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Crayton v. Steele

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

April 13, 2017

TROY STEELE, Respondent.



         This matter is before the Court on the petition of William C. Crayton for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         I. Procedural Background

         Petitioner William C. Crayton is presently incarcerated at the Potosi Correctional Center pursuant to the sentence and judgment of the Circuit Court of St. Louis City. On April 28, 2010, a jury found petitioner guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. Resp.'s Ex. A at 92; Resp.'s Ex. B at 79. The trial court sentenced petitioner as a prior offender to concurrent terms of imprisonment of life without parole and 75 years. Resp.'s Ex. A at 99; Resp.'s Ex. B at 80. Petitioner appealed his conviction, and on May 3, 2011 the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed. State v. Crayton, 344 S.W.3d 252 (Mo.Ct.App. 2011); Resp.'s Ex. E.

         Petitioner filed a timely motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15, which the post-conviction court denied without holding an evidentiary hearing. On June 18, 2013, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of post-conviction relief. Crayton v. State, 405 S.W.3d 561 (Mo.Ct.App. 2013); Resp.'s Ex. I. On June 4, 2014, petitioner timely filed this petition for relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

         II. Factual Background

         The facts as found by the state courts are as follows:

         Edward Wright was killed in a shooting in his home on June 11, 2008. Christopher Hughey was Wright's cousin. Tr. 158. Isaiah Payne is Hughey's younger brother and also was Wright's cousin. Tr. 223-24. On the afternoon of Wright's death, Hughey and Payne were in a house across the street from Wright's house, sitting by a double window close to the front entrance. Tr. 159. At one point, Hughey and Payne saw an unfamiliar person walking up to Wright's house. Tr. 161. Payne went over to Wright's house to see who was there.

         While Payne chatted and smoked cigarettes with Wright and his visitor on the porch for 20-45 minutes, he sat less than five feet from the unknown man. Tr. 225-26, 230. The man bummed two cigarettes from Wright while they were talking and asked Wright if he knew where he could get heroin and ammunition. Tr. 227-28. The man also pulled a 9-millimeter pistol from the waistband of his pants and showed it to Wright during their conversation. Tr. 229-30. Shortly after, Wright instructed Payne to go back across the street where he was supposed to be cutting grass. Tr. 230-31. While Payne was across the street putting the lawn mower away, he heard four or five gunshots. Tr. 231. As he came around the front of the house, Payne saw the man who was on the porch with him earlier leaving Wright's house and fixing his shirt. Tr. 232. The man told Payne that Wright was in the bathroom, but would be out in a minute. After hearing the gunshots, Hughey saw Wright's cousin Tamara Thomas run out of the side of the house and into the front yard. Tr. 162. Hughey and Payne subsequently ran over to the house, opened the door, and saw Wright dead in his chair. Tr. 163, 232.

         Thomas was in a bedroom in the house when Wright was killed. Tr. 108-10. She heard the voice and footsteps of another person in the house with Wright and heard the sound of approximately five gunshots. Tr. 110-12. After some time had passed, Thomas came out of the bedroom and saw her cousin dead in his chair, but she did not see the person she had heard with the victim. Tr. 113-16. An evidence technician with the St. Louis City Police found empty shell casings from a semiautomatic handgun near the victim. Tr. 90-92. A firearm and tool mark examiner with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department testified that at least two of the empty shell casings were fired from the same firearm. Tr. 122-23. The deputy chief medical examiner of the St. Louis City Office of Medical Examiner conducted an external examination and autopsy of Wright. Tr. 277-79. Wright had four gunshot wounds to the head and one to the right arm. The medical examiner opined that Wright had died from one of the gunshot wounds to his head. Tr. 283. A DNA analyst for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department crime laboratory analyzed cigarette butts found at the scene of the crime and concluded that DNA profiles from two of the cigarette butts were consistent with that of petitioner to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty. Tr. 271-73.

         Heather Sabin, a homicide detective with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department in charge of the investigation of Wright's death, stated that she initially investigated Bobby Brandon, also known as “B.O.B., ” as a suspect based on rumors in the neighborhood. Tr. 133. When she showed photographs of Brandon to Hughey and Payne and included Brandon in a live line-up, however, neither identified Brandon as having been involved with Wright's death. Tr. 134-35, 234- 35. Petitioner became a possible suspect from a combined DNA indexing system (CODIS) hit on the cigarette butts found at the scene. Tr. 135-36, 154. After the CODIS hit, Sabin included petitioner's photograph in a photo spread to show Hughey and Payne. Tr. 135-36. Both witnesses independently identified petitioner as the person he saw at the scene on the date of the incident. Tr. 137, 235-37.

         In making his photo identification, Hughey stated that petitioner looked like the same person he saw based on his facial structure and complexion. However, Hughey was only 50% sure because he was across the street at the time of the incident. Tr. 137, 198. Payne stated that he was 100% sure of his photo identification, because he had had a conversation with petitioner on the date of the incident. Tr. 138. Sabin then conducted a live line-up containing petitioner at the St. Louis Justice Center. Tr. 138. Hughey picked petitioner out of the line-up in a matter of seconds and stated that, based on his size, build, and stature, he was pretty sure petitioner was the person involved with the incident. Tr. 138-39.

         Payne immediately identified petitioner and stated that he had sat on the front porch of Wright's house and had a conversation with petitioner for several minutes on the date of the incident, during which he smoked cigarettes with petitioner. Tr. 139. Petitioner was taken into custody and charged with the death of Wright in early November 2008. Tr. 155; Resp.'s Ex. B at 12.

         Petitioner testified on his own behalf that he had been a childhood friend of Wright's and occasionally met up with him to sell him marijuana after moving away from the neighborhood. Tr. 297-98. He stated that he was not with Wright on June 11, 2008 and neither shot Wright nor saw him get shot. Tr. 299. He also stated that he had never seen Hughey or Payne before the trial. Tr. 304. He could not recall the last time he had been in Wright's home. Tr. 301-06.

         Additional facts will be included as necessary to address petitioner's claims.

         III. Legal Standard

         When a claim has been adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings, habeas relief is permissible under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), 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 Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented ...

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