Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division
from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Colleen
S. ODENWALD, Judge
Meiners ("Meiners") was convicted on one count of
second-degree murder and sentenced to twenty-five years in
prison. We affirmed Meiners's conviction on direct
appeal. State v. Meiners, 430 S.W.3d 914 (Mo. App.
E.D. 2014). Meiners now appeals from the motion court's
denial of his amended Rule 29.15 motion following an
evidentiary hearing. Meiners alleges ineffective assistance
of counsel because appellate counsel failed to challenge on
appeal the trial court's refusal to submit jury
instructions on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Because Meiners failed to prove that appellate counsel's
performance deviated from that of reasonable counsel under
similar circumstances, the motion court did not clearly err
in denying Meiners's amended Rule 29.15 motion. We affirm
the judgment of the motion court.
and Procedural History
jury indicted Meiners on one count of first-degree murder,
and the case proceeded to a jury trial. Evidence was
addressed at trial that Meiners was involved in a romantic
relationship with Danielle Buhrman ("Buhrman"), who
had previously dated Victim, and that Buhrman often discussed
with Meiners her prior relationship with Victim including
past sexual encounters.
State presented evidence that Meiners wanted to invite Victim
to his home on the night of Victim's death. After Victim
arrived and drank alcohol at Meiners's home, Meiners,
Victim, and Justice Brickey ("Brickey") left to
attend another party. The group stopped at a gas station,
where they met up with several additional partygoers. The
group arrived at the party, however, Meiners, Brickey, and
Victim left shortly thereafter. As they departed, Meiners
told an acquaintance at the party that he would call her if
he needed a ride. Meiners, Brickey, and Victim left in
Victim's car. Brickey testified that Victim drove, and
Meiners sat in the backseat behind Victim.
the drive, Brickey felt sick and asked Victim to stop the
car. Brickey began to dry-heave. A nauseated Brickey then
looked over and saw Meiners strangling Victim with duct tape.
Brickey testified that Meiners pulled Victim out of the
driver's seat of the car and onto the ground. Meiners
then stood over Victim and began striking him repeatedly.
Victim screamed for Meiners to stop. Brickey stated that he
got out of the car and grabbed Meiners, but Meiners knocked
his hand away and continued to beat and strike Victim until
Victim stopped moving. Brickey described Meiners as looking
"out of control" and "filled with rage."
then asked Brickey to help move Victim. As they began to
carry Victim, Brickey started vomiting. After vomiting,
Brickey looked up and saw Meiners standing on Victim's
chest and talking to Victim. As they left the scene, Brickey
heard Meiners state, "I have no more problems. I got rid
of my problem." Meiners and Brickey drove Victim's
car to a nearby welcome center, and then walked to a gas
station where Meiners called an acquaintance for
transportation. Meiners explained his need for a ride by
claiming that Victim had kicked them out of the car because
of a "disagreement" over his sister.
friend of Meiners testified that the next day Meiners told
her that he killed Victim by beating and stepping on
Victim's throat while singing a song entitled
"Ain't No Rest for the Wicked." The friend also
testified that Victim had a knife during the confrontation.
Specifically, the friend told police that Meiners claimed
Victim had tried to stab Meiners and Brickey with a knife
after Meiners pulled him out of his car, but Meiners knocked
the knife away. Meiners then continued to beat and strangle
Victim. The State also presented forensic evidence showing
that Victim's hands and wrists were bound behind his back
with duct tape.
jury was instructed on first-degree and second-degree murder.
The trial court refused Meiners's request to submit jury
instructions on voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. The
jury then found Meiners guilty on one count of second-degree
murder. The trial court sentenced Meiners to twenty-five
years in prison. We affirmed on direct appeal in
Meiners, 430 S.W.3dat914.
subsequently filed an amended Rule 29.15 motion, alleging
that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue
on appeal that the trial court erred in refusing to submit
Meiners *s proposed jury instructions on voluntary and
involuntary manslaughter. The motion court conducted an
evidentiary hearing on Meiners's motion.
evidentiary hearing, Meiners and his trial counsel testified
that they wanted the jury to consider voluntary and
involuntary manslaughter. Meiners testified that his
appellate counsel discussed with him the refused jury
instructions and that she explained to him that she did not
present an argument regarding the jury instructions in the
appeal because she "didn't feel that it had enough
appellate counsel testified that her normal practice is to
initially examine the entire legal file, identify the issues
raised in the defendant's motion for new trial, and
review the file for plain error. Appellate counsel remembered
reviewing Meiners's file. She noted that the trial court
refused to submit jury instructions on both voluntary and
involuntary manslaughter. Regarding the issue of voluntary
manslaughter, appellate counsel testified that she
"never had a clear idea of what happened, but I
didn't see a grounds for stating that there was evidence
that he acted under sudden passion." Regarding the issue
of involuntary manslaughter, appellate counsel stated that
she did not raise the issue on appeal because she
"didn't think this fact pattern, any of the facts
that were adduced at trial fit into a scenario of
recklessness, that there was not evidence for that."
Appellate counsel stated that the brandishing of a knife
during an altercation might support a voluntary manslaughter
instruction, but further testified that these types of cases
are highly fact-specific making it "hard to know"
whether a case will support a lesser-included instruction.
Appellate counsel also testified that the law is very
different after State v. Jackson, 433 S.W.3d 390
(Mo. banc 2014).
the evidentiary hearing, the motion court denied
Meiners's amended Rule 29.15 motion. The motion court
concluded that Meiners's appellate counsel provided
effective assistance of counsel. The motion court found that
with regard to both manslaughter instructions, appellate
counsel was not ineffective for failing to raise
non-meritorious issues. The motion court found that the
record demonstrated that there was no evidence of sudden
passion to support a jury instruction for voluntary
manslaughter: the purported provocation pertaining to
Victim's relationship with Buhrman was too remote in time
and the evidence established that Meiners was the initial
aggressor in the confrontation. With regard to the proposed
involuntary-manslaughter instruction, the motion court
rejected Meiners's contention that the evidence
demonstrated recklessness in killing Victim. Instead, the
motion court determined that Meiners "repeatedly kicked,
punched, and strangled victim, bound him with duct tape and
dragged him into a field where he was left to ...