The Briley Brothers (Linwood Briley, James "J.B." Briley, and Anthony Briley) were responsible for a killing spree in Richmond, Virginia, United States in 1979. The city and the surrounding suburbs were terrorized for seven months by the killing spree, which struck victims both black and white, suburban and urban, well-to-do and humble.
The brothers were born to a stable home with two parents on the Northeast side of Richmond. With their younger sibling Anthony, Linwood and James were regarded by older neighbors as people who would help neighbors fix cars or mow lawns.
However, a surreal and dark world existed inside their house on Fourth Avenue. The three boys collected deadly pets, such as tarantulas, piranhas, and boa constrictors. The boys gleefully fed live mice to their boa constrictor. Their father, James Briley, Sr., was unnerved enough by their behavior that he kept his bedroom door padlocked from the inside overnight. James Sr. was the only person the brothers feared.
In 1971, the first killing was committed by the then 16 year old Linwood. While alone at home one day, he took aim with a rifle from his bedroom window and fatally shot Orline Christian, an elderly next door neighbor, as she passed by her window sill. The crime almost went undetected; however, her grieving relatives noticed a small bloody mark on her back at the viewing and asked the funeral director to re-examine the body. Upon a second examination, the director found a small caliber bullet wound in her back. Police investigators were contacted and they sought to find the source of the gunshot. Standing at the open window in her home where Mrs. Christian had been killed, a detective used a sheet of plywood to represent her body, with a hole cut out to represent the bullet wound. He soon determined that the bullet could only have come from the Briley home next door. There, the murder weapon was found and Linwood admitted to the crime with indifference: "I heard she had heart problems, she would have died soon anyway."
Linwood was sent to reform school to serve a one-year sentence for the killing. His young brother, James or "J.B." followed in his path at the same age, having been sentenced to time in juvenile hall for having pulled a gun and fired upon a police officer during a pursuit.
In 1979, the three Briley brothers and an accomplice, Duncan Meekins, began the seven month spree of random killings that terrified the city and the surrounding region.
Their first attack came on March 12, when Linwood knocked on the door of Henrico County couple William and Virginia Bucher. Claiming that he had car trouble and needed to use their phone, Linwood was allowed into their home. At this point, he pulled a gun on the couple and waved his brother Anthony inside. The two Brileys tied up the couple and looted the house, dousing each room with gasoline after picking it clean of valuables.
As they left, a lit match was tossed on the fuel. The two hurriedly packed their stolen loot – a television, CB radio, and jewelry into their trunk and sped off. They were not around when Mr. Bucher managed to free himself and his wife from their restraints and escape just before the house became engulfed in flames. They would be the only survivors of the rampage.
Michael McDuffie, a vending machine serviceman, was murdered by the gang members at his suburban home on March 21 with use of force. The gang shot him dead and then stole valuables.
On April 9, the gang followed 76 year old Mary Gowen across town from her babysitting job, then raped, robbed, and shot her outside her home.
17 year old Christopher Philips was spotted hanging around Linwood Briley's parked car on July 4 by the gang members. Suspecting that he might have been trying to break into the vehicle, the gang surrounded him and dragged him into a nearby backyard. There he was pinned to the ground by three members. When Philips screamed for help, Linwood murdered him by dropping a cinderblock on his skull, crushing it.
On September 14, disc jockey John "Johnny G." Gallaher was performing with his band at a South Richmond nightclub. Stepping outside between sets for a break, he inadvertently came right into the hands of the Briley gang, who had been looking around town for a victim all night without success. They decided to lie-in-wait for whoever might happen to step outside.
Gallaher was jumped by Linwood and then manhandled into the trunk of his own Lincoln Continental. He was then driven out to Mayo Island in the middle of the James River, where the remnants of an abandoned paper mill stood. There, he was removed from the trunk of his Lincoln Continental and shot dead at point blank range. His body was then dumped into the river. The remains were found two days later. When arrested months later, Linwood was still wearing a ring stolen from Gallaher's hand.
On September 30, 62 year old private nurse Mary Wilfong, was followed home to her Richmond apartment. The gang surrounded her just outside the door and Linwood crushed her skull with a baseball bat. The gang then entered her apartment and looted it of valuables.
Blanche Page and Charles Garner
Several days later on October 5, just two blocks from the Briley home on 4th Avenue in Richmond, 79 year old Blanche Page and her 59 year old boarder Charles Garner were both brutally murdered by the gang members. Page was bludgeoned to death while Garner was fatally assaulted with a variety of weapons, which included a baseball bat, five knives, a pair of scissors, and a fork. The latter two were left embedded in Garner's back.
The final crime of the spree occurred against a long time neighborhood friend of the brothers, Harvey Wilkerson. On the morning of October 19, having promised a judge earlier that day that he was staying out of trouble while out on parole for a 1973 robbery and malicious wounding conviction, J.B. led the gang on the prowl for yet another victim that night.
Upon seeing the gang's presence down the street, Wilkerson, who lived with his 23 year old wife Judy Barton (who was five months pregnant at the time) and her 5 year old son Harvey, instinctively closed and locked his door. This action was noticed by the gang, which then walked over to Wilkerson's front door and knocked. Terrified by their response if he refused them entry, Wilkerson allowed them in.
Both adults in the home were overpowered, bound and gagged with duct tape. Linwood Briley then manhandled Judy Barton into the kitchen, where she was raped within hearing distance of the others. Fellow gang member Duncan Meekins continued the sexual assault, after which Linwood dragged Barton back into the living room, briefly rummaged the premises for valuables, and then left the house.
The three remaining gang members covered their victims with sheets. J.B. told Meekins, "you've got to get one", at which point Meekins took a pistol and fatally shot the adult Harvey Wilkerson in the head. J.B. then shot Barton and the 5 year old boy to death.
Police happened to be in the general vicinity of the neighborhood, heard the shots, and later saw the gang members running down the street at high speed. They did not know where the shots had been fired. The bodies were not discovered until three days following the crime, but the gang members were rounded up soon afterwards.
Capture and incarceration
During interrogation by police, Duncan Meekins was offered a plea agreement in return for turning state's evidence against the Brileys. He took up the offer and offered a full detailing of the crime spree. As a result, he escaped the death penalty and was briefly incarcerated at a Virginia prison away from any of the Briley brothers.
A single life sentence, with parole eligibility was handed down to Anthony Briley, youngest brother of the trio, due to his limited involvement in the killings.
Because of Virginia's triggerman statute, both J.B. and Linwood received numerous life sentences for murders committed during the spree, but faced capital charges only in cases where they had physically committed the actual killing of the victim.
Linwood was sentenced to death for the abduction and murder of John Gallaher, while J.B. received two death sentences, one each of the murders of Judy Barton and her son Harvey.
A Richmond judge presiding at one of the trials summed up the case following the verdict, "this was the vilest rampage of rape, murder and robbery that the court has seen in thirty years."
Both were sent to death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center near Boydton in early 1980. There, they were disruptive inmates who used their guile and physical prowess to threaten both fellow inmates and guards. A flourishing drug and weapon trade operated in the prison under their command.
Linwood and J.B. Briley were the ringleaders in the six inmate escape from Virginia's death row at Mecklenburg Correctional Center on May 31, 1984. During the early moments of the escape, in which a coordinated effort resulted in inmates taking over the death row unit, both Brileys expressed strong interest in killing the officers that they had taken hostage. They went so far as to douse captive guards in lighter fluid and were prepared to toss in a lit match to complete the action. Willie Lloyd Turner, another death row inmate, stepped in the way of James Briley and forbade him from doing so. Meanwhile, cop killer Wilbert Evans prevented Linwood Briley from raping a female nurse who had been taken hostage while en route to delivering medication to inmates in the unit. These events were featured on I.D. Channel in Escape from Death Row.
Splitting off from their two remaining free escapees at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Brileys went to live with their uncle in the north of the city. They were captured on June 19 by a heavily armed group of FBI agents and police. Returned to Virginia, few sought to plead for their lives to be spared.
In short order, the remaining appeals ran out for both brothers. They were executed in the electric chair at the Virginia State Penitentiary. Linwood was put to death in Virginia's electric chair on October 12, 1984. James Briley was executed in the same manner on April 18 of the following year.
Their younger brother Anthony remains incarcerated in Virginia's corrections system and comes up for parole consideration every few years. To date, all his applications for parole have been denied by the state parole board.
746 F.2d 225
Linwood E. BRILEY, Appellant,
E.L. BOOKER, Warden, Appellee.
United States Court of Appeals,
Argued Oct. 9, 1984.
Decided Oct. 9, 1984.
Before RUSSELL, WIDENER and HALL, Circuit Judges.
On September 24, 1984, Linwood E. Briley filed his second petition for habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254, challenging the constitutionality of his 1980 capital murder conviction and resulting death sentence. After full briefing of the issues the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the respondents and dismissed the habeas corpus petition. That court granted a certificate of probable cause allowing an appeal to this court. After full consideration of the issues raised in the briefs and after oral argument, we affirm the district court's denial of habeas corpus relief.
The district court had previously rejected a petition for habeas corpus filed in May, 1983, as amended in September, 1983, by Briley. Briley v. Bass, 584 F.Supp. 807 (E.D.Va.1984). This court affirmed that denial in Briley v. Bass, 742 F.2d 155 (4th Cir.1984). The issues raised by Briley in his present petition were not raised in the prior petition. The facts leading to Briley's capital murder conviction have been adequately set out in this court's prior opinion and in the opinion of the Virginia Supreme Court following Briley's direct appeal. Briley v. Commonwealth, 221 Va. 532, 273 S.E.2d 48 (1980). We need not restate them here. The district court's opinion more than adequately sets out the many state and federal petitions filed by Briley.
In his present habeas corpus petition Briley challenges the constitutionality of his conviction on two grounds. First he claims that his eighth and fourteenth amendment rights were violated because veniremen unalterably opposed to the death penalty were stricken for cause from the jury. [Petition at 5] Briley finds support for this argument in a reserved question in Witherspoon v. Illinois, 391 U.S. 510, 88 S.Ct. 1770, 20 L.Ed.2d 776 and esp. n. 18 (1968); the district court's opinion in Keeten v. Garrison, 578 F.Supp. 1164, 1165 (W.D.N.C.1984), rev'd., 742 F.2d 129 (4th Cir.1984); and Grigsby v. Mabry, 569 F.Supp. 1273 (E.D.Ark.1983).
Second, Briley contends that the death penalty in Virginia is imposed in an arbitrary, capricious, and discriminatory manner in violation of the eighth and fourteenth amendments because a capital murder defendant is more likely to be sentenced to death for killing a white person than for killing a black person. [Petition at 7]. For this contention Briley relies on a study by Gross and Mauro made available in October, 1983, [Briley memo at 61]. This argument was likewise presented to the Fifth Circuit in Spinkellink v. Wainwright, 578 F.2d 582, 613 (5th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 976, 99 S.Ct. 1548, 59 L.Ed.2d 796 (1979).
The district court rejected Briley's claims on both procedural and substantive grounds.
First it found an abuse of the writ under Rule 9(b) of the Rules Governing 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254 because both new issues raised here could have been raised in his prior proceedings. In his attack on the jury selection Briley relies on Witherspoon, decided over fifteen years ago. As the district court in Grigsby and our opinion in Keeten show, this issue is not a new one but one recognized by the legal profession prior to Briley's first habeas corpus filing in 1983. Likewise the data upon which Briley relies to challenge the application of the Virginia death penalty and the argument itself were available prior to action on the first habeas corpus petition. We find no error in the district court's ruling that Briley had abused the writ by not raising these issues earlier. This conclusion of the district court conformed clearly to the Supreme Court's reasoning in Woodard v. Hutchins, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 752, 78 L.Ed.2d 541 (1984). In that case--as here--the petitioner had filed a second petition for habeas relief in which for the first time he raised for the same reasons as the petitioner in this case "that the jury selection process was unconstitutional." The Court, speaking through Justice Powell, then proceeded to declare:
"Hutchins offers no explanation for having failed to raise these claims in his first petition for habeas corpus, and I see none. Successive petitions for habeas corpus that raise claims deliberately withheld from prior petitions constitute an abuse of discretion." At ----, 104 S.Ct. at 753, 78 L.Ed.2d at 544.
In explanation of the term "deliberately withheld," Justice Powell in note 3 said:
"There is no affirmative evidence that the claims were deliberately withheld. But Hutchins has had counsel throughout the various phases of this case, and no explanation has been made as to why they were not raised until the very eve of the execution date."
Justice Powell concluded his opinion with this significant statement:
"A pattern seems to be developing in capital cases of multiple review in which claims that could have been presented years ago are brought forward--often in a piecemeal fashion--only after the execution date is set or becomes imminent. Federal courts should not continue to tolerate--even in capital cases--this type of abuse of the writ of habeas corpus."
Equally well known was petitioner's second substantive point. It was a matter that had often been raised in the legal and sociological journals and in dicta in various court decisions. See Spinkellink v. Wainwright, supra, 578 F.2d at 612-14.
Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 97 S.Ct. 2497, 53 L.Ed.2d 594 (1977), also bars the raising of these issues in a federal habeas corpus petition because neither was raised at trial. We agree with the district court that Reed v. Ross, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 2901, 82 L.Ed.2d 1 (1984), provides no relief from Wainwright's bar.
We further agree with the district court's rejection of Briley's two claims on the merits. Our recent opinion in Keeten, supra, is dispositive in this court of the jury challenge under Witherspoon. Moreover, the decision by the Supreme Court in Hutchins is fully supportive of Keeten.
The petitioner's second substantive claim is that the Virginia death penalty statute is unconstitutional in application because a defendant is more likely to receive the death penalty when his victim is white than when the victim is black. This theory carries with it, as the petitioner candidly conceded in oral argument, the conclusion that the imposition of the death penalty in any case would be constitutionally proscribed. His reasoning is that it is unconstitutional discrimination to make the killing of a white more likely to result in a death sentence, than the killing of a black person. Ergo, any death sentence for killing a white, whether by a white or by a black, is constitutionally invalid. But this argument would lead to denying to a state the right to impose a death sentence for killing a black, for, again, there would be discrimination. This is equivalent to an implicit invalidation per se of the death penalty on constitutional grounds. We are unwilling to hold on constitutional grounds that capital punishment is invalid, which is precisely what petitioner's argument requires, as petitioner's counsel, with commendable candor, concedes. Actually, this contention was carefully considered and properly disposed of by the court in Spinkellink, supra, 578 F.2d at 612, 613-14. In addition, as Briley notes the Virginia statistics in support of this argument presented are wholly inconclusive.
Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court dismissing the petitioner's habeas corpus petition, both on the procedural and the substantive grounds stated therein, and direct the mandate issue forthwith.
motion of the petitioner for a stay of execution,
filed September 27, 1984, is hereby denied.
Linwood Earl Briley