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Hill v. Cassady

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

November 10, 2016

CRAIG HILL, Petitioner,
JAY CASSADY, Respondent,



         This matter is before the Court for review and final disposition of a petition for writ of habeas corpus filed by Craig Hill (“Hill” or “petitioner”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.[1]Petitioner seeks to overturn his conviction for first-degree murder because of alleged trial court error and ineffective assistance of counsel. Respondent contends that several of petitioner's claims are procedurally defaulted and that all of his claims are meritless. Respondent is correct, and the Court will dismiss this action without further proceedings.


         The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, summarized the facts as follows:

On June 28, 2005, in the early afternoon, Doanita Whittier (Whittier) got into an argument with some women outside a store in the City of St. Louis. Later that afternoon Whittier's boyfriend, Jason Holman (Holman), was walking to the store where the argument had occurred when a man got off a bus nearby. Holman did not know the man but identified [Hill] in court as the man who exited the bus. [Hill] began talking to the women that Whittier had argued with. The women knew that Holman was dating Whittier and were pointing at Holman while talking with [Hill]. As this was happening, two men noticed that [Hill] had a gun, and grabbed [Hill] and held him up against a fence. Holman and a third man were able to get the gun away from [Hill]. After [Hill] was disarmed, Holman and [Hill] fought briefly. Holman "got the best of" [Hill] and the fight was broken up. Holman returned home after the fight.
Later that afternoon, Whittier and her friends, Erica Alexander (Alexander), Sabrina Chase (Chase) and Jaronda Acres (Acres), were at Acres' aunt's house visiting. The women left the house to walk to some stores nearby. Acres and Alexander went to one store, while Whittier and Chase went to a different store. Outside the store, Whittier got into an argument with some women regarding the argument that had occurred earlier that day. After an older woman came outside and calmed everything down, Whittier, Alexander, Chase and Acres went back to Acres' aunt's house.
Around 4:00 or 5:00p.m., Holman and Whittier met up with Acres, Alexander, and Chase at the bus stop at the corner of St. Louis Avenue and Sarah Street. The group sat at the bus stop talking for a several hours.
Around 8:00p.m., as it was starting to get dark, [Hill] came around the corner and started shooting into the group. The first shot hit Holman in the chest and a second shot hit him in the arm. Alexander and Holman ran across the street onto the front porch of a house, where Holman blacked out. Although Acres had been shot three times in the leg, she and Chase ran to a gangway between two houses. Whittier collapsed onto the street after being shot twice, once in the chest and once in the arm. Whittier died as a result of the gunshot wound to her chest.
On July 7, 2005, police contacted Alexander and Chase and asked them to view a lineup. Both women identified [Hill] in the lineup as the shooter.
At trial, Alexander testified that although it was getting dark outside, there was enough artificial light in the area for her to see the shooter. Alexander stated the shooter was a black male with a light or caramel complexion, was 19-20 years old, was 5'7" to 5'9" tall, had a slim build and had his hair in twisties. Alexander testified that the shooter was not wearing anything to hide his face. Alexander identified [Hill] at trial as the man who shot at her and her friends.
Alexander testified that during the lineup the police told her to look at the men and to "see if [she saw] a person who was the shooter." Alexander testified she recognized [Hill] as the shooter "right away." Alexander stated the police did not make her try to pick someone out, and she did not feel pressure from anyone to do so. Alexander stated out of the five men in the lineup, two of the men were too tall to be the shooter and one man did not have his hair in twisties or braids. Alexander stated the detective specifically directed her not to base her identification on the men's hairstyles. Alexander testified that the men's hairstyles did not have much effect on her identification and that she picked [Hill] because she recognized him as the shooter.
Chase testified that although it was getting dark, the street lights had come on and there was enough light for her to see the shooter clearly. Chase testified that the shooter was light skinned, skinny, a couple of inches taller than her, and had his hair in medium sized twisties. Chase identified [Hill] as the shooter in court.
Chase testified that during the lineup the police officer did not point anyone out to her or try to make her pick someone out of the lineup. Chase testified the officer instructed her to look to see if she saw the person she thought did the shooting but not to worry if she did not see him. Chase testified she identified [Hill] as the shooter because she recognized him by his face. Chase stated she identified [Hill] in the lineup because she saw him at the scene, not because he matched the description she had given to police.
Acres testified that the shooter was a black male, with twisties in his hair, but that she did not get a good look at him. Acres viewed a photo array which included a photograph of [Hill]. Acres pointed [Hill] out in the photo array and told detectives that she had seen [Hill] in her neighborhood prior to the shooting. Acres stated she did not get a good enough look at the shooter to identify him.
Holman identified [Hill] in court as the same man he fought with briefly the day of the shooting and who had shot him.
Homicide Detective Jody Ballman (Ballman) testified that Alexander described the shooter as a black male with a light complexion, 5'8" to 5'9" tall, skinny, and wearing medium braids in his hair. Ballman stated that Chase described the shooter to police as being 19 to 20 years old, with a light complexion, 5'6" to 5'7" tall, skinny, with medium length twisties in his hair. Ballman testified that after [Hill] was arrested, the police attempted to find four other people in custody that looked similar to [Hill] that were willing to participate in the lineup.
[Hill] did not present any witnesses at trial. At the close of the evidence, the trial court addressed [Hill]'s Motion to Suppress Identifications which had been filed prior to trial and had been taken with the case. [Hill] alleged that the identification procedures used by police during the physical and photo lineups were unduly suggestive. The court found that although the men in the lineup had different characteristics, they were all African-American males of the same age and were sufficiently similar for the lineup to be acceptable. The court denied the motion, finding that the witnesses had an independent opportunity to view the events and that the police procedures were permissible.
. . .
The jury found [Hill] guilty on all charges, including first-degree murder, two counts of first-degree assault, and three counts of armed criminal action. [Hill] filed a Motion for Judgment of Acquittal, or in the Alternative for a New Trial, but did not include issues related to the identification testimony or the propriety of the State's closing argument. The trial court denied the motion, and on November 20, 2008, the trial court sentenced [Hill] to a term of life without the possibility of probation or parole on the first-degree murder conviction and to concurrent terms of life on the remaining convictions.

Resp't Ex. E at 2-6 (Mem. Supplementing Order Affirming J. Pursuant to Rule 30.25(b)).

         On direct appeal, petitioner argued that (1) the trial court erred in denying his motion to suppress identifications, and in allowing testimony regarding the pretrial lineup and in-court identifications of him by Erica Alexander and Sabrina Chase; and (2) the trial court plainly erred in allowing the prosecutor to argue in closing that the evidence was uncontradicted and uncontroverted in violation of his Fifth Amendment right to stay silent. Id. at 6-7. The Missouri Court of Appeals found that the grounds were not preserved for appellate review and, therefore, reviewed them for plain error. Id. at 7. After review, the appellate court found no plain error and affirmed the conviction and sentences. Id. at 8-12.

         Petitioner filed a timely motion for postconviction relief under Rule 29.15 of the Missouri Court Rules. Resp't Ex. F at 3 (Legal File). The motion court denied relief without holding an evidentiary hearing. Id. at 3.

         On appeal from the denial of postconviction relief, petitioner argued that (1) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and call Courtney Woods and Josephine Woods to testify at trial because they would have provided him with an alibi; and (2) trial counsel was ineffective for refusing to allow him to testify at trial. Resp't Ex. I at 12-13 (Appellant's Statement, Br., and Argument). The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, applied the Strickland test to both of petitioner's claims, and it found that petitioner had failed to demonstrate that trial counsel was ineffective. Resp't Ex. at 3-8.

         Petitioner filed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on May 1, 2014.

         Grounds for Relief

         1. Trial, appellate, and postconviction counsel were ineffective for failing to present evidence of his actual innocence through witnesses who were present in the area of the shooting but did not see Hill there.

         2. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate and call his alibi witnesses.

         3. Trial counsel was ineffective for advising him not to testify at trial.

         4. Trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to a verdict director based on transferred intent.

         5. The trial court erred when it failed to suppress petitioner's identification from the lineups.

         6. Trial counsel was ineffective by failing to investigate and impeach State witness Jason Holman with his prior ...

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