Appeal Court Denies Alabama Death Row Appeal on Ineffective Counsel, Juror Misconduct

Credit: sirtravelalot/

By Neha Malhi

ALABAMA– Keith Gavin, an Alabama prisoner serving two death sentences and lifetime imprisonment, lost his appeal involving ineffective counsel and juror misconduct in a federal appeals court late last week.

Three judges on the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “we reverse the district court’s decision granting habeas relief on Gavin’s ineffective-assistance claim because the state court’s determination that counsel was not ineffective during the penalty phase (and) was not contrary to or based on an unreasonable application.

“As for Gavin’s cross-appeal, we affirm the denial of habeas for the juror misconduct claim,” Circuit Court judges also ruled.

Gavin was convicted by the grand jury in 1998 on two counts of capital murder in connection with the murder of William Clayton, Jr., and one count of attempted murder in connection with shooting at a law enforcement officer.

According to testimonies and evidence presented in court, Gavin fatally shot Clayton in an attempt to rob him, while Clayton was using an ATM machine in the downtown center.

After the shooting, Gavin fled in a van, trying to evade a pursuing police officer. Before being arrested, Gavin stopped his van and started shooting at the investigator while running into the woods.

At the time of the incident, Gavin was free on parole after serving 17 years of a 34-year sentence for murder.

The jury voted 10-2 for the death penalty and the trial judge sentenced Gavin to death in January 2000.

The three aggravating factors for Gavin’s sentence were that: 1) Gavin was previously convicted of another felony involving the use or threat of violence to a person (Gavin’s prior conviction); 2) Gavin committed the murder during the commission of a robbery; and 3) he committed the murder while under a sentence of imprisonment for another crime.

Gavin’s filed appeals in state and federal courts were denied. The U.S. Supreme Court also declined Gavin’s appeal to review his case both in 2005 and again in 2017.

Regarding Gavin’s filed appeal in federal court in 2016 for alleging jury misconduct and ineffective counsel during the penalty phase of the trial, U.S. District Judge Karen Bowdre upheld the claim of ineffective counsel, finding that the performance of lawyers were deficient and prejudicial.

“In Mr. Gavin’s case, counsel failed to conduct an adequate background investigation or pursue all available mitigation evidence,” stated Bowdre.

However, Circuit Judge Elizabeth with justices Adalberto Jordan and Robert Luck, stated, “We conclude that the CCA’s determination that Gavin failed to establish prejudice was not so obviously wrong as to be beyond any possibility of fair-minded disagreement and the district court authority in rejecting the state court’s determination.”

She added, “Accordingly, we reverse the district court’s grant of habeas relief on Gavin’s ineffective-assistance claim. We affirm the denial of Gavin’s juror misconduct claim,’ concluded circuit court judges.

About The Author

Neha Malhi is graduating from UCLA this summer with BA in Economics. she is from LA, California.

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