Hopper v. Evans

LOCATION: Turner Turnpike

DOCKET NO.: 80-1714
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 456 US 605 (1982)
ARGUED: Mar 24, 1982
DECIDED: May 24, 1982

Edward C. Carnes - on behalf of the petitioners -- rebuttal
John L. Carroll - on behalf of the Respondent

Facts of the case


Media for Hopper v. Evans

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 24, 1982 in Hopper v. Evans

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Hopper against Evans.

I think you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Edward C. Carnes:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, this is a federal habeas case here on certiorari from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Respondent in this case is a murderer named Evans who was convicted and sentenced to death under the Alabama capital punishment statute, which was later involved in this Court's decision in Beck v. Alabama.

At this time this Court handed down its Beck decision, Respondent Evans' conviction and sentence had already been affirmed by the state appellate courts.

This Court had denied certiorari, and the district court had denied the federal habeas petition which is at issue in this case.

After the Beck decision was handed down, the Fifth Circuit reversed the denial of habeas, and held that Beck required that Evans be retried and resentenced.

It did so in spite of the fact that this case is different from the Beck case in every material way.

The facts in this case are virtually unique.

Early in 1977, Evans and a co-defendant named Ritter, both of whom had just been released on parole from an Indiana prison, began a cross-country crime spree.

That crime spree lasted over two months, and by their own admission, involved between two and three dozen violent felonies committed in seven different states.

One of those violent felonies was a robbery they committed of a pawn shop in Mobile, Alabama, in January of 1977.

It is absolutely undisputed in the record that prior to that robbery, which is the basis of this case, Evans and Ritter had discussed the possibility that one of their robbery victims might try to go for a weapon, and that they had agreed between themselves that if that happened they would kill him.

When Evans and Ritter entered the pawn shop in Mobile, a man named Mr. Nassar was working behind the counter.

Evans pulled a pistol.

Nassar dropped to his hands and knees behind the counter and started crawling away.

Evans thought that Nassar might be going for a gun, so he leaned over the counter and deliberately shot him to death.

They then pulled another robbery in Mobile, and left that state to continue their crime spree in another state.

During the crime spree, and after they had killed Nassar, Evans telephoned an FBI agent in his home town and offered to turn himself in if that FBI agent could guarantee Evans that he would be executed when he turned himself in.

The agent told Evans he couldn't make him any promises, and for that reason Evans refused to turn himself in.

That is from Evans' own sworn testimony at the grand jury.

After more robberies, Evans and Ritter were finally captured in Little Rock, Arkansas, by FBI agents in March of 1977.

From the very beginning, instead of contesting his guilt, Evans admitted it and bragged about it.

He confessed to the robbery and murder of Nassar and the two to three dozen other violent felonies he had committed to the FBI agent who captured him within hours of his capture, to the Mobile police officers after he waived extradition and was returned to Alabama, and to the news media at every available opportunity.

Evans insisted that he wanted to be convicted and sentenced to death for the murder, and his insistence on that so frustrated his attorneys that they arranged through the court to have Evans examined by a psychiatrist.

The psychiatrist did examine Evans, and he reported back to the court that Evans was competent and rational, that he knew the difference between right and wrong, that he thoroughly understood the nature and consequences of his actions, and that he sincerely preferred execution to a long term in prison.

Before that, Evans had voluntarily appeared before the grand jury, over the objections of his attorney, and had testified under oath to the grand jury that he had robbed and murdered Mr. Nassar, that he fully understood what he was doing, that Nassar was not the first person he had killed, and that he would kill again in the same situation.

Evans also testified to the grand jury that he preferred execution over life in prison.

Then, at arraignment, Evans pleaded guilty.

The judge entered Evans' guilty plea in the official minutes of the court, but nonetheless scheduled the case for trial, because that is the peculiar procedure in Alabama capital case guilty pleas.