DAMION T. NEAL, Defendant Below, Appellant,
STATE OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff Below, Appellee
Submitted: April 4, 2014.
Case Closed June 19, 2014.
This decision has been designated as "Table of Decisions Without Published Opinions." in the Atlantic Reporter.
Court Below--Superior Court of the State of Delaware, in and for Kent County. Cr. ID 0811005782.
Before BERGER, JACOBS, and RIDGELY, Justices.
Jack B. Jacobs, Justice.
This 11th day of June 2014, upon consideration of the parties' briefs and the record below, it appears to the Court that:
(1) The appellant, Damion Neal, appeals from the denial by the Superior Court of his first motion for postconviction relief. We find no merit to the issues Neal raises on appeal and, accordingly, affirm the Superior Court's judgment.
(2) Neal pled no contest on May 10, 2010 to one count of Murder in the First Degree and one count of Murder in the Second Degree (as a lesser included offense). Neal had confessed to breaking into his former girlfriend's home and shooting her and her current boyfriend at close range as they lay in bed. In exchange for his plea, Neal avoided a capital murder trial, and the State dismissed six other companion charges. The Superior Court immediately sentenced Neal to life imprisonment plus a term of thirty-five years at Level V incarceration. Neal did not file a direct appeal.
(3) Instead, on March 1, 2011, Neal filed a motion for postconviction relief. He asserted three claims: (i) while housed in pretrial detention, he was denied access to a law library to conduct his own research to make sure his lawyers' advice was sound; (ii) his attorneys coerced him into pleading guilty by focusing on the strength of the State's evidence and in arranging for his family to visit him, even though he did not request a family visit; and (iii) his attorneys were ineffective for failing to provide him with copies of a mental health evaluation and for failing to inform him that the State was seeking a death sentence. Within his ineffectiveness claim, Neal also implied that his attorneys were at fault for Neal deciding to change his mind about pursuing an extreme emotional distress defense.
(4) Neal's motion was referred to a Superior Court Commissioner, who directed Neal's trial attorneys to file a response and affidavit. In their response, counsel stated that Neal never claimed that he was denied access to the prison law library. In fact, Neal was quite knowledgeable about cases and statutes relevant to the charges against him, which he cited in correspondence to the attorneys. Counsel also denied having coerced Neal into accepting a guilty plea. Counsel did arrange for Neal's family to visit him in April to discuss a pre-trial plea offer made by the State, but Neal rejected that pre-trial plea offer. Ultimately, Neal indicated his desire to enter a plea after the death-qualified jury had been selected.
(5) Regarding Neal's third claim, counsel stated that at the outset of his case they had advised Neal that he was facing capital murder charges and that Neal understood the charges and the possible death sentence he was facing. Counsel also stated that they discussed at length with Neal both the defense expert's psychiatric evaluation (which concluded that at the time of the killings Neal was operating under extreme emotional distress) and the state expert's psychiatric evaluation (which concluded that Neal was not operating under extreme emotional distress). Although counsel did not furnish Neal copies of the reports, Neal was well-informed of the contents of both. Counsel also stated that Neal decided before trial that he did not want to argue extreme emotional distress as a mitigating factor and therefore did not want the defense expert to testify. ...