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Sneed v. Johnson

March 31, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Cleveland. No. 04-00588-Patricia A. Gaughan, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alice M. Batchelder, Chief Judge


Argued: October 15, 2009

Before: BATCHELDER, Chief Judge; GIBBONS and SUTTON, Circuit Judges.


Ohio death-row inmate David Sneed appeals the district court's judgment denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. We affirm.


Chevette Brown was a 19-year-old prostitute in Canton, Ohio, and David Sneed was her pimp. Herbert Rowan had come to town from Chicago and was driving around in the wee hours of the morning, after the bars had closed. At Sneed's prompting, Brown stopped Rowan and eventually asked him if he would give her and Sneed a ride home. Rowan agreed, and the two got into his car, with Brown in the front seat and Sneed in the back, directing Rowan where to go.

Rather than directing Rowan to his home, however, Sneed directed Rowan to a deserted alleyway and demanded that Rowan give him all his money and jewelry. When Rowan refused, Sneed shot him in the head. Rowan slumped forward. Sneed got out, opened the driver's door, pushed Rowan's body over, ordered Brown into the back seat, and drove to another deserted alley where he took Rowan's money and jewelry and ordered Brown to shoot Rowan in the head. Brown did as she was told and Sneed put Rowan's body in the trunk. Sneed then drove home to get a garment bag, some electrical wires from some lamps, and a big cement block. Sneed and Brown, with some help from Sneed's brother, put Rowan's body in the garment bag and tied the cement block to it with the lamp cords and some wire from the speakers in Rowan's car. At some point during this process, Sneed admitted to his brother that both he and Brown had shot Rowan. The three then drove to a bridge, over which Sneed and his brother threw Rowan's body, but the body missed the water and landed on the river bank, where it was found later that day.

The State of Ohio indicted Brown and Sneed for aggravated murder with death penalty and firearm specifications, and aggravated robbery with a firearm specification. Brown eventually confessed to her part in the crime and accepted a plea deal to avoid the death penalty. She is currently serving a term of life imprisonment. The court initially found Sneed incompetent to stand trial and postponed his trial for about a year, until his competency was restored through psychotropic drug treatments. When trial eventually commenced, both Brown and Sneed's brother testified against Sneed. This testimony was particularly damning because Sneed's theory of defense was that he had not shot Rowan; Brown had. The jury convicted Sneed on all charges and specifications. During the penalty phase of the trial, three psychologists testified to Sneed's mental instability. The jury recommended that Sneed be sentenced to death, and the court imposed that sentence.

Sneed appealed and both the state appellate court and the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed his conviction and sentence. Sneed sought post-conviction relief on the basis that his trial counsel had been constitutionally ineffective, but the trial court denied relief. The state appellate court affirmed the denial and the Ohio Supreme Court declined to hear any further appeal.

Sneed filed a habeas petition in federal court in 2002, pressing 13 claims of constitutional error. The district court considered and rejected each claim, and granted a certificate of appealability ("COA") on two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. Sneed appealed here and, after obtaining an expanded COA, presses three claims of ineffective assistance of counsel.


To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must show not only that his counsel's performance was deficient, but that his counsel's deficient performance prejudiced him. Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). To establish deficient performance, the petitioner must show his "counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness." Id. at 688. To establish prejudice, he "must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. A habeas petitioner is entitled to relief on an ineffective-assistance claim only if the state court's rejection of that claim was "contrary to, or involved ...

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