 382. In doing so, those cases relied heavily on
comparative juror analysis. That analysis comes into play in
the final stage of the Batson inquiry for
determining whether a prosecutor used a peremptory strike in
a racially discriminatory manner. Before that point, the
defendant must have first made a prima facie showing that the
prosecutor exercised peremptory challenges on the basis of
race; in response, the prosecutor must have articulated a
race-neutral reason for striking the juror in question.
Batson, 476 U.S. at 96-98. That requires the court
to then make the ultimate determination whether the defendant
carried her burden of proving purposeful discrimination.
Batson, 476 U.S. at 96-98; see Purkett v.
Elem, 514 U.S. 765, 768 (1995).
the process reaches this step, the defendant may rely on all
relevant circumstances to raise an inference of purposeful
discrimination." Fields v. Thaler, 588 F.3d
270, 274 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Miller-El II, 545
U.S. at 240) (internal quotation marks omitted). The pattern
of strikes here, while not dispositive, is compelling
evidence of intentional discrimination. See Miller-El
I, 537 U.S. at 342; Hayes v. Thaler, 361
F.App'x 563, 570 (5th Cir. 2010). The State struck nearly
two times as many black jurors as it accepted (eight strikes
compared to five accepted, including one alternate), while
accepting more than four times as many white jurors as it
struck (five strikes compared to twenty-three accepted,
including three alternates). It exercised 62% of its strikes
on black jurors, despite black jurors making up only 31% of
qualified prospective jurors.
other words, black jurors were more than three times more
likely to be struck by the prosecutor than white jurors.
"Happenstance is unlikely to produce this
disparity." Miller-El II, 545 U.S. at 241
(quoting Miller-El I, at 342); Batson, 476
U.S. at 93 (noting that "seriously disproportionate
exclusion" of black jurors "is itself such an