Appeal from a judgment of the United STates District Court for the district of Connecticut, Ellen Bree Burns, Judge, denying petition for habeas corpus.
Lumbard, Kearse, and Pierce, Circuit Judges.
Petitioner Benjamin F. Miller, Jr. ("Miller"), having been committed to the custody of the Commissioner of Mental Health of the State of Connecticut ("State") in 1973 after being found not guilty of certain murders by reason of insanity, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Ellen Bree Burns, Judge, denying his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Miller contended principally that his confinement resulted from (1) violation of his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel, and (2) violation of his due process right to be provided with exculpatory information in the possession of the State, both of which affected his decision to plead insanity rather than simply not guilty. The district court denied the petition on the grounds that the courses of action followed by Miller's attorney did not constitute ineffective assistance and would not necessarily have been different had the exculpatory information been disclosed to him. On appeal, Miller contends principally that the district court failed to apply the proper legal standard in assessing the materiality of the information withheld by the State. For the reasons below, we agree and, finding merit in the due process contention, we reverse with instructions that the writ be granted unless the State elects to bring Miller to trial.
During the period 1967 through 1971, a number of young black prostitutes were found strangled in a wooded area of Stamford, Connecticut, adjacent to the Merritt Parkway. Miller was indicted in 1972 for five such murders. In 1973, pursuant to an agreement between prosecution and defense, two counts were withdrawn, and Miller pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. The State joined in urging the three-judge panel before which the case was tried to accept the insanity defense, and Miller was found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The constitutional claims pursued on this appeal stem from the fact that, prior to the plea agreement leading to Miller's decision to rest on the insanity defense, the State possessed and did not disclose to Miller evidence that connected another individual, Robert Lupinacci, at pertinent times and places, with at least four of the five women alleged to have been killed by Miller. Lupinacci had been arrested in July 1972 as he was attempting to strangle a black prostitute in the same area in which the other victims had been found.
The following description of the events is taken largely from an October 1983 state court opinion in this matter, which was relied on by the district court.
A. The Events and the Investigation of Miller
On August 4, 1967, the body of Rosell ("Sissy") Rush, a young black woman, was found strangled near River Bank Road in a wooded area off the Merritt Parkway in Stamford. On May 3, 1968, and September 8, 1968, respectively, the similarly strangled bodies of Donna Roberts and Gloria Kahn, also young black women, were discovered in the same area. The crimes were not quickly solved.
Miller, a white postal worker who claimed to be an ordained minister, spent a great deal of his time preaching to blacks on street corners in Stamford, and especially to black women. He had a history of mental illness and had been hospitalized at Fairfield Hills State Hospital ("Fairfield Hills") as early as 1953.
Miller first came to the attention of police investigating the Rush, Roberts, and Kahn murders after a Reverend James Miller (apparently not related to petitioner) of Stamford reported receiving an anonymous telephone call in April 1969 from someone having the voice of a black male, describing the location of an as yet unfound body and expressing a wish that the deceased woman receive "a Christian burial." The investigators then sought to list all Millers who were clergymen in the area, and they included Miller's name among them. After three more bodies were discovered, they invited Miller to be interviewed. They apparently did nothing to pursue him, however, when Miller responded that he was too busy with church work to be interviewed.
On July 10 and August 22, 1971, the strangled bodies of Gail Thompson and Alma Henry, respectively, were found in the same area where the bodies of Rush, Roberts, and Kahn had been found. There had been a substantial amount of publicity in the Stamford area with respect to the series of killings, and the black community and other groups had expressed anger at the lack of any progress in solving the murders. By January 1972, a special team of state and local police detectives had been assigned to the cases on a full-time basis. These investigators began to follow up the earlier mention of Miller and learned of his psychiatric history and his contacts with black women.
Over the course of the next few weeks, the detectives interrogated Miller several times and at length. Miller denied that he had committed the murders but admitted having "had sexual relations with Gail Thompson in [his] car in North Stamford." Though the autopsy report on Thompson did not reveal recent sexual intercourse, certain of Miller's other statements accurately recited theretofore unpublished information related to the murders. For example, when the detectives showed Miller a picture of the body of Thompson and asked what he thought was around her neck, Miller responded, correctly, that it was a handkerchief; the public information was that Thompson had been strangled with a brassiere. A polygraph test of Miller's denial that he had committed the murders proved inconclusive, apparently because of his erratic behavior.
During an interrogation session on February 16, 1972, the detectives suggested that Miller speak with Dr. Robert Miller (apparently not related to petitioner), a psychiatrist at Fairfield Hills whom the investigators had consulted with regard to Miller in January. Miller refused to see Dr. Miller but agreed to see Dr. Shirley Williams, a psychiatrist he had consulted previously, at Norwalk Hospital. After Miller was seen by Dr. Williams and another psychiatrist, he was involuntarily committed to Fairfield Hills. Upon his admission to that hospital, Miller was found to be suffering from chronic undifferentiated schizophrenia. He was placed on suicide watch at times and was regularly administered medication. The hospital records indicated that "he is delusional, religosity [sic] is in evidence, low self-esteem, flat affect, thought disorders, poor judgment and insight."
During his stay at Fairfield Hills, Miller was interviewed a number of times by Dr. Robert Miller. As a result of these sessions, Dr. Miller told the investigators he believed Miller had committed the murders and encouraged them to continue investigating Miller. On February 29, Dr. Miller called the detectives and reported that Miller wished to speak with them.
After the detectives arrived at Fairfield Hills on February 29 and advised Miller of his rights, Miller wrote on a pad that he had killed seven women. He later stated that he had killed Thompson, Henry, Rush, and others he could not remember. He described the murder of Thompson in detail and made a more general statement about killing three others. On March 1, Miller signed typed versions of the statements he had made on February 29, and he accompanied the detectives to the area where the bodies had been found. He reenacted the Thompson murder and led them to the spots where three other bodies had been found.
On March 2, Miller signed a detailed statement admitting the murder of Henry. On that day he accompanied the officers to the Merritt Parkway and pointed out the spot where Henry's body had been found. On March 10, Miller signed a detailed statement admitting the murder of Roberts. At various times he also signed statements describing his trips with the officers to the scene of the murders.
Miller was placed under arrest on March 17, 1972, and on May 15, he was indicted for the murders of Rush, Roberts, Kahn, Thompson, and Henry.
B. The Preparation of Miller's Defense
Upon Miller's arraignment, Herbert J. Bundock, a public defender in Fairfield County since 1962, was appointed by the court to represent him. Joseph T. Gormley, Jr., the State's attorney in charge of the prosecution, informed Bundock that Dr. Robert Miller believed Miller could be found not guilty by reason of insanity. Gormley stated that if Miller would agree to plead insanity, the State would present only a prima facie case.
Bundock interviewed Miller, Miller's father ("Miller Sr.") and Dr. Williams, and reviewed Miller's psychiatric records. Miller Sr. told Bundock that Miller had telephoned Miller Sr. in February and said he had signed a ...