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SAWYER v. WHITLEY

505 U.S. 333 (1992)

SAWYER v. WHITLEY, 505 U.S. 333 (1992)
505 U.S. 333
ROBERT WAYNE SAWYER, PETITIONER v. JOHN
WHITLEY, WARDEN
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT
No. 91-6382

Argued February 25, 1992
Decided June 22, 1992
A Louisiana jury convicted petitioner Sawyer and sentenced him to death for
a murder in which the victim was beaten, scalded with boiling water, and set
afire. His conviction and sentence were upheld on appeal, and his petitions
for state postconviction relief, as well as his first petition for federal
habeas relief, were denied. In a second federal habeas petition, the
District Court barred as abusive or successive Sawyer's claims, inter alia,
that the police failed to produce exculpatory evidence - evidence
challenging a prosecution witness' credibility and a child witness'
statements that Sawyer had tried to prevent an accomplice from setting fire
to the victim - in violation of his due process rights under Brady v.
Maryland, 373 U.S. 83
</cgi-bin/getcase.pl?navby=case&court=us&vol=373&invol=83>; and that his
trial counsel's failure to introduce mental health records as mitigating
evidence in his trial's sentencing phase constituted ineffective assistance
of counsel. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Sawyer had not shown
cause for failure to raise his claims in his earlier petition, and that it
could not otherwise reach the claims' merits because he had not shown that
he was "actually innocent" of the death penalty under Louisiana law.
Held:
1. To show "actual innocence" one must show by clear and convincing evidence
that, but for a constitutional error, no reasonable juror would have found
the petitioner eligible for the death penalty under the applicable state
law. Pp. 338-347.
(a) Generally, a habeas petitioner must show cause and prejudice before a
court will reach the merits of a successive, abusive, or defaulted claim.
Even if he cannot meet this standard, a c

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