(CN) - On remand from the Supreme Court, a divided 9th Circuit gave a convicted murderer another chance Monday to show that his lawyers neglected to challenge DNA evidence.
Some 17 years ago, a Washington jury found Dwayne Woods guilty and sentenced him to death for the 1996 murders of Telisha Shaver and Jade Moore, and the attempted murder of Venus Shaver, his former girlfriend. Shaver survived the attack and testified against Woods.
During the penalty phase of the trial, Woods prohibited his defense team from presenting mitigating evidence, and told the jury himself that it should vote to kill him, which it did after deliberating for two days.
Woods later lost his appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, and a Spokane federal judge denied him habeas relief over claims that included ineffective assistance by counsel.
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit affirmed the habeas denial in 2011, but the U.S. Supreme Court later vacated that ruling and sent the case back to the appellate court for another look in light of Martinez v. Ryan
That precedent, from 2012, established that federal courts can hear certain ineffective-assistance claims (IAC) if an inmate establishes cause to excuse a procedural default. Four of Woods's ineffective-assistance claims, all of them relating to his attorneys' alleged failure to interpret and challenge DNA evidence in case, were procedurally defaulted by the U.S. District Court in Spokane.
After ordering additional briefing on the issue, the same three-judge panel ruled 2-1 on Monday to send the ineffective-assistance claims back to Spokane for further proceedings in light of Martinez
"Here, evaluating the substantiality of the new IAC claims requires consideration of the state's DNA evidence and the reliability and propriety of the inferences the state's expert drew from it, as well as the likelihood that the DNA evidence was contaminated," Judge Richard Paez wrote for the majority. "Moreover, Woods argues that, on remand, he should be afforded an evidentiary hearing and an opportunity to expand the record. With an appropriate showing, he may pursue such remedies in the district court. Allowing the district court to consider these issues in the first instance and to potentially conduct an evidentiary hearing will greatly aid this court's review."
The panel otherwise affirmed the lower court on all of Woods' other claims.
Judge Richard Tallman wrote in a dissent that remand only prolongs a case in which all of the evidence points to Woods' guilt.
"The Supreme Court gave Dwayne Woods an inch," Tallman wrote. "The majority gives him a mile."
"When the court remanded this case to the same panel that affirmed Woods's sentence in 2011, it gave Woods the opportunity to argue that his four procedurally defaulted claims deserved a federal audience," Tallman added. "But none of these new claims cast any doubt on Woods's manifest guilt for the brutal murders of Jade Moore and Telisha Shaver on April 27, 1996. Fortunately, the third victim of his senseless violence, Venus Shaver, survived to testify against him at trial. And even Woods himself invited his death sentence when, at the penalty phase of the trial, he told the jury that he had 'no objection' to a death sentence, and asked them to "go back and return a vote to impose the death penalty.'"
Tallman concluded that, "Because none of Woods's new claims would lead a reasonable juror to conclude that Woods did not murder Jade Moore and Telisha Shaver, or attempt to murder Venus Shaver, no court can provide Woods the relief he seeks."