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Cowans v. Denney

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division

February 17, 2015

CHADD M. COWANS, Petitioner,
v.
LARRY DENNEY, Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR HABEAS CORPUS, AND DENYING THE ISSUANCE OF A CERTIFICATE OF APPEALABILITY

DEAN WHIPPLE, District Judge.

Petitioner, Chadd Cowans, filed this pro se habeas corpus petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254 on May 12, 2014, seeking to challenge his 2009 convictions and sentences for second-degree murder and armed criminal action, which were entered in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, after petitioner pled guilty to those offenses.

The petition raises eight Grounds for relief: (1) that post-conviction counsel was ineffective; (2) that plea counsel was ineffective for failing to advise him about the possibility of claiming self-defense, the terms of the plea, and the rights that he was waiving; (3) that he was "denied adequate representation due to lack of diligence of defense counsel in regards to [a] constitutional violation of Fourth Amendment right from [i]llegal searches and seizures, prohibited contents, and basis of warrants;" (4) that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to allegedly perjured or manufactured testimony offered by the prosecution; (5) that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to inform petitioner of the nature and elements of the charges against him; (6) that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate petitioner's case and assessing alternative strategy options; (7) that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to keep petitioner properly informed about the case; and (8) that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to properly challenge the state's motion in limine regarding the cross-examination of potential witnesses.

Respondent contends that part of Ground 2 is meritless and that Grounds 1, 3-8 and the remaining part of Ground 2 are procedurally barred and, alternatively, are meritless as well.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The Missouri Court of Appeals summarized the facts as follows:

[Petitioner] pled guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action for killing Mr. Otis J. Brown. In exchange for [petitioner's] guilty plea, the State agreed to a maximum sentence of twenty-five years, which would run concurrently to sentences [petitioner] was already serving.
At the plea hearing, [petitioner] testified that he understood the right to trial by jury and that he had had sufficient time to speak with legal counsel about the plea. He agreed that his attorney had done everything he had asked him to do. In response to the trial court's inquiry, [petitioner] stated he was "not sure" if they were well prepared to try the case that day. Notwithstanding, [petitioner] agreed that he was satisfied with his attorney's services, had no complaints, and understood that the plea court was going to rely on [petitioner's] statements made in the hearing under oath. He further understood that the second-degree murder charge carried a range of punishment from ten years to life, the ACA charge carried a range of punishment from three years to life, and that the plea agreement limited his sentence to a maximum of twenty-five years running concurrent to his prior sentences.
[Petitioner] testified that he was pleading guilty because he was, in fact, guilty of the charges. He admitted to shooting Mr. Brown and killing him. The plea court sentenced [petitioner] to twenty-five years and five years of imprisonment, running concurrently, and further ordered the sentences to run concurrent to [petitioner's] prior sentences for robbery and possession.
Pursuant to Rule 24.035, [petitioner] filed a motion for post-conviction relief. Counsel was appointed and an amended motion was filed. The amended motion alleged, inter alia, that [petitioner] received ineffective assistance of counsel because plea counsel failed to prepare for trial, or to advise [petitioner] of a possible self-defense claim. The court granted an evidentiary hearing.
At the evidentiary hearing, plea counsel testified that the homicide occurred in a parking lot at the Blue Valley Apartments and that a group of people witnessed [petitioner] chase Mr. Brown and shoot him in the back. He recalled discussing defenses with [petitioner], including an alibi defense and a claim of self-defense.
Prior to trial, counsel had filed a notice of an alibi defense for [petitioner]. It stated that [petitioner's] girlfriend would testify that [petitioner] was with her at her apartment at the time of the incident. The self-defense discussion arose from [petitioner's] assertion that Mr. Brown had reached toward his belt line prior to the shooting. Plea counsel testified that [petitioner] was the only witness who would testify to that claim, and that plea counsel informed [petitioner] that if [petitioner] testified, the jury would hear about his prior convictions.
Plea counsel further stated that on the day of the trial, plea counsel and [petitioner] again discussed the defenses and he told [petitioner] they were not good defenses. An alibi defense was contradicted by two witnesses who went in the car to Blue Valley Apartments with [petitioner]-his brother and his girlfriend. The self-defense claim was controverted by the State's evidence, which plea counsel testified would show
[Petitioner] picking up a gun in advance of the shooting, travelling there, telling people to stay in the car, sneaking around the back of the apartment building, and then coming up on the others, and just simply opening fire, and then ...

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