Court rejects appeal from condemned inmate Hodges

Attorneys for a Tennessee death row inmate who once publicly called himself a serial killer did not fail him before he pleaded guilty, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The evidence of 47-year-old Henry Hodges’ guilt was “overwhelming” and his behavior indicated that he would have pleaded guilty regardless of what advice came from his lawyers, Judge Alice Batchelder wrote for the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. Hodges gave a series of interviews in which he described himself as a serial killer and implicated himself in the 1990 strangulation death of Ronald A. Bassett of Nashville, in letters to a judge and prosecutors.

“Leading up to trial, Hodges embraced his guilt,” Batchelder wrote. “Those are not the actions of a defendant hoping to avoid a guilty plea, nor do they help establish a reasonable probability that Hodges would have pled not guilty if so advised by counsel.”

Judge Helene White, who dissented from part of the court’s opinion, found that the defense team did inadequate or no research setting out the standards of adequate representation in capital cases. The lawyers also failed to study whether it was better to have jurors view his client as not guilty before deciding his fate.

“Hodges’ counsel did not consider the ramifications of pleading guilty rather than proceeding to the guilt phase of the trial,” White wrote. “I must conclude that the decision that counsel met minimum constitutional standards involved an unreasonable application of clearly established law.”

Hodges, who worked as a homosexual male prostitute, pleaded guilty in 1992 to killing Bassett. A jury in Nashville later recommended a death sentence.

Hodges and a 15-year-old female companion, Trina Brown, were arrested in Shelby, N.C., on May 18, 1990. Investigators recovered several items of personal property that had been stolen from Bassett’s apartment.

Prosecutors say Hodges and Brown planned to move to Florida together, but needed money for the trip. Hodges told Brown that he was going to kill and rob the next person who propositioned him. He repeated the statement on the day Bassett was killed.

Hodges and Bassett met in Centennial Park in Nashville and went to Bassett’s apartment. A short time later, Hodges returned to the park in Bassett’s car and picked up Brown, at which point they went back to the man’s apartment.

When Brown arrived, Bassett was alive and lying on the bed, a pillow covering his head, his legs held together with duct tape and hands cuffed behind his back.

Hodges and Brown ransacked the apartment and found Bassett’s automatic teller machine card and code. Prosecutors say Hodges killed Bassett as he begged for his life. Hodges was also convicted of a murder in Fulton County, Ga., that same year.

Defense attorneys advised Hodges to plead guilty with the hope of gaining credibility with jurors, surprising prosecutors and limiting the evidence shown to the panel. While the advice to plead guilty without any guarantees from prosecutors was “questionable,” Batchelder wrote, it met the minimum requirements to pass legal muster.

“The defense team talked to Hodges about the decision to plead guilty and reviewed the guilty plea form with him,” Batchelder wrote. “Hodges thanked his attorneys for their work and never complained about their representation.”