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Meiners v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fourth Division

January 10, 2017


         Appeal from the Circuit Court of St. Louis County Honorable Colleen Dolan

          KURT S. ODENWALD, Judge


         Keith 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[1] 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.

         Factual and Procedural History

         A grand 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.

         The 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.

         During 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."

         Meiners 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.

         A 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.

         The 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.

         Meiners 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.

         At the 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 weight."

         Meiners's 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).

         Following 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 ...

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