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Pike v. Gross

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

August 22, 2019

Christa Gail Pike, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Gloria Gross, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: October 17, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Chattanooga. No. 1:12-cv-00035-Harry S. Mattice, Jr., District Judge.

         ARGUED:

          Stephen A. Ferrell, FEDERAL DEFENDER SERVICES OF EASTERN TENNESSEE, INC., Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Richard D. Douglas, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Stephen A. Ferrell, FEDERAL DEFENDER SERVICES OF EASTERN TENNESSEE, INC., Knoxville, Tennessee, for Appellant.

          Jennifer L. Smith, OFFICE OF THE TENNESSEE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Nashville, Tennessee, for Appellee.

          Before: COOK, GRIFFIN, and STRANCH, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          Griffin, Circuit Judge.

         Petitioner Christa Gail Pike, a Tennessee death-row inmate, appeals the district court's denial of her petition for habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Because we conclude that the state court's determination that she is unable to establish prejudice on her claims of ineffective assistance of counsel during the penalty phase of her capital trial was not an unreasonable application of clearly established federal law, we affirm.

         I.

         A.

         This case began with the horrific and brutal 1995 murder of Colleen Slemmer. Pike and Slemmer were both students at the Job Corps Center in Knoxville, Tennessee at the time. State v. Pike, 978 S.W.2d 904, 907-08 (Tenn. 1998). They had a strained relationship; Pike claimed that Slemmer "had been 'trying to get [her] boyfriend' and . . . 'running her mouth' everywhere." Id. at 909. These bad feelings unfortunately resulted in the following events, as the Tennessee Supreme Court explained in a detailed opinion:

[O]n January 11, 1995, [Pike], a student at the Job Corps Center in Knoxville, told her friend Kim Iloilo, who was also a student at the facility, that she intended to kill another student, Colleen Slemmer, because she "had just felt mean that day." The next day, January 12, 1995, at approximately 8:00 p.m., Iloilo observed Pike, along with Slemmer, and two other Job Corps students, Shadolla Peterson and Tadaryl Shipp, Pike's boyfriend, walking away from the Job Corps center toward 17th Street. At approximately 10:15 p.m., Iloilo observed Pike, Peterson, and Shipp return to the Center. Slemmer was not with them.
Later that night, Pike went to Iloilo's room and told Iloilo that she had just killed Slemmer and that she had brought back a piece of the victim's skull as a souvenir. Pike showed Iloilo the piece of skull and told her that she had cut the victim's throat six times, beaten her, and thrown asphalt at the victim's head. Pike told Iloilo that the victim had begged "them" to stop cutting and beating her, but Pike did not stop because the victim continued to talk. Pike told Iloilo that she had thrown a large piece of asphalt at the victim's head, and when it broke into smaller pieces, she had thrown those at the victim as well. Pike told Iloilo that a meat cleaver had been used to cut the victim's back and a box cutter had been used to cut her throat. Finally, Pike said that a pentagram had been carved onto the victim's forehead and chest. Iloilo said that Pike was dancing in a circle, smiling, and singing "la, la, la" while she related these details about the murder. When Iloilo saw Pike at breakfast the next morning she asked Pike what she had done with the piece of the victim's skull. Pike replied that it was in her pocket and then said, "And, yes, I'm eating breakfast with it."
During a class later that morning, Pike made a similar statement to Stephanie Wilson, another Job Corps student. Pike pointed to brown spots on her shoes and said, "that ain't mud on my shoes, that's blood." Pike then pulled a napkin from her pocket and showed Wilson a piece of bone which Pike said was a piece of Slemmer's skull. Pike also told Wilson that she had slashed Slemmer's throat six times and had beaten Slemmer in the head with a rock. Pike told Wilson that the victim's blood and brains had been pouring out and that she had picked up the piece of skull when she left the scene.

Id. at 907-08.

         None of Pike's friends or colleagues reported the crime to the police, but a University of Tennessee Grounds Department employee nonetheless found Slemmer's body on January 13. Id. at 908. That employee later "testified that the body was so badly beaten that he had first mistaken it for the corpse of an animal," before realizing it was a human female when he saw the victim's clothes and her exposed breast. Id. The investigating police quickly discovered Pike's connection to the crime and interviewed her on January 14. Id. at 909. Pike waived her Miranda rights and gave a complete statement to the police about her involvement in the murder. As recounted by the Tennessee Supreme Court:

Pike claimed that she had not planned to kill Slemmer, but she had instead planned only to fight Slemmer and let her know "to leave me the hell alone." However, Pike admitted that she had taken a box cutter and a miniature meat cleaver with her when she and the victim left the Job Corps Center. Pike said she had borrowed the miniature meat cleaver, but refused to identify the person who had loaned it to her.
According to Pike, she asked Slemmer to accompany her to the Blockbuster Music Store, and as they were walking, Pike told Slemmer that she had a bag of "weed" hidden in Tyson Park. Though Pike refused to name the other parties involved in the incident, she said the group began walking toward the [University of Tennessee] campus. Upon arriving at the steam plant on [the University of Tennessee]'s agricultural campus, Pike and Slemmer exchanged words. Pike then began hitting Slemmer and banging Slemmer's head on her knee. Pike threw Slemmer to the ground and kicked her repeatedly. According to Pike, as she slammed Slemmer's head against the concrete, Slemmer repeatedly asked, "Why are you doing this to me?" When Slemmer threatened to report Pike so she would be terminated from the Job Corps program, Pike again repeatedly kicked Slemmer in the face and side. Slemmer lay on the ground and cried for a time and then tried to run away, but another person with Pike caught Slemmer and pushed her to the ground.
Pike and the other person, who Pike referred to as "he," held Slemmer down until she stopped struggling, then dragged her to another area where Pike cut Slemmer's stomach with the box cutter. As Slemmer "screamed and screamed," Pike recounted how she began to hear voices telling her that she had to do something to prevent Slemmer ...

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