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White v. Steele

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

September 16, 2014

TROY STEELE, Respondent.


AUDREY G. FLEISSIG, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the amended petition of Missouri state prisoner Christopher White for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254. Petitioner was convicted of acting with others in connection with charges of murder in the first-degree and assault in the first degree, and two counts of armed criminal action, all related to the June 21, 2002 murder of Freddie Chew and shooting at Jeffrey Shockley in the same incident. Petitioner was sentenced as a prior offender to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, 15 years imprisonment, life imprisonment, and life imprisonment, respectively. In his amended petition, filed with the assistance of counsel, Petitioner asserts the following four grounds for federal habeas relief:

(1) the state violated his rights under Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963) (holding that the due process requires the state to disclose to the defense material impeachment evidence), by withholding evidence that key prosecution witnesses Shockley and Robert Stewart received favorable treatment, or promises thereof, on state charges in exchange for their testimony against Petitioner;

(2) the state failed to correct Shockley after he testified that he had not made any deals with the State in exchange for his testimony;

(3) defense counsel was ineffective for failing thoroughly to cross-examine Stewart and Shockley about whether they were drug dealers;

(4) Petitioner's right to a speedy trial was violated.

Respondent argues that Petitioner's first two claims are barred by the statute of limitations and because they were procedurally defaulted in state court; and alternatively, that these claims are without merit. Respondent argues that Petitioner's speedy trial claim was procedurally defaulted, and that in any event, the claim lacks merit. Lastly, Respondent maintains that state courts' adjudication of Petitioner's claim of ineffective assistance of defense counsel was factually and legally reasonable. For the reasons set forth below, habeas relief shall be denied.



A complaint was filed against Petitioner on June 29, 2002, charging the crimes of conviction. On January 3, 2003, Petitioner filed a request for disposition of indictments, informations, or complaints. Trial commenced on January 12, 2004. At the time, Shockley had state felony charges pending against him that had been filed on February 18, 2002, for possession of cocaine base (a class C felony), and carrying a concealed weapon (a class D felony).

There is no dispute about the sufficiency of the evidence against Petitioner. This evidence established the following. Early in the morning of June 21, 2002, Shockley (who was about 17 years old at the time) and his friend Stewart were walking to Shockley's house after spending the night at a friend's house during which they smoked marijuana. Shockley and Stewart stopped at the house where Chew was staying (referred to herein as Chew's house), a few houses down the block from Shockley's house, to join Chew and his girlfriend Jacqueline Daughtery on the front porch. While chatting on the porch and preparing to smoke marijuana, the friends saw a car stop at Shockley's house and three men (all in their late teens or early 20s) with large guns in their hands exit the car. Daughtery began knocking on the front door of Chew's house, making a lot of noise, and the three men who had exited the car began walking toward Chew's house. Shockley and Stewart knew Petitioner and Juane Kennell and identified them as two of the men. A few years prior, Shockley and Kennell's younger brother had had a fist fight and since that time, Shockley and Kennell continued to engage in violent altercations, sometimes involving guns.

As the three men approached, Daughtery, Chew, Shockley, and Stewart jumped off the porch into the gangway on the side of the house. Chew and Shockley each had guns of their own. Daughtery ran to the back door of the house and went inside. Chew stepped out of the gangway and fired a shot at the three men after one of them asked where Shockley was. The three men fired at Chew who fell to the ground. Shockley also fired at the three men, with a Glock 9, and as shooting continued, Shockley and Stewart ran from the scene, with Kennell shooting at them in pursuit. Petitioner and the third man shot Chew at point-blank range as he tried to get up, killing him. The three men who had driven up in the car (including Petitioner and Kennell) left the scene on foot. Police recovered 49 shell casings at the scene from at least five different semi-automatic handguns, including two casings from a Glock 9. No weapons were retrieved from the scene. Shockley testified that he threw his gun at the scene and never retrieved it.

The main prosecution witnesses at trial against Petitioner were Shockley and Stewart, who each testified to the above, with the exception of the shooting of Chew as he tried to get up. Another witness, who could not identify the shooters who drove up, testified about that aspect of the incident. Kennell's fingerprints were recovered from the car the three men had driven up in, but no physical evidence or other witnesses besides Shockley and Stewart placed Petitioner at the scene. The man who drove up with Petitioner and Kennell was never identified.

On cross-examination of Shockley, defense counsel elicited that he had a state felony charge pending against him (referring to the February 2002 charges). On redirect, Shockley testified that the prosecutor had not given him any deals or made him any promises in exchange for his testimony against Petitioner, that the case against him (Shockley) was still pending, and that he did not expect to get anything in exchange for his testimony against Petitioner. (Resp. Ex. A-II, Trial Tr. at 555-56.)

The defense also presented evidence that on July 1, 2002, ten days after Chew's murder, a car driven by Shockley in which Stewart was a back seat passenger and another individual was a front seat passenger was stopped by the police for a traffic violation. A Glock 9 was retrieved from under the front passenger seat and the individual who had been in that seat was charged with possession of a concealed weapon. The weapon turned out to be one of the firearms that was involved in the June 21, 2002 shooting.

The trial court ruled that defense counsel could not ask Shockley whether he was returning to his house the morning of the shooting to get drugs to sell (uncharged bad action), but could ask Shockley whether the shooting incident stemmed from a drug deal; defense counsel did not then pursue that line of questioning. The focus of the defense was alibi and intentionally false identification by Stewart and especially Shockley for purposes of revenge. But Petitioner requested that the jury also be instructed on self-defense, and the trial court did so. Kennell had been tried separately and convicted by a jury on the same charges.

Shockley's February 9, 2004 Guilty Plea

On February 9, 2004, Shockley entered a guilty plea in state court to the two felony offenses that were charged on February 18, 2002. State v. Shockley, Cause No. 021-00715 (21st Judicial Circuit on the City of St. Louis). Shockley's appointed counsel, Robert Taaffe, stated at the start of the plea colloquy that no plea agreement existed. The prosecutor recommended a two year suspended sentence, two years of supervised probation, 80 hours of community service, and 60 days of "shock incarceration." The court ascertained that Shockley had no prior convictions or any other pending charges. After the Court accepted Shockley's plea, his counsel argued for a more lenient sentence, as follows:

Mr. Shockley's nineteen years old. He used to live in the City of St. Louis. Now he lives in St. Louis County with his mother. For the past two years, Mr. Shockley has cooperated with the State of Missouri in the prosecution of two murder first cases.... As a result of this testimony, Judge the state secured two first degree murder convictions, and Mr. Shockley did this not just as a concerned citizen, which would be his normal duty, but did this when his life was threatened. And he cooperated with the state. They moved him. He's out of the neighborhood, Judge, he's out of that element, and he did what he ought to have or should have done as a citizen.... Your Honor, he did all of this without an agreement from the State of Missouri. There was no plea agreement for Mr. Shockley to cooperate with the State of Missouri. No agreement. No quid pro quo, your Honor. He did this because he thought it was the right thing to do.

(Doc. No. 17-2 at 9-10.) Shockley's counsel asked for a suspended imposition of sentence and six months of unsupervised probation. The Court sentenced Shockley to a suspended imposition of sentence on both counts and one year of unsupervised probation.

Petitioner's Direct Appeal

On direct appeal, Petitioner raised the following three grounds for reversal of his convictions: (1) the trial court lacked jurisdiction under Missouri's Uniform Mandatory Disposition of Detainers Law because the State did not bring him to trial within the statutorily-designated 180 days of his request for disposition of the charges, and the delay in his trial denied his rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments; (2) the trial court erred in overruling Petitioner's objections to parts of two self-defense instructions that were given to the jury; and (3) the trial court erred in ...

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