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Shults v. Steele

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

June 1, 2015

TIMOTHY D. SHULTS, Petitioner,
v.
TROY STEELE, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

CATHERINE D. PERRY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Pro se petitioner Timothy Shults[1] is currently incarcerated at the Potosi Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri. Shults was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole following a bench trial in which he was found guilty of murder in the first degree. Shults’ conviction and sentence were affirmed by the Missouri Court of Appeals. Ex. E., Memorandum Supplementing Order Affirming Judgment Pursuant to Rule 30.25(b), No. ED97418 (Mo.Ct.App. December 4, 2012) (unreported).

This matter is now before me on Shults’ petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In Shults’ petition he raises one claim for federal relief. Shult’s argues that his conviction was obtained in violation of his Fifth Amendment rights because the Missouri courts should have suppressed his statements to police about the location of the victim’s body and belongings, and should have excluded the evidence discovered as a result of these statements.

This claim was raised before the Missouri Court of Appeals, who considered it on the merits and denied it. The Missouri court correctly determined the facts and applied the law, and so Shults’ claim for habeas relief fails.

I. Factual Background

Shults’ conviction arose from his murder of Deborah Marsch, who went missing on July 3, 2009. On July 5, 2009, Lieutenant Kyle Kitcher and two other Union police officers went to the home of Shults’ ex-wife Lorraine Doyle in search of Shults for an unrelated report of domestic abuse involving his estranged wife Betty Shults. Shults had recently been hospitalized at the VA Hospital for depression and anxiety, and was found in a closet of Ms. Doyle’s home. He was handcuffed and escorted outside the home. Lt. Kitcher sat Shults on a curb and inquired about the missing woman. Lt. Kitcher showed Shults a picture of the woman and asked if he had seen her, and Shults reacted violently with “No.”

Shults was arrested for the domestic violence crime against Betty Shults and taken to the Union police station. Lt. Kitcher and Detective Steve Sitzes, of the Washington police, took Shults into an interview room and activated the recording system.[2] Shults was non-responsive to most questions, answering, when informed of his Miranda rights, “I don’t have the mental capacity to understand anything.” As the officers continued to explain the rights and attempted to question him about his understanding, Shults continued to be non-responsive, stared at the floor or put his head on his knees, and again stated “I am not of sound mind to understand anything.” When he did speak his voice was quavery and he referred to being anxious. The officers were in plain clothes, their questioning was low-key and generally non-confrontational, and Shults was allowed to walk around the room, at times sitting, at times squatting on the floor. The officers brought him food (hamburger, fries, drink), and Shults continued to either not answer or say he did not know the answers. Because the officers did not believe he did not understand, they asked his ex-wife to come to the station to talk to him to help assess his mental mental status. When she arrived they specifically told her they were not asking her to ask him any questions about the missing woman.

When Ms. Doyle arrived, she spoke with Shults and assured him of her support. At one point she told him that whatever he told her was not admissible in evidence. The officers had not instructed her to say this. Off and on during his conversation with his ex-wife, Shults sobbed and stated that he wanted to die. She urged him to do what was right and cooperate with the police. After Shults spent some time alone with Ms. Doyle, Lt. Kitcher then rejoined them in the interview room, and asked if Shults would take him to the missing woman. Shults, using a map provided by the police, indicated the whereabouts of the missing woman and wrote directions to get there.

Once he gave directions to the body, Shults became much more responsive and began speaking more coherently. Shults had only been at the police station an hour and half before giving Lt. Kitcher directions to the body. Shults led the officers to the woman’s body, which was hidden off a road in the woods, and then proceeded to offer the locations where he had hidden her clothes, teeth, and wig. He explained that he removed her clothing after killing her in hopes that would keep her from being identified. After locating these items, the officers returned to the scene of the crime with Shults, and recorded another reading of the Miranda warnings. Shults eventually stated that he understood his rights and, in a relatively composed manner, described on the recording how he killed the woman.

Lt. Kitcher took Shults back to the police station, where he again read the Miranda rights and waiver form to Shults. Shults signed the waiver in the two designated areas and again proceeded to calmly describe the murder of the woman to Lt. Kitcher.[3] He then wrote out a letter apologizing to the victim’s family.

II. Procedural Background

Shults filed a motion to suppress, and the trial court heard testimony of the officers involved and reviewed the video of the interviews. The Court denied the motion to suppress. The state originally indicated an intent to seek the death penalty, but before trial, Shults waived his right to a jury trial and in exchange, the state agreed not to seek the death penalty.

Shults did not contest the state’s version of the murder, which, based on his confession, was that he had come upon the victim, a stranger, and killed her because he was angry with the way his life had been going. Instead, he presented a defense that he lacked the mental capacity to form the intent necessary to commit first degree murder. He presented evidence that he suffered from a mental disease or defect because of a traumatic brain injury that had resulted from a construction accident.

The court found defendant guilty of first degree murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment without parole. He appealed only the issue of the voluntariness of his confession. The ...


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