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Derrington v. Nooth

United States District Court, D. Oregon

February 15, 2017

MARK NOOTH, Superintendent, Snake River Correctional Institution, Respondent.


          Michael McShane United States District Judge.

         Petitioner brings this petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. For the reasons explained below, the petition is denied.


         In October 2008, petitioner and his wife, Nona, were camping with their horses on a ranch in rural Douglas County owned by Mark McCroskey. At the time, Mark Spruill resided nearby in a cabin on the property. They all shared a spring water source, with the spring water funneled through a pipe and into a holding tank.

         According his testimony at trial, Spruill saw petitioner's wife accessing the spring water directly from the tank rather than from the attached pipe or faucet. Believing that her actions could contaminate the water, Spruill asked her to use the faucet. Resp. Ex. 103, Transcript of Trial Proceedings (Tr.) at 98-99, 177-78. The following day, petitioner and his wife walked to Spruill's cabin and confronted him about the way he had talked to petitioner's wife. Tr. 99-100. Spruill walked over to the holding tank and saw evidence that petitioner again was dipping water jugs directly into the tank to collect water. Tr. 100-01. Spruill also noticed that the pipe feeding water to the tank was missing, meaning that the tank would run dry. Tr. 101. Spruill admitted that he was angry about the water situation, and he told petitioner to stay out of the spring. Tr. 102. Petitioner responded that Spruill had no authority to tell him how to use the spring. Spruill again told petitioner to stay out of the spring, and he picked up a muffler pipe “to let him know I was serious.” Tr. 103, 300. Spruill went inside his cabin, and petitioner and his wife starting walking back to their camp. Tr. 105, 301.

         Spruill testified that he wanted McCroskey to resolve the dispute and decided to call him from the nearest pay phone about two miles away. As he was driving from the cabin, he stopped and asked petitioner if he had McCroskey's phone number. Tr. 104, 108, 320. Spruill testified that petitioner pulled a loaded handgun from behind his back and ordered Spruill to the ground. Tr. 108-10. As Spruill lay with his face in the ground, petitioner's wife bound Spruill's hands and feet with twine. Tr. 110-11. Once Spruill was tied up, petitioner began kicking him and hitting his head. Tr. 112-113. Petitioner also fired a gunshot into the ground near Spruill's right ear. Tr. 113.

         Petitioner testified to a somewhat different version of events. According to petitioner, after Spruill waved the pipe, he got into his car and raced toward petitioner and his wife, making contact with petitioner's knee. Tr. 302, 306-07. Spruill then got out of his car and ran at petitioner waving his fists. Tr. 315-16. Petitioner testified that he “peppered” Spruill with punches and took him to the ground with by shoving Spruill's back with his foot. Tr. 315-16, 318. Petitioner called for his wife to bring some twine, and he tied Spruill's hands and feet together. Tr. 318-19. Petitioner admitted shooting a gun into the ground about 8 to 15 feet from Spruill's head to “make him calm down.” Tr. 320.

         Petitioner walked Spruill at gunpoint to petitioner's camp, tied him up again and said he was under “arrest.” Tr. 115, 327, 330. Petitioner testified that he believed Oregon State law gave him the right to effectuate a citizen's arrest of Spruill. Tr. 115, 320, 327. Petitioner asked Spruill if he should call McCroskey or the police, and Spruill asked petitioner to contact McCroskey because he was closer. Tr. 116. Petitioner then sent his wife to the nearest neighbor's house to call McCroskey.

         A visitor, Joseph Schneiderhan, subsequently stopped by the camp. Schneiderhan testified that when he arrived, petitioner's wife had left to make a phone call and was not at the camp. Tr. 276. When petitioner's wife returned, she explained that McCroskey “would be late” and could not come to the property right away. Tr. 118, 325. Spruill testified that he then asked that petitioner call police and offered to drive him to a telephone. Tr. 118, 125. In contrast, petitioner testified that he asked Schneiderhan to call the police but told him to “forget calling” after Spruill asked petitioner to wait for McCroskey. Tr. 280, 326, 332. Petitioner further testified that he expected law enforcement to show up at any time, because McCroskey had been told about the situation. Tr. 288, 329.

         Petitioner told Spruill he was still under arrest and would be held until the police arrived. Tr. 119. Spruill testified that petitioner watched him at gunpoint throughout the night and at one point shoved the gun inside Spruill's mouth and stated, “Aren't you sorry you're messing with me now?” Tr. 120. Petitioner denied this allegation. Toward morning, petitioner told Spruill, “All I have to do is break your neck and throw you over a cliff nearby and all my troubles will be over.” Tr. 122, 182. Petitioner admitted making this statement. Tr. 351.

         At daylight, petitioner left camp to call police and petitioner's wife, who was armed, watched over Spruill. Tr. 123. Petitioner reached a sheriff's deputy on the telephone and reported that he was detaining Spruill in a citizen's arrest for assault and attempted murder. Tr. 339-40. The deputy cautioned petitioner that he could be arrested for kidnapping Spruill. Tr. 340-41.

         Spruill testified that petitioner returned to camp and said he would drop all charges if Spruill told the police he tried to hit petitioner with his car. Tr. 124. Spruill also testified that petitioner's wife moved Spruill's car to corroborate their story. Tr. 124-25. Petitioner admitted that he and his wife moved Spruill's car to get it out of the road. Tr. 344.

         When law enforcement officers arrived, petitioner asked them to take Spruill into custody for assault, threatening conduct, and denying him access to the water tank. Tr. 348. After talking to Spruill and petitioner, the officers instead arrested petitioner and his wife. Tr. 350.

         Petitioner was charged with two counts of Kidnapping in the First Degree, Assault in the Third Degree, Assault in the Fourth Degree, and Unauthorized Use of a Motor Vehicle. Resp. Ex. 102. ...

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