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Tramble v. Cassady

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

June 4, 2015

JAY CASSADY, Defendant.[1]


JOHN M. BODENHAUSEN, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a pro se petition of Collin M. Tramble, III (hereinafter "Tramble"). Tramble is a Missouri State prisoner seeking a Writ of Habeas Corpus, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Tramble's petition has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for a report and recommendation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The Court concludes that the matter may be resolved on the existing record, without the need for an evidentiary hearing. The Court recommends that the petition be denied. The Court further recommends that no certificate of appealability be issued.

I. Background

A. General

Tramble was charged in the Circuit Court for the City of St. Louis with one count of first degree murder and one count of armed criminal action. In January 2008, a jury convicted Tramble of the lesser included offense of second degree murder and armed criminal action. The court sentenced Tramble to concurrent terms of life in prison.

Tramble's charges stemmed from the murder of Ida Anderson on May 22, 2004. Anderson, a prostitute, was known on the street as "Smiley." Anderson's severely burned body was recovered from the remains of a vacant building which had burned on May 22, 2004. Investigators later determined that Anderson's death was the result of trauma to her head, consistent with blows inflicted with a pipe. Investigators recovered a bloody metal pipe near the fire scene.

It was not disputed that Tramble knew Ms. Anderson. Tramble was observed near the fire and appeared to have blood on his clothing. Among other witnesses, the State presented the testimony of Roy Ransom, who knew Tramble. Ransom testified that, on the day of the fire, Tramble stated that he had beaten or hit the "bitch, " which was a reference to Anderson. The police arrested Tramble and located blood on his shoes and sweat pants. That blood matched Anderson's blood, as well as the blood on the metal pipe. It was Tramble's position that he found the pipe and picked it up, but then discarded it upon noticing that it was covered in blood.

As part of the investigation, between January and March 2005, the police interviewed Ransom three times. During those interviews, the police presented Ransom with photo line-ups, each of which included Tramble's photograph. Ransom gave different answers to the police during each photo line-up. With the third photo line-up, Ransom identified Tramble as the person who told him about beating Ms. Anderson.

B. Pretrial and Trial Matters

Tramble was represented at trial by an Assistant Public Defender, who was assisted by an experienced second chair attorney. Prior to trial, defense counsel filed several motions seeking to suppress evidence and statements, as well as motions to exclude certain scientific evidence. As relevant to the present § 2254 matter, defense counsel filed a motion to "suppress any incourt identification and all testimony regarding all out-of-court identifications" by Roy Ransom. Defense counsel argued that the police procedures were improperly suggestive and were likely to result in a misidentification at trial. (Resp. Exh. B at 19, 23-24)

The trial court conducted an evidentiary hearing on Tramble's motions, including his motion to suppress identification evidence and testimony by Ransom. The court issued a written Judgment and Order denying Tramble's motions. The court held that the police procedures used for the photographic line-ups were "fair and not impermissibly suggestive, " and "did not taint" the identification by Ransom. (Resp. Exh. B at 30, 41-42)

Defense counsel also retained the services of Gene Gietzen, a forensic scientist who provided, among other things, blood splatter and drying time analysis. The defense expected the State to present expert testimony in an attempt to prove that the blood on the metal pipe would have dried quickly on the day of the murder. Such testimony would have undercut Tramble's explanation that he found the pipe, picked it up, and then discarded it when he realized it was covered in blood.

Mr. Gietzen conducted an extensive review of the State's evidence and assisted defense counsel in preparing to rebut expected evidence and testimony relating to the prosecution expert's blood splatter analysis and blood drying time analysis. Mr. Gietzen reviewed the analysis conducted by prosecution expert Jenna Oakes-Smith, as well as potential expert Michael Von Stratton. Ms. Oakes-Smith had conducted an experiment related to the time it would have taken for the blood on the metal pipe to dry. Mr. Gietzen took issue with her analysis. (Resp. Exh. F at 48; Exh. G at 197-223)

Prior to trial, Tramble had indicated a desire to testify in his own defense. As such, defense counsel disclosed Tramble's criminal history during voir dire in an effort to identify potentially biased jurors. During opening statement, defense counsel outlined an explanation as to how Tramble ended up with Ms. Anderson's blood on his pants and shoes. In anticipation of Ms. Oakes-Smith's testimony, defense counsel also referenced the anticipated testimony of Mr. Gietzen. (Resp. Exh. A at 470, 479-81)

During its case-in-chief, the State presented the testimony of Roy Ransom, which included an in-court identification of Tramble by Ransom. The State did not introduce evidence of Ransom's prior, out-of-court identification. Defense counsel cross-examined Ransom regarding the inconsistencies in his prior statements to the police, including Ransom's initial failure to identify Tramble as the person who said he had hit the victim in the head. (Resp. Exh. A at 592-615)

The State, however, did not call Ms. Oakes-Smith and rested without presenting the expert blood splatter and drying time evidence. As a result, defense counsel was given time to reconsider whether to call Mr. Gietzen as a witness. Mr. Gietzen advised counsel that he did not believe his testimony was necessary. Defense counsel concluded that, as a matter of strategy, it was no longer wise to have Mr. Gietzen testify. (Resp. Exh. F at 45-53)

The defense presented two witnesses in its defense. Defense counsel, including second chair counsel, advised Tramble that, in their opinion, Tramble should not testify. Prior to resting, Tramble passed a note to one of his attorneys indicating he did not want to testify. (Resp. Exh. F at 50-51) The trial court conducted an inquiry, outside of the jury's presence, into whether Tramble would or would not testify. (Resp. Exh. A at 699-704) The court placed Tramble under oath and took steps to ensure that Tramble understood his right to testify or not testify in his own defense, and that the jury could not use his failure to testify against him. The court also ensured that Tramble had an opportunity to discuss the decision with his defense attorneys. After being advised of his rights and confirming his opportunity to consult with counsel, Tramble stated that it was his decision not to testify. Thereafter, the court asked whether anyone was forcing, threatening, or intimidating Tramble into not testifying. In response, Tramble stated, "By no means, " and "No sir." (Id. at 702-03) After this inquiry, the court found that Tramble was aware of his right to testify or not testify, and that he made the decision not to testify "voluntarily and freely and intelligently." (Id. at 703-04)

During closing argument, defense counsel discussed the difficulty of proving innocence and reminded the jury that it was the prosecution's burden to prove Tramble guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In rebuttal closing, the prosecutor seized on this argument, as well as representations made by defense counsel during opening statement, and the following exchange occurred:

Prosecutor: The defendant says well, I don't have to prove him innocent. For a half hour [in] the opening statement [he] told you how he was going to prove him innocent.
Defense Counsel: Objection, Your Honor.
Court: Excuse me?
Defense Counsel: Shifting the burden, Your Honor.
Court: Overruled. Let's proceed. This is not evidence. This is closing argument.[2]
Prosecutor: Told you for a half hour how he was going to prove the defendant

not guilty and he didn't. Talked about experts and he didn't bring in anybody. (Id. at 802-03)

The jury convicted Tramble of the lesser included offense of second degree murder, as well as armed criminal action. The court sentenced Tramble ...

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