Lance Antonio Chandler
In December 1993, Lance Antonio Chandler
stood trial from the February 3, 1993 murder of convenient store
clerk William Dix. At the time of the murder and trial,
Chandler was nineteen.
On the night of the shooting, Chandler had
drank several beers and used both cocaine and marijuana. Two
people testified during the trial on behalf of Chandler to
further prove that he had ingested drugs and alcohol on the
night of the murder.
While testifying on his own behalf, Chandler
recalled that "he had consumed almost twelve beers as well as
used marijuana and cocaine earlier in the evening and that he
was still "high" when he went into Mother Hubbard's. Chandler
stated that he did not have "the slightest idea" why he pulled
the trigger and insisted that he did not intend to shoot Dix or
to kill him.
While Chandler admitted to shooting Dix, he
stated that the killing was not planned and that he never meant
to kill him. In fact, Chandler testified that he thought there
was only one live bullet in the gun, amongst three empty
Under oath Chandler stated that he believed
he could have fired the gun "at least four times before the gun
would fire a live round and that he did not expect the gun to
fire when he pulled the trigger the second time." However,
despite his testimony, the jury convicted him of capital murder
and sentenced him to death.
Chandler appealed on several issues, mainly
focusing his sixth amendment right to effective counsel. During
closing arguments, the Commonwealth attorney stated, "He
supports himself because he is a predator. He is a predator who
is following the law of the jungle. He will look upon some
creature, some fellow human being that is weak, disabled,
passive and he victimizes them. Is he depraved? Absolutely. Is
he inhuman? Absolutely. That is just beyond the bounds of
decent society. This man has degenerated into a predator and a
Chandler's request his attorney did not make a final argument.
Chandler claims that his attorney should have done more to
convince him that a closing argument would be necessary in
refuting the Commonwealth's statements and preserving his life.
On appeal Chandler argues, that his attorney should have
questioned Chandler's competence because Chandler attempted
suicide and allegedly suffered hallucinations while in pretrial
detention. However, he was found competent for trial and his
attorney never questioned his judgement despite his depressed
also appealed directly on the Commonwealth's closing remarks,
stating that they prejudiced the jury toward the death penalty.
Even though during the statement Chandler was referred to as
less than human, the Appellate court upheld the trial court's
decision to let the remarks stand.
They found that "The
evidence presented at trial certainly supported the argument
that Chandler was a 'predator' and a 'trophy hunter.'" Even
assuming that the prosecutor's comments were improper, no
reasonable probability exists that the outcome of penalty phase
would have been different if the statements had been excluded.
Antonio Chandler entered death row on April 11, 1994 and was
executed on August 20, 1998.
COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE FOURTH CIRCUIT
LANCE ANTONIO CHANDLER, JR.,
FRED W. GREENE, Warden,Mecklenburg Correctional Center.
Argued: March 5, 1998 - Decided: May 20, 1998
OPINION NIEMEYER, Circuit Judge:
Petitioner Lance Antonio Chandler, Jr., shot and
killed William Howard Dix during the robbery of a convenience store in
Halifax County, Virginia, on February 7, 1993. Chandler was tried before
ajury in Virginia state court and convicted of capital murder and
related offenses. On the jury's recommendation, the court sentenced him
to death. After exhausting his direct state appeals and unsuccess-fully
petitioning the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, Chandler sought
post-conviction relief from the Virginia Supreme Court. When that relief
was denied, he filed this petition for a writ of habeas corpusin the
district court. From the district court's denial of his petition,
Chandler has appealed, contending that the district court erred (1)
indenying his claim that the state prosecutor peremptorily struck three
black jurors in violation of Batson v. Kentucky , 476 U.S. 79 (1986),and
(2) in denying his claim for ineffective assistance of counsel during
the sentencing phase of his trial. For the reasons that follow,
During the evening of February 7, 1993, Lance
Chandler, Geral-dine Fernandez, Dwight Wyatt, and George Boyd discussed
robbing a local convenience store called Mother Hubbard's. Chandler told
the three others that the store clerk, William Dix, was "a little bit
slow" and would not give them any trouble. Chandler also said that they
could get a gun from his half-brother, Henry Chappell. Chandler had
previously given a fully-loaded revolver to Chappell to hide for him.
The four conspirators, together with Bernice Murphy,
Chandler's girl-friend, drove to Chappell's house in South Boston,
Virginia, and obtained the gun from Chappell. Wyatt inspected the gun
and saw thatit was loaded, and Chandler also checked the gun. As the
group drove to Mother Hubbard's convenience store, Wyatt handed Chandler
When the group arrived at Mother Hubbard's, Chandler, Wyatt,and Boyd
went into the store. Boyd and Wyatt headed to the back of the store to
steal beer, while Chandler approached Dix and demanded money. When Dix
did not respond, Chandler pointed the gun at Dix, closed his eyes, and
pulled the trigger as he said "boom."
The gun didnot fire, and Chandler
pulled the trigger a second time, shooting Dixin the face. The bullet
passed through Dix's mouth into his neck, bruising his spinal cord and
paralyzing the muscles that controlled his breathing. Dix later died.
Chandler, Wyatt, and Boyd then ran from the store carrying a case of
beer. When the five individuals were later questioned by Halifax County
authorities, Chandler admitted to shooting Dix.
A Halifax County grand jury indicted Chandler on one
count of capital murder, one count of robbery, one count of conspiracy
to commit robbery, and two counts of using a firearm during the
commission of a felony. At trial, during jury selection, Chandler's
attorney objected to the prosecutor's use of three out of five
peremptory challenges to remove three black jurors from the jury, but
the trial judge found that the prosecutor's explanation for striking the
three black jurors was "race neutral" and overruled Chandler's
Several of Chandler's companions on the date of the
murder testified at trial for the prosecution. Wyatt testified that,
after the three men left the store, Chandler remarked that the money did
not belong to Dix, and both Fernandez and Murphy testified that, when
they were in the car driving away from the crime scene, Chandler said,
"the man was protecting money that wasn't his," and "why didn't that man
open the register?" Fernandez also testified that Chandler said that he
had always wanted to know what it was like to kill a man and that he was
going to put a hole in the shell casing and wear it around his neck as a
Chandler, testifying in his own defense, admitted that he shot Dix.He
maintained, however, that the killing was not premeditated and that he
never intended to kill Dix. He claimed that he was under the influence
of drugs and alcohol when he shot Dix and that he did not believe the
gun would fire live bullets.
Chandler explained that when he received
the gun, he looked inside its cylinder and saw what he thought were
three empty shell casings and one live bullet. Chandler stated that he
thought he could pull the trigger at least four times before the gun
would fire a live round and that he did not expect the gun to fire when
he pulled the trigger the second time.
He admitted, however, that the
gun had been fully-loaded when he gave it to Chappell five days earlier.
Chandler testified that he did not have "the slightest idea" why he
pulled the trigger while pointing the gun at Dix and insisted that he
did not intend to shoot or kill Dix. Several witnesses corroborated
Chandler's testimony that he had been using drugs and alcohol the night
of the murder.
The jury found Chandler guilty on all counts, and the
court commenced the penalty phase of the trial before the same jury.
During the penalty phase, the Commonwealth sought the death penalty
based onboth Chandler's future dangerousness and the vileness of his
crime. The prosecution introduced evidence of Chandler's prior criminal
record, which included a conviction for disorderly conduct at age
fourteen, a conviction for breaking and entering at age sixteen, and a
conviction for assault and battery at age eighteen.
In addition, when
Chandler was nineteen, he was convicted of disorderly conduct, public
drunkenness, cursing and abusing a police officer, and failing to appear
in court. He also was convicted of robbery and use of a firearm during
the commission of a felony in connection with a holdup of aUPS delivery
driver less than six months before he murdered Dix.
The prosecution also
presented evidence that Chandler had dropped out of school in the 9th
grade, had little record of employment, and had no active involvement in
any religion. Fernandez testified again, repeating her previous
testimony that, following the murder, she twice heard Chandler state
that he planned to wear the empty shell around his neck as a souvenir.
She further testified that Chandler had warned her and the others on the
Monday after the murder that if they went to the police, they would not
"live to see Court date."
Chandler chose not to present any evidence or call
any witnesses during the penalty phase. He also chose to waive closing