United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
CAROL E. JACKSON, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on the petition of Kenneth Hardins, for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondent has filed a response in opposition, and the issues are fully briefed.
I. Procedural Background
Petitioner, Kenneth Hardins, is currently incarcerated at the Southeast Correctional Center located in Charleston, Missouri, pursuant to the sentence and judgment of the Twenty-Second Judicial Circuit Court (City of St. Louis) of Missouri. On December 3, 2009, a jury found petitioner guilty of two counts of first-degree robbery and two counts of armed criminal action. Resp. Ex. 1. In the separate penalty phase of the trial, the jury recommended that petitioner be sentenced to ten years' imprisonment on each robbery charge and three years' imprisonment on each armed criminal action charge. The trial court ordered that the sentences run consecutively, resulting in a 26-year term of imprisonment. Id.
The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment on February 15, 2011. Resp. Ex. 4; State v. Hardins , 331 S.W.3d 356 (Mo.Ct.App. 2011). On May 23, 2011, petitioner filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. Resp. Ex. 7. On September 6, 2011, petitioner, through counsel, filed an amended motion under Rule 29.15. Id . An evidentiary hearing was held on December 2, 2011. On January 20, 2012, the court denied the motion for post-conviction relief. Id. at 108-114. Petitioner appealed, and on March 5, 2013 the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed. Resp. Ex. 10; 11.
In the instant § 2254 petition, petitioner asserts four grounds for relief: (1) that the trial court abused its discretion in overruling defense counsel's objection to the State's comment on petitioner's failure to testify during the penalty phase of the trial;
(2) that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate petitioner's background and present mitigating evidence at sentencing; (3) that trial counsel was ineffective in failing to address allegations that petitioner threatened corrections officers and that his family members were going to break him out of jail; and (4) that petitioner was denied his right to confront witnesses against him when the State failed to call one of the victims of the robbery as a witness at trial.
II. Legal Standard
Federal courts may not grant habeas relief on a claim that has been decided on the merits in state court unless that adjudication:
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254 (d)(1)-(2).
A state court's decision is "contrary to" clearly established law if "it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or if it confronts a set of facts that is materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme Court] but reaches a different result." Brown v. Payton , 544 U.S. 133, 141 (2005). "The state court need not cite or even be aware of the governing Supreme Court cases, so long as neither the reasoning nor the result of the state-court decision contradicts them.'" Brown v. Luebbers , 371 F.3d 458, 461 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing Early v. Packer , 537 U.S. 3, 8 (2002)). "In the contrary to' analysis of the state court's decision, [the federal court's] focus is on the result and any reasoning that the court may have given; the absence of reasoning is not a barrier to a denial of relief." Id.
A decision involves an "unreasonable application" of clearly established law if "the state court applies [the Supreme Court's] precedents to the facts in an objectively unreasonable manner, " Payton, 125 S.Ct. at 1439; Williams v. Taylor , 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000), or "if the state court either unreasonably extends a legal principle from [Supreme Court] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply." Id. at 406. "Federal habeas relief is warranted only when the refusal was objectively ...