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Wrinkles v. Buss

August 12, 2008


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 01 C 1668-John Daniel Tinder, Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge


Before FLAUM, KANNE, and ROVNER, Circuit Judges.

This case is before the court on collateral review. In 1995, a Vanderburgh, Indiana, Circuit Court jury convicted Matthew Wrinkles of murdering his wife, his wife's brother, and his sister-in-law. The jury recommended and Judge Richard L. Young imposed a death sentence. Wrinkles unsuccessfully appealed his conviction and sentence to the Indiana Supreme Court, and thereafter, Judge Carl Heldt of the Vanderburgh Circuit Court denied his request for post-conviction relief. Wrinkles then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. Wrinkles argued that his constitutional rights were violated during the trial and sentencing proceedings because, pursuant to the Indiana trial judge's blanket policy of restraint, he was required to wear a stun belt that he alleges was visible to the jury.

Wrinkles was barred from raising a direct challenge to the constitutionality of the stun belt because he procedurally defaulted the claim in state court. Wrinkles instead claimed that he received ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), because his counsel failed to object to the imposition of the stun-belt restraint. With respect to the prejudice prong of Strickland, Wrinkles claimed that the jurors saw the stun belt, and that he presumptively suffered prejudice as a result. United States District Judge, John Daniel Tinder, concluded that Wrinkles could not demonstrate prejudice because the jury was not aware of the stun belt.

Wrinkles's habeas claim hinges on whether the jurors saw the stun belt during the trial and the sentencing proceedings. One passage in the Indiana Supreme Court's opinion-actually, one sentence-complicates our review. We ultimately conclude that the Indiana Supreme Court made no factual finding regarding the belt's visibility. The last state-court decision on point-the post-conviction court decision-holds that the jurors did not see the belt. We defer to that finding and agree with the district court that Wrinkles suffered no prejudice from his counsels' failure to object to the stun belt.


A. Factual History

By the spring of 1994, the marriage of Matthew and Debbie Wrinkles was coming to an end. On May 3, 1994, police were dispatched to the Wrinkles' home in response to a report of gunfire. Wrinkles told the responding officers that he and Debbie were having financial and marital problems and that he would kill Debbie if she ever left him. David Plemmons, a witness to the events, would later testify that Wrinkles pointed a gun at Debbie during the argument and the gun discharged when Debbie grabbed it. According to Plemmons, Wrinkles hid the gun when the police arrived, and Debbie and Plemmons "covered" for Wrinkles by lying to the police about the incident. The Indiana Supreme Court later characterized the Wrinkles' relationship as "stormy and often violent." Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1159 (Ind. 1997) ("Wrinkles I"), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 861 (1998).

In June 1994, Debbie moved herself and the children-Lindsay, age thirteen, and Seth, age eight-to the home of Mark and Natalie Fulkerson, Debbie's brother and sister-in-law. This move marked the end of Wrinkles and Debbie's marriage, and Debbie filed for divorce on June 30. A few weeks later, on July 20, Wrinkles and Debbie attended a provisional divorce hearing, during which it was decided that Debbie would have custody of the children and Wrinkles would have visitation rights. Wrinkles and Debbie agreed to a meet at a fast-food restaurant later that day so that Wrinkles could see his children. But Debbie did not show that afternoon as scheduled.

Wrinkles had hit a low point in his life. He had a close relationship with his children and he believed that his estranged wife and her family were conspiring to deny him access to the children. In addition to his marital problems, the automotive-repair business that he ran out of his garage was failing. Several zoning complaints had been made against his business and he was forced to shut down. Wrinkles had also been dependent on methamphetamine for some time, and this dependence caused him to become easily agitated and paranoid. In addition to his mental and emotional decay, his drug use caused him to wither away physically. Wrinkles's addiction kept him from sleeping, except sporadically, and he lost sixty pounds in a three-month period.

Wrinkles's obvious decline had begun to terrify Debbie. Her friend would testify at trial that Debbie had become a "nervous wreck." Id. at 1159. She had begun to take "medication [and] every time she heard a noise she would jump cause she was scared. And . . . she had to sleep with a gun underneath her pillow [because] she was scared" of Wrinkles.

Debbie's failure to appear with the children at the fast-food restaurant on July 20 set into motion a tragic series of events. Wrinkles called to complain to his divorce attorney, who told Wrinkles that nothing could be done until the next day because the courts had already closed. Wrinkles then called the Fulkerson home to speak with Debbie, but she was not there. Debbie returned Wrinkles's call later that evening, but she did not get an answer. Eventually, Debbie and the rest of the Fulkerson household turned in for the night on July 20. Given the growing tension in their lives, it was an uneasy rest; both Mark Fulkerson and Debbie had guns with them in their bedrooms.

Wrinkles drove to the Fulkerson home at approximately 2:00 a.m. on July 21, and parked his truck about one block from the home. He was wearing camouflage clothing, had painted his face, and was armed with a .357 magnum revolver and a knife. He climbed over a fence into the Fulkersons' backyard. He cut the telephone wires and kicked in the back door, entering the home.

Wrinkles went down the hallway and into the Fulkersons' bedroom, where he shot Mark Fulkerson four times, killing him in front of his three-year-old son, Matthew. Debbie was awakened by the gunshots. She grabbed her gun and ran to the hallway where she confronted Wrinkles. She fired and hit him in the arm, knocking herself down in the process. At that point, Lindsay Wrinkles had also awakened and had come upon the confrontation between her parents. She saw that her father was about to shoot her mother and she "pleaded, 'Dad, please don't shoot Mom.' " Wrinkles v. State, 749 N.E.2d 1179, 1186 (Ind. 2001) ("Wrinkles II"), cert. denied, 535 U.S. 1019 (2002). Wrinkles responded by telling Lindsay to "shut up," and then he promptly shot Debbie.

During the commotion, Natalie Fulkerson made her way to the living room and out the front door, in an attempt to flee. Wrinkles gave chase and caught Natalie on the front porch, shooting her in her face at close range. Natalie died on the porch. Wrinkles fled. The Fulkersons' ten-year-old daughter, Kimberly, and her 19-year-old cousin, Tracy, ran to neighbors' houses for help.

Wrinkles was arrested later that morning in a neighboring county and was charged with three counts of murder, pursuant to Ind. Code § 35-42-1-1(1), for knowingly killing his victims. The state filed notice of its intent to seek the death penalty on July 28, 1994. Under Indiana law, the state can seek the death penalty when a defendant commits multiple murders. Ind. Code § 35-50-2-9(b)(8).

B. Procedural History

Based on their pre-trial investigations, Wrinkles's attorneys' theory of his defense centered on the fact that, at the time of the crimes, Wrinkles was in the midst of a very difficult period in his life. The attorneys decided to stress the loss of Wrinkles's business, the break-up of his marriage, and his perception that Debbie and the Fulkersons were trying to keep his children from him. The defense argued that Wrinkles had broken into the Fulkersons' home with the intent of retrieving his children because he feared that he would never see them again-a paranoia magnified by his methamphetamine addiction. The paranoia was further enhanced when, according to Wrinkles, his victims confronted him with guns when he entered the home. Wrinkles also would cast Debbie as the aggressor in their confrontation in the hallway; he would testify that Debbie said, "Die, you bastard, die," when she shot him. Wrinkles I, 690 N.E.2d at 1159.

This strategy was necessary given the facts of the case. First, there was no dispute that Wrinkles had shot the three victims, and therefore Wrinkles's motivation for the shootings would be the primary issue at trial. And Wrinkles's state of mind would likewise be a significant issue for sentencing in terms of whether the death penalty or a lesser sentence was appropriate. In addition, the attorneys concluded that although Wrinkles's mental state might impact his culpability and sentence, the facts did not support an insanity defense. A neuropsychologist enlisted by Wrinkles's attorneys concluded that, while Wrinkles suffered from a Mixed Personality Disorder and a Delusional Disorder that became more intense during the weeks leading up to the shootings, and while Wrinkles's judgment was substantially impaired at the time of the shootings, he was nonetheless sane because he had known what he was doing and was able to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

Before trial commenced, the trial judge informed Wrinkles's counsel that Wrinkles would have to wear some sort of restraining device-either shackles or a stun belt. The trial court did not make a specific finding that Wrinkles presented a risk of danger, escape, or courtroom disruption. But "the trial court apparently [had] a policy of requiring defendants to wear restraints regardless of whether they [had] previously exhibited any conduct justifying restraints." Wrinkles II, 749 N.E.2d at 1195. According to the Indiana Supreme Court in Wrinkles II, a stun belt is a restraining device that is placed around an individual's waist as an alternative to leg-irons or shackles. The battery-powered belt has two prongs that are placed over the wearer's kidney region. A court bailiff or other law-enforcement officer can activate the belt by a remote control and, once activated, it sends a shock to the wearer that cannot be stopped. The electrical shock travels through the body via blood channels and nerve pathways. The shock knocks down most people, incapacitates them for up to 45 minutes, and causes them to shake uncontrollably. The individual may also have uncontrollable defecation and urination, irregular heartbeats, seizures, and welts, due to the shock. Wrinkles's attorneys did not object to the mandatory restraint policy. When faced with the choice of shackles or a stun belt, they opted for the latter, reasoning that there was less likelihood that the jury would see the belt during trial.

A jury found Wrinkles guilty of all three counts of murder, and recommended the death penalty; the trial judge sentenced Wrinkles to death. Wrinkles appealed his conviction and death sentence, raising a number of evidentiary claims and challenging both Indiana's death-penalty statute and his own sentence. He did not, however, appeal the trial court's blanket policy of requiring him to wear the stun belt at trial. Unpersuaded, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed Wrinkles's convictions and sentence (Wrinkles I).

Thereafter, Wrinkles filed a petition for post-conviction relief, in which he challenged the constitutionality of the stun belt and raised ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims, among other claims. Central to his claim for post-conviction relief were three affidavits from jurors in his trial who claimed to have seen the stun belt. The post-conviction court discounted the reliability of the affidavits and upheld Wrinkles's convictions and sentence:

The trial court did not strip the presumption of innocence from Petitioner by requiring him to wear the belt. The purpose of the belt is to maintain control over a prisoner without the prisoner appearing restrained. Petitioner did not prove that the belt was visible or that the jury knew about it. The affidavits from three jurors that they knew about the belt from the trial court, the bailiff, and/or newspaper articles read after trial, and Petitioner's appearance during trial are insufficient. First, the juror affidavits are inconsistent with each other. One juror stated that the jury was not told why Petitioner wore the belt, while another juror averred that the trial court told the jury about the belt to assure the jurors that they would be safe. Second, some of the juror affidavits are inconsistent with bailiff Todd Woodmansee's affidavit that he did not tell the jury about the belt. Third, both [of Wrinkles's attorneys] testified that the belt was not visible during trial. Fourth, the juror affidavits were not subjected to cross-examination. Because petitioner did not appear restrained during the trial, he was not stripped of the presumption of innocence.

Vanderburgh Circuit Court's Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law and Judgment on Petition for Post Conviction Relief, Wrinkles v. State, No. 82C01-9407-CF-447 (Sept. 3, 1999) (emphasis in original).

After the post-conviction court rendered its decision, Wrinkles filed with that court a Motion to Correct Error, to which he attached new affidavits from additional jurors, who claimed to have seen the stun belt during trial. The post-conviction court did not grant Wrinkles's motion, nor did it admit the additional juror affidavits into evidence.

Wrinkles then appealed the post-conviction court's ruling to the Indiana Supreme Court. Relying on Indiana law, the supreme court in Wrinkles II prospectively banned the use of stun belts in Indiana courts. The court was specifically concerned with the mental impact on a defendant who might be afraid about the potential infliction of pain from the belt, and how this mental concern could impact the defendant's ability to participate in his own defense. Wrinkles II, 749 N.E.2d at 1194.

But the Indiana Supreme Court denied Wrinkles the benefit of its holding. The court held that Wrinkles's claim was procedurally defaulted because Wrinkles had failed to raise the issue on direct appeal. In addition, the court held that Wrinkles had not suffered from ineffective assistance of counsel when his attorneys failed to object to the use of the stun belt at his trial. The court characterized Wrinkles's attorneys' choice to acquiesce to the stun belt as a "strategic decision":

Before trial began, the trial court informed counsel that Wrinkles would have to wear either shackles or a stun belt during trial. Without objection counsel chose a stun belt, and Wrinkles claims they rendered ineffective assistance as a result. We disagree. Although with this opinion we declare that stun belts no longer have a place in Indiana courtrooms, that was not the case at the time of Wrinkles' trial. Our prohibition is motivated primarily by the potential effect a stun belt may have upon the person wearing the device. However, without the benefit of this declaration, counsel were concerned about the effect on the jurors if they were to observe their client wearing a particular device. Counsel believed that the chance of the jury seeing the shackles was fairly high. On the other hand, counsel opted for the stun belt because they thought that jurors would not be able to see it. Obviously, they were later proven wrong. However, at the time the decision was made, it was a prudent one.

Wrinkles filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2554, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. He presented a host of arguments, all of which Judge Tinder, rejected. Wrinkles v. McBride, No. IP 01-1668-C-T/K (D. Ind. May 18, 2005) (Entry Discussing Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus). With respect to the constitutionality of the stun belt itself, the district court held that the claim could not be presented under § 2254 because it had been procedurally defaulted in state-court proceedings. Further, Judge Tinder held that even if the claim had not been waived, it lacked merit. Judge Tinder credited the post-conviction court's finding that the jurors were not aware of the stun belt and the belt was not visible.

Thereafter, Wrinkles filed a Request for Certificate of Appealability ("C.A.") on two issues: (1) "Whether [he] was unconstitutionally restrained by virtue of wearing a stun belt at his trial," and (2) "Whether [his] counsel rendered ineffective assistance of counsel at the 'guilt phase' of trial." Judge Tinder granted Wrinkles a C.A. on the issue of the constitutionality of the use of the stun belt, but denied the request as to his ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims. This appeal followed.


On appeal, Wrinkles's first argues that the district court erred in finding that his stun-belt claim was procedurally defaulted because the default was the result of ineffective assistance of counsel. As for his freestanding constitutional claim, he argues that his Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when he was forced to wear the stun belt without an independent assessment of the need for restraints.*fn2

A. Procedural Default

Before analyzing Wrinkles's substantive § 2254 claims, we must first determine whether Wrinkles procedurally defaulted his argument that wearing the stun belt violated his constitutional rights. Lee v. Davis, 328 F.3d 896, 899 (7th Cir. 2003) ("As a threshold matter, we must determine whether Lee has procedurally defaulted his argument . . . ."). The district court decided that Wrinkles had defaulted his argument-a decision we review de novo. Id. As a general matter, considerations of "finality, comity, and the orderly administration of justice" preclude this court from reaching claims that a habeas petitioner has procedurally defaulted in state court. Dretke v. Haley, 541 U.S. 386, 388 (2004). The criminal trial is a "decisive and portentous event" and, as such, the state has an interest in ensuring timely compliance with those procedures that permit the jury accurately to "decide, within the limits of human fallibility, the question of guilt or innocence of one of its citizens." Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 90 (1977). For these reasons, a valid state procedural rule constitutes an "adequate and independent state ground" for resolving an issue, precluding this court from doing so collaterally. Id. at 86-87.

Wrinkles sought federal habeas corpus review of federal-law issues that the Indiana Supreme Court disposed of based on adequate and independent state-law grounds. Specifically, Wrinkles's "freestanding" stun belt claims- that his rights to a fair trial under the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution were violated when he was required to wear a stun belt without a hearing-were deemed by the Indiana Supreme Court to have been waived as a matter of state law. Wrinkles II, 749 N.E.2d at 1186-87 & 1187 n.3. The procedural rule cited by the Indiana Supreme Court provides an "adequate and independent state ground" for resolving Wrinkles's constitutional claims. Indiana courts have long recognized, and the Wrinkles II court reaffirmed, that "[c]laims that are available, but not presented, on direct appeal are waived for post-conviction review ...

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