Fredrick A. Laux, Petitioner-Appellant,
Dushan Zatecky, Respondent-Appellee.
February 21, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division. No. 14-CV-340 -
Sarah Evans Barker, Judge.
Ripple, Kanne, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
HAMILTON, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
2002, Fredrick Laux broke into his ex-wife's home and
murdered her with a crowbar. A jury in Grant County, Indiana,
decided that the aggravating circumstance of Laux's
crime-that he committed murder during a burglary-outweighed
the primary mitigating circumstance-that he had no criminal
history. The jury recommended a sentence of life without
parole, which the state trial judge imposed. The Indiana
state courts affirmed Laux's convictions and sentence.
After a post-conviction hearing, they also rejected the claim
that his trial counsel provided ineffective assistance in
violation of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
2014, Laux filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas
corpus. The district court denied the petition. On appeal,
Laux contends that his trial counsel was ineffective by not
fully investigating and presenting all of the available
mitigating evidence about Laux's childhood that surfaced
at his 2011 post-conviction hearing. If his trial counsel had
presented all of these details in 2002, Laux argues, there is
a reasonable chance that the jury would not have recommended
a sentence of life without parole. We affirm the judgment of
the district court. The state courts' conclusion that
Laux received effective assistance of counsel was not
Factual Background and Procedural History
The Murder Trial and Penalty Phase
state public defender said at the outset of his post-
conviction proceeding, "there is really no doubt about
who killed Heidi Laux. And this trial"-the subject of
Fred Laux's ineffective assistance claims here-"was
all about what punishment Mr. Laux was set to receive"
for what he did to his ex-wife.
eleven years of marriage and a period of separation, the
couple divorced in November 2001. Distraught by the divorce,
and increasingly disturbed by the prospect that Heidi had
found a new partner, Laux made a romantic gesture toward
Heidi on Valentine's Day in 2002. He was rebuffed. Heidi
and Laux, along with their two daughters, attended a social
event the next evening where "Laux became increasingly
suspicious that Heidi was involved with a co- worker."
Laux v. State, 821 N.E.2d 816, 817 (Ind. 2005)
returned home and put his daughters to bed, but remained
fixated on Heidi's new life without him. The Indiana
Supreme Court explained what happened next:
Around 3 a.m. the following morning, Laux awoke and decided
to "fix" Heidi. He dressed in two pairs of
sweatpants, a sweatshirt, gloves, a hat, and a ski mask. He
collected a flashlight and a crowbar and ran to Heidi's
Upon arrival, Laux used the crowbar to pry open a coal chute
and gain entrance to Heidi's house. He entered the
basement through the chute and made his way upstairs. Laux
proceeded to Heidi's bedroom, struck her three times with
the crowbar, strangled her, and left. She died from her
injuries within twenty minutes.
The State charged Laux with murder, felony murder, and
burglary resulting in bodily injury. It later requested a
sentence of life in prison without parole. After a three-day
trial, the jury found Laux guilty on all counts and
recommended life in prison without parole. The trial court
merged Laux's murder and felony murder convictions and
sentenced him to life in prison without parole for the murder
and a consecutive term of twenty years for the burglary.
Id. at 817-18 (footnotes omitted). Because Laux
contends that his trial counsel was ineffective in failing to
ward off a life sentence, we focus on the penalty stage of
Indiana, "life without parole is imposed under the same
standards and is subject to the same requirements" as
imposing the death penalty. Ajabu v. State, 693
N.E.2d 921, 936 (Ind. 1998). This meant that with no dispute
as to guilt, Laux's trial came down to the penalty phase
where the jury considered the aggravating and mitigating
circumstances that surrounded the crime. See Ind. Code §
35-50-2-9(b), (c), (d). By statute, if a jury finds that
aggravating circumstances outweigh mitigating circumstances
and thus decides to recommend life without parole, its
recommendation must be accepted by the trial judge at
sentencing. § 35-50-2-9(e).
penalty phase of his trial, Laux's jury heard evidence
that he broke in to Heidi's house that night intending to
beat her with his crowbar and kill her, and possibly also to
rape her. This undisputed evidence was the basis for
Laux's burglary conviction, which in turn was the
aggravating circumstance under § 35-50-2-9(b)(1)(B) for
his murder conviction.
mitigating circumstances, Laux qualified for only one of the
seven circumstances specified by statute-no prior criminal
conduct. § 35-50-2-9(c)(1). The law also permitted the
jury to weigh any "other circumstances appropriate for
consideration." § 35-50-2-9(c)(8). Laux's trial
counsel used this opportunity to present him as a devoted
father and devout Catholic of above-average intelligence who,
in the words of a psychiatrist, had been overtaken by a
"severe mental disease at the time of the offense"
(i.e., "major depression").
Laux was found to be sane at the time of the offense, his
mental condition did not qualify as one of the express
mitigating circumstances under the law. See § 35-50-
2-9(c)(6). Jurors heard from two experts about Laux's
episode of depression and related medications. These experts
formally testified as the State's witnesses, though they
had been appointed by the trial court at the behest of
Laux's trial lawyer, who reviewed their written reports
ahead of their testimony. Both Dr. Parker (a psychiatrist)
and Dr. Atkinson (a psychologist) had interviewed Laux and
studied his personal history and mental health. Though their
diagnoses differed somewhat, both experts rejected the idea
that Laux's mental-health struggles caused him to commit
lawyer called as a witness a priest who had known Laux for
over fifteen years, since Laux had been a student at Purdue
University. In the priest's judgment, Laux was a
particularly devoted Catholic. The priest also shared that
because Laux was so distraught after the police came to
inform him of Heidi's death, the priest had to inform
Laux's young daughters about their mother's murder.
After the priest's testimony, Laux's lawyer called a
Catholic school teacher who had one of Laux's young
daughters in her class. She reported that Laux was a devoted
father and active in their parish. Finally, Laux himself took
the stand to express his remorse and to (try to) explain his
closing statement in the penalty phase, Laux's trial
lawyer stressed that Laux had no history at all of violent
behavior or criminal activity. His lawyer repeated that even
if it did not legally amount to a defense, Laux had a
"severe mental disease" according to the experts.
"I understand the State wants you to ignore that, "
his lawyer continued, "but that's a fact, that's
what was said by the doctors and those are doctors …
that's not my diagnosis." "[D]on't just
totally discount that and throw that in the trash. That's
the whole reason we did this trial was to get that story
lawyer summed up by reminding the jurors that Laux "had
something go seriously, tragically wrong with his thinking
that night … all I'm asking you to do is weigh
that as a [factor in] mitigation [regarding] … whether
he should go to jail for the rest of his life. You can't
discount that and say it didn't happen." The jury
recommended life without parole.
Post-trial Procedural History
State Court Proceedings
appealed his life-without-parole sentence directly to the
Indiana Supreme Court, which has jurisdiction over such
appeals. Ind.App. R. 4(1)(a). Before rendering a decision,
however, the Supreme Court remanded Laux's case to the
state trial court for additional findings in light of
Ring v. Arizona, 536 U.S. 584 (2002), Apprendi
v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and a conforming
change in state law specifying that aggravating circumstances
must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. Ind. Code §
35-50-2-9(l); see also Corcoran v. Neal,
783 F.3d 676, 678 n.2 (7th Cir. 2015); Laux I, 821
N.E.2d at 818, 821; id. at 824 (Sullivan, J.,
dissenting). The Indiana Supreme Court decided in 2005 to