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Sitton v. Cassady

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

March 13, 2017

JAY CASSADY, Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court on the petition of William Sitton for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Respondent has filed a response in opposition and the issues are fully briefed.

         I. Factual Background

         Petitioner and Tracy Dykes, the victim, were business associates and friends. They “operated a back-yard car repair business together and spent almost every night together drinking.” Resp. Ex. E, at 362. On March 20, 2004, Dykes and petitioner drove from Bowling Green, Missouri to the home of another friend - Mike Castelli - in Mexico, Missouri. Id. At that time they were already visibly intoxicated, but had Castelli drive them to acquire more alcohol. Id. During that drive, Dykes and petitioner engaged in “‘play fighting' and wrestling, ” with some escalation. Id.

         After the group returned to Castelli's home, petitioner used a baseball bat to damage a car belonging to Castelli's brother-in-law. Id. The police came to investigate, and before they departed, petitioner threatened a police officer. Id.

         Castelli agreed to drive the petitioner and Dykes back to Bowling Green. Id. at 363. Dykes and petitioner argued about the earlier car incident and petitioner insulted Dykes, who eventually pulled petitioner by the throat into the backseat, where they continued to fight. Id. Eventually, the arguing and fighting ceased, and petitioner remained in the backseat as Castelli drove. Id. Petitioner directed Castelli to drop him off at his father's home, and when Castelli turned around, he “noticed dark red, bloody spots in the back of the van and asked [petitioner], who was holding up a blue fold-up knife, what he had done.” Id. When Castelli indicated that he wanted to take Dykes to the hospital, petitioner demanded that Castelli drive to his father's home - threatening to kill Castelli and “everyone [he] love[d]” should he fail to comply. Id. After petitioner and Castelli arrived at the home of petitioner's father, his father called the police. Id. Petitioner told police that he had stabbed Dykes in self-defense. Id.

         Petitioner was charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of armed criminal action. Id. at 365. On July 22, 2005, following a two-day trial, a jury in the Lincoln County Circuit Court found him guilty of the lesser included offense of first-degree involuntary manslaughter and armed criminal action. Resp. Ex. B, at 176-77. Petitioner is currently incarcerated at Jefferson City Correctional Center.

         II. Procedural Background

         On September 6, 2005, the trial court sentenced petitioner to an aggregate term of twenty-five years' imprisonment-seven years for involuntary manslaughter and eighteen years for armed criminal action. Id. at 191-93. The Missouri Court of Appeals granted leave to file a late notice of appeal, and on January 12, 2006, petitioner filed a notice of direct appeal in forma pauperis. Resp. Ex. B, at 194-95, 203-04. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court by per curiam order on February 20, 2007. Resp. Ex. E, 000360; State v. Sitton, 214 S.W.3d 404 (Mo.Ct.App. 2007).[1] Petitioner did not seek to transfer the case to the Supreme Court of Missouri, and thus the judgment became final when the court of appeals issued its mandate on March 14, 2007. 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A); see Gonzalez v. Thayer, 132 S.Ct. 641, 646 (2012); Streu v. Dormire, 557 F.3d 960, 962 (8th Cir. 2009).

         Petitioner moved for post-conviction relief in the Lincoln County Circuit Court pursuant to Rule 29.15 on May 15, 2007. The court denied the motion on October 31, 2008. Resp. Ex. F, at 349-51; Resp. Ex. G, at 435 app. A-1; Mo. Sup.Ct. R. 29.15. Petitioner appealed on December 1, 2008, and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief on October 13, 2009. Resp. Ex. F, at 351; Resp. Ex. I; Sitton v. State, 294 S.W.3d 137 (Mo.Ct.App. 2009) (per curiam).[2]

         At the time of petitioner's trial, jurors were permitted to opt out of service “by agreeing to perform community service and paying a $50 fee.” State ex. rel. Sitton v. Norman, 406 S.W.3d 915, 916 (Mo. 2013) (en banc). On October 18, 2010, after learning about the opt-out option, petitioner filed an amended motion for a new trial. [Doc. #20 at 1].[3] Because the motion was not ruled on within ninety days (by January 23, 2011), it was denied by operation of law. Resp. Ex. J, at 499; Mo. Sup.Ct. R. 29.11(g). On October 21, 2010, petitioner also filed a motion to recall the mandate and remand for filing an amended motion for new trial due to newly discovered evidence of improper jury assembly procedures; that motion was denied on October 26, 2010. Id. at 7.

         On November 30, 2011, petitioner filed a petition for habeas corpus relief in the Circuit Court of Cole County, asserting that the jury opt-out procedure did not comply with Mo. Ann. Stat. §§ 494.400-494.505.[4] Resp. Ex. J, at 500. The motion was denied on March 19, 2012. Id. Petitioner's appeal was denied on August 6, 2012. Id. The petitioner then appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court on December 12, 2012. Id. In his brief, petitioner argued that the opt-out procedure (1) denied him a jury drawn from a fair cross-section of the community, thereby violating his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights, and (2) violated state statutory jury selection requirements. Resp. Ex. J, at 503. The Missouri Supreme Court denied the petition on July 30, 2013. Resp. Ex. L, at 548; State ex. rel. Sitton v. Norman, 406 S.W.3d 915 (Mo. 2013) (en banc).

         On October 25, 2013, petitioner filed the instant petition asserting that (1) the Lincoln County opt-out practice violated his Sixth Amendment guarantee of an impartial jury, (2) the Missouri Supreme Court violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection.

         III. Legal Standard

         28 U.S.C. § 2254 provides that a prisoner in state custody may petition a federal court for a writ of habeas corpus “on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a).

         When a petitioner's claim has been adjudicated on the merits in a state court proceeding, habeas relief is available under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) only if the state court's determination:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the ...

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