Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Fifth Division
from the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis Honorable
M. Hess, Chief Judge
Liggins (Liggins) appeals the judgment of the Circuit Court
of the City of St. Louis denying her amended Rule
29.15 motion for post-conviction relief
following an evidentiary hearing. Liggins argues the motion
court erred when it denied her Rule 29.15 motion because she
pleaded facts, unrefuted by the record, that trial counsel
was ineffective for failing to adduce from expert witnesses
that her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) caused her to
have a flat affect when police first encountered her. Finding
no error, we affirm.
and Procedural History
and Victim had a romantic relationship. On November 12, 2009,
Liggins went to Victim's residence. In the afternoon, the
two began to argue about Liggins' relationships with
other men. Victim slapped Liggins, and Liggins responded by
striking Victim in the head with a board and stabbing Victim
thirteen times in the back and once through the heart. The
stab wound to Victim's heart caused his death.
called 911 to report Victim's death. When the first
police officer arrived, Liggins answered the door with blood
on her clothes and hands. The officer immediately saw
Victim's body. Liggins told the officer that Victim was
her cousin and that she found his body when she came to check
on him. She claimed the blood on her clothes and hands was
from trying to wake Victim up. The officer noticed that
Liggins did not seem very disturbed. During an interview with
another police officer, Liggins spoke in a monotone voice,
which the officer found unusual if she had just "walked
up" on the body. When the officer told Liggins the blood
splatter on her purse was inconsistent with merely touching a
body, Liggins confessed to killing Victim.
jury indicted Liggins on one count of first-degree murder and
one count of armed criminal action. Liggins waived her right
to a jury trial. At her bench trial, Liggins called Dr.
Bridget Graham-Hoyer, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, and Dr.
Rachel Springman, Ph.D., a psychologist, to testify. Both Dr.
Graham-Hoyer and Dr. Springman testified that Liggins
suffered from PTSD. Dr. Graham-Hoyer testified that a symptom
of PTSD is avoiding the thoughts, feelings, people, places,
and situations that could remind one of a traumatic
experience. Dr. Graham-Hoyer explained that this symptom can
display itself in a flat affect and stated that Liggins'
flat affect during her interaction with police was consistent
with PTSD. Dr. Springman testified that a flat affect is a
"hallmark symptom of PTSD" and that the police
report indicated that Liggins sounded "very flat"
during her interaction with police. Liggins was found guilty
of second-degree murder and armed criminal action and
sentenced to two concurrent eighteen-year sentences of
imprisonment. We affirmed on direct appeal. State v.
Telisha Liggins, 456 S.W.3d 859 (Mo. App. E.D. 2014).
filed an amended Rule 29.15 motion, alleging that trial
counsel was ineffective for failing to adduce from expert
witnesses that her PTSD caused her to have a flat affect when
police first encountered her. The motion court conducted an
evidentiary hearing on Liggins' motion.
evidentiary hearing, Liggins called trial counsel to testify.
Trial counsel testified that during trial she asked Dr.
Springman why she thought Liggins met the criteria for PTSD
the day of the murder. Trial counsel testified that she did
not ask Dr. Springman a specific question about Liggins'
flat affect during her first interaction with police because
Dr. Springman had already explained to the court that she
considered the flat affect in her diagnosis of Liggins'
PTSD. Liggins also called Dr. Springman to testify at the
evidentiary hearing. Dr. Springman testified that during
trial she testified that Liggins displayed a flat affect
during her encounter with the police and that she discussed
Liggins' flat affect in terms of why she believed Liggins
suffered from PTSD.
motion court denied Liggins' amended Rule 29.15 motion.
It found that the record clearly refuted Liggins' claim
that trial counsel failed to adduce from the expert witnesses
that Liggins' PTSD caused her to have a flat affect when
police first encountered her. The motion court determined
that the trial transcript demonstrated trial counsel asked
both expert witnesses whether or not Liggins' behavior
when interacting with police was consistent with PTSD, and
that both expert witnesses spent a considerable amount of
time explaining why Liggins' behavior during her
interaction with police was consistent with PTSD. This appeal
review the denial of a post-conviction motion for whether the
motion court's findings of fact and conclusions of law
are clearly erroneous. Rule 24.035(k). Findings of fact and
conclusions of law are clearly erroneous only if, after a
review of the entire record, we are "left with the
definite and firm impression that a mistake has been
made." Smith v. State, 370 S.W.3d 883, 885 (Mo.
entitled to post-conviction relief under Rule 29.15, a movant
must show by a preponderance of the evidence that trial
counsel failed to provide effective assistance of counsel
under the Strickland standard. Zink v.
State, 278 S.W.3d 170, 175 (Mo. banc 2009).
Strickland requires that a movant demonstrate his or
her counsel: 1) failed to exercise the level of skill and
diligence that a reasonably competent counsel would exercise
in a ...