Esparza v. Anderson, No. 13-3358 (6th Cir. 2014)

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

In 1983 Esparza shot and killed Melanie Gerschults during the armed robbery of a Toledo restaurant, during which $110 was taken from the cash register. Another employee escaped and sought help. At trial, a fellow inmate and a sibling testified that Esparza had confessed. During the penalty phase, Esparza’s lawyers focused on his troubled youth. He was sentenced to death. After Ohio state courts refused to alter his sentence, Esparza unsuccessfully sought federal habeas relief. The Supreme Court reversed in 2003. On remand, the district court reconsidered and rejected Esparza’s claims and granted him a certificate of appealability on ineffective-assistance and continuance claims. The Sixth Circuit affirmed; Ohio courts reasonably rejected his claims. Essentially, Esparza argued that his lawyers developed too much bad evidence at the penalty phase of his trial and not enough good. Esparza failed to show prejudice in his denial-of-continuance claim. The court stated that its “decision is not necessarily the end of the road for Esparza. Among other things, he has the right to file a clemency application with the governor to reduce his sentence from death to life in prison. In light of the many uninvited difficulties in his childhood, this application may be worth a serious look.”

Download PDF
RECOMMENDED FOR FULL-TEXT PUBLICATION Pursuant to Sixth Circuit I.O.P. 32.1(b) File Name: 14a0212p.06 UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT _________________ GREGORY ESPARZA, Petitioner-Appellant, v. No. 13-3358 > ED SHELDON, Warden, Respondent-Appellee. Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio at Toledo. No. 3:96-cv-07434 Christopher A. Boyko, District Judge. Argued: July 30, 2014 Decided and Filed: August 28, 2014 Before: SILER, SUTTON and KETHLEDGE, Circuit Judges. _________________ COUNSEL ARGUED: Lori B. Riga, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER/CAPITAL HABEAS UNIT, Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Ashon L. McKenzie, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee. ON BRIEF: Lori B. Riga, Alan C. Rossman, Vicki Ruth Adams Werneke, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER/CAPITAL HABEAS UNIT, Cleveland, Ohio, Jeffry F. Kelleher, JEFFRY F. KELLEHER & ASSOCIATES, CO., Cleveland, Ohio, for Appellant. Ashon L. McKenzie, OFFICE OF THE OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellee. 1 No. 13-3358 Page 2 Esparza v. Sheldon _________________ OPINION _________________ SUTTON, Circuit Judge. Three decades ago, Gregory Esparza murdered Melanie Gerschultz for just over a hundred dollars in cash. An Ohio jury sentenced him to death. After the Ohio state courts refused to alter his sentence, Esparza unsuccessfully sought habeas relief in federal district court. Because the Ohio courts reasonably rejected his claims, we affirm. I. On February 12, 1983, Melanie Gerschultz and James Barailloux were working the night shift at a Toledo restaurant when Gregory Esparza walked inside. Wearing a ski mask and brandishing a gun, he ordered someone to open the register. Melanie complied, but James escaped through the back door and found help. When he returned, Esparza had fled, $110 was missing from the register s cash drawer, and Melanie lay dying on the floor from a bullet wound in her neck. In October 1983, an Ohio grand jury indicted Esparza on one count of aggravated robbery and one count of aggravated murder with a capital specification. The trial court appointed Thomas Stebbins and Norman Zemmelman as Esparza s lawyers and scheduled trial for January 23, 1984. When his lawyers asked for more time to interview potential witnesses, the court delayed the trial until March 5. And when both of them withdrew Zemmelman citing a conflict of interest, Stebbins a dearth of experience the court again delayed the trial until replacement counsel could familiarize themselves with the case. Jury selection eventually started on April 30, 1984, and opening arguments began four days later. After hearing that Esparza had confessed to a fellow inmate and to one of his siblings, among other evidence, the jury convicted on both counts. In connection with the penalty phase of the trial, Esparza s lawyers moved for an independent expert at state expense. J.A. 270. They invoked two state statutes: Ohio Rev. Code § 2929.024, which provides independent expert services to indigent defendants, and Ohio Rev. Code § 2929.03(D)(1), which provides court-appointed expert services to capital No. 13-3358 Esparza v. Sheldon Page 3 defendants. The court denied the first request but granted the second, appointing the Court Diagnostic and Treatment Center. Upon reading the Center s report and finding it wanting, Esparza s lawyers asked the court to undo their § 2929.03 request, to keep its results from the jury, to appoint an independent expert, and to grant a continuance of unspecified duration. The court granted a one-day continuance to permit argument over the motion but ultimately denied all four requests. During the penalty phase, Esparza s lawyers focused the jury s attention on his troubled youth. Esparza s grandfather, Richard DeLa Rosa, testified that Esparza s father Frank deserted his mother Beatrice and all the[ir eight] kids when Esparza was young. J.A. 7450. Beatrice started going out again shortly afterwards, often abandoning her children and leaving them in her ten-year-old daughter s care. Id. at 7453. The family didn t have no food, money, or shoes to go to school, and the children were sometimes sent home because their hair was full of lice. Id. at 7450. Eventually, the police load[ed] the whole bunch into a paddy wagon and placed them in a Children s Home. Id. at 7454. DeLa Rosa took in most of Beatrice s children, but he left Esparza behind. Esparza s aunt, Virginia Gonzales, testified that Beatrice died when Esparza was young. She reported that Frank would whip Esparza with a wire hanger and would force his children to sit outside in a bitterly cold hallway when he wanted to be alone. Esparza s brother Peter testified that, as children, the two of them would steal food from a corner store because [t]here wasn t nothing to eat in the house. Id. at 7473. Frank came home drunk all the time and smack[ed] [the children] around. Id. at 7474. Making matters worse, Esparza never really got too much attention with the family, as evinced by the fact that DeLa Rosa left him in the Children s Home but took care of the others. Id. at 7477. Esparza s grandmother doted on Peter but ignored Esparza himself. Bounced from foster home to foster home, Esparza had trouble keeping in touch with his relatives. Finally, Ralph Grennay, one of Esparza s foster fathers, testified that he enjoyed Esparza s company and that Esparza got along fine with his family. Id. at 7494. Under his tutelage, Esparza improved his grades, joined the Boy Scouts and a Youth for Christ church group, and played middle school football. After two years, however, Esparza s counselors, No. 13-3358 Page 4 Esparza v. Sheldon psychiatrists and psychologists recommended against Grennay s wishes that Esparza begin visiting his blood relatives more frequently. Id. at 7505. Grennay feared, with some foresight, that removing Esparza would take away everything we tried to work with him for. Id. at 7510. To bolster their mitigation theory, Esparza s lawyers also introduced more than two hundred pages of records depicting his childhood in horrific terms. This Family File contained psychological evaluations, his juvenile record and summaries of his troubled social history. One entry reported that, when Esparza was two or three, one of his brothers poured Drano on the other children and they were all burned over their bodies. R. 193-1 at 4. When he was five, he got his hand caught in a car and was dragged by his knees. Id. A second entry set forth the verbal and physical abuse, financial difficulties and pending divorce action that culminated in a [c]omplete family breakdown . . . in the early 1970 s. R. 185-1 at 21. A third entry explained why Esparza ended up in the Grennays care. On a routine home visit, a social worker discovered Esparza bleeding from the nose; his step-mother had beat him after an argument. A fourth entry connected Esparza s deep-seated feelings of rejection to his pattern of delinquent activity, which it described as a means of achieving peer acceptance. R. 193-1 at 33. Despite his lawyers efforts, the jury sentenced Esparza to death, and the trial court accepted its recommendation. The Ohio Court of Appeals and the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed that sentence on direct appeal. When his attempts to secure state post-conviction relief failed, Esparza filed a habeas petition in federal district court in 1996. The district court found four of Esparza s fifty-six claims to be well-taken: (1) a defective indictment, (2) ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase, (3) an improper denial of a continuance request, and (4) cumulative error. We affirmed on the first ground without reaching the others. Esparza v. Mitchell, 310 F.3d 414, 422 (6th Cir. 2002). But the Supreme Court reversed the decision. Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12 (2003) (per curiam). On remand, the district court reconsidered and then rejected Esparza s remaining grounds for relief, see Esparza v. Anderson, 2012 WL 2872149 (N.D. Ohio July 12, 2012), amended by 2013 WL 774155 (N.D. Ohio Feb. 27, 2013), and granted him a certificate of appealability on the ineffective-assistance and continuance claims, id. at *54. No. 13-3358 Page 5 Esparza v. Sheldon II. Two sets of rules govern Esparza s claim that his lawyers provided constitutionally ineffective assistance of counsel at the penalty phase of his trial. The first: He must establish the prerequisites of an ineffective-assistance claim that his lawyers provided deficient counsel and that this defective representation prejudiced the outcome of the penalty-phase proceedings. See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687 (1984). The second: He must surmount the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), which bars us from overriding a state court s ruling on the merits unless it unreasonably applied Supreme Court precedent. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Through it all, he must establish that the state courts unreasonably departed from Supreme Court precedent based on the record they had before them. Cullen v. Pinholster, 131 S. Ct. 1388, 1398 (2011). New evidence developed during federal habeas proceedings, generally speaking, is off limits. See Moore v. Mitchell, 708 F.3d 760, 784 & n.11 (6th Cir. 2013). Esparza cannot meet these requirements. Reduced to its essence, Esparza s theory is that his lawyers developed too much bad evidence at the penalty phase of his trial and not enough good. We need not decide whether there is any reasonable argument that [Esparza s] counsel satisfied Strickland s deferential standard of performance, Harrington v. Richter, 131 S. Ct. 770, 788 (2011), or indeed whether Esparza has accurately described his lawyers conduct. The Ohio courts rejected all of his ineffective-assistance arguments for lack of prejudice. Because their decisions were not unreasonable, we must do the same. A. Esparza blames trial counsel for not preparing for the penalty phase until a mere five days before [it] actually began. Appellant Br. at 46. True or not, this allegation did not lead to an investigation that produced little or no mitigation evidence. E.g., Wiggins v. Smith, 539 U.S. 510, 515 16 (2003). His lawyers put on four witnesses who described Esparza s youth in graphic detail. They also introduced more than two hundred pages of records that reinforced this theory of leniency. On direct appeal, the Ohio Supreme Court described those records as Esparza s most persuasive argument against . . . the death penalty. State v. Esparza, 529 N.E.2d 192, 199 (Ohio 1988). The trial judge s sentencing opinion underlines the force of No. 13-3358 Page 6 Esparza v. Sheldon counsel s presentation. It highlighted the lamentable conditions [Esparza] endured throughout his babyhood, childhood and adolescence and referenced specific incidents discussed by defense witnesses and the Family File alike. J.A. 180. This court has encountered cases of more miserable upbringing, it continued, but, praise God, not often. Id. at 181. The existence of some mitigation evidence, true enough, does not foreclose an inquiry into whether a facially deficient . . . investigation might have prejudiced the defendant. Sears v. Upton, 130 S. Ct. 3259, 3266 (2010). But there is no prejudice under Strickland when a thorough investigation would barely have altered the sentencing profile presented to the jury. Id. Esparza can prevail only by pointing to new evidence that differ[s] in a substantial way in strength and subject matter from the evidence actually presented at sentencing. Hill v. Mitchell, 400 F.3d 308, 319 (6th Cir. 2005). That simply is not the case here. Esparza s new evidence consists of eighteen affidavits submitted to the Ohio Court of Common Pleas during state post-conviction review. The first fourteen were prepared by his relatives and friends. From these he derives twenty-eight facts allegedly never presented to the jury. In truth, his counsel did present many of these facts to the jury, including Fact 2 ( There was never any food in the house for the Esparza children ) and Facts 3 and 4 (Frank drank heavily and abused his family). And the others embellish themes already found in the trial-court record. Consider, for example, Fact 1 ( There were rats and cockroaches in the house [where] the Esparza children were raised ), Facts 15, 16, 17 and 18 (Esparza s grandparents hated him and refused to raise him in their home), and Fact 21 (Frank would beat Esparza in the area of his genitals ). None of the facts, whether these or the others, sufficiently differs in degree or kind to meet Strickland s high bar. The same holds true for the facts set forth in the three affidavits from witnesses counsel did call: his brother Peter, his aunt Virginia, and his foster father Ralph. The last affidavit, prepared by independent expert Dr. Julia Hawgood, does not introduce new facts at all. It instead explains the connection between [Esparza s] childhood experiences and his crime, an explanation Esparza argues his lawyers never gave. Appellant Br. at 56 57. The record contradicts this claim twice over. Lead counsel Keithley Sparrow made this connection the centerpiece of his closing argument. Sparrow reiterated Esparza s chaotic and No. 13-3358 Esparza v. Sheldon Page 7 disruptive childhood, the fact that he was constantly moved from place to place, the removal from his family when he was 7 years old, the death of his mother when he was 8, and the abuse inflicted on him by his father. R. 189-1 at 49. He asked the jury to [r]ead . . . th[e] family file. Read about Greg Esparza. . . . There is a lot of information for you. Id. at 50. And he explicitly refracted Esparza s actions through the lens of what happened to him at age 7, noting that Esparza didn t have any control over what was happening to him, and he was removed from a home which, while it wasn t a nurturing home, was a family setting . . . . [W]hen you weigh all of those factors, when you weigh his life, you will determine that mercy requires . . . that your decision be a recommendation of life, not death. Id. at 50 51. The record echoes Hawgood s statements, making it difficult to conclude that this expert testimony could have made a difference. Hawgood observed that Esparza s experiences formed him into [a] person . . . who covered his vulnerability and sense of inadequacy with a tough, hard-shelled, often callous machismo characteristic of Hispanic . . . street subculture[]. J.A. 2180 81. So did the Family File. See R. 193-1 at 22 ( [Esparza] portrays himself as a tuff guy who is not going to be pushed around. Perhaps his defiant resentment toward authority . . . has to do with the fact that he has been placed in so many different living conditions in the last five years. ); R. 185-1 at 11 ( His behavior and attitude can be directly attributed to his father and the [M]exican concept of machismo. ). Hawgood observed that Esparza lacked positive role models and long-term, consistent structure and guidance, which intensified his rebelliousness, his anger, and his hardshell survival tactics. J.A. 2179. So did the Family File. See R. 193-1 at 13 ( [Esparza] is in bad need of a very structured, stable environment . . . to learn a better way of . . . ventilating aggression more appropriately. ). Hawgood observed that Esparza s behavior took a turn for the worse when he left the Grennays household, in whose care he had experienced relative success interpersonally and academic[ally]. J.A. 2180. So did the Family File. See R. 185-1 at 8 ( [Esparza] seems to be adjusting quite well in this well organized loving family. . . . Hopefully it will continue. ). And so indeed did Ralph Grennay s testimony at trial. See J.A. 7509 10. Because Hawgood s affidavit added little to the trial court record that was not already there, any omission of this kind of argument and evidence had no cognizable prejudicial effect. No. 13-3358 Esparza v. Sheldon Page 8 Precedent buttresses this conclusion. This case is not like Porter v. McCollum, 558 U.S. 30, 33 (2009), where counsel s mitigation theory made no reference to Porter s abusive childhood, his heroic military service . . . , his long-term substance abuse, and his impaired mental health and mental capacity. Nor is it like Sears, where counsel failed to uncover evidence of physical abuse and significant frontal lobe abnormalities in the course of his investigation. 130 S. Ct. at 3262. Nor, contrary to Esparza s claim at oral argument, is it like Glenn v. Tate, 71 F.3d 1204 (6th Cir. 1995), a pre-AEDPA case where counsel failed to uncover evidence of organic brain damage. But it is like Strickland. There, counsel focused on Washington s extreme emotional distress and his decision to accept[] . . . responsibility for his crimes. 466 U.S. at 699. Subsequent investigation revealed merely that numerous people thought Washington was generally a good person, and that a psychiatrist and a psychologist believed he was under considerable emotional stress. Id. at 700. The Supreme Court turned Washington s prejudice argument aside. Esparza s rejoinders to this conclusion fall short. Esparza argues that, had his lawyers investigated more thoroughly, they would not have put his grandfather who allegedly despised him on the stand. Appellant Br. at 49. But he does not clothe this bare assertion of prejudice with evidence from the record. Nor do we see how he could, given that the new affidavits confirm DeLa Rosa s testimony. Esparza faults his lawyers for failing to retain an independent psychologist, forcing him to rely on the Center s experts instead. See Reply Br. at 22 23. But Esparza s lawyers correctly invoked Ohio s indigent-expert statute at trial. See Appellant Br. at 7, 12 13. Their only mistake was to treat the indigent-expert statute as intertwined with Ohio s capital-expert statute (Ohio Rev. Code § 2929.03), which led them to believe that they were entitled to an independent (and not a court-appointed) expert under the latter s terms. Esparza, 529 N.E.2d at 194. Esparza does not explain how that mistake could have affected the trial court s decision to deny his request under the former. Nor can he argue that, in denying his request, the trial court acted unreasonably. See Miller v. Colson, 694 F.3d 691, 699 (6th Cir. 2012) (holding that the right to an independent psychiatrist is not a clearly established federal law under AEDPA). No. 13-3358 Page 9 Esparza v. Sheldon Esparza adds that the Ohio Court of Appeals never mentioned Hawgood s affidavit on post-conviction review. Maybe so. But this fact does him no good. AEDPA deference applies even when the state court s reasoning is flawed or abbreviated. Holder v. Palmer, 588 F.3d 328, 341 (6th Cir. 2009). Because Esparza s new evidence does not differ in strength or subject matter from the evidence he submitted at trial, we must defer to the Ohio courts reasonable refusal to find prejudice here. See Hill, 400 F.3d at 319. B. Esparza separately criticizes trial counsel for seeking a psychological evaluation under Ohio s capital-expert statute. See Ohio Rev. Code § 2929.03(D)(1). Court-appointed experts from the Court Diagnostic and Treatment Center conducted the examination, and the statute required Esparza s lawyers to disclose its results to the jury. After reading the report, his lawyers tried unsuccessfully to take back their request. See R. 188-1 at 4 20. As Esparza sees it, The prejudice that flowed from the[] report[] is self-evident. Appellant Br. at 62. The Ohio courts, however, reasonably held otherwise. We begin by observing that the Center s report reinforces the mitigation theory his lawyers presented at trial. It emphasizes Esparza s extremely chaotic and disruptive childhood and supplies anecdotes that confirm his witnesses testimony and the information in his Family File. See R. 186-1 at 67 68, 71. In many respects, then, the report bolsters his case. The report, it is true, also contains additional potentially damaging information. The Center s psychologist diagnosed Esparza with antisocial personality disorder, a personality type predisposed to drug and alcohol abuse, poor judgment, and encounters with the law. R. 186-1 at 70. She added that Esparza was the principal offender in the present offense. Id. at 71. But Esparza s attempts to show that this other information made a difference in his sentence are not convincing. First, Esparza attacks the Center s report for discussing all seven of Ohio s statutory mitigating factors, see Ohio Rev. Code § 2929.04(B), including ones his trial attorneys did not raise. In effect, the report converted the absence of mitigation, he says, into the presence of No. 13-3358 Esparza v. Sheldon Page 10 aggravation in contravention of Ohio law. See Appellant Br. at 12. But the trial judge cured any potential prejudice by instructing the jury to consider only one aggravating circumstance: the fact that Esparza committed the offense of Aggravated Murder while committing Aggravated Robbery. R. 189-1 at 81 82. Esparza offers no bases for overcoming the presumption that juries follow their instructions. Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200, 211 (1987). Second, Esparza argues that an antisocial personality disorder diagnosis is categorically prejudicial. See Reply Br. at 27 30. That is not the case. Ohio state law, for one, recognizes the disorder as a statutory mitigating factor. See State v. Seiber, 564 N.E.2d 408, 416 (Ohio 1990). And, for another, we have held under AEDPA s deferential standard, no less that the failure to introduce evidence of a similar disorder caused prejudice. Williams v. Anderson, 460 F.3d 789, 805 (6th Cir. 2006). Although Esparza correctly observes that the diagnosis can harm as much as it helps, its double-edged nature cuts against the categorical rule he espouses. Third, Esparza advances the more modest argument that the antisocial personality disorder diagnosis prejudiced him in this instance, pointing to the featured role the State gave it in its closing statement. See Appellant Br. at 58. But the Family File, submitted by his lawyers, is replete with references to the disorder, its symptoms and Esparza s lifelong pattern of antisocial behavior. See R. 193-1 at 7, 8, 13, 20. It is difficult to see how the diagnosis could have prejudiced Esparza when his own lawyers placed most of its constituent parts before the jury. Even if the Family File had said nothing at all on this score, Esparza would face another problem. At trial, his lawyers undercut the report s credibility by impeaching the psychologists responsible for it. The last defense witness, indeed, was Dr. William Seman, who supervised the diagnosis. Through him they established that the Center had conducted only two evaluations before Esparza s, R. 188-1 at 102; that Esparza s evaluation deviate[d] . . . from the procedure the Center typically would have used, id. at 103; that the diagnosis took only two days from start to finish, id. at 104, 110; and that antisocial personality disorder could often be treated in the right setting and might even spontaneous[ly] enter remission, id. at 115. Dr. Charlene Cassel, the diagnosing psychologist and the prosecution s sole mitigation witness, admitted much the same on cross-examination. R. 189-1 at 33 34, 38 39. Hawgood s affidavit relies on No. 13-3358 Esparza v. Sheldon Page 11 these very admissions to question whether Esparza suffered from antisocial personality disorder to begin with. J.A. 2184 85. So do Esparza s own briefs. See Appellant Br. at 46 48; Reply Br. at 25 27. Our precedent forecloses Esparza s response: that his lawyers decision to introduce the Family File was ineffective assistance too. See Appellant Br. at 75. As the Ohio courts recognized, the File contained his best arguments for mercy. Without it, he would have been forced to rely on his witnesses testimony alone. Having rejected a prejudice claim on nearly identical facts before, see Keith v. Mitchell, 455 F.3d 662, 671 72 (6th Cir. 2006), we refuse Esparza s invitation to reconsider that result. It likewise is no answer to suggest that counsel could have impeached the diagnosis more effectively by calling an expert such as Hawgood. Appellant Br. at 63. This is precisely the sort of tactical judgment Strickland counsels against second-guessing, see 466 U.S. at 689, as the Ohio Supreme Court has repeatedly held. E.g., State v. Thompson, 514 N.E.2d 407, 417 (Ohio 1987) (holding that a lawyer s decision to rely on cross-examination in lieu of an expert is not ineffective assistance). The Ohio courts reasonably concluded that Esparza s lawyers neutralized any prejudice the diagnosis might have caused. See Esparza, 529 N.E.2d at 196. Finally, Esparza proposes that, had the Center had time to review his full file, it would never have diagnosed him with antisocial personality disorder in the first place. Maybe so. But no cognizable prejudice occurred, or at least the state courts could have reasonably so concluded. We have already explained why such a diagnosis is not categorically prejudicial. Indeed, there often will be cases where its mitigation value exceeds its harmful effects. This case illustrates the point: Unlike Hawgood s explanation, an antisocial personality disorder diagnosis potentially helps diminish Esparza s moral responsibility for his actions. More, even if the diagnosis was prejudicial, there is no guarantee that it would have stayed out of the trial. For any attempt by defense counsel to introduce psychological evidence would have opened the door to a rebuttal expert from the State. Pinholster, 131 S. Ct. at 1410. In sum, the Ohio courts did not unreasonably apply established Supreme Court precedent when they determined that Esparza was not prejudiced by the Center s report. No. 13-3358 Page 12 Esparza v. Sheldon C. Esparza blames trial counsel for requesting a presentence investigation using the same statute and under the same terms as they requested the Center s report. See Ohio Rev. Code § 2929.03(D)(1). That investigation set forth his extensive criminal record (juvenile and adult), R. 186-1 at 62 63, his addiction to painkillers, id. at 64, and his history of alcohol abuse, id. And it described him as at least a moderate physical threat to the community, id. at 65, because his criminal record ha[d] escalated rapidly both in frequency and [aggressiveness], id. However, Esparza was not prejudiced by the investigation because the Family File had already put each of these factors on full display. III. Esparza s denial-of-continuance claim is governed by standards that are well established and difficult to meet. He must show that the trial court s decision embodied an unreasoning and arbitrary insistence upon expeditiousness in the face of a justifiable request for delay. Morris v. Slappy, 461 U.S. 1, 11 12 (1983) (citations omitted). And he must show that the decision resulted in actual prejudice to his defense. Franklin v. Bradshaw, 695 F.3d 439, 453 (6th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). To prove actual prejudice, he must prove that a continuance would have made relevant witnesses available or added something to the defense. Id. (citations omitted). Esparza argues that the trial judge s denial of his continuance request made it impossible for his lawyers to prepare an adequate penalty-phase theory. We have already explained why none of Esparza s eighteen affidavits added anything meaningful to his defense, and why neither the Center s report nor the presentence investigation subtracted anything from his defense. Because Esparza has failed to show prejudice, we hold that the Ohio courts reasonably rejected his denial-of-continuance claim as well. * * * Today s decision is not necessarily the end of the road for Esparza. Among other things, he has the right to file a clemency application with the governor to reduce his sentence from No. 13-3358 Page 13 Esparza v. Sheldon death to life in prison. In light of the many uninvited difficulties in his childhood, this application may be worth a serious look. IV. For these reasons, we affirm.