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Landrum v. Steele

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 22, 2014

TROY STEELE, Respondent.


NANNETTE A. BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

This action is before the court upon Petitioner Terrish J. Landrum's ("Landrum") Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Petition") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. [Doc. 1.] Respondent Troy Steele ("Respondent") filed a response. [Doc. 11.] This matter was referred to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). [Doc. 5.] For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends that the Petition be denied.


Landrum was charged in an information with first degree murder and armed criminal action. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 1.) On March 10, 2008, Landrum appeared with counsel and informed the court that he was waiving his right to trial by jury and requested a bench trial. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 4-14.) The trial judge inquired whether Landrum understood his constitutional right to a trial by jury. Id. Landrum affirmed, under oath, that he had a right to a trial by jury, he was presumed innocent and that the state must prove him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 6.) Landrum also affirmed that he understood that a jury verdict would have to be unanimous and if he waived that right, it would be the court's decision alone to determine his guilt or innocence. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 6, 8-9.) Landrum informed the court that he was making the decision of his own free will, no one forced him to waive his right to a jury trial, and it was his idea to request a bench trial. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 7-11.) Landrum responded affirmatively that he understood the written waiver to a jury trial and he signed it of his own free will. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 10-11.) The trial judge found that Landrum's waiver of jury trial was made voluntarily and freely. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 11-12.)

The evidence presented at trial, viewed in the light most favorable to the verdict, established the following: The victim resided at 4408 Cote Brilliante in the Ville neighborhood, on the same floor as Meschella Blanks Russell ("Russell"), Landrum's former girlfriend. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 93-94.) During the late afternoon on September 29, 2005, the victim initiated an argument with Russell regarding the building's telephone. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 95-97.) During the argument, Russell received a phone call from Landrum, who overheard the victim in the background and became angered. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 100.) Landrum asked to come over to Russell's room and Russell consented. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 100-101.) Upon arriving, Landrum and Russell went into Russell's bedroom. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 102-103, 131.) The victim continued "cursing [and] walking back and forth down the hallway." Id. at 103. Landrum became "offended, " and began punching the victim in the hallway before Russell intervened on the victim's behalf. Id. at 103, 131. Shortly thereafter, Landrum went into the victim's room and proceeded to beat her a second time until Russell again intervened. Id. at 104. Landrum, described as being in a "hyped" state, left with Russell and returned to her bedroom, where Russell fell asleep. Id. at 106.

Later, Russell awoke and noticed that Landrum had returned to the victim's bedroom. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 106.) Landrum "had a blanket over [the victim's] body... wrapped up like a mummy, " and was beating her with a crowbar, then a hammer. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 107-110.) Russell returned to her room when Landrum began to stab the victim with a knife. Id. at 107-108. Russell heard Landrum dragging the victim's body down the stairs.[1] Id. at 110. Landrum disposed of the hammer and the knife in a trashcan. Id. at 34. The victim's body was discovered the next day. Id. at 148.

Landrum returned home, disposed of his shirt in the trash can, and confessed to Ms. Elaine Arredon, his landlord, that he "killed a lady." Id. at 158-159. Landrum's DNA was found in the victim's bedroom on a discarded cigarette butt. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 151-152, 200.) Both Landrum and the victim's DNA were additionally found on the hammer, knife, and shirt, as well as Landrum's jeans. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 34, 200-206.) Landrum made a videotaped confession to the police. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 47-51, 293.)

On April 4, 2008, Landrum was sentenced to two concurrent life terms in prison without the possibility of parole for murder in the first degree and armed criminal action. (Resp't Ex. 1 at 379-380.) Landrum appealed his conviction before the Missouri Court of Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's conviction on February 17, 2009. (Resp't Ex. 3.) On June 26, 2009, Landrum filed a pro se Rule 29.15 Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct Judgment or Sentence. (Resp't Ex. 5 at 4-9). After counsel was appointed, Landrum filed an Amended Motion, which was denied by the trial court on October 21, 2011. (Resp't Ex. 4 at 38-54.) The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision on August 28, 2012. (Resp't Ex. 6.) Landrum filed his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus on January 25, 2013. [Doc. 1].

In his Petition, Landrum asserts that the trial court erred in denying his motion for acquittal and that he received ineffective assistance of counsel. Respondent contends that Landrum's claims either lack merit or are not cognizable in a federal habeas proceeding.


The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 ("AEDPA") applies to all petitions for habeas relief filed by state prisoners after this statute's effective date of April 24, 1996. Lindh v. Murphy , 521 U.S. 320, 326-29 (1997). In conducting habeas review pursuant to § 2254, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings (1) resulted in a decision that is "contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented at the State court proceedings." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(d)(2) (1996). A determination of a factual issue made by a state court is presumed to be correct unless the petitioner successfully rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), "the phrase clearly established Federal law, '... refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state court decision." Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000); see also Lockyer v. Andrade , 538 U.S. 63, 71-72 (2003) (noting that the statutory phrase "clearly established Federal law" refers to "the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision"). To obtain habeas relief, a habeas petitioner must be able to point to the Supreme Court precedent which he thinks the state courts acted contrary to or applied unreasonably. Evenstad v. Carlson , 470 F.3d 777, 783 (8th Cir. 2000) (citing Buchheit v. Norris , 459 F.3d 849, 853 (8th Cir. 2006)).

A state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established Supreme Court precedent "if the state court either applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases' or confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the] precedent.'" Penry v. Johnson , 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001) (citing Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. at 405-406). "A state court decision [is] an unreasonable application of' clearly established [Supreme Court] precedent if it correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case.'" Id. (citing Williams , 529 U.S. at 407-408). Furthermore, as the Supreme Court has clarified: "[E]ven if the federal habeas court concludes that the state court decision applied clearly established federal law incorrectly, relief is appropriate only if that application is also objectively unreasonable." Evenstad , 470 F.3d at 782 (citing Penry , 532 U.S. at 792). "A state court decision involves an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings, ' 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings do not enjoy support in the record." Id. (internal citations omitted).


A. Ground One - Trial Court Error in Denial of Motion for Acquittal

First, Landrum alleges violation of his right to due process when the trial court overruled his motion for acquittal following the close of evidence. He contends that the court had insufficient evidence to prove that he knowingly caused the victim's death following deliberation. He also ...

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