Bell v. Cone Case Brief

Facts of the Case

“Respondent was tried in a Tennessee court for the murder of an elderly couple, whose killings culminated a 2-day crime rampage in which respondent also committed robbery and shot a police officer and another citizen. At his trial, the prosecution adduced overwhelming evidence that respondent perpetrated the crimes and killed the couple in a brutal and callous fashion. His defense that he was not guilty by reason of insanity due to substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorders related to his Vietnam military service was supported by expert testimony about his drug use and by his mother’s testimony that he returned from Vietnam a changed person. The jury found him guilty on all charges. The next day, during opening statements at the sentencing hearing for the murders, the prosecution said that it would prove four aggravating factors warranting the death penalty, and the defense called the jury’s attention to the mitigating evidence already before it. Defense counsel cross-examined prosecution witnesses, but called no witnesses. After the junior prosecutor gave a low-key closing, defense counsel waived final argument, which prevented the lead prosecutor, by all accounts an extremely effective advocate, from arguing in rebuttal. The jury found four aggravating factors and no mitigating circumstances, which, under Tennessee law, required a death sentence. The State Supreme Court affirmed. After a hearing in which respondent’s trial counsel testified, the State Criminal Court denied his petition for post-conviction relief, rejecting his contention that his counsel rendered ineffective assistance during the sentencing phase by failing to present mitigating evidence and waiving final argument. In affirming, the State Court of Criminal Appeals found counsel’s performance within the permissible range of competency under the attorney-performance standard of. Subsequently, the Federal District Court denied respondent’s federal habeas petition, ruling that he did not meet’s requirement that a state decision be “contrary to” or involve “an unreasonable application of clearly established Federal law.” The Sixth Circuit reversed with respect to the sentence, finding that respondent suffered aviolation for which prejudice should be presumed under, because his counsel, by not asking for mercy after the prosecutor’s final argument, did not subject the State’s death penalty call to meaningful adversarial testing