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Camacho v. Kelley

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 24, 2018

Manuel Enrique Camacho Plaintiff- Appellant
v.
Wendy Kelley, Director, Arkansas Department of Correction Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: March 16, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - Fayetteville

          Before WOLLMAN, SHEPHERD, and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.

          ERICKSON, Circuit Judge.

         On the afternoon of May 6, 2006, Daniel Francis was riding home from work in a car driven by his friend, Tracy Stith. Stith was either aggressive or inattentive and drove in a manner that offended another driver, Manuel Enrique Camacho. At some point Camacho handed a .357 handgun to his backseat passenger, Serafin Sandoval-Vega, and directed him to shoot into the car in which Francis was riding. Sandoval-Vega fired three times at the car. One bullet entered the right front window, fatally striking Francis. Camacho then drove directly to a Wal-Mart in Rogers, Arkansas, where he gave Sandoval-Vega a credit card and instructed him to buy more ammunition. Camacho was eventually charged in Benton County Circuit Court with capital murder as an accomplice. The state pursued the death penalty.

         Trial started on July 8, 2011, with sequestered, individual voir dire. After three days of jury selection and before a jury was empaneled, Camacho decided to accept a plea proposal that took the death penalty off the table. He pled guilty to the Accomplice to Murder charge and was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Camacho exhausted his state remedies and timely filed a petition for habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising several grounds for relief. The district court[1] denied the petition on all grounds.

         Camacho has appealed raising a single issue: were his trial lawyers ineffective when they allowed him to plead guilty without first seeking an evaluation to determine whether he was competent to enter a plea in light of a prior neuropsychiatric report that specifically noted that Camacho suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder with accompanying frontal lobe impairment? We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

         I. Background

         A. State Court Proceedings

         When Camacho was charged with capital murder, two experienced criminal defense attorneys, Tim Buckley and Kent McLemore, were appointed to defend him. They divided the defense between themselves, with Buckley primarily working on guilt and innocence related issues and McLemore working primarily on penalty phase issues.

         During an August 7, 2007, status conference, Benton County Circuit Judge Tom Keith directed sua sponte that Camacho undergo a mental health evaluation-as was the court's customary practice. Buckley objected, noting that the associated interview of Camacho would not be privileged and informing the court that he feared that the interview might solicit statements that could be used against Camacho. The state, apparently recognizing that Buckley's concerns were legitimate, suggested that the problem could be avoided if the defense were required to obtain a mental health expert. Judge Keith agreed and directed the defense lawyers "to obtain a mental health expert for mitigation purposes." Over the next several months, Buckley and McLemore identified three mental health experts, Dr. Pablo Stewart, Dr. Martin Faitak, and Dr. Antonio Puente, each of whom performed some testing or evaluation of Camacho.

         Shortly before trial, Dr. Stewart produced a neuropsychiatric report for the defense team. In his report, Dr. Stewart opined that Camacho suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with accompanying frontal lobe deficits, which "contributed to [Camacho] being unable to act 'Knowingly' and 'Purposely' with respect to his conduct at or around the time of his alleged offenses." All parties agree that Dr. Stewart never expressed any opinion that Camacho was not fit to stand trial or to enter a plea.

         On July 11, 2008, the third day of voir dire, Camacho accepted a plea offer that allowed him to escape the death penalty. A lengthy plea colloquy ensued during which a weeping Camacho made a statement to the victim's family and his own family. The statement to his family was in Spanish. Judge Keith asked that the statement be restated in English which Camacho did. After hearing from all interested parties, the court sentenced Camacho to a term of life without the possibility of parole.

         On October 9, 2008, Camacho filed a pro se petition in Benton County Circuit Court raising a number of issues as a basis for post-conviction relief. The petition did not raise the ineffective assistance of counsel claim that is at issue here. The ...


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