United States Court of Appeals
April 2, 2008
PUBLISH Elisabeth A. Shumaker
Clerk of Court
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
DONALD LEE GILSON,
v. No. 06-6287
MARTY SIRMONS, Warden, Oklahoma
Respondent-Appellee. APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF OKLAHOMA
(D.C. No. CV-01-1311-C)
Timothy R. Payne, Assistant Federal Public Defender (James A. Drummond, Federal
Public Defender, and Mariatu Kargbo, Research and Writing Specialist, with him on the
briefs) Death Penalty Federal Habeas Corpus Division, Office of Federal Public
Defender, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for Petitioner-Appellant.
Preston Saul Draper, Assistant Attorney General (W. A. Drew Edmondson, Attorney
General of Oklahoma, with him on the brief), Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, for
Respondent-Appellee. Before HENRY, Chief Circuit Judge, TACHA and BRISCOE, Circuit Judges. BRISCOE, Circuit Judge.
Petitioner Donald Lee Gilson, an Oklahoma state prisoner convicted of first degree
child abuse murder and sentenced to death, appeals the district court's denial of his 28
U.S.C. § 2254 habeas corpus petition. We exercise jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1291 and affirm.
The pertinent facts of this case were well summarized by the Oklahoma Court of
Criminal Appeals (OCCA) in resolving Gilson's direct appeal:
On February 9, 1996, the skeletal remains of eight (8) year old Shane
Coffman were found in an abandoned freezer located next to a mobile home
formerly rented by his mother, Bertha Jean Coffman. A subsequent search
of the mobile home revealed a photograph of [Gilson]. On February 11,
1996, authorities from the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office met with
[Gilson] at his mobile home. Living in the mobile home with [Gilson] was
Bertha Jean Coffman and her four children, twelve (12) year old Isaac, ten
(10) year old Tia, eleven (11) year old Tranny and seven (7) year old
Crystal. The children were immediately removed from the trailer and taken
to Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City. [Gilson] and Bertha Jean
Coffman were detained by the deputies.
Examinations of the children conducted in the emergency room revealed
Tranny and Crystal were healthy with a few small scars on each. However,
Isaac and Tia were malnourished and emaciated. Tia's feet were swollen
and she had difficulty walking. She had gangrenous tissue on her right foot.
On her right buttocks was a large open ulcer. Isaac was in the worst
condition, emaciated and needing assistance to walk. He was malnourished
and had several injuries, in various stages of healing, and scars throughout
In their initial interview with police, [Gilson] and Coffman both denied
any knowledge as to the manner in which Shane died. They stated he had
run away from home during the early part of November and they had found
him dead in the weeds near Coffman's trailer. They decided that putting
him in the freezer would be the best thing to do. However, in subsequent
interviews both [Gilson] and Coffman recanted this story and admitted to
knowing more about the circumstances surrounding Shane's death. From
interviews with [Gilson], Coffman, the Coffman children and other
[End Page 2]
witnesses, the following picture emerged.
The four Coffman children mentioned above, along with the murder
victim in this case, and another brother, thirteen (13) year old Jeremy, lived
with their mother Bertha Jean Coffman, in a mobile home. During the fall
of 1994, the Cleveland County Sheriff's Department received complaints of sexual abuse committed upon one of the Coffman children by Coffman's
then boyfriend (not [Gilson]). The investigating detective visited
Coffman's mobile home and found the conditions deplorable and
unsanitary. The children were removed from Coffman's home until
conditions improved. It was about this time that Bertha Jean Coffman met
[Gilson]. They were both working as janitors at Little Axe Schools.
[Gilson] fixed up Coffman's trailer so she could get her children back. The
children were subsequently returned to their mother.
Thereafter, [Gilson] began spending more and more time with Coffman
and was given the authority to discipline the children. In June of 1995, the
oldest child, Jeremy, ran away [as a result of his mistreatment by Gilson].
The next month, Coffman and her children walked to [Gilson]'s trailer for a
visit and never returned to their home. Whatever possessions they had were
left at Coffman's trailer. [Gilson]'s trailer had only 2 bedrooms; [Gilson]
and Coffman slept in one room and the other room contained [Gilson]'s
leather working material. As a result, all five children were forced to sleep
on blankets in the living room. They were not permitted to go outside, but
had to remain inside the trailer at all times. The children were taken out of school and claimed to be homeschooled by Coffman, although no evidence
of homeschooling was ever found. The children were also not permitted to
go to church.
[Gilson] and Coffman both disciplined the children. This discipline took several forms, including standing at the wall, sometimes for hours at a time,
and beatings with a bamboo stick, a belt, boards, wooden rulers, metal ruler,
and a bullwhip. The children were also made to sit in the bathtub, often for
hours at a time. Food was withheld, particularly from Isaac and Tia, as
punishment. The abuse inflicted upon Shane Coffman resulted in his death
on August 17, 1995.
At trial, Tranny testified that he last saw his brother Shane sitting in the
bathtub. Tranny said Shane had gotten in trouble for going to the bathroom
on the living room carpet. He said that before Shane was put into the
bathtub, [Gilson] beat him with a board. Tranny said Shane received
[End Page 3]
several beatings with the board, all over his body. After the beating,
[Gilson] put Shane into the bathtub. After a couple of hours, Shane was let
out of the bathtub. He then got into trouble again. Tranny said [Gilson]
and Coffman then took Shane outside the trailer. Tranny did not know what
happened to Shane while he was outside, but he said he could hear Shane screaming. [Gilson] and Coffman carried Shane back inside the trailer.
Tranny said Shane's arms were swollen, he was breathing "weird", and he
had a soft spot on his head. Pursuant to [Gilson]'s "house rules", the other
children were not permitted to talk to Shane. [Gilson] then carried Shane to
the bathroom and placed him in the bathtub. Tranny said he and the other
children heard a few more screams and banging noises. He said both
[Gilson] and Coffman were with Shane when they heard the screams. The
children then decided to try and go to sleep. He said they were awakened some time later by [Gilson] and Coffman and told that Shane had run away,
and that [Gilson] and Coffman were going to look for him.
Isaac testified [Gilson] first sent Shane to stand at the wall for wetting
the bed. While he was standing at the wall, [Gilson] hit him with a board.
[Gilson] and Coffman eventually took Shane to the bathroom and put him
in the bathtub. Isaac said [Gilson] made all the other children go to the
bathroom and tell Shane what a bad boy he was. He said that both [Gilson]
and Coffman remained in the bathroom with Shane while the children
watched television. He said they could hear Shane crying. Isaac further stated that later that night, [Gilson] and Coffman told them Shane had run
In a statement made to police shortly after his arrest, and admitted at trial
as State's Exhibit 2, [Gilson] stated that on August 17, 1995, he had put
Shane in the bathtub as punishment. [Gilson] said he was trying to teach
Shane a lesson, so he spanked him and put him in the bathtub where he was
to remain until he stopped the disruptive behavior. He said the water in the
bathtub was initially warm to help the pain from the spanking, but then he
changed it to a cold bath. [Gilson] said Shane was crying as Coffman
talked to him about his behavior. He said he then laid down on the couch to
watch television with the rest of the kids where he eventually fell asleep.
Coffman was in and out of the bathroom talking to Shane before she went
to the bedroom to lay down. A while later, Coffman came into the living
room in tears and told [Gilson] to come to the bathroom. He said Coffman
had taken Shane out of the bathtub and laid him on the floor. Shane's lips
were blue and he was not breathing. [Gilson] said he performed CPR for
approximately an hour to an hour and half. When his efforts were
[End Page 4]
unsuccessful, [Gilson] took the comforter off of his bed, wrapped Shane up
and placed him back in the bathtub.
[Gilson] said he and Coffman discussed what to do next. He said
Coffman was worried that the Department of Human Services (hereinafter
DHS) would take her kids away if the authorities found out Shane had died.
So they left Shane in the bathtub, waiting until the other children had gone
to sleep to remove him from the house. [Gilson] said they carried Shane
outside and placed him in the back of a truck. He said they discussed "just
dumping him somewhere" or "bury[ing] him out in the middle of the
boonies." But they decided neither of those options were right and "even
though he wasn't alive he would still be part of the family bein (sic) on her
property, . . . thought about putting him in the freezer, it wouldn't hurt him
and then concreting it over. And making a flower bed out of it." So
[Gilson] and Coffman took Shane's body to the freezer located next to
Coffman's trailer and put him inside. [Gilson] said he and Coffman told the
other children Shane had run away.
Bertha Jean Coffman testified at trial to disciplining her children by
making them stand at the time-out wall, and spanking them, only on their
bottoms, with a cloth belt or a wooden paddle. She also testified that
[Gilson] disciplined her children by spanking them with the wooden paddle,
but at various places on their bodies. Coffman stated [Gilson] had a quick
temper and did not want the children tearing up his trailer.
In her statement to police on August 17, 1995, Coffman said she and
[Gilson] found Shane sexually assaulting his younger brother. As
punishment, they made him stand at the time-out wall, then Coffman
paddled him. When Shane refused to stand at the wall, Coffman spanked
him again. When Shane still would not do as Coffman directed, she screamed at him. Shane then fainted. When Coffman could not get a
response from Shane, she put a piece of ice on his chest. When he still did
not respond, Coffman picked him up and took him to the bathroom where she placed him in a tub of cool water. She said Shane eventually came to
and wanted to get out of the tub. She said he slipped and hit his head on the
faucet. Coffman stated she pushed on Shane's shoulders to keep him in the
bathtub. They struggled, and the shower doors were knocked off their
railing. Coffman called for [Gilson] to come and fix the doors. [Gilson]
left the living room where he had been watching television with the other
children and put the doors back on their railings. [Gilson] left the
bathroom. Coffman and Shane struggled again. [Gilson] returned to the
[End Page 5]
bathroom to see what the noise was about. He saw the doors had fallen off
again so he took them and set them on the floor. Coffman said she
remained in the bathroom with Shane while [Gilson] went back to the living
After a while, [Gilson] stepped into the bathroom and told Coffman to
leave Shane alone for a while. So Coffman left the bathroom to get Shane
dry clothes and prepare lunch. When she saw that [Gilson] had already
prepared lunch, Coffman laid down on her bed. She was awakened by a
noise in the bathroom and saw [Gilson] coming out of the bathroom. When
asked how Shane was, [Gilson] responded he was fine and that he was
blowing bubbles. Coffman sat down to have a cup of coffee, then decided
to check on Shane. She found him quiet but not breathing. She called for
[Gilson] and they pulled Shane out of the bathtub and gave him CPR. She said they waited until the other children were asleep before taking the body
to the freezer. Coffman also stated that once Shane died, Isaac and Tia
began receiving the brunt of the discipline from [Gilson].
Shane's skeletal remains were not found until approximately six (6)
months after his death. Therefore, the medical examiner, Dr. Balding, was
not able to make a determination as to the cause of death. The medical
examiner did testify to injuries to certain bones which were evident upon
his examination of the remains. The injuries included a fracture to the right
jawbone. The injury was determined to be "acute" as it showed no signs of
healing, and therefore was probably less than a week old at the time of
death. Another fracture was also found on the left side of the skull. Dr.
Balding testified the two fractures were the result of two different blunt
force blows. A tooth was missing from the right jaw. Fractures were also
found in the collarbone, shoulder blades, numerous ribs, both legs, and several vertebrae in the spine. All the fractures were ruled acute, and not
the result of normal childhood play.
[Gilson] and Bertha Jean Coffman were jointly charged with first degree
murder by child abuse in the death of Shane Coffman, and one count of
injury to a minor child for the abuse suffered by each of the remaining
children. They were also jointly charged with conspiracy to unlawfully
remove a dead body and unlawful removal of a dead body. [The State filed
a bill of particulars asserting that Gilson and Coffman should be sentenced
to death in connection with the first degree murder charge on the basis of
two aggravating factors: (1) that the murder was especially heinous,
atrocious and cruel; and (2) the existence of a probability that they would
[End Page 6]
commit criminal acts of violence that would pose a continuing threat to
society.] On August 20, 1997, approximately eight (8) months prior to
[Gilson]'s trial, Coffman entered Alford [footnote omitted] pleas to all
counts. [Gilson] was subsequently tried and convicted on all charges except
he was found not guilty of committing injury to a minor child as to Jeremy,
Tranny and Crystal.
Gilson v. State, 8 P.3d 883, 895-98 (Okla. Crim. App. 2000) (Gilson I) (internal
paragraph numbers omitted). The jury, in connection with the two injury to a minor child
convictions, concluded Gilson's sentence should be life imprisonment. At the conclusion
of the second-stage proceedings, which were conducted as a result of Gilson's murder
conviction, the jury found the existence of both aggravating factors alleged by the State
and recommended a death sentence. Gilson was formally sentenced by the state trial
court at a later hearing.
Gilson filed a direct appeal challenging his convictions and sentences. On July 26,
2000, the OCCA, with one judge dissenting, affirmed Gilson's convictions and sentences.
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 929. The OCCA subsequently denied Gilson's request for rehearing.
Gilson filed a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. That
petition was denied by the Supreme Court on April 2, 2001. Gilson v. Oklahoma, 532 U.S. 962
While his direct appeal was still pending before the OCCA, Gilson, in accordance
with Oklahoma procedural rules, filed an application for post-conviction relief with the
OCCA. The OCCA denied the application for post-conviction relief on September 1,
2000, in an unpublished opinion.
[End Page 7]
On August 20, 2001, Gilson initiated this federal habeas corpus action by filing a
pro se motion to proceed in forma pauperis and a motion for appointment of counsel.
Gilson's motion for appointment of counsel was granted and, on March 29, 2002, Gilson
filed his federal habeas corpus petition asserting eleven grounds for relief. ROA, Doc.
13. On August 9, 2006, the district court issued an opinion and order denying Gilson's
petition. Id., Doc. 29. The district court granted Gilson a certificate of appealability on
six issues, and we subsequently granted Gilson a certificate of appealability on one
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
Our review of Gilson's appeal is governed by the provisions of the Antiterrorism
and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). Snow v. Sirmons, 474 F.3d 693
(10th Cir. 2007). Under AEDPA, the standard of review applicable to a particular claim
depends upon how that claim was resolved by the state courts. Id.
If a claim was addressed on the merits by the state courts, we may not grant federal
habeas relief on the basis of that claim 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," 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or "was based on an
unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State
court proceeding," id. § 2254(d)(2). "When reviewing a state court's application of
federal law, we are precluded from issuing the writ simply because we conclude in our
independent judgment that the state court applied the law erroneously or incorrectly."
[End Page 8]
McLuckie v. Abbott, 337 F.3d 1193
, 1197 (10th Cir. 2003). "Rather, we must be
convinced that the application was also objectively unreasonable." Id. "This standard
does not require our abject deference, . . . but nonetheless prohibits us from substituting
our own judgment for that of the state court." Snow, 474 F.3d at 696 (internal quotation
If a claim was not resolved by the state courts on the merits and is not otherwise
procedurally barred, our standard of review is more searching. That is, because §
2254(d)'s deferential standards of review do not apply in such circumstances, we review
the district court's legal conclusions de novo and its factual findings, if any, for clear
error. McLuckie, 337 F.3d at 1197.
Split verdict on theories underlying child abuse murder conviction
Gilson was charged with first degree child abuse murder in violation of Okla. Stat.
tit. 21 § 701.7(C). That statute provides as follows:
A person commits murder in the first degree when the death of a child
results from the willful or malicious injuring, torturing, maiming or using of
unreasonable force by said person or who shall willfully cause, procure or
permit any of said acts to be done upon the child pursuant to Section 7115
of Title 10 of the Oklahoma Statutes. It is sufficient for the crime of murder
in the first degree that the person either willfully tortured or used
unreasonable force upon the child or maliciously injured or maimed the
Okla. Stat. tit. 21 § 701.7(C). According to the record, the State alleged two alternative
theories of how Gilson violated § 701.7(C), i.e., that Gilson either was directly
[End Page 9]
responsible for willfully or maliciously injuring, torturing, maiming or using
unreasonable force upon Shane, or that he knowingly permitted Bertha Jean Coffman to
At trial, the State submitted a verdict form for the murder charge that listed not
only the option of guilty or not guilty, but also stated:
FURTHER, we make the following finding of fact as to the basis for our
verdict of guilty:
[ ] Unanimous as to child abuse murder
[ ] Unanimous as to permitting child abuse murder
[ ] Divided as to the underlying theory
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 898-99. Gilson objected to the underlying instruction that informed
the jury "that while their verdict of guilt as to first degree murder must be unanimous,
they need not unanimously agree as to the theory under which they arrived at their
verdict." Id. at 899. The state trial court overruled Gilson's objection and adopted the
verdict form submitted by the State. "When the jury concluded its deliberations and
returned its verdicts, in addition to finding [Gilson] guilty, the last box listed above
("˜divided as to the underlying theory') was checked . . . ." Id.
In these federal habeas proceedings, Gilson argues that his "conviction for capital
murder, based on a divided jury verdict as to whether he was guilty of "˜committing' the
child abuse that led to Shane's death, or of "˜permitting' such abuse, is in violation of his
constitutional right to due process . . . ." Aplt. Br. at 22.
a) Schad v. Arizona
The "clearly established federal law" that Gilson cites in support of his argument is
[End Page 10]
the Supreme Court's decision in Schad v. Arizona, 501 U.S. 624
(1991). The petitioner
in Schad, Edward Schad, Jr., was charged in Arizona state court with first-degree murder.
During Schad's trial, the prosecutor advanced alternative theories of premeditated and
felony murder, while Schad himself claimed that, at most, he was guilty of mere theft.
The jury rejected Schad's assertions and, in a general verdict, convicted him of first-
degree murder. Schad was subsequently sentenced to death in connection with this
conviction. On direct appeal, Schad argued that the state trial court erred in not requiring
the jury to agree on a single theory of first-degree murder. The Arizona Supreme Court
rejected that argument and affirmed Schad's conviction and sentence. Schad
subsequently sought and was granted a petition for writ of certiorari by the United States
Supreme Court on that issue.
Although Schad urged the Supreme Court "to decide th[e] case by holding that the
Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments require a unanimous jury in state capital
cases," 501 U.S. at 630, the Court1 declined to do so. More specifically, the Court noted
that it "ha[d] never suggested that in returning general verdicts in such cases the jurors
should be required to agree upon a single means of commission, any more than the
Justice Souter wrote the plurality opinion in Schad, which was joined by three
other Justices. Justice Scalia authored a separate concurrence (which, together with
Justice Souter's opinion, controlled the outcome). For purposes of convenience, we refer
to Justice Souter's plurality opinion as the decision of "the Court." See Marks v. United
States, 430 U.S. 188
, 193 (1977) ("When a fragmented Court decides a case and no single
rationale explaining the result enjoys the assent of five Justices, the holding of the Court
may be viewed as that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments
on the narrowest grounds." (internal quotation marks omitted)).
[End Page 11]
indictments were required to specify one alone."2 Id. at 631. Instead, the Court
concluded that Schad's "real challenge [wa]s to Arizona's characterization of first-degree
murder as a single crime as to which a verdict need not be limited to any one statutory
alternative . . . ." Id. at 630-31. In other words, the Court concluded that the
constitutional issue presented by Schad was "one of the permissible limits in defining
criminal conduct, as reflected in the instructions to jurors applying the definitions," and
"not one of jury unanimity." Id. at 631.
Addressing that constitutional issue head-on, the Court acknowledged that there
was a "point at which differences between means become so important that they may not
reasonably be viewed as alternatives to a common end, but must be treated as
differentiating what the [Due Process Clause] requires to be treated as separate offenses."
Id. at 633. For example, the Court noted, "nothing in [its] history suggest[ed] that the
Due Process Clause would permit a State to convict anyone under a charge of "˜Crime' so
generic that any combination of jury findings of embezzlement, reckless driving, murder,
[End Page 2]
Justice Scalia offered the following compelling rationale for why no such rule
As the plurality observes, it has long been the general rule that when a
single crime can be committed in various ways, jurors need not agree upon
the mode of commission. That rule is not only constitutional, it is probably
indispensable in a system that requires a unanimous jury verdict to convict.
When a woman's charred body has been found in a burned house, and there
is ample evidence that the defendant set out to kill her, it would be absurd to
set him free because six jurors believe he strangled her to death (and caused
the fire accidentally in his hasty escape), while six others believe he left her
unconscious and set the fire to kill her.
Schad, 501 U.S. at 649-50 (Scalia, J., concurring) (citations omitted).
[End Page 12]
burglary, tax evasion, or littering . . . would suffice for conviction." Id.
In "attempt[ing] to define what constitutes an immaterial difference as to mere
means and what constitutes a material difference requiring separate theories of crime to
be treated as separate offenses subject to separate jury findings," id., the Court indicated it
would afford substantial deference to a state court's interpretation of its own state
statutes. Specifically, the Court stated that "[i]f a State's courts have determined that
certain statutory alternatives are mere means of committing a single offense, rather than
independent elements of the crime, [it] simply [would] not [be] at liberty to ignore that
determination and conclude that the alternatives [we]re, in fact, independent elements
under state law." Id. at 636. In Schad's case, the Court noted, "by determining that a
general verdict as to first-degree murder [wa]s permissible under Arizona law, the
Arizona Supreme Court ha[d] effectively decided that, under state law, premeditation and
the commission of a felony [we]re not independent elements of the crime, but rather
[we]re mere means of satisfying a single mens rea element." Id. at 637.
That still left, however, the issue of "whether Arizona's choice [wa]s
unconstitutional." Id. In resolving this issue, the Court began by stating that its "sense of
appropriate specificity [wa]s a distillate of the concept of due process with its demands
for fundamental fairness . . . and for the rationality that is an essential component of that
fairness." Id. Continuing, the Court stated that, "[i]n translating these demands for
fairness and rationality into concrete judgments about the adequacy of legislative
determinations, [it would] look both to history and wide practice as guides to fundamental
[End Page 13]
values, as well as to narrower analytical methods of testing the moral and practical
equivalence of the different mental states that m[ight] satisfy the mens rea element of a
single offense." Id. "The enquiry," the Court held, "is undertaken with a threshold
presumption of legislative competence to determine the appropriate relationship between
means and ends in defining the elements of a crime." Id. at 637-38.
The Court held that "[t]he use . . . of due process as a measurement of the sense of
appropriate specificity assumes the importance of history and widely shared practice as
concrete indicators of what fundamental fairness and rationality require." Id. at 640.
Expanding on this notion, the Court explained:
Where a State's particular way of defining a crime has a long history, or is
in widespread use, it is unlikely that a defendant will be able to demonstrate
that the State has shifted the burden of proof as to what is an inherent
element of the offense, or has defined as a single crime multiple offenses
that are inherently separate. Conversely, a freakish definition of the
elements of a crime that finds no analogue in history or in the criminal law
of other jurisdictions will lighten the defendant's burden.
Id. Applying these principles to the circumstances presented by Schad's case, the Court
concluded it was "significant that Arizona's equation of the mental states of premeditated
murder and felony murder as species of the blameworthy state of mind required to prove
a single offense of first-degree murder f[ound] substantial historical and contemporary
echoes." Id. From a historical perspective, the Court noted that at common law, "[t]he
intent to kill and the intent to commit a felony were alternative aspects of the single
concept of "˜malice aforethought.'" Id. From a contemporary perspective, the Court noted
that most state statutes "retained premeditated murder and some form of felony murder . .
[End Page 14]
. as alternative means of satisfying the mental state that first-degree murder presupposes."
Id. at 641. Further, the Court, citing a series of state-court decisions issuing from 1903
through the date of the Court's decision, concluded "there [wa]s sufficiently widespread
acceptance of the two mental states as alternative means of satisfying the mens rea
element of the single crime of first-degree murder to persuade [it] that Arizona ha[d] not
departed from the norm." Id. at 642. "Such historical and contemporary acceptance of
Arizona's definition of the offense and verdict practice," the Court noted, "[wa]s a strong
indication that they d[id] not offen[d] some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions
and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental . . . ." Id. (internal quotation
The Court also considered "the function that differences of mental state perform in
defining the relative seriousness of otherwise similar or identical criminal acts." Id. at
643. According to the Court, "[i]f . . . two mental states are supposed to be equivalent
means to satisfy the mens rea element of a single offense, they must reasonably reflect
notions of equivalent blameworthiness or culpability, whereas a difference in their
perceived degrees of culpability would be a reason to conclude that they identified
different offenses altogether." Id. Applying these principles to Schad's case, the Court
noted that "[t]he question . . . [wa]s whether felony murder [could] ever be treated as the
equivalent of murder by deliberation, and in particular whether robbery murder as
charged in [Schad's] case [could] be treated as thus equivalent." Id. at 644. Citing its
decision in Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137
(1987), the Court concluded that "[w]hether or
[End Page 15]
not everyone would agree that the mental state that precipitates death in the course of
robbery is the moral equivalent of premeditation, it [wa]s clear that such equivalence
could reasonably be found, which [wa]s enough to rule out the argument that this moral
disparity bar[red] treating them as alternative means to satisfy the mental element of a
single offense." Id.
b. The OCCA's rejection of Gilson's Schad-based argument
Gilson first raised his due process, Schad-based argument on direct appeal. The
OCCA purported to reject the argument on the merits. In doing so, the OCCA offered the
following lengthy explanation for its decision:
In the second part of his argument, [Gilson] asserts his right to a
unanimous verdict was violated by the verdict forms allowing the jury to
return a "divided as to underlying theory" guilty verdict. [Gilson] argues
that as he was charged in the alternative with child abuse murder by the
commission of child abuse or by the permitting of child abuse which
resulted in first degree murder, the jury's verdict showed a disagreement as
to "just what [he] did." [citation and footnote omitted]. [Gilson]
acknowledges this Court has said that a general verdict of guilt satisfies due
process and unanimity concerns where a defendant is charged in the
alternative with malice aforethought and felony murder, so long as a prima
facie case is made for each alternative. See James v. State, 637 P.2d 862,
866 (Okl.Cr.1981). However, he asserts his case is distinguishable by its
unique circumstances. [Gilson] submits that the jury disagreement in his
case went to the legal, rather than the factual, basis of the crime charged,
"because 1) "˜committing' and "˜permitting' child abuse murder are
conceptually distinct crimes and 2) these alternative theories of guilt are
fundamentally repugnant to each other." [citation omitted]. [Gilson] argues
the contradictory nature of the alternative crimes charged is illustrated by
the differing actus reus requirements for each crime.
The State argues in response that committing and permitting child abuse
are merely different means by which child abuse murder may be committed.
Citing cases from this Court, the State argues the jury was not required to
[End Page 16]
agree on the specific means by which the crime was committed, only that
the defendant committed the crime charged.
Both [Gilson] and the State cite to Schad v. Arizona, 501 U.S. 624
S.Ct. 2491, 115 L.Ed.2d 555 (1991). [Gilson] argues that Schad supports a
finding that first degree murder by the commission of child abuse and first
degree murder by permitting child abuse are separate offenses containing
independent elements upon which the jury must be in unanimous
agreement. The State relies on Schad for the proposition that where there
are alternatives to proving the actus reus of the offense, there is no general
requirement that the jury reach a unanimous agreement on the preliminary
factual issues which underlie the verdict.
In Schad, the Supreme Court addressed the constitutionality of the
Arizona Supreme Court's holding that a general verdict as to first-degree
murder is permissible under Arizona law as premeditation and the
commission of a felony are not independent elements of the crime, but
rather are mere means of satisfying a single mens rea element. In its
analysis, the Court looked "both to history and wide practice as guides to
fundamental values, as well as to narrower analytical methods of testing the
moral and practical equivalence of the different mental states that may satisfy the mens rea element of a single offense." 501 U.S. at 637-38, 111
S.Ct. at 2500.
The Court found the language of the Arizona first-degree murder statute
was identical in all relevant respects to the language of the first statute
defining murder by differences of degree, passed by the Pennsylvania
Legislature in 1794. 501 U.S. at 641, 111 S.Ct. at 2502. The Court also
looked to decisions from other state courts which agreed ""˜it was not
necessary that all the jurors should agree in the determination that there was
a deliberate and premeditated design to take the life of the deceased, or in
the conclusion that the defendant was at the time engaged in the
commission of a felony, or an attempt to commit one; it was sufficient that
each juror was convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant had
committed the crime of murder in the first degree as that offense is defined
by the statute.'" Id., quoting People v. Sullivan, 173 N.Y. 122, 127, 65
N.E. 989, 989-990 (1903). [footnote omitted]. Although recognizing the state courts were not unanimous in this respect, the Supreme Court decided
there was sufficient widespread acceptance of the two mental states of
premeditation and felony-murder as alternative means of satisfying the
mens rea element of the single crime of first-degree murder to persuade the
[End Page 17]
Court that Arizona had not departed from the norm. 501 U.S. at 641, 111
S.Ct. at 2502.
Having made these determinations, the Court stated "[t]he question,
rather, is whether felony murder may ever be treated as the equivalent of
murder by deliberation, and in particular whether robbery murder as
charged in this case may be treated as thus equivalent." 501 U.S. at 644,
111 S.Ct. at 2503. The Supreme Court concluded:
Whether or not everyone would agree that the mental state
that precipitates death in the course of robbery is the moral
equivalent of premeditation, it is clear that such equivalence
could reasonably be found, which is enough to rule out the
argument that this moral disparity bars treating them as
alternative means to satisfy the mental element of a single
Id. at 501 U.S. at 644, 111 S.Ct. at 2503-4.
While recognizing that their "considerations [did not] exhaust the
universe of those potentially relevant to judgments about the legitimacy of
defining certain facts as mere means to the commission of one offense", the
Supreme Court found the Arizona law "did not fall beyond the
constitutional bounds of fundamental fairness and rationality." 501 U.S. at
645, 111 S.Ct. at 2504.
In the present case we are not concerned with the alternatives of
premeditated and felony murder, but with those of child abuse murder by
permitting child abuse and child abuse murder by the commission of child
abuse. [Gilson] was charged under 21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(C) which
C. A person commits murder in the first degree when the
death of a child results from the willful or malicious injuring,
torturing, maiming or using of unreasonable force by said
person or who shall willfully cause, procure or permit any of
said acts to be done upon the child pursuant to Section 7115
of Title 10 of the Oklahoma Statutes. It is sufficient for the
crime of murder in the first degree that the person either
willfully tortured or used unreasonable force upon the child or
maliciously injured or maimed the child.
[End Page 18]
This section of the first degree murder statute sets out different ways in
which the offense of first degree murder by child abuse may be committed.
It may be committed by the willful or malicious injuring, torturing,
maiming, or using of unreasonable force by the defendant upon a child, or
by the defendant's willfully causing, procuring or permitting the acts of
child abuse. This section specifically states that "a person commits murder
in the first degree when the death of a child results . . ." from either "willful
or malicious injury" or "willfully permitting" those acts to be done.
Therefore, under the statutory language the crime of first degree murder by
child abuse is committed under either circumstance. This provision is not
unlike the felony-murder provisions of section 701.7(B) which set forth
alternative ways of committing felony-murder.
[Gilson] is correct in his argument that including the intent to commit
child abuse into the first degree murder statute is a relatively recent
enactment, see Tucker v. State, 675 P.2d 459, 461 (Okl.Cr.1984), and that
the crime of child abuse murder by permitting child abuse did not exist
prior to 1982. See 1982 Okla. Sess. Laws c. 279 § 1. However, the fact
that the legal culpability of a defendant whose abuse of a child results in
that child's death or who permits a child to be abused to the extent that
death results has only recently been acknowledged by this State does not
mean the Legislature cannot define first degree child abuse murder to have
been committed either by the actual commission of the acts of abuse or by
the willful permitting of the acts to abuse to occur. With the enactment of §
701.7(C) the Legislature has clearly stated its intention to punish as first
degree murder the use of unreasonable force upon a child or the permitting
of unreasonable force to be used upon a child when the death of a child
Having found the commission of child abuse and the permitting of child
abuse to be alternative means to committing the crime of first degree
murder by child abuse, "[t]he constitutional requirement of a unanimous
jury verdict applies only to the ultimate issue of the appellant's guilt or
innocence of the crime charged, not the alternative means by which the
crime was committed." Rounds v. State, 679 P.2d 283, 287 (Okl.Cr.1984).
In Powell v. State, 906 P.2d 765, 775-76 (Okl.Cr.1995), this Court stated:
[T]his Court has reaffirmed its prior holdings that failure of a
jury to indicate the basis of their finding of guilt was not error
where there was but a single crime charged, i.e. first degree
[End Page 19]
murder. "Whether or not [murder] was committed with
malice aforethought, or during the commission of a felony
goes to the factual basis of the crime." When the jury verdict
is unanimous that a defendant committed murder in the first
degree, such a verdict satisfies due process. Further, there is
no due process violation when all of the elements of the crime
charged were proven. (citations omitted).
See also Neill v. State, 896 P.2d 537, 552-53 (Okl.Cr.1994), cert. denied,
516 U.S. 1080
, 116 S.Ct. 791, 133 L.Ed.2d 740 (1996); Crawford v. State,
840 P.2d 627, 640 (Okl.Cr.1992); Newsted v. State, 720 P.2d 734, 737-38
(Okl.Cr.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 995
, 107 S.Ct. 599, 93 L.Ed.2d 599 (1986);
James v. State, 637 P.2d 862, 865 (Okl.Cr.1981).
The evidence in the present case showed a prima facie case was made
and all of the elements were proven to support a finding of guilt as to either
child abuse murder by the commission of child abuse or child abuse murder
by permitting child abuse. The evidence supporting the conclusion that
[Gilson] was the perpetrator of the abuse inflicted upon Shane came from
the other Coffman children who testified that both [Gilson] and their mother
beat Shane the day of the murder, carried him to the bathtub, and stayed
with him in the bathroom while he cried and screamed. Supporting
evidence can also be found in Coffman's statement that she saw [Gilson]
coming out of the bathroom and then found Shane in the bathroom not
Evidence supporting a conclusion that [Gilson] permitted the abuse
comes from Coffman's statement that she was in the bathroom struggling
with Shane when the shower doors fell down. [Gilson] entered the
bathroom, not once but twice to attend to the shower doors. [Gilson]'s own statement supports the conclusion that he was aware that Coffman was
abusing Shane in the bathroom.
The jury's verdict of guilt indicating it was divided as to the underlying
theory was a disagreement as to the factual basis of the offense and as to the
manner in which the crime was committed. As the Supreme Court stated in
We have never suggested that in returning general verdicts in
such cases the jurors should be required to agree upon a single
means of commission, any more than the indictments were
[End Page 20]
required to specify one alone. In these cases, as in litigation
generally, "different jurors may be persuaded by different
pieces of evidence, even when they agree upon the bottom
line. Plainly there is no general requirement that the jury
reach agreement on the preliminary factual issues which
underlie the verdict." (citation omitted).
Id. at 501 U.S. at 631-32, 111 S.Ct. at 2497.
Here, there was a single crime charged-first degree murder by child
abuse. Whether or not it was committed through the commission of child
abuse or through the permitting of child abuse goes to the factual basis of
the crime. The jury verdict was unanimous that [Gilson] committed the
crime. Such a verdict satisfies due process. See Plunkett v. State, 719 P.2d
834, 841 (Okl.Cr.), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1019
, 107 S.Ct. 675, 93 L.Ed.2d
The enactment of § 701.7(C), a separate provision within the first degree
murder statute to address the death of a child as a result of child abuse, is
indicative of the Legislature's intent within the last two decades to draft
legislation aimed specifically at the protection and welfare of children. See
10 O.S.Supp.1993, § 401 et. seq. (Oklahoma Child Care Facilities
Licensing Act); 10 O.S. Supp.1995, § 7001-1.1 et. seq. (the Oklahoma
Children's Code); and, 10 O.S.Supp.1995, § 7101 et. seq. (Oklahoma Child
Abuse Reporting and Prevention Act). Although specifically directed at situations where child abuse has resulted in death, by enacting 21 O.S.1991,
§ 701.7(C) the Legislature has merely created another way of committing
first degree murder.
The language of the statute, setting forth alternative means of
committing the crime of child abuse murder, makes it analogous to the
crime of felony-murder. Under 21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(B) felony-murder is
committed when a death results from a defendant's commission of any of several specifically listed underlying felonies. In a felony-murder
prosecution, proof of the underlying felony is needed to prove the intent
necessary for a felony murder conviction. Fields v. State, 923 P.2d 624,
634 (Okl.Cr.1996), cert. denied, 520 U.S. 1216
, 117 S.Ct. 1704, 137
L.Ed.2d 829 (1997). Further, when the crime is charged in the alternative,
with more than one felony charged as the underlying felony, a
constitutionally unanimous verdict is required only with respect to the
ultimate issue of the defendant's guilt or innocence of the crime charged
[End Page 21]
and not with respect to alternative means by which the crime was
committed. Blackwell v. State, 663 P.2d 12, 16 (Okl.Cr.1983).
We find the child abuse murder statute should be interpreted in the same
manner as § 701.7(B). Proof of the underlying act of child abuse is needed
to prove the intent necessary for a child abuse murder conviction. See
Fairchild v. State, 998 P.2d 611, 618-19 (Okl.Cr.1999) (holding crime of
first degree murder by child abuse is a general intent crime). A
constitutionally unanimous verdict is required only with respect to the
ultimate issue of the defendant's guilt or innocence of the crime charged
and not with respect to alternative means by which the crime was
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 900-03 (internal paragraph numbers omitted).
c. Gilson's entitlement to federal habeas relief on this claim
The above-quoted language makes apparent that the OCCA properly conducted the
first part of the Schad analysis. Specifically, it concluded as a matter of state law that,
"[w]ith the enactment of § 701.7(C), the [Oklahoma] Legislature ha[d] clearly stated its
intention to punish as first degree murder the use of unreasonable force upon a child or
the permitting of unreasonable force to be used upon a child when the death of a child
results." Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 902. Unfortunately, however, the OCCA failed to conduct
the second, and arguably more important, part of the Schad analysis, i.e., determining
whether the Oklahoma Legislature's decision to treat "the commission of child abuse and
the permitting of child abuse [as] alternative means to committing the crime of first
degree murder by child abuse" was consistent with principles of due process. In place of
this analysis, the OCCA simply reviewed the evidence presented at trial and concluded
that "a prima facie case was made and all of the elements were proven to support a
[End Page 22]
finding of guilt as to either child abuse murder by the commission of child abuse or child
abuse murder by permitting child abuse." Id. at 902.
Conducting the second part of the Schad analysis de novo, we conclude that
Oklahoma's choice is consistent with principles of due process. To be sure, Oklahoma's
decision to directly include both the commission and permission of abuse resulting in the
death of a child in its definition of first-degree murder appears to be unique among the
states.3 That said, however, there is contemporary support from other states for the notion
of treating the willful commission and willful permission of child abuse as alternative
means of satisfying the actus reus requirements of a single offense. In particular, several
other states treat willful commission and willful permission as alternative means of
satisfying the actus reus requirement of lesser criminal offenses. E.g., Cal. Penal Code §
11165.3 (defining the crime of "Willful harming or endangering of child" to include "a
situation in which any person willfully causes or permits any child to suffer, or inflicts
thereon, unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering"); Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-21
Although we have not found another first-degree murder statute similar to
Oklahoma's, we find it significant that other states routinely allow criminal defendants to
be charged with first-degree felony murder when death results from the commission or
permission of severe child abuse. E.g., People v. Morgan, 170 P.3d 129, 147 (Cal. 2007)
(noting that a violation of California's felony child abuse statute "merges with a resulting
homicide"); People v. Moore, No. 269246, 2007 WL 2742781 at *3 (Mich. App. Sept. 20,
2007) ("this case involved felony murder . . . with the underlying felony of first-degree
child abuse"); Tenn Code Ann. § 39-13-202(a)(2) (defining first degree murder to include
the "killing of another committed in the perpetration of or attempt to perpetrate . . .
aggravated child abuse [and] aggravated child neglect"). Thus, the end result in those states is effectively the same as in Oklahoma, i.e., the defendant in such a case is charged
with first-degree murder.
[End Page 23]
(defining the crime of "Injury or risk of injury to, or impairing morals of, children" to
include any person who "wilfully or unlawfully causes or permits any child . . . to be
placed in such situation that the life or limb of such child is endangered"); Idaho Code
Ann. § 18-1501 (defining the crime of "Injury to children" to include "[a]ny person who,
under circumstances or conditions likely to produce great bodily harm or death, willfully
causes or permits any child to suffer"); 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/12-21.6 (defining the crime
of "Endangering the life or health of a child" to include any person who "willfully
cause[s] or permit[s] the life or health of a child under the age of 18 to be endangered");
Nev. Rev. Stat. § 200.508 (defining the crime of "Abuse, neglect or endangerment of
child" to include both "wilfully caus[ing]" and "permit[ting] or allow[ing]"); Va. Code.
Ann. § 40.1-103 (defining the crime of "Cruelty and injuries to children" to include
"willfully . . . caus[ing] or permit[ting] the life of [a] child to be endangered"); Wyo. Stat.
Ann. § 6-4-405 (defining the crime of "Endangering children" to include "willfully
caus[ing] or permit[ting]").4 As noted by the Supreme Court in Schad, it is "unlikely"
that such relatively common legal definitions would "retain wide acceptance" if they were
"at odds with notions of fairness and rationality sufficiently fundamental to be
Although Gilson argues there is no support in history or state-wide practice for
the imposition of capital punishment for the permitting of severe child abuse, that is
clearly not the proper inquiry under Schad. Rather, the proper constitutional inquiry
under Schad is whether there is historical and/or contemporary support for the Oklahoma
Legislature's decision to treat the two acts at issue as alternative methods of meeting a single actus reus element of the crime of first-degree child abuse murder. The question of
whether it is permissible to impose capital punishment for such a crime is a separate
constitutional question (i.e., an Eighth Amendment rather than a Due Process issue).
[End Page 24]
comprehended in due process." 501 U.S. at 642. Moreover, Gilson has not established
that the two means at issue, i.e., willful commission and willful permission, for proving
the actus reus requirement of the first-degree murder charge at issue here "are so disparate
as to exemplify two inherently separate offenses." Id. at 643. Thus, we conclude Gilson
is not entitled to federal habeas relief on this issue.
Gilson next argues, citing the Supreme Court's decisions in Enmund v. Florida,
458 U.S. 782
, (1982), and Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137
(1987), that the imposition of
the death penalty violates his Eighth Amendment rights because the jury in his case did
not unanimously find either that he personally participated in the killing of Shane
Coffman or that he possessed the requisite intent to make him eligible for the death
a) The decisions in Enmund and Tison
In Enmund and Tison, the Supreme Court explored the degree of culpability
necessary for the imposition of capital punishment in cases involving felony-murder
convictions. In doing so, both cases looked to the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause
of the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits "punishments which by their excessive length
or severity are greatly disproportioned to the offenses charged." Enmund, 458 U.S. at
788 (internal quotation marks omitted).
In Enmund, the Court "explicitly dealt with two distinct subsets of all felony
murders . . . ." Tison, 481 U.S. at 149. "At one pole was [defendant] Enmund himself;
[End Page 25]
the minor actor in an armed robbery, not on the scene, who neither intended to kill nor
was found to have had any culpable mental state." Id. "The Court held that capital
punishment was disproportional in these cases," and thus violative of the Eighth
Amendment. Id. at 150. At the other pole was "the felony murderer who actually killed,
attempted to kill, or intended to kill." Id. The Court held that the Eighth Amendment
posed no hurdle to the imposition of capital punishment in such cases.
In Tison, the Court expanded on the principle of proportionality by addressing two
related cases that fell between the categories of felony-murder expressly addressed in
Enmund. The petitioners in Tison, two brothers, had assisted their inmate father and
another convict in escaping from prison. During the course of the escape, the group's car
broke down and one of the brothers flagged down a passing car which contained a family
of four. The group proceeded to kidnap and rob the family. While the brothers were
nearby, the father and the other convict shot and killed all four members of the kidnapped
family. Neither brother attempted to assist the victims before, during, or after the
shooting. Moreover, both brothers continued on with the two escapees and the group was
not apprehended until several days later. Id. at 151-52.
The Supreme Court concluded that although neither petitioner actually killed or
specifically intended to kill any of the victims, the Eighth Amendment did not prohibit
them from being subjected to the death penalty. In reaching this conclusion, the Court
noted that "[a] critical facet of the individualized determination of culpability required in
capital cases is the mental state with which the defendant commits the crime." Id. at 156.
[End Page 26]
"Deeply ingrained in our legal tradition," the Court noted, "is the idea that the more
purposeful is the criminal conduct, the more serious is the offense, and, therefore, the
more severely it ought to be punished." Id. In turn, the Court noted that "the reckless
disregard for human life implicit in knowingly engaging in criminal activities known to
carry a grave risk of death represents a highly culpable mental state, a mental state that
may be taken into account in making a capital sentencing judgment when that conduct
causes its natural, though also not inevitable, lethal result." Id. at 157-58. Ultimately, the
Court held that "major participation in the felony committed, combined with reckless
indifference to human life, is sufficient to satisfy the Enmund culpability requirement."
Id. at 158.
Although not cited by Gilson, the Supreme Court's decision in Cabana v. Bullock,
474 U.S. 376
(1986), is also relevant to our Enmund/Tison analysis. Cabana was a
procedural case in which the Court "determine[d] in whose hands the [Enmund/Tison-
mandated] decision that a defendant possesses the requisite degree of culpability properly
lies." 474 U.S. at 378. In addressing that issue, the Court emphasized that its "ruling in
Enmund d[id] not concern the guilt or innocence of the defendant" and "establishe[d] no
new elements of the crime of murder that must be found by the jury." Id. at 385.
Continuing, the Court noted that "[t]he decision whether a particular punishment""even
the death penalty""is appropriate in any given case is not one that [it] ha[d] ever required
to be made by a jury." Id. To the contrary, the Court noted, "the decision whether a
sentence is so disproportionate as to violate the Eighth Amendment in any particular case,
[End Page 27]
like other questions bearing on whether a criminal defendant's constitutional rights have
been violated, has long been viewed as one that a trial judge or an appellate court is fully
competent to make." Id. at 386. Thus, the Court stated, "Enmund does not impose any
particular form of procedure upon the States." Id. If a criminal defendant's conduct
satisfies the Enmund or Tison requirements for imposition of the death penalty, the Court
held, "the Eighth Amendment itself is not violated by his or her execution regardless of
who makes the determination of the requisite culpability . . . ." Id. In other words, "[a]t
what precise point in its criminal process a State chooses to make the Enmund
determination is of little concern from the standpoint of the Constitution." Id. Thus, the
Court held, "when a federal habeas court reviews a claim that the death penalty has been
imposed on one who" does not meet the Enmund or Tison requirements for imposition of
the death penalty, "the court's inquiry cannot be limited to an examination of jury
instructions. Rather, the court must examine the entire course of the state-court
proceedings against the defendant in order to determine whether, at some point in the
process, the requisite factual finding as to the defendant's culpability has been made." Id.
at 387. "If it has," the Court held, "the finding must be presumed correct by virtue of 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d), . . . and unless the habeas petitioner can bear the heavy burden of
overcoming the presumption, the court is obliged to hold that the Eighth Amendment as
interpreted in Enmund [and Tison] is not offended by the death sentence." Id. at 387-88.
b. The OCCA's rejection of Gilson's Enmund/Tison claim
Gilson first raised his Enmund/Tison claim on direct appeal. The OCCA rejected
[End Page 28]
the claim on the merits, stating as follows:
[Gilson] contends in his second assignment of error that his death
sentence violates the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as Article
II, § 9, of the Oklahoma Constitution because his conviction under 21
O.S.1991, § 701.7(C), failed to establish eligibility for the death sentence.
In the first of several subpropositions, [Gilson] argues the State failed to
prove he in fact killed, attempted to kill or was a major participant in a
felony showing reckless indifference to human life. He contends that his
death sentence can stand only if each of the theories underlying his murder
conviction constitutionally justifies the imposition of a capital sentence.
The State argues in response that the facts in this case are sufficient to
support a finding that [Gilson] was eligible for the death sentence.
Initially we note the record shows that after the verdicts were rendered,
defense counsel moved to strike the Bill of Particulars arguing that [Gilson]
was no longer constitutionally eligible for the death penalty because the
jury failed to find unanimously that he committed any intentional act which
led to the death of the victim. This objection has properly preserved the
issue for appellate review.
As addressed in Proposition I, the verdict in this case was a general
verdict of guilt for first degree murder with the jury disagreeing as to the
underlying factual basis. Therefore, we will review that factual basis in
light of the applicable law to determine death eligibility.
In Wisdom v. State, 918 P.2d 384 (Okl.Cr.1996), we held that a
defendant convicted of First Degree Murder by Child Abuse who actually
killed the victim by his/her own hand was eligible for the death sentence.
[Gilson] acknowledges this ruling but urges reconsideration. We decline
the offer. (citation omitted). Here, the evidence supports a finding that
[Gilson] actually killed the victim. [Gilson] participated in beating the
victim prior to the time he was taken to the bathroom. [Gilson] was in the
bathroom with the victim and Coffman, and after Coffman left the room,
was seen exiting the bathroom immediately before Shane was found dead.
This evidence certainly renders [Gilson] eligible for the death sentence.
This Court has not previously ruled on whether a defendant convicted of
First Degree Child Abuse Murder by permitting child abuse is death
eligible. Both [Gilson] and the State direct us to Tison v. Arizona, 481 U.S. 137
, 107 S.Ct. 1676, 95 L.Ed.2d 127 (1987) for the application of the death
penalty to a defendant who does not kill by his/her own hand. In Tison, a
[End Page 29]
felony-murder case in which the defendant himself did not kill, the Supreme
Court held that a defendant who did not actually commit the act which
caused death, but who was a major participant in the felony and who had
displayed reckless indifference to human life, may be sufficiently culpable
to receive the death penalty. 481 U.S. at 158, 107 S.Ct. at 1688. The
Supreme Court stated:
Similarly, we hold that the reckless disregard for human life
implicit in knowingly engaging in criminal activities known
to carry a grave risk of death represents a highly culpable
mental state, a mental state that may be taken into account in
making a capital sentencing judgment when that conduct
causes its natural, though also not inevitable, lethal result.
Id. at 481 U.S. at 157-58, 107 S.Ct. at 1688.
Tison modified the Supreme Court's holding in Enmund v. Florida, 458 U.S. 782
, 102 S.Ct. 3368, 73 L.Ed.2d 1140 (1982), that the Eighth
Amendment forbids the imposition of the death penalty on "one . . . who
aids and abets a felony in the course of which a murder is committed by
others but who does not himself kill, attempt to kill, or intend that a killing
take place or that lethal force will be employed." Id., 458 U.S. at 797, 102
S.Ct. at 3376.
Although this Court has held that an Enmund/Tison analysis does not
apply in the case of the actual killer, (citation omitted), we find it does
apply in a case where the defendant was not the actual killer. (citation
omitted). In as much as one of the underlying theories of this case is
murder by the permitting of child abuse, we apply the analysis used in
Enmund and Tison.
Here, the evidence shows [Gilson] was a major participant in the felony.
Acting jointly with Coffman, he took Shane outside the trailer and was
party to conduct which elicited screams from the child. He and Coffman
took Shane back inside the trailer, they both took him back to the bathroom
and they both remained with him in the bathroom for periods of time. This
evidence clearly supports the conclusion that his participation was major
[Gilson] argues that, at worst, his conduct was that of an omission-of
failing to protect the victim from a potentially dangerous situation-and not
that of knowingly permitting the abuse to occur. To the contrary, [Gilson]'s
[End Page 30]
conduct was not merely the nonperformance of what ought to be done, as in
cases of criminal omissions. (citation omitted). His active participation in
the abuse occurring inside his small trailer is very different from a passive
act of failing to provide what is required by law.
We next determine whether [Gilson] displayed reckless indifference to
human life. In discussing this term in Tison, the Supreme Court stated "[a]
critical facet of the individualized determination of culpability required in
capital cases is the mental state with which the defendant commits the
crime." 481 U.S. at 157, 107 S.Ct. at 1687. The Court further stated:
A narrow focus on the question of whether or not a given
defendant "intended to kill," however, is a highly
unsatisfactory means of definitively distinguishing the most
culpable and dangerous of murderers. Many who intend to,
and do, kill are not criminally liable at all-those who act in
self-defense or with other justification or excuse . . . On the
other hand, some nonintentional murderers may be among the
most dangerous and inhumane of all-the person who tortures
another not caring whether the victim lives or dies, or the
robber who shoots someone in the course of the robbery,
utterly indifferent to the fact that the desire to rob may have
the unintended consequence of killing the victim as well as
taking the victim's property. This reckless indifference to the
value of human life may be every bit as shocking to the moral
sense as an "intent to kill." . . . "[I]n the common law,
intentional killing is not the only basis for establishing the
most egregious form of criminal homicide . . . . For example,
the Model Penal Code treats reckless killing, "˜manifesting
extreme indifference to the value of human life,' as equivalent
to purposeful and knowing killing"). Enmund held that when
"intent to kill" results in its logical though not inevitable
consequence-the taking of human life-the Eighth Amendment
permits the State to exact the death penalty after a careful
weighing of the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
Similarly, we hold that the reckless disregard for human life
implicit in knowingly engaging in criminal activities known
to carry a grave risk of death represents a highly culpable
mental state, a mental state that may be taken into account in
making a capital sentencing judgment when that conduct
causes its natural, though also not inevitable, lethal result.
[End Page 31]
Id., at 481 U.S. at 157-58, 107 S.Ct. at 1687-88.
In making the above determination, the Supreme Court also looked to
the laws of several states and found that in the states which authorize capital
punishment for felony-murder the greater the defendant's participation in
the felony murder, the more likely that he acted with reckless indifference
to human life. Id., 481 U.S. at 153-54, 107 S.Ct. at 1685-86.
This Court has addressed reckless indifference to human life only as it
pertains to those who actually killed. In doing so, we found a reckless
indifference to human life turns largely on the facts of the case, but was
evidenced in part by the defendant's creation of a desperate situation
inherently dangerous to human life. Hain v. State, 919 P.2d 1130, 1146
(Okl.Cr.), cert. denied, 519 U.S. 1031
, 117 S.Ct. 588, 136 L.Ed.2d 517
(1996), and the defendant's causing the serious conscious physical suffering
and death of the victim. Brown v. State, 989 P.2d 913, 931 (Okl.Cr. 1998).
The facts in the present case support a finding that [Gilson] acted with
reckless indifference to human life. Acts in which [Gilson] participated
outside the trailer caused injury to the child which elicited screams of pain.
The child was brought back inside the trailer with swollen arms, a soft spot
on his head, and irregular breathing. The victim had to be carried to the
bathroom, an act in which [Gilson] again participated. Further acts in
which [Gilson] participated inside the bathroom caused the victim to again scream and cry. [Gilson] was aware of the struggle between Coffman and
the victim in which the victim was injured and property in the bathroom
[Gilson]'s argument focuses on the elements of the offense of permitting
child abuse and asserts that terms "willfully" and "knowingly" contained in
the statute and jury instruction on first degree murder by permitting child
abuse are not the equivalent of reckless indifference for human life. The
elements of the offense of first degree murder by permitting child abuse
have previously been addressed in this opinion. We found the evidence in
this case supported a finding of the existence of those elements beyond a
reasonable doubt. Here, we look beyond those elements and find [Gilson]'s
conduct illustrated a reckless indifference to human life. The evidence supports a finding that [Gilson] subjectively appreciated that his conduct
would likely result in the taking of innocent life. This is sufficient to make
him eligible for the death penalty.
In this opinion, we have previously compared the crime of child abuse
[End Page 32]
murder to the crime of felony-murder for purposes of determining sufficiency of the evidence to sustain a conviction. Such a comparison of
the two offenses is again warranted during this discussion of the
applicability of the death penalty. The eligibility of a defendant convicted
of child abuse murder by the permitting of child abuse is similar to that of a
non-triggerman convicted of felony-murder. In Hatch, 701 P.2d at 1040, a
non-triggerman was sentenced to death for his participation in the
underlying felonies. Hatch and co-defendant Ake forced their way into the
victim's home, ransacked the home at gunpoint and repeatedly threatened to
kill the family of four who occupied the house. Ake instructed Hatch to go
outside, turn the car around, and "listen for the sound." Hatch did as he was
told. Ake then shot each family member and fled the scene with Hatch.
The two adult victims died while the two children survived. Ake v. State,
663 P.2d 1, 4 (Okl.Cr.1983).
In reviewing Hatch's death sentence, this Court stated:
In Enmund, the Supreme Court held that the death penalty
cannot be constitutionally imposed against one who is
convicted of felony murder for a killing occurring during the
course of a robbery who neither kills, does not intend that life
be taken, nor contemplates that lethal force will be employed
by others. The evidence against appellant was that he entered
his victims' home with a shotgun in hand. His confederate
entered too with a loaded handgun. Appellant held the
victims at gunpoint while Ake looted the home and attempted
to rape his victims' twelve year old daughter. Appellant also
took a turn attempting to rape her. Appellant frequently
threatened the lives of his victims as they lay hog-tied on the
floor. After a discussion as to their plan of action, appellant
went outside and turned his automobile around while he
waited "for the sound", as Ake had instructed him to do.
We agree with the trial court's finding that "the Defendant
Hatch contemplated that a killing was not only possible, but
probable and further that lethal force probably be employed."
Therefore, we find that appellant's sentences of death are
justified and are in compliance with Enmund and we
Hatch, 701 P.2d at 1040.
[End Page 33]
The death sentence for a non-triggerman has also been upheld in other
jurisdictions. In Florida v. White, 470 So.2d 1377 (Fla.1985), the defendant
and two companions gained entrance to a home under a subterfuge. All
three men were armed and wore masks. They tied up the people in the
house and ransacked it. When one of the assailants' mask fell from his
face, the three assailants discussed killing the victims. The defendant
verbally opposed any killing. The two other assailants shot the victims,
killing six of the eight. The three assailants then gathered up their loot and
returned to the defendant's motel room where the loot was divided. The
Supreme Court of Florida found that Enmund did not bar the imposition of
the death penalty due to the defendant's presence both before, during and
after the murders; his full and active role in capturing, intimidating and
guarding the victims; his failure to disassociate himself from either the
robbery or the murder while verbally opposing any killing; and the lack of
any evidence he acted under coercion.
In Fairchild v. Norris, 21 F.3d 799
(8th Cir. 1994), the Eighth Circuit
Court of Appeals held the evidence supported a finding that the defendant
non-triggerman was eligible for the death penalty. In that case, the
defendant and an accomplice kidnapped, raped and killed a woman. The
Court found the defendant fully participated in the kidnapping of the
victim-followed her to her car, forced her inside at gunpoint, and took
money from her purse. Upon arriving at a deserted house, he subsequently
raped her. The defendant was outside of the house when the victim was shot by the accomplice. However, the defendant had been present when the
gun was initially shown to the victim and death threats were made. The
Eighth Circuit found the defendant's participation in the armed robbery,
kidnapping and rape; his leaving the victim alone with the armed
accomplice, and his failure to be deterred in his conduct by the victim's
pleas for mercy were sufficient for a reasonable juror to find that he was a
major participant in the felonies and that he acted with reckless indifference
to human life.
Accordingly, evidence in the present case of [Gilson]'s full, active and
knowing participation in the underlying acts of child abuse inflicted upon
Shane, his failure to disassociate himself from those acts of abuse
perpetrated by Bertha Coffman, and his failure to either be deterred in his
conduct or respond in any positive manner to what surely must have been
pleas for mercy from the victim, were sufficient for a reasonable juror to
find beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a major participant in the child
abuse and that he acted with reckless indifference to human life.
[End Page 34]
[Gilson] next argues his death sentence should be modified as an
Enmund/Tison analysis was not done by the trial court and it would be
improper for this Court to conduct such a review on appeal. In Cabana v.
Bullock, 474 U.S. 376
, 106 S.Ct. 689, 88 L.Ed.2d 704 (1986), the Supreme
Court stated that the Eighth Amendment does not require that a jury make
the findings required by Enmund; an appellate court, a trial judge, or a jury
may make the requisite findings. Id. at 474 U.S. at 392, 106 S.Ct. at 700.
This Court can review the record and make the findings required by
Enmund and Tison. Reviewing the evidence in this case, we find the facts
support a finding that [Gilson]'s major participation in the felony of child
abuse, combined with reckless indifference to human life, is sufficient to
satisfy the Enmund culpability requirement.
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 919-22 (internal paragraph numbers omitted).
Following the issuance of the OCCA's decision, Gilson filed a petition for
rehearing with the OCCA arguing that the Supreme Court had just issued its decision in
Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466
(2000)5, and that, in light of Apprendi, only a jury
could make the requisite Enmund/Tison findings. On August 29, 2000, the OCCA issued
an order denying Gilson's petition for rehearing and stating, in pertinent part, as follows:
We have reviewed Apprendi and find it is not applicable. In Apprendi,
the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional the New Jersey "hate
crime" statute. The New Jersey statute provided for an extended term of
imprisonment if the trial judge found, by a preponderance of the evidence,
that the defendant in committing the underlying criminal offense acted with
a purpose to intimidate an individual or group of individuals because of
race, color, gender, handicap, religion, sexual orientation or ethnicity. The
Supreme Court said it was "unconstitutional for a legislature to remove
from the jury the assessment of facts that increase the prescribed range of
penalties to which a criminal defendant is exposed." 102 S.Ct. 2362-63.
The Court further said "[i]t is equally clear that such facts must be
established by proof beyond a reasonable doubt." Id., 102 S.Ct. at 2363.
The Supreme Court continued by finding the principles involved in its
Apprendi was decided approximately a month before the OCCA issued its
decision resolving Gilson's direct appeal.
[End Page 35]
decision in Apprendi did not render invalid prior case law holding that it is
not necessary for a jury in a capital case to make every finding of fact
underlying the sentencing decision.
Finally, this Court has previously considered and rejected the
argument that the principles guiding our decision today render
invalid state capital sentencing schemes requiring judges,
after a jury verdict holding a defendant guilty of a capital
crime, to find specific aggravating factors before imposing a
sentence of death. Walton v. Arizona, 497 U.S. 639
(1990); id., at 709-714 (Stevens, J., dissenting). For reasons
we have explained the capital cases are not controlling:
"Neither the cases cited, nor any other case, permits a judge to
determine the existence of a factor which makes a crime a
capital offense. What the cited cases hold is that, once a jury
has found the defendant guilty of all the elements of an
offense which carries as its maximum penalty the sentence of
death, it may be left to the judge to decide whether that
maximum penalty, rather than a lesser one, ought to be
imposed . . . . The person who is charged with actions that
expose him to the death penalty has an absolute entitlement to
jury trial on all the elements of the charge." Almendarez-
Torres, 523 U.S., at 257, n. 2 (Scalia, J., dissenting)
102 S.Ct. at 2366.
Accordingly, we find Apprendi does not render invalid the rule of
Cabana, i.e., that the Eighth Amendment does not require that a jury make
the findings required by Enmund; an appellate court, a trial judge, or a jury
may make the requisite findings. Cabana, 474 U.S. at 392, 106 S.Ct. at
700. This Court was legally entitled to make the Enmund/Tison findings in
[Gilson]'s direct appeal.
Further, under Oklahoma law, in order to return a verdict of guilty, the
jury is required to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, each element of the
offense charged. In the sentencing phase of a capital case, the jury is
required to find, beyond a reasonable doubt, the existence of the
aggravating circumstances alleged and whether the aggravating
circumstances outweigh the mitigating evidence. This is the basis upon
which the death sentence is imposed, not any findings as to culpability
[End Page 36]
which might be required by Enmund/Tison. In Apprendi, the defendant
entered guilty pleas and waived his right to a jury determination of the
For the foregoing reasons, we find Apprendi is not controlling, and
rehearing on the issue is denied.
Gilson v. State, No. F-98-606 (Okla. Crim. App. Aug. 29, 2000) (Order Denying
Rehearing and Directing Issuance of Mandate).
c. Gilson's entitlement to federal habeas relief on this claim
Gilson asserts three challenges to the OCCA's decision, which we will proceed to
address in turn. First, Gilson argues that, "[b]ased on the verdicts rendered [in his case],
there [wa]s no jury finding [that he] actively participated in any criminal acts" sufficient
to satisfy the Enmund/Tison standards. Aplt. Br. at 49. In connection with that argument,
Gilson, citing the Supreme Court's decision in Apprendi, asserts that he "has a right to a
jury determination of his Enmund-Tison death-eligibility." Aplt. Br. at 51. In other
words, he appears to be suggesting that the OCCA, in denying his petition for rehearing,
unreasonably applied Apprendi. The key question in deciding Gilson's Enmund/Tison
claim, in light of the standards outlined in § 2254(d), is whether the OCCA's resolution of
that same claim in the context of Gilson's direct appeal was contrary to, or an
unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as it existed at the time of the
OCCA's decision (July of 2000). See Stevens v. Ortiz, 465 F.3d 1229
, 1235-38 (10th
Cir. 2006) (noting that a federal habeas court must identify and apply the clearly
established Supreme Court precedent existing at the time the defendant's conviction
became final). At that time, Apprendi had just been issued, and there was no clear
[End Page 37]
indication by the Supreme Court that it intended for Apprendi to overrule or undermine
the key holdings in Cabana, i.e., that Enmund "establishe[d] no new elements of the
crime of murder that must be found by the jury," and that "[t]he decision whether a
particular punishment""even the death penalty""is appropriate in any given case is not one
that [is] required to be made by a jury," 474 U.S. at 385. Indeed, there has yet to be any
such clear indication.6 Therefore, to allow Gilson to obtain federal habeas corpus relief
on the basis of an argument that has yet to be conclusively decided by the Supreme Court,
and that was essentially unavailable to the OCCA at the time it decided his direct appeal,
is contrary to the dictates of § 2254(d).
In his second challenge to the OCCA's decision, Gilson argues that allowing the
OCCA to make Enmund/Tison-related findings would effectively "negate the jury's
specific findings." Aplt. Br. at 53. In connection therewith, Gilson argues that "[s]ome
of his jury believed he did nothing more than "˜permit' Coffman to commit the physical
abuse," and in doing so "these jurors specifically rejected a finding [that he] even
participated with another in the crime." Id. at 49. To properly address this argument, we
turn first to the jury instructions that were employed at Gilson's trial to determine what
facts the jury necessarily had to have found in reaching its verdict on the first-degree
murder charge. The state trial court gave the following instruction outlining the essential
Although some of Apprendi's progeny, in particular Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584
(2002) (holding that Arizona statute that allowed a trial judge, sitting alone, to
determine the presence or absence of aggravating factors in capital case violated the Sixth
Amendment right to a jury trial), arguably lend support to Gilson's position, those cases
were issued well after Gilson's direct appeal was decided by the OCCA.
[End Page 38]
elements of the first-degree murder charge:
No person may be convicted of MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE
unless the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the
crime. These elements are: First, the death of a child under the age of
eighteen; Second, the death resulted from the willful or malicious injuring,
torturing or using of unreasonable force; Third, by the defendant and/or
another engaged with the defendant.
AND IN THE ALTERNATIVE
No person may be convicted of MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE
unless the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the
crime. These elements are: FIRST, the death of a child under the age of
eighteen; Second, the death resulted from the willful or malicious injuring,
torturing or using of unreasonable force; Third, which was knowingly
permitted; FOURTH, by a person responsible for the child's health or
State ROA - Case No. CF96-245, File #6 at 946 (Instruction No. 6). The state trial court
also gave the following instructions that provided more detail regarding how the jury was
to apply the elements of first-degree murder:
You are further instructed as to the following Definitions:
Direct Result - Immediate consequence which is not separated from its
initial cause by other, independent factors.
Id. at 947 (Instruction No. 7).
No person may be convicted of FIRST DEGREE MURDER unless his
conduct or the conduct of another person for which he is criminally
responsible caused the death of the person allegedly killed. A death is
caused by the conduct if the conduct is a substantial factor in bringing about
the death and the conduct is dangerous and threatens or destroys life.
Id. at 948 (Instruction No. 8).
No person may be convicted of MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE
unless both the fact of the death of the person allegedly killed and the fact
that his death was caused by the conduct of another person are established
as independent facts and beyond a reasonable doubt. Such proof must
[End Page 39]
consist of evidence which is wholly independent of any confession made by
the defendant. Such evidence, however, may be circumstantial and need
not include proof of the identity of the person who caused the death.
Id. at 949 (Instruction No. 9).
You are instructed that, although your verdict as to guilt of the crime of
FIRST DEGREE MURDER must be unanimous, you need not agree
unanimously as to the theory upon which you arrive at that verdict.
Id. at 954 (Instruction No. 14).
You are further instructed as to the following Definitions:
Knowingly - With personal awareness of the facts.
Malicious - The term imports a wish to vex, annoy or injure another
Person Responsible for a Child's Welfare - Includes a parent, legal
guardian, custodian, foster parent, a person eighteen years of age or older
with whom the child's parent cohabitates or any other adult residing in the
home of the child.
Torture - Infliction of great physical pain.
Unreasonable Force - More than that ordinarily used as a means of
Willful - Purposeful. "Willful" is a willingness to commit the act or
omission referred to, but does not require any intent to violate the law, or to
acquire any advantage.
Id. at 958 (Instruction No. 18).
In light of these instructions and the results indicated on the verdict form, it is
indisputable that all twelve jurors agreed that the death of Shane Coffman resulted from
the willful or malicious injuring, torturing or using of unreasonable force. As noted,
however, the jurors were divided on which of the two alternative theories supported the
[End Page 40]
murder conviction. One or more of the jurors found beyond a reasonable doubt that
Gilson "and/or another engaged with" him, i.e, Bertha Coffman, committed the willful or
malicious injuring, torturing or using of unreasonable force. In other words, this group of
jurors found beyond a reasonable doubt that Gilson took an active part, either alone or
together with Bertha Coffman, in the specific acts that directly resulted in Shane
Coffman's death. See generally Webster's Third New Int'l Dictionary 751 (1993)
(defining the term "engage" as "to involve or entangle (as a person) in some affair or
enterprise"); id. (defining the term "engaged" as "involved esp. in a hostile encounter").
The second group of jurors (which, like the first group, would have encompassed
anywhere from one to eleven jurors) found beyond a reasonable doubt that Gilson was a
"person responsible for" Shane Coffman's health or welfare and that Gilson "knowingly
permitted" another person, Bertha Coffman, to commit the specific acts that directly
resulted in Shane Coffman's death. Importantly, nothing about this second group's
findings necessarily meant, as suggested by Gilson, that they "specifically rejected a
finding [that he] even participated with another in the crime." Aplt. Br. at 49. As noted,
the jury instructions required the jury to focus on the specific acts that directly resulted in
Shane Coffman's death. Although the second group of jurors had to have found that
Bertha Coffman, with Gilson's knowing permission, committed those acts, that does not
mean that this group necessarily also found that Gilson played no other role in the
offense. Stated differently, it is entirely possible that this second group of jurors found
that Gilson played an active role in severely abusing Shane Coffman in the hours prior to
[End Page 41]
his death, but that Bertha Coffman committed the final act or acts that resulted in Shane's
death. Indeed, such a finding could have been directly derived from a combination of
witnesses' testimony: testimony from the surviving children regarding severe abuse
jointly perpetrated by Gilson and Bertha Coffman in the hours leading up to Shane's
death, and Bertha Coffman's own testimony that she was in the bathroom alone with
Shane just prior to his death and that Gilson entered the bathroom on two occasions
during that time period to fix the shower doors.
The next question is whether any of the OCCA's Enmund/Tison culpability
findings were inconsistent with the jury's findings. The OCCA found that Gilson
"active[ly] participat[ed] in the abuse" of Shane Coffman, Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 920, and in
so doing "acted with reckless indifference to human life." Id. at 921. More specifically,
the OCCA found that Gilson "participated [in acts] outside the trailer [that] caused injury
to the child which elicited screams of pain," "brought [the child] back inside the trailer
with swollen arms, a soft spot on his head, and irregular breathing," "carried [the child] to
the bathroom," "participated [in acts] inside the bathroom [that] caused the [child] to
scream and cry," and "was aware of the struggle between Coffman and the [child] in
which the [child] was injured and property in the bathroom was damaged." Id. The
OCCA also found that Gilson "subjectively appreciated that his conduct would likely
result in the taking of innocent life." Id. In sum, the OCCA found that Gilson's "major
participation in the felony of child abuse, combined with reckless indifference to human
life, [wa]s sufficient to satisfy the Enmund culpability requirement." Id. at 922.
[End Page 42]
We conclude that none of the OCCA's findings were inconsistent with the factual
findings that the jury necessarily had to have made in reaching its verdict on the first-
degree murder charge. In particular, the OCCA's findings regarding Gilson's active
participation in the events leading up to the death of Shane Coffman, and Gilson's
reckless indifference to human life, are not inconsistent with or precluded by the findings
of those jurors who determined that Gilson knowingly permitted, rather than directly
committed, the specific acts that directly resulted in Shane's death. Thus, we reject
Gilson's assertion that the OCCA's findings effectively nullified the jury's verdict on the
first-degree murder charge.
In his third and final challenge to the OCCA's decision, Gilson argues that "the
facts and evidence in his case simply d[id] not support a finding of death eligibility"
under Enmund and Tison. Aplt. Br. at 55. More specifically, Gilson takes issue with
"[t]he OCCA's finding [that he] was a "˜major participant' in the offense and showed
"˜reckless indifference for human life' . . . ." Id.
On federal habeas review, we must presume the OCCA's factual determinations
are correct and such a presumption may only be rebutted by clear and convincing
evidence to the contrary. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Willingham v. Mullin, 296 F.3d 917
922 (10th Cir. 2002). Unless the OCCA's factual determinations are shown to be clearly
wrong and objectively unreasonable, we may not overturn them on federal habeas review.
Miller-El v. Cockrell, 537 U.S. 322
, 324 (2003).
Reviewing the record in light of these standards, we readily reject Gilson's
[End Page 43]
arguments. Although each of the eyewitnesses to the events leading up to the murder
(Bertha Coffman and the four surviving children) gave slightly differing accounts, their
testimony, particularly when combined with the physical evidence found at the trailer and
the results of the autopsy performed on Shane Coffman, was more than sufficient to
support each of the OCCA's Enmund/Tison findings. In particular, Tranny Coffman
testified that on the day he last saw Shane (i.e., the day of Shane's death), Gilson
disciplined Shane inside the trailer by beating him with a board, later that day Gilson
accompanied Shane and Bertha Coffman outside the trailer and Shane could be heard
screaming, Gilson and Coffman then jointly carried Shane back inside the trailer and
placed him on the couch, as Shane sat on the couch, Tranny observed that Shane's arms
were swollen, his head had a soft spot on it, and he was breathing in a "weird" fashion
(i.e., making gargling-type sounds), Gilson then carried Shane to the bathroom, and at
some point thereafter Shane could be heard inside the bathroom. Tranny's testimony was
bolstered by that of his brother, Isaac Coffman, who testified that he used the bathroom
that day, observed Shane in the bathtub with some of his hair gone, bruises on his arms
and legs, making funny noises and failing to respond to questions from Isaac. In addition
to this testimony, all five witnesses testified more generally that Gilson routinely
"disciplined" the children, including Shane, by beating them with various objects.
Considered together, this evidence was more than sufficient to support each of the
[End Page 44]
OCCA's findings regarding Gilson's actions and mental state.7
In sum, we conclude that the OCCA's decision was neither contrary to, nor an
unreasonable application of, the principles outlined in Enmund and Tison.
Is Gilson's death sentence disproportionate to his offense?
In his third issue on appeal, Gilson argues that his death sentence violates the
Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment because it is
disproportionate to his offense. In support of this proposition, Gilson asserts that the
"jury did not find he had a direct role in Shane's death," and that his "crime [wa]s one of
omission, or failing to act." Aplt. Br. at 58. "Under these circumstances," Gilson argues,
"imposition of the death penalty, unique in its severity and irrevocability, is "˜excessive in
relation to the crime committed' in violation of his constitutional rights." Id. (quoting
Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584
, 592 (1977)).
a) Clearly established Supreme Court precedent
Our first task is to determine the clearly established federal law applicable to this
claim. The Supreme Court, in several cases, including Coker, as well as Enmund and
Tison, has outlined general proportionality standards for imposition of the death penalty.
Under those standards, "a punishment is "˜excessive' and unconstitutional if it (1) makes
Although Gilson correctly notes that the OCCA's findings were inconsistent with
portions of Bertha Coffman's testimony, that does not render the OCCA's findings
improper or unsupported by the evidence. As noted, the OCCA's findings were amply supported by the testimony of Tranny and Isaac Coffman. Moreover, a review of the
entire trial transcript strongly suggests that much of Bertha Coffman's testimony was less
[End Page 45]
no measurable contribution to acceptable goals of punishment and hence is nothing more
than the purposeless and needless imposition of pain and suffering; or (2) is grossly out of
proportion to the severity of the crime." Coker, 433 U.S. at 592. "A punishment might
fail the test on either ground." Id. "Furthermore, these Eighth Amendment judgments
should not be, or appear to be, merely the subjective views of individual Justices;
judgment should be informed by objective factors to the maximum possible extent." Id.
"To this end, attention must be given to the public attitudes concerning a particular
sentence history and precedent, legislative attitudes, and the response of juries reflected in
their sentencing decisions are to be consulted." Id.
b) OCCA's application of the proportionality standards
In connection with its analysis of Gilson's Enmund/Tison arguments on direct
appeal, the OCCA addressed and rejected Gilson's proportionality arguments, stating as
Finally, [Gilson] argues the death penalty is constitutionally
disproportionate to the crime of permitting child abuse murder. He
contends the death penalty is excessive as: (1) it does not contribute to the
goals of punishment and results in needless imposition of pain and
suffering, and (2) the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the severity
of the crime. See Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. 584
, 592, 97 S.Ct. 2861,
2866, 53 L.Ed.2d 982 (1977). In discussing the constitutionality of the
death sentence for a defendant who did not kill, the Supreme Court in
In Gregg v. Georgia the opinion announcing the judgment
observed that "[t]he death penalty is said to serve two
principal social purposes: retribution and deterrence of capital
crimes by prospective offenders." (citation omitted). Unless
the death penalty when applied to those in Enmund's position
measurably contributes to one or both of these goals, it "is
[End Page 46]
nothing more than the purposeless and needless imposition of
pain and suffering," and hence an unconstitutional
punishment. Coker v. Georgia, 433 U.S. at 592, 97 S.Ct. at
Enmund, 458 U.S. at 798, 102 S.Ct. at 3377.
The Supreme Court stated that neither the deterrent nor the retributive
purposes of the death penalty were advanced by imposing the death penalty
upon Enmund as the Court was unconvinced "that the threat that the death
penalty will be imposed for murder will measurably deter one who does not
kill and has no intention or purpose that life will be taken." Id., at 458 U.S.
at 798-799, 102 S.Ct. at 3377. In reaching this conclusion, the Court relied
upon the fact that killing only rarely occurred during the course of
robberies, and such killing as did occur even more rarely resulted in death sentences if the evidence did not support an inference that the defendant
intended to kill. Id., at 458 U.S. at 799, 102 S.Ct. at 3377-78.
As for the principle of retribution, the Court stated the heart of the
retribution rationale is that a criminal sentence must be directly related to
the personal culpability of the criminal offender.
As for retribution as a justification for executing Enmund, we
think this very much depends on the degree of Enmund's
culpability-what Enmund's intentions, expectations, and
actions were. American criminal law has long considered a
defendant's intention-and therefore his moral guilt-to be
critical to "the degree of [his] criminal culpability," (citation
omitted), and the Court has found criminal penalties to be
unconstitutionally excessive in the absence of intentional
Id., at 458 U.S. at 800, 102 S.Ct. at 3378,
Enmund was the driver of the "getaway" car in an armed robbery of a
dwelling. The occupants of the house, an elderly couple, resisted and
Enmund's accomplices killed them. The result in Enmund did not turn on
the mere fact that Enmund was convicted of felony murder. It is important
to note how attenuated was Enmund's responsibility for the deaths of the
victims in that case.
In the present case, [Gilson] was convicted of first degree murder by
[End Page 47]
child abuse by the commission of the child abuse or in the alternative first
degree murder by child abuse through the willful permitting of child abuse.
21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(C). We have determined the evidence is sufficient to
support either of the alternative ways to commit first degree murder under
the statute. The offense of willfully permitting child abuse murder requires
a knowing and willful permitting of child abuse to occur by a person
authorized to care for the child. Child abuse does not always result in
death, but death is the result often enough that the death penalty should be
considered as a justifiable deterrent to the felony itself. Children are the
most vulnerable citizens in our communities. They are dependent on
parents, and others charged in their care, for sustenance, protection, care
and guidance. Depending on age and physical development they tend to be
more susceptible to physical harm, and even death, if unreasonable force is
inflicted upon them. Within this context, legislative action to address the
specific crime of child abuse murder is legally justified.
Applying the death penalty to this situation wherein [Gilson], willfully,
purposefully and knowingly allowed the victim to be abused to the extent
that death resulted, when he was in a position to have prevented that abuse,
certainly serves both the deterrent and retributive purposes of the death
penalty. The threat that the death penalty will be imposed for permitting
child abuse which results in the death of the child accentuates the
responsibility a parent or person charged with the care and protection of a
child has to that child and will deter one who permits that abuse.
As for retribution, [Gilson]'s personal culpability in this situation is
high. The situation is quite different from that where the child abuse occurs
and the individual is not aware of the abuse. [Gilson]'s responsibility for
the death of the victim was not so attenuated as was that of Enmund who
merely waited in the car while the victims were shot and had no knowledge
of or immediate control over the actions of his co-defendants. [Gilson]'s
personal participation in permitting Coffman to abuse the victim to the
extent that death resulted was major and substantial, and there was proof
that such participation was wilful [sic] and knowing. Therefore the death
penalty is not excessive retribution for his crime.
Accordingly, we find the requirements of Enmund and Tison have been
met, and the death penalty is an appropriate punishment for the crime of
first degree murder by permitting child abuse in these circumstances. This
assignment of error is denied.
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 922-24 (internal paragraph numbers omitted).
[End Page 48]
c) Gilson's challenges to the OCCA's proportionality review
Gilson asserts three general challenges to the OCCA's proportionality review.
First, he argues "there is a glaring lack of historical or precedential support for imposing
the death penalty" upon him. Aplt. Br. at 62. "Indeed," he argues, "there appears to be
no precedent whatsoever for executing a defendant for a crime based on permitting or
failing to prevent another's commission of an offense; nor is there precedent for
executing a defendant where there is no actus reus." Id. "Historically," Gilson argues,
"absent a legal duty to act, failure to act to prevent a crime has constituted no offense at
all, let alone a capital one." Id. Second, Gilson argues there is "no precedent for
imposing death based on a state criminal statute which does not require, and a jury
determination which fails to find, the defendant was a participant in the offense." Id. at
64. Third, and finally, Gilson argues that imposition of the death penalty based on an
offense of "permitting" makes no measurable contribution to the goals of punishment. In
support of this argument, Gilson asserts that "[t]he trial produced no proof [he] committed
any acts resulting in harm, nor intended any harm be inflicted (by another), upon the
children," and thus "the threat of execution is unlikely to deter the inaction required to
sustain the conviction." Id. at 67 (italics in original). Relatedly, Gilson asserts that
"executing a defendant to avenge a killing he had no intention of committing or causing
does not measurably contribute to the retributive end of ensuring the criminal gets his
"˜just deserts.'" Id. at 68-69.
The problem with Gilson's arguments is that there is a complete disconnect
[End Page 49]
between them and the actual circumstances of his case. For example, while we might
well agree that there is little, if any, historical or contemporary support for imposition of
the death penalty on a defendant who merely fails to act to prevent a crime, and who had
no intention of committing or causing the death of the victim, those are not the
circumstances presented here.8 In Tison, the Supreme Court made clear that
proportionality review takes into account not merely the findings necessarily inherent in
the jury's verdict, but also any Enmund/Tison findings subsequently made by the state
trial or appellate courts. The OCCA's Enmund/Tison findings regarding Gilson's active
and significant participation and his reckless indifference to human life effectively
equated Gilson with the two petitioners in Tison and thereby allowed the OCCA to
essentially incorporate Tison's own proportionality review, including the Court's
conclusion that imposition of the death penalty in such circumstances was proper. Thus,
we are not persuaded that the OCCA's proportionality review was contrary to, or an
unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law.
Ex Post Facto Violation
In his fourth issue, Gilson argues that his first-degree murder conviction rests on
There does, however, appear to be relatively substantial support among the states
for allowing a defendant to be convicted of first degree murder or felony murder and sentenced to death based upon an underlying felony or act of severe child abuse. E.g.,
State v. Velazquez, 166 P.3d 91 (Ariz. 2007); People v. Beames, 153 P.3d 955 (Cal.
2007); Brooks v. State, 918 So.2d 181 (Fla. 2005). Thus, although the Oklahoma
Legislature's decision to expressly incorporate child abuse murder into its first-degree
murder statute appears to be unique, its decision regarding how to treat and punish such
crimes does not appear to be unique.
[End Page 50]
elements set forth in a statute enacted after Shane Coffman's death, thereby resulting in a
violation of the Ex Post Facto Clause. Gilson notes that the jury in his case "was
instructed that "˜permitting' child abuse could be committed by "˜a person responsible for a
child's health or welfare' which was the new language of 10 O.S. § 7115, effective
11/1/1995." Aplt. Br. at 71. In turn, he notes, "[a] person responsible for a child's health
or welfare was defined for the jury as including an adult "˜with whom the child's parent
cohabitates or any other adult residing in the home of the child.'" Id. (quoting State
ROA, Vol 6. at 637 (Instruction No. 18)). Gilson asserts, however, that at the time of
Shane Coffman's death in August 1995, "the statute was codified as 21 O.S. § 843 and
defined "˜permitting' as a crime committed "˜by one under a legal duty to render aid to the
child.'" Id. at 71-72.
a) Clearly established Supreme Court precedent
Gilson identifies Collins v. Youngblood, 497 U.S. 37
(1990), as providing the
"clearly established federal law" applicable to his ex post facto claim. In Collins, the
Supreme Court offered the following explanation of the constitutional prohibition against
ex post facto laws:
Although the Latin phrase "ex post facto" literally encompasses any law
passed "after the fact," it has long been recognized by this Court that the
constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws applies only to penal
statutes which disadvantage the offender affected by them. Calder v. Bull,
3 Dall. 386, 390-392, 1 L.Ed. 648 (1798) (opinion of Chase, J.); id., at 396
(opinion of Paterson, J.); id., at 400 (opinion of Iredell, J.). See Miller v.
Florida, 482 U.S. 423
, 430, 107 S.Ct. 2446, 2451, 96 L.Ed.2d 351 (1987).
(footnote omitted). As early opinions in this Court explained, "ex post facto
law" was a term of art with an established meaning at the time of the
framing of the Constitution. Calder, 3 Dall., at 391 (opinion of Chase, J.);
[End Page 51]
id., at 396 (opinion of Paterson, J.). Justice Chase's now familiar opinion in
Calder expounded those legislative Acts which in his view implicated the
core concern of the Ex Post Facto Clause:
"1st. Every law that makes an action done before the passing
of the law, and which was innocent when done, criminal; and
punishes such action. 2d. Every law that aggravates a crime,
or makes it greater than it was, when committed. 3d. Every
law that changes the punishment, and inflicts a greater
punishment, than the law annexed to the crime, when
committed. 4th. Every law that alters the legal rules of
evidence, and receives less, or different, testimony, than the
law required at the time of the commission of the offence, in
order to convict the offender." Id., at 390 (emphasis in
Early opinions of the Court portrayed this as an exclusive definition of
ex post facto laws. (citations omitted). So well accepted were these
principles that the Court in Beazell v. Ohio, 269 U.S. 167
, 46 S.Ct. 68, 70
L.Ed. 216 (1925), was able to confidently summarize the meaning of the
Clause as follows:
"It is settled, by decisions of this Court so well known that
their citation may be dispensed with, that any statute which
punishes as a crime an act previously committed, which was
innocent when done; which makes more burdensome the
punishment for a crime, after its commission, or which
deprives one charged with crime of any defense available
according to law at the time when the act was committed, is
prohibited as ex post facto." Id., at 169-170, 46 S.Ct., at[End Page 68-69.]
(citation and footnote omitted)
The Beazell formulation is faithful to our best knowledge of the original
understanding of the Ex Post Facto Clause: Legislatures may not
retroactively alter the definition of crimes or increase the punishment for
criminal acts. * * *
497 U.S. at 41-43.
Although not cited by Gilson, there is another relevant Supreme Court opinion that
[End Page 52]
needs to be mentioned. In May 2000, approximately two months prior to the OCCA's
resolution of Gilson's direct appeal, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Carmell v.
Texas, 529 U.S. 538
(2000). In Carmell, the Court acknowledged "that Collins[']
[discussion of what constitute[d] an ex post facto law] [wa]s rather cryptic." Id. at 538.
That is, "[w]hile calling Calder's four categories the "˜exclusive definition' of ex post
facto laws, [Carmell] also call[ed] Beazell's definition a "˜faithful' rendition of the
"˜original understanding' of the Clause, even though that quotation omitted category four."
Id. Thus, the Court in Carmell had to clarify that the "fourth category" of ex post facto
laws mentioned in Calder remained valid. Id. at 539. And, the Court clarified that this
fourth category was aimed at what it referred to as "sufficiency of the evidence rules" that
"inform us whether the evidence introduced is sufficient to convict as a matter of law
(which is not to say the jury must convict, but only that, as a matter of law, the case may
be submitted to the jury and the jury may convict)."9 Id. at 547.
b) OCCA's rejection of Gilson's ex post facto claim
Gilson asserted his ex post facto argument on direct appeal. The OCCA rejected it
on the merits, stating as follows:
In his third assignment of error, [Gilson] contends his right to be free
from ex post facto laws was violated as the jury was instructed on the
elements of child abuse and child abuse murder which were not the law at
the time of the offense. The prohibition against ex post facto law requires
As an example of a "sufficiency of the evidence rule," the Court cited to the case
of Sir John Fenwick, in which Parliament, after Fenwick's purported crime, amended "an
act [that, prior to the purported crime,] proclaimed that two witnesses were necessary to
convict a person of high treason." Carmell, 529 U.S. at 526.
[End Page 53]
the finding of two elements: first, that the law was enacted subsequent to
the conduct to which it was being applied; and second, that it must
disadvantage the offender affected by it. Allen v. State, 821 P.2d 371,
In the present case, [Gilson] was charged with causing the death of
Shane on or about August 17, 1995. [Gilson] was also charged with
abusing the other Coffman children between July 1995 and February 9,
1996. Prior to November 1995, the first degree murder by child abuse statute, 21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(C) referred to 21 O.S.1991, § 843, for its
definition of child abuse. Under § 843, the elements of Permitting Child
Abuse were: 1) knowingly, 2) permitting, 3) injury or use of unreasonable
force, 4) upon a child under the age of 18, and 5) by one under a legal duty
to render aid to the child. Johnson v. State, 751 P.2d 1094, 1096
In November 1995, § 843 was renumbered as 10 O.S.Supp.1995, § 7115.
In 1996, § 7115 was amended and the definition of "permitting" was added
to the statute. The elements of "permitting" child abuse are: 1) a person
responsible for a child's health or welfare; 2) knowingly; 3) permitted; 4)
injury/torture/maiming/(use of unreasonable force); 5) upon a child under
the age of eighteen. OUJI-CR (2d) 4-37. The instructions given to the jury
in this case referred to permitting and persons responsible for the child's
health or welfare and were consistent with OUJI-CR (2d) 4-37.
In the first of his three challenges to the above stated law and
instructions, [Gilson] argues the jury was improperly instructed under §
7115, a law that was enacted after the death of the victim and after many of
the alleged acts of abuse were committed against the other Coffman
children. He contends some of the prosecution's case implied he injured
the children prior to November 1, 1995. As stated previously, [Gilson]'s
acts of child abuse were one continuous transaction: therefore, while there
may have been some evidence of abuse inflicted by [Gilson] prior to
November 1, 1995, most of the acts occurred after November 1995, and
therefore it was not error to apply § 7115 to [Gilson]'s case. Further,
evidence showed that certain injuries to Tia and Isaac were, at the time of
discovery in February 1996, relatively recent. That abuse certainly
occurred after the enactment of 21 O.S.Supp. 1995, § 7115.
[Gilson] next argues applying the element of a person responsible for a
child's health or welfare contained in the 1996 amendment to § 7115
violated ex post facto principles as that element lowered the State's burden
[End Page 54]
of proof. He asserts that at trial the prosecution merely had to show he was
a person responsible for the children's health and welfare, a lesser burden
than proving he had a legal duty to render aid as set forth in § 843.
The jury in this case was instructed in part as follows:
No person may be convicted of permitting the beating or
injuring of a child unless the State has proved beyond a
reasonable doubt each element of the crime. These elements
are: FIRST, a person responsible for a child's health or
welfare; SECOND, knowingly; THIRD, permitted; FOURTH,
injury, torture, or use of unreasonable force; FIFTH, upon a
child under the age of eighteen.
OUJI-CR (2d) 4-37. The list of definitions given to the jury included the
Person responsible for a child's welfare-includes a parent,
legal guardian, custodian, foster parent, a person eighteen
years of age or older with whom the child's parent cohabitates
or any other adult residing in the home of the child.
This language is consistent with 21 O.S.Supp.1992, § 845(B)(4)
renumbered as 10 O.S.Supp.1995, § 7102(B)(4). See also OUJI-CR (2d)
Under the renumbered 21 O.S.1991, § 843, the element of "by one under
a legal duty to render aid to the child" was defined in the uniform jury
instructions as follows:
A person is under a legal duty to render aid to a child if [a
statute imposes a duty to render aid to the child] [a
(parent-child) (husband-wife) relationship exists between that
person and the child] [a contractual duty to render aid to the
child has been assumed by that person] [that person has
voluntarily assumed the care of the child].
OUJI-CR (1st) 424.
Under 21 O.S.1991, § 843, in order to prove a legal duty to render aid,
the prosecution had to prove a relationship between the defendant and the
victim, either parent-child, husband-wife or a contractual duty to render aid
[End Page 55]
to the child has been assumed by that person or that the defendant had
voluntarily assumed the care of the child. Under 10 O.S.Supp.1995, §
7115, in order to support a finding that the defendant was responsible for
the child's welfare, the prosecution had to prove a certain relationship
between the defendant and the child, either that of parent, legal guardian,
custodian, foster parent, a person eighteen years of age or older with whom
the child's parent cohabitates or any other adult residing in the home of the
child. Proving any of the alternatives in § 7115 is not any lesser of a burden
than proving the minimum requirement under § 843 that the defendant had
voluntarily assumed the care of the child.
Further, the evidence in this case clearly showed [Gilson] had a
parent-child relationship with the children. [Gilson] stated he shared equal
responsibility with Coffman in disciplining and parenting the children. He
said he and Coffman wanted to be a family and provide the children with
two parents. In statements concerning his disciplining of the children, he
often stated "that's part of being parents." Coffman also stated she had
given [Gilson] authority to discipline the children and that she, the children
and [Gilson] were all trying to be a family. Under this evidence, the State
proved the parent-child relationship as set forth in both §§ 843 and 7115.
Any differences in the definitions of by one under a legal duty to render aid
to the child and person responsible for a child's welfare did not
disadvantage [Gilson], deprive him of an available defense, nor change the
facts necessary to establish guilt. Therefore, no ex post facto violation
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 914-16 (internal paragraph numbers omitted).
c) Gilson's challenge to the OCCA's ex post facto analysis
Gilson asserts four general challenges to the OCCA's ex post facto analysis, which
we proceed to address in turn. First, Gilson contends that "the OCCA denied relief based
on a continuous transaction theory pertinent only to the injury-to-child charges" and "the
result was that the evidence of one type of crime (injury to child) was used to support a
conviction for another (murder)." Aplt. Br. at 74. In other words, Gilson argues, "the
effect [wa]s to punish [him] with the death penalty for his crimes against the other
[End Page 56]
children who did not die." Id. Although Gilson is correct that the OCCA utilized a
"continuous transaction" theory, it is clear from the OCCA's opinion that that rationale
was intended to apply solely to the injury to child charges, and not to the first-degree
murder charge. Indeed, it would have been unnecessary for the OCCA to analyze
Gilson's remaining ex post facto arguments had it concluded that the continuous
transaction theory allowed the newer statute to be properly applied to the first-degree
murder charge. Moreover, there is simply no support for Gilson's bald assertion that
"evidence of one type of crime (injury to child) was used to support a conviction for
another (murder)." Our review of the trial transcript firmly establishes that the first-
degree murder charge was based on specific and substantial evidence regarding the chain
of events on the day of Shane's death.
In his second challenge to the OCCA's decision, Gilson asserts that, contrary to
the conclusion reached by the OCCA, "[t]here is a substantial difference between having
to prove a legal duty to a child and merely proving that the person cohabitates with the
parent of the child." Aplt. Br. at 75. Gilson further asserts that the newer statute that was
applied in his case effectively "widened the net of those who could be defined as
"˜permitting' such child abuse" because "proving mere cohabitation is a lesser burden than
proving a legal duty . . . ." Id. at 76. In addition, he asserts, citing Calder's fourth
category of ex post facto laws, that it ""˜alter[ed] the legal rules of evidence" and required
the receipt of ""˜less, or different, testimony, than the law required at the time of the
commission of the offense, in order to convict the offender.'" Id. (quoting Calder, 3 Dall.
[End Page 57]
at 390). In short, he asserts that "the OCCA missed the point that the change of statute
included [him] when the jury might well not have found him liable for murder under the
earlier language . . . ." Id.
Although Gilson may well be correct in asserting that the newer statute effectively
"widened the net of those who could be" held responsible for permitting child abuse (i.e.,
by encompassing individuals who, under the older statute, did not owe a "legal duty" to
the child victim), the important point is that, as concluded by the OCCA and as amply
supported by the evidence presented at trial, Gilson was responsible under both the older
and the newer statutes, and thus the application of the newer statute to his case, although
procedurally incorrect, did not result in an ex post facto violation.10 More specifically,
the State's evidence, which we outline in greater detail below, firmly established that
Gilson had voluntarily assumed the care of the Coffman children, and thus under the
older statute would have had a legal duty to render aid to Shane Coffman. In sum, then,
we conclude that Gilson had fair warning, at the time of Shane's death, that his conduct
was illegal, and thus there was no ex post facto violation. See Miller v. Florida, 482 U.S. 423
, 429-30 (1987) (noting that the Ex Post Facto Clause restrains legislatures from
enacting "arbitrary or vindictive" laws, and ensures that individuals are given "fair
warning" of a law's effect).
To the extent Gilson takes issue with the OCCA's interpretation of the two
statutes, we are bound by the OCCA's interpretation. Parker v. Scott, 394 F.3d 1302
1319 (10th Cir. 2005) (noting that state court interpretations of state law are binding on
this court in habeas proceedings).
[End Page 58]
As for Gilson's reliance on Calder's fourth category of ex post facto laws, there
are two problems with it. First, the newer statute that was applied in Gilson's case does
not fall within Calder's fourth category. In particular, the newer statute, which (like the
older statute) simply outlines the elements of the crime of permitting child abuse, is not a
"sufficiency of the evidence rule" in that it does not "inform us whether the evidence
introduced is sufficient to convict as a matter of law . . . ." Carmell, 529 U.S. at 547.
Second, even assuming to the contrary, we conclude, for the reasons already stated, that
Gilson was not harmed by the application of the newer statute. In other words, even if the
newer statute falls within Calder's fourth category and there was a technical ex post facto
violation, we conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that Gilson was not prejudiced by it
because the State's evidence was sufficient to establish his guilt under both the older and
the newer statute.
In his third challenge to the OCCA's decision, Gilson contends that he "had no
authority to permit or to withhold permission from [Bertha] Coffman because, under the .
. . language of the [older] statute, he had no legal duty." Aplt. Br. at 80. More
specifically, Gilson argues that "the mere fact of cohabitation did not . . . confer such a
legal duty and thus did not confer the prerequisite authority." Id. at 80-81. As a result,
Gilson argues, "[t]he defense that he could not have permitted this child abuse was thus
taken from him by the trial court's actions in giving the instructions predicated on laws
amended to [his] disadvantage after Shane's death, in violation of the Ex Post Facto
clause . . . ." Id. at 81.
[End Page 59]
These arguments are easily rejected. As the OCCA essentially found, and as we
have previously noted, the evidence presented by the State at trial overwhelmingly
established that Gilson voluntarily assumed a duty of care towards the Coffman children.
Shortly after Gilson and Bertha Coffman entered into a relationship with one another in
the fall of 1994 (well before they began living together), Gilson began assisting Coffman
in the care and discipline of her children. In July 1995, Gilson invited Coffman and her
children to begin living with him at his trailer. Thereafter, Gilson and Coffman jointly
engaged in the care and discipline of the children. For example, Gilson established the
rules regarding where the children could sleep (only in the living room), which rooms
they could physically be in inside the trailer (they were prohibited from going in either of
the two bedrooms), when and what they could eat, and prohibited them from attending
school or church, or from playing outside the trailer. Gilson also regularly disciplined
each of the Coffman children by way of long periods of standing at a wall, beatings,
placement in the bathroom, and deprivation of food and contact with the other children.
Lastly, during his interviews with law enforcement officials, Gilson admitted that he and
Coffman were "plan[ning] on bein[g] husband and wife and [were] formin[g] a family
and gettin[g] some of the basics down," State ROA, State's Exhibit 01 at 29, that the two
of them shared equal responsibility for parenting the children, and that both were
involved in disciplining the children. Id. at 37 ("Yeah, that's part of being parents.").
In his fourth and final challenge to the OCCA's decision, Gilson contends that
application of the newer statute in his case deprived him of the defense that he lacked
[End Page 60]
authority to permit or to withhold permission from Bertha Coffman. We summarily reject
this contention for the reasons we have already discussed.
Trial court's refusal to provide instructions re lesser included offenses
In his fifth issue on appeal, Gilson contends that his "Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights were violated" as a result of "the trial judge's refusal to instruct his
jury on the lesser included offenses of second degree depraved mind murder, and on
second degree manslaughter." Aplt. Br. at 84-85. The facts relevant to this contention
are as follows. At the conclusion of the first-stage evidence, Gilson requested that the
trial court instruct the jury on what Gilson asserted were the lesser included offenses of
murder in the second degree and second degree manslaughter. Tr., Vol. X at 2103. The
trial court rejected Gilson's requests. In doing so, the trial court concluded that, with
respect to Gilson's request for an instruction on murder in the second degree, "there [wa]s
no[t] sufficient evidence to establish an element of depraved mind and conduct . . . ." Id.
With respect to Gilson's request for an instruction on manslaughter, the trial court
concluded "there [wa]s no evidence of possible negligent conduct. If the State's evidence
is believed, the acts described are intentional acts which the jury could find occurred and
caused the death of Shane Coffman and, if so, were intentional acts, knowingly done or
permitted by the defendant." Id. As a result of the trial court's ruling, the jury was
instructed solely on the charge of first degree murder under the two alternative theories
alleged by the State, and the jury ultimately returned a verdict of guilty on that charge.
[End Page 61]
a) Clearly established Supreme Court precedent
Gilson identifies Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625
(1980), as providing the "clearly
established federal law" applicable to this claim. In Beck, the Supreme Court held "that
the death penalty may not [constitutionally] be imposed under . . . circumstances" where
"the jury was not permitted to consider a verdict of guilt of a lesser included non-capital
offense, and when the evidence would have supported such a verdict . . . ." 447 U.S. at
627. The Court explained that "when the evidence unquestionably establishes that the
defendant is guilty of a serious, violent offense "" but leaves some doubt with respect to an
element that would justify conviction of a capital offense "" the failure to give the jury the
"˜third option' of convicting on a lesser included offense would seem inevitably to
enhance the risk of an unwarranted conviction." Id. at 637. "Such a risk," the Court
stated, "cannot be tolerated in a case in which the defendant's life is at stake." Id.
To succeed on a claim under Beck, a state capital defendant seeking federal habeas
relief "must show that the evidence presented at trial would permit a rational jury to find
him guilty of the lesser included offense and acquit him of first-degree murder." Young
v. Sirmons, 486 F.3d 655
, 670 (10th Cir. 2007) (citing Hogan v. Gibson, 197 F.3d 1297
1307 (10th Cir. 1999)). As noted by the dissent, "this Court has n[ever] decided whether
a question concerning the sufficiency of the evidence to support the giving of a lesser
included offense instruction is a matter of law or fact, and therefore reviewable under §
2254(d)(1) or § 2254(d)(2)." Boltz v. Mullin, 415 F.3d 1215
, 1233 (10th Cir. 2005).
Although it is by no means outcome-determinative in this case, we agree with the dissent
[End Page 62]
that it is a mixed question of law and fact and is thus reviewable under § 2254(d)(1). See,
e.g., Samu v. Elo, 14 Fed. Appx. 477, 478 (6th Cir. 2001) (reviewing question under §
2254(d)(1)); United States v. Abeyta, 27 F.3d 470
, 473 (10th Cir. 1994) (treating trial
court's decision not to give a lesser included offense instruction as a mixed question of
law and fact). More specifically, we conclude that a state court's determination of
whether the evidence presented at trial was sufficient under the Beck standard to justify a
lesser-included instruction is not a finding of historical fact, but rather a legal
determination reached after assessing a body of evidence in light of the elements of the
alleged lesser-included offense.
Under Oklahoma law, "all lesser forms of homicide are considered lesser included
offenses of first degree murder." Id. (citing Shrum v. State, 991 P.2d 1032, 1036 (Okla.
Crim. App. 1999)). Thus, both of the offenses cited by Gilson, i.e., second-degree murder
and second-degree manslaughter, were and are considered lesser-included offenses of
b) OCCA's rejection of Gilson's Beck claim
Gilson asserted his Beck claim on direct appeal. The OCCA rejected it on the
In his ninth assignment of error, [Gilson] contends the trial court erred in
failing to instruct the jury on the lesser included offenses of second degree
murder and second degree manslaughter. The trial court denied [Gilson]'s
requested instructions finding "no sufficient evidence to establish an
element of depraved mind and conduct" to support second degree murder
and "no evidence of possible negligent conduct" to support second degree
[End Page 63]
In a criminal prosecution, the trial court has the duty to correctly instruct
the jury on the salient features of the law raised by the evidence without a
request by the defendant. (citations omitted). This means that all lesser
forms of homicide are necessarily included and instructions on lesser forms
of homicide should be administered if they are supported by the evidence.
(citation and footnote omitted). In determining the sufficiency of the
evidence to support a lesser offense we look at whether the evidence might
allow a jury to acquit the defendant of the greater offense and convict him
of the lesser. See Hogan v. Gibson, 197 F.3d 1297
, 1305 (10th Cir. 1999)
citing Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625
, 636, 100 S.Ct. 2382, 2388, 65
L.Ed.2d 392 (1980). Only if there is evidence which tends to negate an
element of the greater offense, which would reduce the charge, should
instructions on a lesser included offense be given. See Fairchild [v. State],
998 P.2d [611,] 627 [(Okla. Crim. App. 1999)]. See also United States v.
Scalf, 708 F.2d 1540
, 1546 (10th Cir. 1983) ("a lesser included offense
instruction should not be given unless there is evidence to support a finding
that the lesser offense was committed while the greater offense was not.").
Murder in the second degree occurs "when perpetrated by an act
imminently dangerous to another person and evincing a depraved mind,
regardless of human life, although without any premeditated design to
effect the death of any particular individual." 21 O.S.1991, § 701.8(1).
[Gilson] argues, and the State concedes, that when an individual wilfully
[sic] or maliciously injures, tortures, or uses unreasonable force on a child
there can be no question but that the individual is acting with a depraved
mind. [Gilson] and the State also agree that in addition, committing the
abuse which results in the death of a child, but without the intent to kill, is
imminently dangerous conduct. However, as the State points out, these
elements do not negate the element that the victim was a child.
By enacting 21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(C), the Legislature clearly intended to
make a homicide occurring during the commission of or the permitting of
child abuse to be first degree murder. Drew, 771 P.2d at 228. Where child
abuse committed in violation of 21 O.S.1991, § 7115, results in the death of
the child, the specific homicide provision of 21 O.S.1991, § 701.7(C), should be used. Fairchild, 998 P.2d at 627. Here, the victim was clearly a
child, and [Gilson] has not shown that the greater offense of first degree
murder was not committed. Therefore, the evidence did not support an
instruction on second degree depraved mind murder.
Further, [Gilson] was not entitled to an instruction on second degree
depraved mind murder as he has failed to show that under the evidence
[End Page 64]
presented at trial, a rational jury would acquit him of first degree murder
and find him guilty of the lesser offense of second degree murder. [Gilson]
is entitled to an instruction on second degree murder only if the evidence at
trial would allow a jury to rationally conclude that his conduct was not done
with the intention of taking the life of an individual. 21 O.S.1991, §
Here the evidence showed that [Gilson] either willfully and intentionally
participated in the abuse of Shane or that he knowingly permitted Coffman
to abuse Shane to the extent that death resulted. The Coffman children
testified [Gilson] acted with Coffman in each instance of abuse inflicted on
Shane the day he died. Coffman testified she disciplined Shane that day
and that [Gilson] stayed in the other room, except for the two times he
attended to the shower doors and the time she saw him exit the bathroom shortly before the victim was found not breathing. In his pre-trial statement, [Gilson] said all he did was spank Shane and put him in the
bathtub. This evidence would lead a reasonable jury to conclude that either
[Gilson] willfully and intentionally inflicted such abuse to the extent that
Shane died as a result or that he did nothing at all. The evidence does not support a finding that [Gilson] merely acted with a depraved mind having
no intention of taking the victim's life.
As for the offense of second degree manslaughter, to warrant such an
instruction evidence must be presented at trial showing the defendant's
culpable negligence. [citation omitted]. The evidence here did not show a
degree of carelessness amounting to a culpable disregard of the rights and safety of others to warrant an instruction on second degree manslaughter.
[citation omitted]. Evidence of [Gilson]'s active participation in the abuse
of the victim would not lead a rational jury to acquit him of first degree
murder and convict him of second degree manslaughter.
Further, this Court has held that a defendant is not entitled to instructions
on any lesser included offense when he defends against the charge by
proclaiming his innocence. Hooker v. State, 887 P.2d 1351, 1361
(Okl.Cr.1994), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 858
, 116 S.Ct. 164, 133 L.Ed.2d 106
(1995); Snow v. State, 876 P.2d 291, 297 (Okl.Cr.1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1179
, 115 S.Ct. 1165, 130 L.Ed.2d 1120 (1995). [Gilson]'s defense
was that he did not commit nor did he know of any abuse to any of the
children. He claimed he was asleep on the sofa while Coffman was in the
bathroom with Shane. He confessed that his only bad act was hiding the
body and lying about Shane's death. Here, the evidence showed either
[Gilson]'s wilful [sic] and malicious infliction of or his permitting the
[End Page 65]
infliction of child abuse or it showed he knew nothing about the abuse.
Therefore, instructions on second degree murder and second degree
manslaughter were not warranted. Accordingly, the trial court did not
abuse its discretion in denying the requested instructions. This assignment
of error is denied.
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 917-18 (internal paragraph numbers omitted).
c) Gilson's challenge to the OCCA's analysis
Gilson challenges each of the three rationales offered by the OCCA in rejecting his
claim that he was entitled to an instruction on second degree murder. As outlined in
greater detail below, we conclude that the final two rationales offered by the OCCA are,
indeed, suspect, but that the initial rationale, standing alone, represents a reasonable
application of Beck. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). We also conclude that the OCCA
reasonably applied Beck in rejecting Gilson's claim that he was entitled to a jury
instruction on the lesser included offense of second degree manslaughter. Id.
The first rationale offered by the OCCA for rejecting Gilson's request for an
instruction on second degree murder was that, even assuming the evidence presented at
trial would have allowed a jury to reasonably find the existence of all the elements of
second degree murder, the uncontroverted fact that the victim in the case was a child
effectively required Gilson to be convicted of first degree murder rather than second
degree murder. More specifically, the OCCA noted that the Oklahoma Legislature
"clearly intended to make a homicide occurring during the commission of or the
permitting of child abuse to be first degree murder." Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 917.
The only challenge Gilson now asserts to this rationale is that ""˜the inability to
[End Page 66]
negate the element that' the victim was a child should not have barred the inclusion of the
jury instruction [on second degree murder], because the party proving the case, the State,
conceded the evidence at trial was more than sufficient to support the giving of [such] an
instruction . . . ." Aplt. Br. at 87-88. This challenge, however, is easily rejected. To
begin with, Gilson cites to no cases, and we have found none, that would have bound the
OCCA to the State's purported concession as to the sufficiency of the evidence. More
importantly, it is apparent that the OCCA's conclusion hinged not on its view of the
evidence presented at trial, but instead on its legal conclusion that, under Oklahoma's
statutory scheme, an individual guilty of the second degree murder of a child was
effectively responsible for having committed, and thus was required to be convicted of,
first degree child abuse murder. Stated in terms of Beck, the OCCA effectively
concluded, and reasonably so in our view, that Gilson was not entitled to an instruction on
second degree murder because, under Oklahoma's statutory scheme, a jury could not
rationally have acquitted Gilson of first degree child abuse murder and convicted him of
second degree murder.
The OCCA's second rationale for affirming the state trial court's decision to reject
Gilson's request for a second degree murder instruction was that, in its view, the
"evidence would lead a reasonable jury to conclude that either [Gilson] willfully and
intentionally inflicted such abuse to the extent that Shane died as a result or that he did
nothing at all." Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 918. Gilson argues that this represents "an
unreasonable interpretation of the facts in evidence." Aplt. Br. at 89. In particular,
[End Page 67]
Gilson contends "the statement is belied by the jury's divided verdict," and "is simply
contrary to the evidence presented which, considered as a whole, could support a finding
[he] acted with a depraved mind having no intention of taking the victim's life." Id.
This is an extremely close question. Although the evidence presented at trial
clearly establishes that Gilson was intimately involved in, if not primarily responsible for,
the extreme abuse inflicted on Shane prior to his death, a rational jury perhaps could have
found that Gilson acted not with the intent to kill Shane, but rather with a depraved mind
and without the intention of taking Shane's life. Even assuming this is true, however, the
OCCA's initial rationale still holds true, i.e., the jury would have been required under
Oklahoma's statutory scheme to find Gilson guilty of first degree child abuse murder
rather than second degree murder. Thus, it is unnecessary for us to ultimately decide
whether the OCCA's second rationale passes muster under the AEDPA standards.
The final rationale offered by the OCCA for rejecting Gilson's claim that he was
entitled to an instruction on second degree murder, i.e., that Gilson was not entitled to
instructions on any lesser included offenses because he defended against the first-degree
murder charge by proclaiming his innocence, has previously been rejected by this court as
inconsistent with Beck. See Hooker v. Mullin, 293 F.3d 1232
, 1238 (10th Cir. 2002);
Mitchell v. Gibson, 262 F.3d 1036
, 1049-50 (10th Cir. 2001). Thus, it must likewise be
rejected in this case. As we have noted, however, the OCCA's first rationale is sufficient,
standing alone, to render reasonable the OCCA's rejection of Gilson's claim that, under
Beck, he was entitled to an instruction on second degree murder.
[End Page 68]
That leaves only Gilson's challenge to the OCCA's conclusion that he was not
entitled to a jury instruction on the lesser included offense of second degree
manslaughter. The OCCA's conclusion on this issue rested primarily on the rationale that
"[e]vidence of [Gilson]'s active participation in the abuse of the victim would not lead a
rational jury to acquit him of first degree murder and convict him of second degree
manslaughter."11 Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 918. Gilson's only challenge to this rationale is that
the jury could have found him guilty of second degree manslaughter "if [Bertha] Coffman
were believed . . . ." Aplt. Br. at 93. More specifically, Gilson argues that "[r]easonable
jurors could have concluded that evidence of [his] failure to intervene initially when
Coffman began the physical abuse of Shane showed he was careless in that he did not
exercise ordinary care and caution." Id. at 98. In other words, Gilson argues that,
"[b]ased on the evidence and testimony, reasonable jurors may have concluded [he] was
careless in his failure to intervene to prevent the abuse as it occurred." Id. at 99.
Gilson's arguments notwithstanding, we conclude the OCCA's rationale was
neither contrary to, nor an unreasonable application of, Beck. Although it is true that
Bertha Coffman testified at trial and attempted to downplay Gilson's involvement in the
death of Shane, her testimony was riddled with internal inconsistencies12, was contrary to
The OCCA also offered the alternative rationale that Gilson was not entitled to
instructions on second degree manslaughter because he defended against the first-degree
murder charge by proclaiming his innocence. As noted, this rationale has previously been
rejected by this court as inconsistent with Beck.
For example, Coffman's statements regarding the types of abuse inflicted by
Gilson on Shane varied dramatically. Throughout most of her post-arrest interviews,
[End Page 69]
virtually all of the other witnesses' testimony, and was likewise contrary to the physical
evidence presented by the State. The overwhelming weight of the State's evidence,
which we recounted in detail in addressing Gilson's Enmund/Tison claim, established that
Gilson was not merely negligent, but rather was intimately involved in the abuse of Shane
and, at a minimum, acted with the intent of causing him physical harm.13 See Ball v.
State, 173 P.3d 81, 91 (Okla. Crim. App. 2007) (noting that "ordinary negligence
resulting in death is sufficient to warrant a conviction for second-degree manslaughter . . .
."). Thus, reviewing the OCCA's determination under the deferential standard outlined in
Coffman was clearly protective of Gilson, generally denying that he did anything more
than spank or correct her children. Her general denials were belied, however, by her
admission to investigators that Gilson had an explosive temper, that there had "been so
much punishment in [Gilson's] house," 2/12/1996 Coffman Interview Tr. at 31, that her
children were afraid of Gilson's "punishments," id. at 181, and that her children talked
about Gilson "doing most of his bustings with force." Id. at 184. Her general denials
were also belied by her admission during her second post-arrest interview that Gilson had
"whipped" Shane "a couple of days" before Shane's death. Id. at 147. At trial, Coffman,
having been separated from Gilson for over two years, acknowledged that Gilson had, in
fact, severely abused all of her children. Moreover, Coffman admitted observing Gilson
use a board to hit Shane on the top of his head, his shoulders, his chest, and his legs. She
also testified that Gilson was the last person alone with Shane in the bathroom prior to his
death, and that she was awakened by a loud sound from the bathroom during that time.
As we have already noted, the OCCA, in making its Enmund/Tison findings,
specifically found that Gilson "was a major participant in the felony" because, "[a]cting
jointly with Coffman, he took Shane outside the trailer and was party to conduct which
elicited screams from the child," and also, together with Coffman, "took Shane back
inside the trailer . . . to the bathroom and . . . remained with him in the bathroom for
periods of time." Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 920. In turn, we have concluded that those findings
were amply supported by the evidence presented at trial. Although the dissent suggests
that the jury could rationally have found that Gilson "played no part in abusing Shane the
day he died," Dissent at 3, any such conclusion would be contrary to both the OCCA's
Enmund/Tison findings and our affirmance of those findings.
[End Page 70]
§ 2254(d)(1), we conclude the OCCA reasonably determined that a rational jury could not
have convicted Gilson of second degree manslaughter and acquitted him of first degree
child abuse murder. In turn, we conclude the OCCA reasonably applied Beck in
determining that Gilson was not entitled to an instruction on second degree manslaughter.
The dissent argues that a rational jury, relying on Bertha Coffman's trial testimony
and, apparently, Gilson's post-arrest statements to police, could have found that "Gilson
played no part in abusing Shane the day he died and that he [Gilson] was asleep on the
couch during the abuse that led to Shane's death." Dissent at 3. There are at least three
significant flaws in this reasoning. First, the dissent's analysis affords virtually no
deference to the OCCA's assessment of the evidence presented at trial. Rather than
examining the evidence presented at trial with an eye toward determining whether the
OCCA's determination was reasonable, the dissent appears to review the evidence
presented as if this were a direct appeal, and ultimately substitutes its own judgment for
that of the OCCA.
The second major flaw in the dissent's reasoning is that the testimony of Bertha
Coffman does not even remotely begin to account for either the serious injuries sustained
by Shane or the cause of his death. According to Coffman's testimony, her physical
contact with Shane on the day of his death was limited to spanking or swatting him
approximately fifteen times on his bottom and the back of his legs, carrying him to the
bathtub, and pressing on his shoulders to force him to sit back down in the tub when he
attempted to stand up. Coffman also testified that at one point Shane slipped and fell in
[End Page 71]
the bathtub and hit his head or face on the bathtub faucet. Even assuming the worst, none
of these events could have allowed the jury to make any rational findings regarding how
Shane sustained the multiple acute fractures found by the medical examiner14 or, more
importantly, how he died.15
Lastly, even assuming, arguendo, that the jury could rationally have found that
Gilson was asleep on the couch while Coffman abused and ultimately killed Shane, then
Gilson would have been entitled to an acquittal, not a conviction of second-degree
Dr. Larry Balding, the deputy medical examiner who examined Shane's remains,
testified that he found evidence of acute fractures throughout Shane's body. To begin
with, Balding testified there was a fracture to Shane's jaw, and a fracture separation of the
zygoma on the right side of the skull (i.e., the cheek bone). Tr. at 1943. Balding opined
that these two fractures were caused by separate blows because they were on opposite sides of the head, id. at 1944-46, and that it would have taken a great deal of force to
cause the jaw fracture. Id. at 1946. Balding further testified that he found a "localized
complex fracturing involving the left clavicle or collarbone," id. at 1948, fractures of "the
left ribs, first, second and third ribs," id., and a fracture of the right shoulder blade, id. at
1950-51. Balding testified he found a left distal tibial metaphyseal fracture, which would
have been consistent with some form of blunt force or a severe twisting of the ankle. Id.
at 1952. Lastly, Balding testified that there were fractures of the spinal processes (the
bony protrusions) of the C-7 vertebrae (i.e., the lower-most neck vertebrae), T-2, T-3, T-
4, and T-10. Id. at 1953-54.
Contrast this with Ball, the recent OCCA case cited by the dissent in alleged
support of its position. The defendant therein, Carlis Anthony Ball, was charged with and
convicted of first-degree child abuse murder in the scalding death of his two-year-old son.
On appeal, Ball argued that the trial court erred in refusing his request for instructions on
the lesser-included offense of second-degree manslaughter. The OCCA agreed, noting
that Ball had described an "accidental spill injury . . . in his 911 call and subsequent statements" to responding firefighters, 170 P.3d at at 86, and that these "statements about
his handling of the boiling water were sufficient as a matter of law to support an inference
of culpable negligence." Id. at 91. Unlike the situation here, the evidence cited by Ball
provided an alternate explanation for how his young son was scalded and ultimately died.
Neither Bertha Coffman's testimony nor Gilson's post-arrest statements provided an
explanation of how or why Shane died.
[End Page 72]
manslaughter. That is, Gilson's conduct would not have risen even to the level of
culpable negligence necessary to be convicted of second-degree manslaughter. Indeed,
Gilson's trial counsel argued this same factual theory (i.e., Gilson being asleep during the
abuse and death) to the jury at the close of the first-stage proceedings and the jury
rejected it. Dissent at 9 (discussing first-stage closing arguments of defense counsel).
Trial court's refusal to allow testimony from defense expert witness
In his sixth issue, Gilson argues that the state trial court's refusal to allow his
expert witness, Dr. Wanda Draper, to testify regarding the credibility of the Coffman
children's testimony violated his constitutional rights. We begin our analysis of this issue
by reviewing the key events that culminated in the state trial court's ruling.
On April 2, 1998, the state trial court, at Gilson's request, conducted an in camera
hearing regarding the competency of the surviving Coffman children to testify during the
State's case-in-chief. Tr. Vol. IV at 840. During that hearing, Gilson presented the
testimony of Dr. Wanda Draper, who holds a Ph.D in child development and was a
professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the College of
Medicine at the University of Oklahoma. Draper indicated that she had concerns about
the competency of the Coffman children to testify. Id. at 855. To begin with, Draper
noted that the children "for a period of months were living under the assumption [created
by their mother and Gilson] that one of their brothers [Shane] had run away, but the
assumption was that he was still alive. And then that changed and they discovered that he
[wa]s not alive." Id. Draper questioned whether the children could "appreciate the
[End Page 73]
obligation to tell the truth when their own mother lied to them . . . ." Id. at 859. Draper
also noted that "[t]he stories between and among the children ha[d] changed," id. at 862,
and she opined that the "children ha[d] had enough trauma in their lives that it would be
very difficult for them over time to recall accurately what actually happened." Id. at 863.
At the conclusion of Draper's testimony, Gilson's counsel moved to suppress the
testimony of the Coffman children based on their lack of competence to accurately testify
about events relevant to the case. Id. at 890. The state trial court overruled that motion,
but reserved a final ruling on each of the children's competency to testify until it had
heard their individual voir dire examinations. Id. at 895. With respect to the testimony of
Dr. Draper, the state trial court concluded it "d[id] not meet the Daubert standards to
qualify as expert direct testimony regarding credibility," and that "credibility . . . [wa]s a
matter for the finder of fact." Id.
On April 7, 1998, during the course of the prosecution's case-in-chief, the state
trial court conducted voir dire proceedings to determine the competency of each of the
children to testify. At the conclusion thereof, the state trial court determined that all of
the children were competent to testify. Id. Vol. VII at 1540. The State proceeded to
introduce the testimony of each of the children, and Gilson's trial counsel was allowed to
cross-examine each child. During his own case-in-chief, Gilson renewed his request to
present the testimony of Dr. Draper regarding the credibility of the Coffman children's
testimony. The state trial court denied that request.
[End Page 74]
a) Clearly established Supreme Court precedent
Gilson identifies Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308
(1974), and Chambers v.
Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284
(1973), as providing the "clearly established federal law"
applicable to this claim. In Davis, the Supreme Court emphasized the importance of
allowing a criminal defendant to adequately cross-examine prosecution witnesses. In
particular, the Court noted "that the exposure of a [prosecution] witness' motivation in
testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of
cross-examination." 415 U.S. at 316-17. Such cross-examination, the Court noted,
would be "directed toward revealing possible biases, prejudices, or ulterior motives of the
witness as they may relate directly to issues or personalities in the case at hand." Id. at
316. If this right is violated, the Court held, "no amount of showing of want of prejudice
would cure it." Id. at 318 (internal quotation marks omitted).
In Chambers, the defendant in a Mississippi state criminal proceeding sought to
introduce reliable evidence that a prosecution witness had, orally and through a written
confession (that was later recanted), admitted being guilty of the murder offense that
Chambers was charged with. The state trial court refused to allow Chambers to
cross-examine the witness on credibility. Although the Mississippi Supreme Court
affirmed the conviction, the Supreme Court granted Chambers' petition for writ of
certiorari and reversed. In doing so, the Court noted that "[t]he right of an accused in a
criminal trial to due process is, in essence, the right to a fair opportunity to defend against
the State's accusations." Chambers, 410 U.S. at 294. "Few rights," the Court held, "are
[End Page 75]
more fundamental than that of an accused to present witnesses in his own defense." Id. at
302. "In the exercise of this right," the Court held, "the accused, as is required of the
State, must comply with established rules of procedure and evidence designed to assure
both fairness and reliability in the ascertainment of guilt and innocence." Id.
b) OCCA's rejection of Gilson's claim
In his direct appeal, Gilson challenged the state trial court's refusal to admit the
testimony of Dr. Draper, arguing that the state trial court's ruling was unreasonable and
violated his constitutional rights. The OCCA did not address Gilson's latter argument,
and instead simply affirmed the state trial court's evidentiary ruling:
[Gilson] . . . argues the trial court erred in excluding the trial testimony
of Dr. Draper. After hearing in-camera testimony from Dr. Draper, the trial
court found the testimony "does not meet the Daubert standards to qualify
as expert direct testimony regarding credibility. The credibility, again, is a
matter for the finder of fact." The trial court did allow the defense the
opportunity to have Dr. Draper serve as "expert advisory counsel" and
remain in the courtroom during the children's testimony to advise the
defense as to areas of possible cross-examination and closing argument.
Further, prior to closing their case-in-chief, defense counsel renewed the
request to call Dr. Draper to the stand. The court denied the request, but
accepted Dr. Draper's in-camera testimony as an offer of proof.
The admission of expert testimony is governed generally by 12
O.S.1991, § 2702. In areas of novel scientific evidence, this Court has
adopted the standard set forth in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals,
Inc., 509 U.S. 579
, 113 S.Ct. 2786, 125 L.Ed.2d 469 (1993). See Taylor v.
State, 889 P.2d 319, 328 (Okl.Cr.1995). In Daubert, the Supreme Court
stated that such expert testimony is admissible only if it is both relevant and
reliable. Daubert, 509 U.S. at 597, 113 S.Ct. at 2799. This inquiry into
reliability and relevance is two-fold. The reliability prong requires the
expert opinion testimony be about "scientific knowledge". Taylor, 889
P.2d at 329. The relevance prong involves the requirement that the
proffered testimony "assist the trier of fact to understand the evidence or to
determine a fact in issue." Id. at 330.
[End Page 76]
[Gilson] argues Dr. Draper's testimony "undoubtedly involved
"˜scientific knowledge'", and that the relevant question here is whether Dr.
Draper's testimony would have assisted the trier of fact. While we
appreciate [Gilson]'s offer to reduce our work by focusing on only one
prong of the Daubert analysis, we find it necessary to review both prongs of
the analysis in order to properly evaluate the trial court's ruling and resolve
[Gilson]'s allegation of error.
In Kumho Tire Co., Ltd. v. Carmichael, 526 U.S. 137
, 119 S.Ct. 1167,
1174, 143 L.Ed.2d 238 (1999), the Supreme Court extended Daubert to
testimony based on "technical" and "other specialized" knowledge. The
Court stated whether Daubert's specific factors are, or are not, reasonable
measures of reliability in a particular case is a matter that the law grants the
trial judge broad latitude to determine. 526 U.S. at 152, 119 S.Ct. at 1176.
Reviewing the record under the criteria set forth in Daubert and Kumho
we find Dr. Draper's qualifications as an expert do not seem to be in doubt.
She testified to having a Ph.D. in Child Development and working and
teaching in the field of child development for approximately twenty years.
She also stated that during the previous ten years she had participated in a
hands-on program which worked directly with abused and neglected
children. The trial court seems to have excluded her testimony based upon
her theory that the children were not competent to testify, and not upon her
lack of qualifications.
Dr. Draper testified generally to factors to be considered in determining
whether a child could be a competent witness including capacity and ability
to observe, intelligence, memory, ability to communicate. When asked
whether "it would be correct to say that failing to properly interview or
elicit information from a child can taint or impact their ability to then
accurately relate an event?", she answered "[t]hat's a very great possibility,
yes." Dr. Draper then addressed the Coffman children specifically. Dr.
Draper stated she interviewed each of the Coffman children individually
and studied material from the court proceedings and DHS. She gave her
conclusion as to whether each of the Coffman children was competent to
testify. She generally concluded that based upon the children's life history
of trauma, abuse and neglect, and the effect that has on memory and ability
to recall, combined with the death of their brother Shane, and the numerous
interviews conducted in connection with the court proceedings, none of the
Coffman children were competent to testify at trial.
[End Page 77]
A review of the record shows there was no testimony regarding whether
Dr. Draper's theory of the effect of trauma on the child's ability to be a
competent witness has been or can be tested. There was no showing of its
general acceptance in the field of child development. Further, Dr. Draper
testified only as to a "great possibility" that improper interview techniques
could impact a child's ability to relate an event. Dr. Draper interviewed
each of the children only once, just prior to trial, and asked each of them
five or six uniform questions. She testified she had no knowledge of
whether the statements the children made concerning the facts of the case
were embellished or false. She also stated that piecemeal disclosure of the
facts is common among child abuse victims.
Having thoroughly reviewed the record, we find the trial court did not
abuse its discretion in excluding the testimony. Dr. Draper's testimony did
not meet the Daubert requirements of "scientific knowledge" and the
testimony would not have assisted the trier of fact. Once the trial court
determined the children were competent witnesses, Dr. Draper's testimony
would have been confusing and its speculative nature would not have been
relevant to the jury's determination of the credibility of children's
testimony. Accordingly, we find the testimony was properly excluded. This
assignment of error is denied.
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 907-08 (internal paragraph numbers omitted).
c) Gilson's challenge to the OCCA's analysis
Because the OCCA did not address Gilson's argument that the state trial court's
ruling violated his constitutional rights, we must review those arguments de novo. See
Young, 486 F.3d at 663 ("If the state court did not decide a claim on the merits, and it is
not otherwise procedurally barred, we review the district court's legal conclusions de
novo."). In doing so, however, we
may not provide habeas corpus relief on the basis of state court evidentiary
rulings unless they rendered the trial so fundamentally unfair that a denial
of constitutional rights results. Because a fundamental-fairness analysis is
not subject to clearly definable legal elements, when engaged in such an
endeavor a federal court must tread gingerly and exercise considerable
[End Page 78]
Duckett v. Mullin, 306 F.3d 982
, 999 (10th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks and
Despite Gilson's general assertion that his constitutional rights were violated, his
supporting arguments focus almost exclusively on the merits of the state trial court's
evidentiary ruling. For example, Gilson complains that, contrary to the conclusion
reached by the OCCA, "the trial judge based his ruling on Dr. Draper's conclusions, not
on her methodology or her scientific knowledge." Aplt. Br. at 101. Gilson argues that
"once the judge ruled the children were competent under Oklahoma Evidence Rules 2601
and 2603, the issue was no longer admissibility but the weight the jury should give their
testimony," and "Dr. Draper's expertise should have been allowed to assist the jury in that
evaluation." Id. In other words, Gilson argues, "the trial judge failed in his gatekeeper
role because he did not perform the proper rudimentary tests to assess the admissibility of
Dr. Draper's testimony in light of Daubert and its Oklahoma progeny, Taylor v. State,
889 P.2d 319 (Okla. Crim. App. 1995)." Id. at 101-02. Similarly, Gilson argues that
"[t]he OCCA perpetuated the trial judge's error by holding Dr. Draper to the outmoded
general acceptance standard of Frye v. U.S., 293 F. 1013
(D.C. Cir. 1923)." Id. at 107.
"This," Gilson argues, "is now merely an additional though not exclusive factor in the
Daubert analysis . . . ." Id. Gilson also asserts that "[t]he OCCA further erred because it
did not apply the proper standard of review to the proposition of error regarding the
testimony of Dr. Draper." Id. at 108. More specifically, Gilson argues that because the
state trial judge "failed in his gatekeeper role," "the review of this failure should have
[End Page 79]
been de novo and not for abuse of discretion." Id.
Given the fundamental fairness analysis that applies to this issue, as well as the
self-restraint that we are bound to exercise in this setting, we conclude that Gilson's
arguments can be easily disposed of without delving into all of their specifics. Although
Gilson argues in essence that the state trial court applied Oklahoma's evidentiary rules
unfairly, a review of the trial transcript firmly establishes otherwise. As noted, the sole
focus of Draper's proposed testimony was the credibility of the Coffman children's trial
testimony. Although Draper was formally trained in child development, nothing about
her educational or professional background necessarily qualified her to provide expert
testimony on an issue normally reserved exclusively for the jury, i.e., witness credibility.
Indeed, we have long held the "credibility" of a witness "is generally not an appropriate
subject for expert testimony" because, in part, it "encroaches upon the jury's vital and
exclusive function to make credibility determinations . . . ." United States v. Adams, 271 F.3d 1236
, 1245 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); see
United States v. Smith, 156 F.3d 1046
, 1053-54 (10th Cir. 1998) (affirming district
court's decision to exclude proposed expert testimony on subject of eyewitness
identification); cf. United States v. Call, 129 F.3d 1402
, 1407 (10th Cir. 1997) ("Although
the use of experts to bolster witness credibility is disfavored, no absolute rule prohibits
utilizing expert testimony for this purpose."). Moreover, it is important to emphasize
that, notwithstanding the state trial court's exclusion of Draper's testimony, Gilson was
allowed to extensively cross-examine the Coffman children and to explore any alleged
[End Page 80]
inconsistencies between their trial testimony and their prior sworn testimony. Thus, we
conclude the state trial court's ruling was neither unreasonable nor rendered Gilson's trial
In terms of the two Supreme Court cases cited by Gilson, the state trial court's
evidentiary ruling did not result in a deprivation of Gilson's right to adequately cross-
examine prosecution witnesses (as discussed in Davis)16, nor did it deprive Gilson of his
right to a fair opportunity to defend against the State's accusations (as discussed in
Chambers).17 As noted, Gilson's trial counsel was afforded a full and fair opportunity to
cross-examine each of the Coffman children, and in doing so was able to attack their
credibility and place that issue before the jury. Further, Gilson's trial counsel vigorously
attacked the children's credibility during the first-stage closing arguments. E.g., Tr., Vol.
X at 2168 ("These kids know they have to come in here and say as many bad things about
Don Gilson to make sure he's convicted."); id. ("Unfortunately, with all those pressures
In our view, Davis is simply inapposite. The Supreme Court noted in Davis
"that the exposure of a [prosecution] witness' motivation in testifying is a proper and
important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination." 415 U.S.
at 316-17. Such cross-examination, the Court noted, would be "directed toward revealing
possible biases, prejudices, or ulterior motives of the witness as they may relate directly
to issues or personalities in the case at hand." Id. at 316. If this right is violated, the
Court held, "no amount of showing of want of prejudice would cure it." Id. at 318
(internal quotation marks omitted). It is difficult to see how Davis is relevant to the issue
of the state trial court's refusal to allow Draper to testify. Although Draper would have
testified as to the credibility of the Coffman children, the state trial court's ruling did not
directly impact Gilson's right to cross-examine the Coffman children. Indeed, that cross-
examination occurred well before Gilson sought to introduce Dr. Draper's testimony.
Gilson's attempt to equate Draper's proposed testimony with the crucial
credibility evidence at issue in Chambers is clearly a stretch and ultimately unpersuasive.
[End Page 81]
and in light of all the trauma that these kids have been through, that combination renders
them unreliable, unbelievable."). We therefore conclude that Gilson is not entitled to
federal habeas relief on this claim.
Trial counsel's failure to present evidence of Gilson's brain damage
In his final issue, Gilson argues that his trial counsel "were ineffective for failing
to investigate and present powerful evidence establishing [his] extensive and permanent
brain damage." Aplt. Br. at 110. "This information," Gilson argues, could have been
used to challenge [his] mental capacity to commit the crime" and, "[m]ore importantly, . .
. should have been used as mitigation and could very well have resulted in a sentence less
than death." Id.
In support of these arguments, Gilson asserts that he "was temporarily paralyzed . .
. and suffered prolonged unconsciousness" as a result of "an auto accident on March 12,
1993." Id. at 111. According to Gilson, "[t]he impact caused severe head injuries,
including multiple, extensive facial and cranial fractures," and resulted "in permanent
organic brain damage." Id. In turn, Gilson asserts, citing various expert witnesses, that
the "brain damage had repercussions on his personality and behavior." Id. at 112. In
particular, Gilson asserts that the brain damage resulted in "severe executive and
personality dysfunction," and a "decreased ability to self-regulate behavior or inhibit
impulses . . . ." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). These post-accident changes in
behavior, Gilson contends, could have been affirmed by testimony from "[n]umerous
family members and acquaintances . . . ." Id. at 113.
[End Page 82]
a) Clearly established Supreme Court precedent
Not surprisingly, Gilson identifies Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668
as providing the "clearly established federal law" applicable to his claim of ineffective
assistance of trial counsel. In Strickland, the Supreme Court held that "[a] convicted
defendant's claim that counsel's assistance was so defective as to require reversal of a
conviction or death sentence has two components." 466 U.S. at 687. "First," the Court
noted, "the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient." Id. "This
requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as
the "˜counsel' guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment." Id. "Second," the
Court noted, "the defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the
defense." Id. "This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive
the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable." Id. "Unless a defendant
makes both showings," the Court held, "it cannot be said that the conviction or death
sentence resulted from a breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result
b) OCCA's rejection of Gilson's claim
Gilson first raised the issue of ineffective assistance of trial counsel on direct
appeal. The OCCA rejected Gilson's arguments on the merits:
[Gilson] contends in his thirteenth assignment of error that he was
denied a fair trial and reliable sentencing proceeding by the ineffective
assistance of counsel. An analysis of an ineffective assistance of counsel
claim begins with the presumption that trial counsel was competent to
provide the guiding hand that the accused needed, and therefore the burden
is on the accused to demonstrate both a deficient performance and resulting
[End Page 83]
prejudice. Strickland v. Washington, at 466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064.
See also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362
, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d
389 (2000). Strickland sets forth the two-part test which must be applied to
determine whether a defendant has been denied effective assistance of
counsel. First, the defendant must show that counsel's performance was
deficient, and second, he must show the deficient performance prejudiced
the defense. [footnote omitted]. Unless the defendant makes both showings, "it cannot be said that the conviction ... resulted from a
breakdown in the adversary process that renders the result unreliable." Id.,
466 U.S. at 687, 104 S.Ct. at 2064. [Gilson] must demonstrate that
counsel's representation was unreasonable under prevailing professional
norms and that the challenged action could not be considered sound trial strategy. Id., 466 U.S. at 688-89, 104 S.Ct. at 2065. The burden rests with
[Gilson] to show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for any
unprofessional errors by counsel, the result of the proceeding would have
been different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to
undermine confidence in the outcome. Id., 466 U.S. at 698, 104 S.Ct. at
2070. This Court has stated the issue is whether counsel exercised the skill,
judgment and diligence of a reasonably competent defense attorney in light
of his overall performance. Bryson v. State, 876 P.2d 240, 264 (Okl.Cr.
1994), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 1090
, 115 S.Ct. 752, 130 L.Ed.2d 651 (1995).
Filed with the direct appeal is an Application for Evidentiary Hearing on
Sixth Amendment Claim and Motion to Supplement, pursuant to Rule
3.11(B)(3)(b), Rules of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals, Title 22,
Ch. 18, App. (1998). [Gilson] asserts in the Application that counsel was
ineffective in failing to investigate and utilize available mitigating evidence.
Attached to the Application are twelve (12) affidavits. The first two (2)
affidavits are from [Gilson]'s trial counsel wherein they state they received
boxes of medical records from Saint Anthony's Hospital pertaining to
injuries [Gilson] suffered in a 1993 automobile accident. Both counsel state
they did not see any reference to a C.A.T. (Computer Axial Tomograph) scan in the records, therefore they made no attempt to locate such. Both
counsel also state that during their investigation of the case, they spoke to several people who mentioned drastic personality changes in [Gilson] since
the 1993 accident. Counsel also stated that at the time of trial, they did not
know the true extent of the physical and/or psychological damage suffered
by [Gilson] as a result of the accident. (Exhibits A and B).
The third affidavit is from Michael L. Johns, an investigator in the
[End Page 84]
Capital Direct Appeal Division of the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System.
Mr. Johns stated he reviewed the files provided by [Gilson]'s trial counsel
and discovered "two Radiological Reports which indicated that two series
of C.A.T. scans were taken of [Gilson's] brain and skull. The first series
was done on March 15, 1993, and the second series was done on March 22,
1993." Mr. Johns also stated that on May 6, 1999, he personally picked up
from Saint Anthony's Hospital copies of all of the C.A.T. scans conducted
on [Gilson]. (Exhibit C).
The next three (3) affidavits are from C. Alan Hopewell, Ph.D., Albert
V. Messina, M.D., and Jay A. Rosenblum, M.D. Dr. Hopewell stated he
conducted a neuropsychological evaluation of [Gilson] on May 24, 1999, at
the Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Based upon that testing, Dr. Hopewell
concluded [Gilson] suffers from "irreversible organic brain syndrome which
is chronic in nature and which [is] classic for this type of damage and which
is a direct result of traumatic head injury." (Exhibit D, pg. 18). Dr.
Messina stated he evaluated the C.A.T. scans and medical records
concerning [Gilson]. He concluded the records indicated extensive brain
damage to [Gilson]'s right frontal lobe and right temporal lobe which
remains and results from the prior motor vehicle accident on March 12,
1993. (Exhibit E). Dr. Rosenblum stated he evaluated the reports of Drs.
Hopewell and Messina, as well as [Gilson]'s medical records. He verified
the findings of Drs. Hopewell and Messina and concluded that [Gilson]'s
"severe brain damage in the area most affected is compatible with Dr.
Hopewell's neuropsychological evaluation. As a result, [Gilson's]
prognosis for improvement is very poor and permanent." (Exhibit F).
The remaining six (6) affidavits are from family, friends and co-workers
who state that [Gilson] exhibited drastic personality changes after the 1993
automobile accident. [Gilson]'s mother and step-father state that prior to
the accident [Gilson] did not act out of the ordinary, and showed attention
to his appearance and household. However, after the accident he withdrew,
became careless with his appearance, and took on bizarre habits such as
eating only certain foods and having an unnatural fear of other food items.
(Exhibits G and H.) Friends and co-workers stated [Gilson] often seemed
distant and unaware of his surroundings after the accident (Exhibits I, J, K,
[Gilson]'s Application contends the information contained in the
affidavits constitute [sic] the "clear and convincing evidence" necessary
under Rule 3.11(B)(3)(b)(i) to demonstrate a strong possibility trial counsel
was ineffective. Accordingly, [Gilson] urges this Court to so find and to
[End Page 85]
order an evidentiary hearing to fully address the ineffectiveness issue.
Rule 3.11(B)(3)(6) allows an appellant to request an evidentiary hearing
when it is alleged on appeal that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to
"utilize available evidence which could have been made available during
the course of trial . . . ." Once an application has been properly submitted
along with supporting affidavits, this Court reviews the application to see if
it contains "sufficient evidence to show this Court by clear and convincing
evidence there is a strong possibility trial counsel was ineffective for failing
to utilize or identify the complained-of evidence." Rule 3.11(B)(3)(b)(i).
Upon review of the affidavits, we find trial counsel was aware of the
automobile accident and any personality changes in [Gilson] since the
accident. However, the record reflects that with that knowledge, counsel
chose a defense of actual innocence, not one of diminished capacity. That strategic choice is not indicative of deficient performance as a defense of
actual innocence was reasonable based upon information provided to
counsel by [Gilson]'s family and friends.
"[A]n attorney who makes a strategic choice to channel his
investigation into fewer than all plausible lines of defense
upon which he bases his strategy are reasonable and his
choices on the basis of those assumptions are reasonable . . .
," An attorney's decision not to interview witnesses and to
rely on other sources of information, if made in the exercise
of professional judgment, is not ineffective counsel.
Boltz v. State, 806 P.2d 1117, 1126 (Okl.Cr. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 846
, 112 S.Ct. 143, 116 L.Ed.2d 109 (1991), quoting United States v. Glick,
710 F.2d 639
, 644 (10th. Cir. 1983).
Here, [Gilson] told police he never abused Shane, but merely assisted in
the decision concerning what to do with the body and the removal of the
body. Further, he said he never abused any of the other children, that it was
Bertha Coffman who abused the children. [Gilson]'s mother and step-father testified they never saw [Gilson] abuse the children and that the
children appeared to be fond of [Gilson]. Based upon this evidence, it was
a reasonable decision based upon their professional judgment for defense
counsel to focus on Bertha Coffman as the actual perpetrator and pursue a
defense of actual innocence on [Gilson]'s part. That the strategy proved
unsuccessful is not grounds for branding counsel ineffective. Absent a showing of incompetence, [Gilson] is bound by the decisions of his counsel
and mistakes in tactic and trial strategy do not provide grounds for subsequent attack. Davis v. State, 759 P.2d 1033, 1036 (Okl.Cr.1988). To
[End Page 86]
have also raised any type of mental disorder defense would have been
inconsistent with a defense of actual innocence and would have
considerably weakened both defenses. Counsel's decision in this case was
reasonable trial strategy, which we will not second guess on appeal. Bernay
v. State, 989 P.2d 998, 1015 (Okl.Cr. 1999).
Further, counsel was not ineffective for failing to present evidence of the
injury during second stage. The record shows the second stage defense
focused on [Gilson] being a productive and contributing member of society
therefore, he deserved a punishment less than death. This included
evidence of his lack of any prior violent conduct and his skills and ability to
maintain employment. While evidence of [Gilson]'s mental condition and
his inability to control his "explosive behavior" may have had some
mitigating effect, this evidence could be a two-edged sword. Evidence that
[Gilson] had poor control over his behavior had the potential of proving
[Gilson] was a threat to society, including prison society, and could indicate
a propensity for future violence. Such evidence would have been
contradictory to mitigating evidence of [Gilson]'s lack of culpability and
lack of violent conduct. Counsel's strategic decision to pursue a second
stage defense that [Gilson] was less culpable than Coffman, and highlight
the positive traits of his character instead of focusing on any mental
problems he might have was well within the range of professional
While [Gilson] has provided a great deal of information in his affidavits,
we find he has failed to set forth sufficient evidence to warrant an
evidentiary hearing. He has failed to show by clear and convincing
evidence a strong possibility that defense counsel was ineffective for failing
to utilize the complained-of evidence. [citation omitted]. Accordingly, we
decline to grant [Gilson]'s application for an evidentiary hearing.
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 926-29 (internal paragraph numbers omitted).
c) Gilson's challenge to the OCCA's analysis
Gilson argues that the OCCA's decision was "flawed" in two related respects.
Aplt. Br. at 116. First, Gilson argues that the OCCA's decision "overlook[ed] the
requirement that counsel conduct a "˜thorough' mitigation investigation." Id. (citing
Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510
, 524 (2003)). Second, Gilson complains that the
[End Page 87]
OCCA's "determination as to counsel making a strategic decision [was] based on sheer
speculation, which is not enough." Id. In this regard, Gilson argues that the affidavits he
submitted to the OCCA from his trial counsel "say nothing of a strategic decision to
intentionally omit the evidence," and in fact "suggest there was no strategic decision, as
they admit they overlooked the reference to CAT scans and were not aware of the true
nature and extent of [his] head injuries." Id. at 117.
We find it unnecessary to address Gilson's arguments, both of which focus on the
first Strickland prong, because we conclude, applying a de novo standard of review, that
Gilson cannot satisfy the second Strickland prong. Turning first to Gilson's complaint
that his trial attorneys failed to present evidence of his auto accident and its effects during
the first-stage proceedings, we conclude that Gilson was not prejudiced by this purported
failure.18 Although the OCCA recognized a defense of complete insanity at the time of
Gilson's trial, it had never recognized, and appears to this date to have never recognized,
a defense to first degree murder positing that the defendant was incapable of forming the
specific intent due to a mental illness short of complete insanity. See Grant v. State, 58
P.3d 783, 795 (Okla. Crim. App. 2002) ("We need not reach the issue of a "˜diminished
capacity' defense in this [first degree murder] case, as Grant's evidence regarding his
We also question whether Gilson adequately presented this argument to the
OCCA. Although the "Application for Evidentiary Hearing on Sixth Amendment
Claims" that Gilson filed with the OCCA asserted generally that Gilson was denied
effective assistance of counsel in both stages of trial, it failed to offer any specific
arguments regarding counsel's first-stage performance, and instead focused exclusively
on counsel's failure to present evidence of Gilson's auto accident and resulting effects
during the second-stage proceedings.
[End Page 88]
mental illness did not show that he suffered mental infirmities that would have rendered
him incapable of forming the specific intent necessary."). Moreover, none of the
evidence submitted by Gilson to the OCCA in connection with his ineffective assistance
claim establishes that he lacked the ability to form the specific intent necessary to be
found guilty of first degree murder. To the contrary, the clinical neuropsychologist who
examined Gilson (Dr. C. Alan Hopewell) concluded that Gilson had "an overall IQ score
of 92," Hopewell Report at 8, and "technically "˜kn[e]w right from wrong'" but was "often
unable to "˜conform his behavior to the right' due to impulsivity, poor judgment, and the
failure to see or understand the consequences of his actions." Id. at 10. Thus, the
purported failure of Gilson's trial attorneys to pursue a diminished capacity defense to the
first degree murder charge, based on Gilson's alleged post-accident changes in behavior,
simply did not prejudice Gilson.
We reach a similar conclusion with respect to Gilson's claim that his trial attorneys
erred in failing to present accident-related evidence during the second-stage proceedings.
With respect to this claim, it is not entirely clear whether the OCCA intended to address
the second prong of the Strickland test, but its opinion does contain the following
language that is relevant to our second prong analysis:
While evidence of [Gilson]'s mental condition and his inability to control
his "explosive behavior" may have had some mitigating effect, this
evidence could be a two-edged sword. Evidence that [Gilson] had poor
control over his behavior had the potential of proving [Gilson] was a threat
to society, including prison society, and could indicate a propensity for
future violence. Such evidence would have been contradictory to
mitigating evidence of [Gilson]'s lack of culpability and lack of violent
conduct. Counsel's strategic decision to pursue a second stage defense that
[End Page 89]
[Gilson] was less culpable than Coffman, and highlight the positive traits of
his character instead of focusing on any mental problems he might have was
well within the range of professional reasonable judgment.
Gilson I, 8 P.3d at 928.
Whether or not we owe any deference to these conclusions, we believe they are
entirely accurate. To be sure, the evidence presented by Gilson to the OCCA in
connection with his ineffective assistance claim persuasively established that he was
involved in a 1993 automobile accident, sustained a serious brain injury as a result of the
accident, and has experienced negative physical and mental effects since the accident
(e.g., a constant "global" headache; photophobia; increased sensitivity to auditory
stimuli). Dr. Hopewell's neuropsychological consulting report, however, paints a bleak
and ominous picture of Gilson's personality, behavior, and likely future conduct. For
example, Hopewell noted that Gilson had a "tendency to become agitated and belligerent
easily when frustrated." Hopewell Report at 12. Indeed, Hopewell reported that this
tendency actually played out during their interview, with Gilson becoming frustrated at
Hopewell and at times throwing his pencil across the room, yelling, answering in
gibberish, and refusing to continue with requested testing. Hopewell opined that Gilson
"w[ould] have extreme difficulties in terms of frustration tolerance as well as restrictions
in abilities to deal with complicated, stressful, complex, and ambiguous situations." Id. at
8. Relatedly, Hopewell concluded that Gilson would have difficulty conforming his
behavior to societal norms "due to impulsivity, poor judgment, and the failure to see or
understand the consequences of his actions." Id. at 10. Hopewell also concluded that
[End Page 90]
Gilson had an "inability to regulate behavior or inhibit impulses" and thus "w[ould] often
act before thinking." Id. at 18. Given these extremely negative descriptions of Gilson's
likely behavior, we conclude that the presentation of this evidence to the jury during the
second-stage proceedings would not have resulted in a different outcome. In particular,
we conclude that the presentation of this evidence would likely have weighed against
Gilson by erasing any lingering doubts that may have existed as to his role in Shane's
murder, and by confirming the jury's conclusion that he represented a continuing threat,
even if confined in prison for life. Thus, we conclude Gilson was not prejudiced by the
failure of his trial attorneys to gather and present this evidence to the jury during the
The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.
[End Page 91]
Gilson v. Sirmons, No. 06-6287
HENRY, Chief Judge, dissenting in part.
"This was a horrible crime." Gilson v. State, 8 P.3d 883, 930 (Okla. Crim. App.
2000) (Chapel, J., dissenting). It is difficult to imagine a more heart-rending set of facts
than those that befell a helpless and innocent Shane Coffman. There is no question that
Donald Gilson had a history of abusing at least some of the Coffman children, who lived
in fear of him, and I rest assured that he will be punished for that abuse, as he was
convicted of two out of five counts of injury to a minor. Further, should the court see fit
to adopt the reasoning of this partial dissent, Mr. Gilson would again face trial for murder
or manslaughter with a properly instructed jury.
I am aware that we owe state courts great deference under AEDPA. We may only
reverse their determinations in the most limited circumstances. Nevertheless, when a
death sentence is imposed we must be certain that it was with the full protections of the
It was with this in mind that Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 2254, providing habeas
relief in order "to interpose the federal courts between the States and the people, as
guardians of the people's federal rights "" to protect the people from unconstitutional
action." Reed v. Ross, 468 U.S. 1
, 10 (1984) (internal quotation marks omitted). This
protection is most crucial when the defendant's life hangs in the balance. "[D]eath is a
different kind of punishment from any other which may be imposed in this country . . . .
It is of vital importance to the defendant and to the community that any decision to
impose the death sentence be, and appear to be, based on reason rather than caprice or
emotion." Gardner v. Florida, 430 U.S. 349
, 357-58 (1977).
The majority opinion is well-written and carefully resolves a number of issues in
this prosecution under a relatively new and unique statute. While I agree with much of its
resolution of the issues before us, I must part company on one vital issue protected by our
legal heritage. In a case with such disturbing facts, filed against a defendant who had at
least some history of abuse, the risk of an unwarranted conviction is especially high.
"The absence of a lesser included offense instruction increases the risk that the jury will
convict . . . simply to avoid setting the defendant free." Spaziano v. Florida, 468 U.S. 447
, 455 (1984). This "risk cannot be tolerated in a case in which the defendant's life is
at stake." Beck v. Alabama, 447 U.S. 625
, 637 (1980).
Ms. Coffman, whose guilty plea was accepted by the state court, was convicted of
first-degree murder and received a sentence of life in prison. The dispositive portion of
Mr. Gilson's appeal is only about what role Mr. Gilson played in Shane's murder. When
determining the narrow question whether Mr. Gilson was entitled to a jury instruction on
second-degree manslaughter, we have only one question before us "" what could a
reasonable jury have found regarding Mr. Gilson's culpability in Shane's death?
Evidence was presented at trial that Mr. Gilson played no part in abusing Shane the day
he died and that he was asleep on the couch during the abuse that led to Shane's death. A
rational jury could have believed this evidence and found Mr. Gilson guilty of culpable
negligence, but not of actively permitting child abuse, as the Oklahoma statute requires
[End Page 2]
for a first-degree murder conviction. Because, even under our deferential standard of
review, the evidence supported giving an instruction on second-degree manslaughter "" a
right protected under Beck and Spaziano "" I must respectfully dissent.
A. Standard of Review
First, I must address the appropriate standard of review. We have never
definitively determined whether sufficiency of the evidence to support a lesser included
offense instruction is a factual or a legal question. See, e.g., Boltz v. Mullin, 415 F.3d 1215
, 1233 (10th Cir. 2005) (noting that the Tenth Circuit has not yet decided the
appropriate standard); Turrentine v. Mullin, 390 F.3d 1181
, 1197 (10th Cir. 2004) (same);
Hogan v. Gibson, 197 F.3d 1297
, 1306 (10th Cir. 1999) (same). If it is a legal question,
we must ask whether it was contrary to or an unreasonable application of clearly
established federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). If it is a factual determination, we must
ask whether the OCCA's conclusion was "an unreasonable determination of the facts in
light of the evidence presented." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). Further, if factual, we must
presume the state court's determinations to be correct unless Mr. Gilson has presented
clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).
The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals characterizes the sufficiency of the
evidence to support a lesser included offense instruction as a legal issue. See e.g., Young
v. State, 12 P.3d 20, 39 (Okla. Crim. App. 2000). Moreover, in direct criminal appeals,
we treat denials of lesser included offense instructions as legal determinations. See, e.g.,
[End Page 3]
United States v. Castillo, 140 F.3d 874
, 886 (10th Cir. 1998).
Consistent with this approach, the sufficiency of the evidence to support a lesser
included offense instruction seems to me not to be a purely factual determination. See
Hogan, 197 F.3d at 1306 n.6 (stating that although the panel cannot resolve the
inconsistency itself, it unanimously agrees that we should treat the determination as a
conclusion of law). While such a determination involves some application of the facts,
this is not the end of the inquiry, as "[t]his appellate function does not involve fact finding
in the first instance, but rather a review of the record to determine whether the factfinder
had an evidentiary basis for its rulings which would satisfy the legal standard in
question." Bryson v. Ward, 187 F.3d 1193
, 1211 (Briscoe, J., concurring) (emphasis
added). In this case, the OCCA did not find any facts in determining that Mr. Gilson was
not entitled to lesser included offense instructions. Instead, the OCCA applied the clearly
established federal legal standard set forth in Beck, to the facts in the record.
"No presumption of correctness attaches to legal conclusions or determinations on
mixed questions of law and fact." Case v. Mondragon, 887 F.2d 1388
, 1393 (10th Cir.
1989). Therefore, we must review such legal determinations under § 2254(d)(1),
reversing the OCCA only if its determination was an unreasonable application of Beck. I
maintain that it was.
[End Page 4]
B. The second-degree manslaughter instruction
Under Beck, "a sentence of death [may not] constitutionally be imposed after a
jury verdict of guilt on a capital offense, when the jury was not permitted to consider a
verdict of guilt of a lesser included non-capital offense, and when the evidence would
have supported such a verdict." 447 U.S. at 627 (internal quotation marks omitted). It is
the jury's duty to weigh the evidence "" not ours, and not the OCCA's. But in order to
allow a jury to most freely perform its duties, we must be sure that state courts follow
Beck's mandate, which was designed "to eliminate the distortion of the factfinding
process that is created when the jury is forced into an all-or-nothing choice between
capital murder and innocence." See Spaziano, 468 U.S. at 455. Beck's mandate applies
even when the convicting jury retained the discretion not to sentence the defendant to
death. Hooks v. Ward, 184 F.3d 1206
, 1227 (10th Cir. 1999). Here, the evidence
supported instructions for culpable negligence second-degree manslaughter under Okla.
Stat. Ann. tit. 21, § 716.
1. Second-degree manslaughter defined
"Every killing of one human being by the act, procurement, or culpable negligence
of another . . . is manslaughter in the second degree." OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 21, § 716.
Oklahoma defines culpable negligence as "the omission to do something which a
reasonably careful person would do, or the lack of the usual ordinary care and caution in
the performance of an act usually and ordinarily exercised by a person under similar
circumstances and conditions." Oklahoma Uniform Jury Instructions "" Criminal 4-104
[End Page 5]
(2007). Mr. Gilson argues that he fell asleep on the couch while Shane was alone with
Ms. Coffman, but did not actively permit Shane's abuse, as the first-degree murder statute
requires. "To permit" as used in Oklahoma's child-abuse murder statute means "to
authorize or allow for the care of a child by an individual when the person authorizing or
allowing such care knows or reasonably should know that the child will be placed at risk
of abuse . . . ." OKLA. STAT. ANN. tit. 10, § 7115. As the State argued in its brief before
us, "[t]h[e] definition [of "˜to permit'] does not encompass a mere failure to act . . . but
instead anticipates one's affirmative action . . . ." Aple's Br. at 42 (emphasis added).
"Permitting" under the first-degree child abuse murder statute requires active
authorization. A "mere failure to act," that does not involve the affirmative action
necessary to support a first-degree murder child abuse conviction may constitute culpable
negligence. Oklahoma courts have found a defendant guilty of such a culpably negligent
failure to act, when, for instance, he failed to seek medical care for a sick child.
Funkhouser v. State, 763 P.2d 695 (Okla. Crim. App. 1988).1 The "kaleidoscopic nature
of the varying degrees of mental culpability," People v. Green, 437 N.E.2d 1146, 1149
(N.Y. 1982), makes the line between active permission necessary for first-degree murder
and a culpably negligent failure to act hard to draw. Determining a given defendant's
degree of culpability, however hard to define, is "to be inferred from the facts and
Notably, in a subsequent case, the OCCA did comply with Beck and held that
where the defendant spilled boiling water on his son to the point that he died as a result of
his burns (and this tragedy took place in the bedroom, not the kitchen), the defendant was
entitled to culpable negligence second-degree manslaughter instructions. Ball v. State,
173 P.3d 81 (Okla. Crim. App. 2007).
[End Page 6]
circumstances proved and involve[s] fine gradations along but a single spectrum of
culpability." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The question for us is whether a
rational jury could have found that Mr. Gilson engaged in some failure to act that falls
short of the necessary active authorization required to meet Oklahoma's definition of
"permit" but is still actionable as culpable negligence.
2. The evidence
"[I]t has long been beyond dispute that the defendant is entitled to an instruction
on a lesser included offense if the evidence would permit a jury rationally to find him
guilty of the lesser offense and acquit him of the greater." Beck, 447 U.S. at 635 (internal
quotation marks omitted). After considering all of the State's evidence, I believe there
remains a set of facts that a rational jury could have relied on to convict Mr. Gilson of
second-degree manslaughter and acquit him of first-degree murder. Although, as the
majority notes, Ms. Coffman's testimony and police interviews contained some
inconsistencies as to exactly what happened that night, Ms. Coffman consistently claimed
that Mr. Gilson had not abused Shane on the day of or the few days preceding Shane's
death.2 Whatever inconsistencies plagued Ms. Coffman's testimony as to her own
See, e.g., Trial Transcript, vol. VI, at 1403-04, 1375 (Ms. Coffman stating that, as she said in the February 9 interview with police, Don Gilson did not touch Shane on the
day he died and that Mr. Gilson hadn't done anything else to discipline Shane that day).
See also Add. Aplt's Br., at 145, 154, 180 (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation
Interview Transcript) (stating "[I]t was about two days before [Shane died] that he had spanked Shane," "Nobody touched that boy [Shane] but me that day. Nobody," and, "I
have gone over this, and over this, and over this and for six, for almost six months. But
believe me, I lived this day every day of my life since then. And I don't remember him
[End Page 7]
actions, and whatever she stated about Mr. Gilson's temper in general, she was consistent
as to this one, critical point.
A rational jury, believing Ms. Coffman's testimony along with, for instance, Mr.
Gilson's claims that he was asleep on the couch during the abuse leading to Shane's
death, could have found that Mr. Gilson was culpably negligent and therefore guilty of
second-degree manslaughter. The culpably negligent action in this scenario would have
been falling asleep on the couch while Ms. Coffman, to his knowledge, disciplined Shane.
In the closing arguments during the guilt phase of the trial, Mr. Gilson's counsel said, "He
thought that Bertha was just spanking [Shane]; that she had Shane in timeout; that he was
in the bathtub; that he was not being cooperative. Nowhere in [Mr. Gilson]'s statement is
there anything about him being aware of [Ms. Coffman] beating on Shane, hitting him
with a board, hitting him in the legs, hitting him in the arms, hitting him in the head,
nowhere." Trial Transcript, vol. X, at 2202-03. Mr. Gilson's counsel further pointed to
the report of the state's investigator, Cliff Winkler, which noted that Mr. Gilson's
testimony was consistent with Ms. Coffman's as to the fact that he was asleep when she
came in and reported that Shane was not breathing and that he then performed CPR for an
hour and a half. Id. "[Mr. Gilson] said he was in shock. He said he had no conceivable
idea what had happened." Id.
A rational jury could believe this set of facts and find that Mr. Gilson did not
ever spanking Shane that day.").
[End Page 8]
actively permit Ms. Coffman's abuse that killed Shane, but instead negligently failed to
intervene, falling asleep while she was alone with him. A rational jury could have found
that this failure to act, while tragic, did not rise to the level of affirmatively, actively,
wilfully permitting Ms. Coffman to abuse Shane "" that is, that along the spectrum of
culpability, Mr. Gilson's failure to act was culpably negligent.
The majority states that Ms. Coffman's testimony's "internal inconsistencies" and
"the overwhelming weight of the State's evidence" establish that no rational juror could
convict Mr. Gilson of manslaughter while acquitting him of first-degree murder. Maj.
Op. at 69-70. The majority is certainly right that the State presented abundant evidence to
support Mr. Gilson's first-degree murder conviction "" but, respectfully, this is not the
A Beck claim is not the functional equivalent of a challenge to the sufficiency
of the evidence for conviction; rather, Beck focuses on the constitutionality of
the procedures employed in the conviction of a defendant in a capital trial and
is specifically concerned with the enhanced risk of an unwarranted capital
conviction where the defendant's life is at stake and a reasonable jury could
have convicted on a lesser included offense.
Hogan, 197 F.3d at 1305 (emphasis added).
As the State itself noted in its closing argument during the guilt phase of the trial,
Ms. Coffman has consistently claimed that she and she alone is responsible for Shane's
death. Trial Transcript, vol. X, at 2161. The State further argued that the jury should not
believe Ms. Coffman's version of events because "[t]here is a bond between those two,
Bertha Jean and Donald Lee," id. at 2162, and that "[Ms. Coffman] thinks she's got the
[End Page 9]
death penalty beat and she is going to try her damnedest to give him the same gift out of
you. . . . From her jail cell Bertha Jean is still trying to run things, and she will if you let
her." Id. at 2163. While it is certainly possible Ms. Coffman may have been covering up
for Mr. Gilson, the State's mere intimations regarding Ms. Coffman's motivation is not
enough to render Ms. Coffman's testimony unbelievable by any rational jury.
3. Application of Beck
It is neither our job, nor the OCCA's to weigh the evidence and decide which
side's is stronger. "Our question is not whether the evidence pointing to the lesser
offense . . . was weak." United States v. Humphrey, 208 F.3d 1190
, 1207 (10th Cir.
2000). Instead, we must ask whether "there is any evidence fairly tending to bear upon
the lesser included offense, however weak that evidence may be." Id. A trial court may
properly deny a defendant's request for a lesser included offense instruction only when
there is no evidence to reasonably support that conviction. See, e.g., Young v. Sirmons,
486 F.3d 655
, 672 (10th Cir. 2007) (defendant not entitled to a lesser included second-
degree murder instruction when "forensic evidence revealed that there were at least three
weapons used during the gunfight, and there was no evidence of shots fired by anyone but
[the defendant and two others]) (emphasis added), cert denied, 128 S.Ct. 1269, (2008);
Darks v. Mullin, 327 F.3d 1001
, 1010 (10th Cir. 2003) (defendant not entitled to a lesser
included first-degree manslaughter instruction when "[his] attorney was forced to concede
at oral argument, that no evidence support[ed] the adequate provocation element")
[End Page 10]
Here, the State did present ample evidence that Mr. Gilson's treatment of the
Coffman children was, at times, nothing short of atrocious. Nevertheless, in conducting
our lesser included offense inquiry, we must only concern ourselves with the events that
caused Shane's death. The evidence of prior abuse on which the State relied to support
the capital murder charge is not evidence that Mr. Gilson necessarily caused or wilfully
permitted Shane's death. Although the State's case was strong, the State's presentation of
the facts was not the only reasonable interpretation of the evidence, and the jury did not
have to believe it (and in fact did not believe the evidence in three of the five counts of
injury to a minor). We already know that the jury was split as to whether Mr. Gilson
actively permitted the abuse or committed it himself. Especially in light of Ms.
Coffman's unequivocal testimony that Mr. Gilson played no part in abusing Shane the
day he died, and the testimony of both that Mr. Gilson was asleep on the couch, it is not
the case that there was no evidence to support an instruction on second-degree
Beck and its progeny are meant to ensure that no jury in a capital case is faced with
an all-or-nothing decision when the evidence supports a third option. In this case, the
evidence did just that. Because "permitting" child abuse requires affirmative action, a
rational juror could have found that Mr. Gilson guilty of the culpable negligence of
second-degree manslaughter, without finding that his failure to act rose to the level of
affirmative action required to prove first-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt.
However, the jury was still faced with an all-or-nothing decision. Because, in my view,
[End Page 11]
the OCCA's determination was an unreasonable application of Beck and Mr. Gilson was
entitled to a second-degree manslaughter instruction, I must dissent.
[End Page 12]