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Hand v. Houk

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

September 8, 2017

Gerald Hand, Petitioner-Appellant,
Marc C. Houk, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: January 26, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Columbus. No. 2:07-cv-00846-Sandra S. Beckwith, District Judge.


          Jeanne M. Cors, TAFT, STETTINIUS & HOLLISTER, LLP, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Charles L. Wille, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Jeanne M. Cors, TAFT, STETTINIUS & HOLLISTER, LLP, Cincinnati, Ohio, Jennifer M. Kinsley, KINSLEY LAW OFFICE, Cincinnati, Ohio, for Appellant.

          Brenda S. Leikala, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee.

          Before: BOGGS, CLAY, and ROGERS, Circuit Judges.


          BOGGS, Circuit Judge.

         This case presents a habeas petitioner who has been convicted of two counts of aggravated murder and sentenced to death. Over the span of nearly thirty years, petitioner Gerald Hand married four women. Three of those women would die, two of them victims of violent, unsolved home invasions. The death of Hand's fourth and final wife, however, revealed a different story. At home at the time of her death, Hand allegedly confronted and shot the intruder, who turned out to be his friend and employee Lonnie Welch. Subsequent police investigation uncovered a decades-long plot conducted by Hand and Welch to murder Hand's wives in order to collect their lucrative insurance policies. Having been convicted in state court and having exhausted his state appeals, Hand now brings this habeas corpus petition. The district court denied the petition, and for the following reasons, we affirm.



         In March 1976, Hand's first wife Donna was found strangled to death in the basement of their home. She had also been struck on the head. There were no signs of forced entry, but some items in the house had been disturbed. Hand filed for and received $67, 386 in life insurance proceeds and $50, 000 from the Ohio Court of Claims victims-compensation fund. Hand married his second wife, Lori, just over a year later in June 1977. They had one son together, Robert Jr. Like Donna, Lori was found strangled to death in the basement of their home. Lori had also been shot twice. Just as with Donna's murder, police found no signs of forced entry but some items in the house had been disturbed. Hand also filed for and received over $126, 000 in life insurance proceeds. Although Hand was a suspect, neither Donna's nor Lori's murder was solved. Hand married a third time, but that marriage ended in divorce.

         Hand married his fourth wife, Jill, in 1992. Hand moved into her house, and they remained married until her death on January 15, 2002. On the night of her death, Hand called police and reported that a home intruder had shot his wife and that he had shot the intruder in self-defense. The home intruder was later identified as Lonnie Welch.

The Supreme Court of Ohio best describes the police investigation that followed:
Police found Welch's body lying face down on Hand's neighbor's driveway. Inside Hand's house, Jill's body was found lying between the living room and the kitchen. Hand told police that he had shot the intruder but did not know his identity. He also gave police two .38-caliber revolvers that he used to shoot him. On the way to the hospital, Hand saw the intruder's vehicle and told Mark Schlauder, a paramedic, that "it could have belonged to somebody that worked for" Hand.
Around 8:00 p.m. on January 15, Detective Dan Otto of the Delaware County Sheriff's Office interviewed Hand at the hospital. Hand said that after arriving home, he had dinner with Jill and then went to the bathroom. Upon exiting, Hand heard Jill scream, "Gerald, " heard two gunshots, and saw a man in a red and black flannel shirt at the end of the hallway. Hand then retrieved two .38 caliber revolvers from the master bedroom. Hand started down the hallway firing both guns at the intruder, but had trouble shooting because the guns were "misfiring" and "missing every other round." Hand followed the intruder out the front door and continued firing at him as he ran toward his car, and then the intruder fell on the neighbor's driveway.
During the interview, Hand repeated that he did not recognize the gunman, but recognized Welch's car in the driveway. Hand said he "didn't know [Welch] that well; that he did odd jobs around the shop; that he was a thief; that he was a cocaine addict; that he * * * [came] in to the shop area from time to time." Hand also said that it had been a year since he had had any contact with Welch, and Welch had no reason to be at his home that night.
Investigators found no sign of forced entry at Hand's residence. Blood spatters were found inside the front door and on the front-door stoop. The top of the storm door was shattered, and particles of glass extended 13 feet into the front yard. All the glass fragments were found on top of the blood spatters. Police also found a black jacket on the front stoop, a spent bullet and glass fragments on top of the jacket, and a tooth outside the front door.
According to Agent Gary Wilgus, a crime-scene investigator, the blood spatters indicated that the victim was bleeding and "blood was dropping from his body" as he was moving away from the house. A bloody trail led onto the sidewalk and through the front yard and ended where Welch was lying in the driveway. Welch was wearing cloth gloves, and a knit hat with two eyeholes and a mouth hole was next to his head. Police also found a .32-caliber revolver on the front lawn.
Inside the house, police found glass fragments and bloodstains extending two to three feet from the front door and another tooth just inside the front door. Jill's body was 12 feet from the front door, her legs pointed towards the front door, and she was wearing a nightgown. Jill had been shot in the middle of her forehead. A second bullet deflected off the floor and was found on the carpet next to Jill's head.
Investigators found a bullet in the living room ceiling, and a second bullet was found in the living room window frame. While investigators could not determine the exact trajectory of the two bullets, they determined that they most likely originated from gunshots in the hallway area. No evidence of gunplay was found elsewhere in the house.
On January 17, 2002, Detective Otto reinterviewed Hand, and Hand provided a different version of events. Hand stated that after his wife was shot, he retrieved two guns from the master bedroom, went into the hallway, and saw Welch "coming down the hallway towards the master bedroom at him." Hand and Welch then began firing at each other in the hallway and were within four feet of each other during the gun battle. Hand repeated that he chased Welch outside the house but "couldn't get his guns to fire; that he was missing every other round and * * * they weren't firing." When asked about the .32-caliber revolver in the front yard, Hand stated that he did not know who owned it.
During the second interview, Hand said, "I was misquoted on the first interview at the hospital" about not knowing Welch. Hand said that he had known Welch, a former employee, for over 20 years. However, Hand continued to give the impression that they were not close. When asked about a wedding photo showing Welch as his best man, Hand said he "couldn't find anybody else to stand in as [his] best man." Hand repeated that "the only thing he saw" on the night of the murder was an unknown person in "red and black flannel, " and he had "no clue who this unknown person was." Hand also said that "Jill had never met Lonnie; Lonnie's never been to Walnut Avenue; he had no idea why he was there."
In discussing his financial situation, Hand said he sold his radiator shop in October 2000 and received $ 300, 000, and later received $ 33, 000 from the sale of his share of the business and its inventory, and $ 140, 000 from somewhere else. Hand said he "always needed money, but if he needed money, he could get some; that he had money." Hand also told police that he was "hiding the money and that he was considering filing bankruptcy; that that was against Jill's wishes." Later, Hand said that he "wasn't going to file for the bankruptcy * * * and they were going to work it out." When asked if he had any offices, Hand said that his office was in a bedroom in the house. However, Hand failed to disclose that he kept business records at another location.
On January 19, 2002, the police seized several boxes containing Hand's business and personal records from the storage area above a hardware store near Hand's former radiator shop. These records included credit cards, credit-card-and life-insurance-account information, payment receipts, a list of credit card debt prepared by Jill, and other information about Hand's finances.
Heather Zollman, a firearms expert, testified that the .32-caliber revolver found in the front yard was loaded with two fired and three unfired .32-caliber Smith and Wesson ("S & W") Remington-Peters cartridges. Bullet fragments removed from Jill's skull were consistent with being an S & W .32-caliber bullet. In testing the .32-caliber revolver, Zollman found that "on more than 50 percent of [her] testing, the firearm misfired" as a result of "a malfunction of the firearm." The stippling pattern shown in Jill's autopsy photographs indicated that "the muzzle to target distance was greater than six inches, and less than two feet."
Zollman tested the two .38-caliber revolvers and found that they were both in proper working order, and neither weapon showed any tendency to misfire. A bullet removed from Welch's right forearm was "consistent with the .38 caliber." Zollman also concluded that the bullet and fragments recovered from Welch's mouth and his lower back had rifling class characteristics corresponding with the S & W .38-caliber revolver. Further, gunshot residue around the bullet hole on the back of Welch's shirt revealed a muzzle-to-target distance greater than two feet from the garment but less than five feet.
Jennifer Duvall, a DNA expert, conducted DNA testing of bloodstains found on the shirt Hand was wearing on the night of the murders. Five of the bloodstains were consistent with the DNA profile of Welch. The odds that DNA from the shirt was from someone other than Welch was "one in more than seventy-nine trillion in the Caucasian population; one in more than forty-four trillion in the African-American population, and one in approximately forty-three trillion in the Hispanic population."
Michele Yezzo, a forensic scientist, examined bloodstain patterns on Hand's shirt. There were more than 75 blood spatters of varying sizes on the shirt. Yezzo concluded that the shirt was "exposed to an impact" that "primarily registered on the front of the garment." Yezzo also examined glass fragments collected from Hand's residence and "found tiny fragments of clear glass" on Hand's shirt, trousers, tee-shirt, and pair of socks that he was wearing on the night of the murders. However, she found no glass fragments on Welch's boots. Yezzo conducted a fiber analysis of the bullet from Welch's mouth, but found "no fibers suitable for comparison."
Ted Manasian, a forensic scientist, found particles of lead and barium on both gloves that Welch was wearing, and these are "highly indicative of gunshot residue." Manasian could not determine how the gunshot residue got on the glove, just that it was there. Thus, Welch could have fired the gun, or was in the proximity of the gun when it was discharged, or handled an item that had gunshot residue on it.
Detective Otto testified that $ 1, 006, 645.27 in life insurance and state-benefit accounts were in effect at the time of Jill's death. This amount included $ 113, 700 in Jill's Ohio Public Employees Retirement System account and $ 42, 345.29 accumulated in the Ohio Public Employees Deferred Compensation program.
Dr. Keith Norton, a forensic pathologist in the Franklin County Coroner's office, conducted the autopsy of Jill and Welch. He concluded that Jill died from a single gunshot wound to the head. Dr. Norton found that Welch had been shot five times: in his mouth, left upper chest, left forearm, right shoulder, and lower back. The gunshot wound to Welch's lower back went into the spinal cord and would have paralyzed his legs. However, the gunshot wound to the chest was the cause of death.
According to Kenneth Grimes Jr., Hand's former cellmate in the Delaware County Jail, Hand told him that he "killed his wife and the man he was involved with." Hand said he hired a man and they had "been doing business together for years." Hand said he "hired the man to kill his wife and, in turn, the deal went sour. He wanted more money, so he killed two birds with one stone. He got both and didn't have to pay anything." Hand said he had agreed to pay $ 25, 000 to have his wife killed, and the man "wanted it doubled." Hand said he was going to claim self-defense. He also said the evidence against him was "circumstantial and there were many witnesses that didn't have * * * any actual, proof."

State v. Hand, 840 N.E.2d 151, 165-68 (Ohio 2006).

         In sum, Hand's conflicting statements about the night of Jill's death, in conjunction with forensic evidence and statements of other members of the community, strongly implicated Hand and Welch in a plot to kill Jill in order to collect her lucrative insurance policy and pensions. When Welch reneged on the deal and demanded more money, Hand allegedly killed him and staged the scene in order to claim self-defense.

         Armed with this information, Ohio prosecutors sought and received a grand-jury indictment in state court against Hand on six counts. Counts One and Two charged Hand with the aggravated murder of Jill and Welch and included several death-penalty specifications: two "'course of conduct' specification[s], " (one for each count) id. at 170 (citation omitted), because the murders were part of a course of conduct involving the murders of two or more people; "three specifications of murdering Welch to escape detection for Hand's complicity in the murders of Donna, Lori, and Jill Hand; and two specifications of murdering Welch for the purpose of preventing his testimony as a witness in the murders of Donna and Lori Hand." Ibid. Counts Three, Four, and Five charged Hand with conspiracy to commit the aggravated murder of Jill, and Count Six charged Hand with escape for his involvement in an attempt to escape police custody after he was arrested.[1] Ibid.

         Hand pleaded not guilty. The jury found Hand guilty of all of the charges listed in the indictment. At the sentencing hearing, psychologist Dr. Daniel Davis testified about Hand's background and his ability to adjust to life in prison; Hand's son and another witness also testified on his behalf, and Hand submitted an unsworn statement. Id. at 188-89. The jury recommended the death penalty for both murders. Id. at 170. The judge accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Hand to death for Counts One and Two of the indictment. The judge also sentenced Hand to consecutive sentences of three years for two of the remaining counts of conviction.


         Hand filed a notice of appeal to the Supreme Court of Ohio in 2003, raising therein thirteen "propositions of law" for relief:

Where the State fails to prove by clear and convincing evidence that a witness is unavailable due to a criminal defendant's wrongdoing, and the proposed evidence does not meet standards of reliability, it is constitutional error to admit this evidence against the defendant.
The introduction and admission of prejudicial and improper character and other acts evidence and the failure of the trial court to properly limit the use of the other acts evidence denied Gerald Hand his rights to a fair trial, due process and a reliable determination of his guilt and sentence as guaranteed by the United States Constitution, Amends. V, VI, VIII, AND XIV; Ohio Const. Art. I, §§ 10 and 16.
It is prejudicial error for a trial court to join the unrelated charge of escape with charges of aggravated murder and conspiracy in violation of O.R.C. § 2941.04, thus prejudicing Appellant in violation of his constitutional protections.
Where the State has failed to present any evidence that a criminal defendant planned to break his detention, a conviction on the charge of escape is constitutionally infirm due to the insufficiency of the evidence to prove each element of the offense.
When the State proceeds on a theory that the defendant is the principal offender of an aggravated murder, it is error for the trial court to instruct the jury on complicity. U.S. Const. VI, XIV.
The trial court's failure to give the required narrowing construction to a "course-of-conduct" specification in a capital case creates a substantial risk that the death penalty will be inflicted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in violation of the United States Constitution. U.S. Const. Amends. VIII & XIV.
Where trial counsel's performance at voir dire and in the trial phase in a capital case falls below professional standards for reasonableness, counsel has rendered ineffective assistance, thereby prejudicing the defendant in violation of his constitutional rights.
Where trial counsel put on a very brief and skeletal presentation at the penalty phase, fail to argue residual doubt and fail to make any closing argument to the jury, counsel's performance is substandard and a capital defendant is prejudiced thereby. U.S. Const. amends. VI, VIII, and XIV.
The capital defendant's right against cruel and unusual punishment and his right to due process are violated when the legal issue of relevance is left to the jury regarding sentencing considerations. U.S. Const. amends. VIII, XIV.
A capital defendant's right against cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments is denied when the sentencer is precluded from considering residual doubt of guilt as a mitigating factor. The preclusion of residual doubt from a capital sentencing proceeding and the trial court's refusal to instruct the jury to consider it also violate the Defendant's due process right to rebuttal under the Fourteenth Amendment. The preclusion of residual doubt may also infringe a capital defendant's right to the effective assistance of counsel as guaranteed by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. U.S. Const. Amends. VI, VIII, XIV; Ohio Const. Art. I, §§ 9, 10, 16.
Gerald Hand's death sentence must be vacated by this Court as inappropriate because the evidence in mitigation was not outweighed ...

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