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Clayton v. Lombardi

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

March 17, 2015



AUDREY G. FLEISSIG, District Judge.

Cecil Clayton is scheduled to be executed on March 17, 2015, at 6:00 p.m. for the 1996 first degree murder of a police officer, Deputy Christopher Castetter. He brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against George Lombardi, the Director of the Missouri Department of Corrections, seeking an emergency declaration of his rights under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments.[1] He also seeks a stay of his impending execution. After careful review, the Court finds that the complaint is frivolous and fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. As a result, this action is dismissed without further proceedings. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) (mandating sua sponte dismissal of in forma pauperis actions that are frivolous, malicious, or fail to state a claim.).


Clayton was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death on October 27, 1997, by the State of Missouri. On January 29, 2014, the Missouri Supreme Court directed Clayton to show cause why an execution date should not be set, the final procedural prerequisite for setting an execution date. Mo. Sup.Ct. Rule 30.30(d). Clayton's response included the opinion of two experts, who opined he is incompetent to be executed. In March 2014, the State of Missouri informed the Missouri Supreme Court that Lombardi had requested the Missouri Department of Mental Health to assist him in determining whether "reasonable cause" existed to believe Clayton was incompetent to be executed. Mo. Rev. Stat. § 552.060.2. On December 18, 2014, the State notified the Missouri Supreme Court that Lombardi had no reasonable cause to believe Clayton lacked capacity under Missouri law. The Missouri Supreme Court granted Clayton's motion for leave to file a supplemental response to the order to show cause, and he filed it on January 9, 2015. On February 6, 2015, the Missouri Supreme Court entered an order setting March 17, 2015 as Clayton's execution date.

A. Clayton's Crime

In 1996, Clayton became angry at his girlfriend in a convenience store in Purdy, Missouri. State v. Clayton, 995 S.W.2d 468, 473-74 (Mo. 1999) ( Clayton I ). When Clayton pushed his girlfriend, a clerk in the store phoned the sheriff's department. The Purdy police chief arrived and waited there until Clayton and his girlfriend left separately. Id. at 473. Within an hour, Clayton drove his truck to his girlfriend's residence. She was not there, but her sister called the sheriff's department when she saw Clayton sitting in his truck in their driveway. Id. Deputy Castetter was dispatched and arrived at the residence at 10:03 p.m. Three or four minutes later, two other deputies arrived to help Deputy Castetter deal with Clayton. When they arrived, however, they found Deputy Castetter in his patrol car, bleeding profusely from a point-blank gunshot wound to his forehead. Id. His gun was still in his holster. Deputy Castetter was taken to the hospital but soon died of his wound. Id. at 474.

Within 15 minutes of this murder, Clayton arrived at a friend's house, brandished a pistol, and exclaimed "would you believe me, if I told you that I shot a policeman, would you believe me?" Id. Clayton told his friend he needed him to provide an alibi. Clayton then drove his friend to Clayton's house. Less than a half hour after the crime, the two arrived at Clayton's home just as the police were arriving there to question him about Deputy Castetter's murder. Clayton asked his friend "should I shoot them?" His friend answered "No." Id. Clayton got out of his truck and, claiming he could not hear the officers, walked away from them and toward the side of his house with his right hand in his pocket. The officers saw him take something out of the pocket and put it in a stack of concrete blocks next to his house.

The officers arrested Clayton and later found his gun among the concrete blocks. Id. In a subsequent interrogation, Clayton stated that Deputy Castetter "probably should have just stayed home" and that "he shouldn't have smarted off to me." Clayton added, however, "I don't know because I wasn't out there." Later, Clayton admitted his involvement in Deputy Castetter's murder to a cellmate. Clayton v. State, 63 S.W.3d, 201, 204 (Mo. 2001) ( Clayton II ).

B. Clayton's Brain Injury

Clayton was 56 years old in 1996 when he killed Deputy Castetter. Approximately 24 years before he committed that crime, Clayton was injured while working in a sawmill. A piece of wood broke off a log he was sawing and lodged in Clayton's head. Surgery was required to remove the object, and this procedure resulted in the loss of nearly eight percent of Clayton's brain and 20 percent of a frontal lobe. Clayton II, 63 S.W.3d at 205. At trial, Clayton's brother Marvin testified that, after the injury, Clayton changed. "He broke up with his wife, began drinking alcohol and became impatient, unable to work and more prone to violent outbursts." Id. at 204. Another brother, Jerry, testified during the penalty phase about Clayton's "childhood and life as a part-time pastor and evangelist prior to the sawmill accident and, after the accident, his marital breakup, drinking alcohol and his antisocial personality." Id.

From the beginning of this prosecution, Clayton has argued that the effects of his 1972 brain injury absolved him of criminal liability for the 1996 murder of Deputy Castetter, and further argued that it left him incompetent to proceed in some - but not all - stages of his case. During the guilt phase of his trial, Clayton argued that the accident rendered him incapable of deliberating or forming the intent necessary for the jury to find him guilty of first-degree murder. Clayton II, 63 S.W.3d at 204. In addition to the testimony from his brother, two experts testified that he was not capable of "deliberating, planning, or otherwise coolly reflecting on a murder when agitated" and that his inculpatory statements to the police should be discounted because his injury made him unusually "susceptible to suggestion." Id. The jury rejected this evidence and found Clayton guilty of first-degree murder. In the penalty phase of his trial, Clayton argued that his injury was a mitigating factor that should make the death penalty inappropriate in his case. Id.

Clayton raised numerous claims in his federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, including many based on the impairments created by his 1972 accident and resulting brain injury. See Clayton v. Luebbers, No. 02-MC-8001-CV W NKL, 2006 WL 1128803 (W.D. Mo. Apr. 27, 2006) ( Clayton III ), aff'd, Clayton v. Roper, 515 F.3d 784 (8th Cir. 2008) ( Clayton IV ). Though not conclusive of the question now before this Court, these claims and the Western District court's rejection of them are relevant because Clayton's competence argument relies on a condition that existed throughout his legal proceedings and - even though his experts refer to the condition as worsening with age - neither Clayton nor his experts identify any evidence to support the fact that his competence is materially worse now than in 2005 and 2006 when his federal habeas petition was litigated and rejected. In 2006, as part of his petition for habeas relief in the federal courts, Clayton claimed that his trial counsel was ineffective for arguing both that Clayton was not the murderer, and that even if Clayton did kill Deputy Castetter, Clayton's brain injury precluded him from forming the necessary intent and deliberation. Clayton III, 2006 WL 1128803, at *5-8. The Western District court noted that the Missouri Supreme Court had rejected this claim, in part, because the court earlier had reached the conclusion that Clayton "did not have a good defense under either theory." Id. at *7 (citing Clayton II, 63 S.W.3d at 206-07). The district court held there was "ample evidence" to support this conclusion. Id. at *8.

C. Clayton's Recent Petition In Front of the Missouri Supreme Court

On March 10, 2015, Clayton filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus and a motion for stay of execution in the Missouri Supreme Court. He argued that he was incompetent to be executed under the standards enunciated in Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399, 410 (1986), and Panetti v. Quaterman, 551 U.S. 930, 957 (2007). The Missouri Supreme Court rejected these claims, among a ...

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