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Weaver v. Bowersox

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

February 28, 2018




         This closed matter is before the Court on petitioner William Weaver's motion pursuant to Rule 60(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for relief from final judgment. Petitioner requests that the Court re-open his § 2254 habeas petition. Petitioner argues that a defect in his prior habeas corpus proceeding led to this Court erroneously applying a more stringent standard to petitioner's claims than was proper. Petitioner moves that the Court review de novo his claim under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986), that his constitutional rights were violated by the prosecutor's use of two preemptory challenges in jury selection (the “Batson claim”). For relief, petitioner moves that he be granted a new trial. Respondent opposes the motion on a number of grounds. For the following reasons, the Court will deny petitioner's request for relief from final judgment.

         I. Procedural Background

         On July 19, 1988, petitioner William Weaver was convicted of first-degree murder in the death of Charles Taylor by a jury in St. Louis County, Missouri. The next day, the jury sentenced Weaver to death.

         Petitioner timely filed a pro se Motion to Vacate, Set Aside or Correct a Judgment of Guilty and a Sentence of Death, pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. Appointed counsel for petitioner timely filed an amended motion, which incorporated the pro se motion and asserted additional points for relief. The state court conducted an evidentiary hearing on petitioner's 29.15 motion on September 13-15, 1993, with a subsequent hearing on July 28, 1994. The postconviction motion court denied relief on all grounds on November 29, 1994.

         Weaver appealed his conviction and sentence to the Missouri Supreme Court. Weaver's direct appeal was consolidated with his appeal from the denial of his postconviction motions. On December 19, 1995, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and death sentence. See State v. Weaver, 912 S.W.2d 499 (Mo. 1995) (en banc).

         On April 18, 1996, Weaver filed a pro se habeas petition in federal district court. At that time, he had not yet petitioned the United States Supreme Court for review of the Missouri Supreme Court's decision affirming his conviction and death sentence, although he had indicated his intention to do so. On or about July 1, 1996, Weaver did file a petition with the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari on his state court appeal. This Court dismissed his federal habeas petition without prejudice to permit Weaver to fully exhaust his state remedies. He filed a notice of appeal and requested a certificate of appealability on the dismissal, which was denied by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. Petitioner did not seek a rehearing or a rehearing en banc, nor did he file a petition for writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court as to the dismissal of his first federal habeas petition. Weaver's petition for a writ of certiorari on his state court appeal was denied by the Supreme Court on October 7, 1996. Weaver v. Missouri, 519 U.S. 856 (1996). On November 12, 1996, Weaver filed a second pro se habeas petition, which is the case at bar. Weaver's second habeas petition was filed after the effective date of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), which became effective on April 24, 1996. The AEDPA set stricter standards for the federal courts' review of challenges to state custody. See generally, Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362 (2000). The Court appointed counsel to assist Weaver with his federal habeas petition. Counsel filed an amended petition, and argued that the AEDPA did not apply to Weaver's second federal habeas petition because it was a continuation of his first petition, which was filed before the effective date of the AEDPA. The State opposed the petition and argued that the AEDPA's new, more stringent standard should apply.

         On August 9, 1999, this Court issued a Memorandum and Order, in which it granted petitioner a writ of habeas corpus on his Batson claim only. The Court did not address petitioner's other claims for relief. Although the issue was raised by the parties, the Court determined that it need not decide whether the AEDPA applied to the second petition because “the Court finds that the petition in this case should be granted even under the newer, more deferential standard of review provided for under the AEDPA.” Doc. 29 at 5.

         The State appealed the granting of the petition to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The issue of whether the AEDPA and its new standard of review applied to petitioner's second petition was squarely before the Eighth Circuit. Weaver v. Bowersox, 241 F.3d 1024, 1029 (8th Cir. 2001). Weaver argued that the AEDPA standard should not apply to his case, but the Eighth Circuit held that it did: “AEDPA's provisions apply to all habeas corpus petitions filed after the Act's effective date. . . . We hold that this rule applies even when a prisoner's original petition was filed prior to the AEDPA's effective date and dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust state remedies.” Id. (citations omitted). The Eighth Circuit proceeded to review Weaver's Batson claim under the AEDPA's standard of review. Giving deference to the state court, the Eighth Circuit found that the Missouri Supreme Court had properly applied clearly established constitutional law, and that its factual determinations were not unreasonable. Id. at 1032. The Eighth Circuit reversed and remanded, directing this Court to address the remaining claims in petitioner's habeas petition. Id. at 1033. Petitioner did not appeal this ruling to the United States Supreme Court, and the Eighth Circuit issued its mandate on July 12, 2001.

         In a Memorandum and Order dated May 7, 2003, this Court once again took up Weaver's petition and addressed the remaining 21 claims for relief. As instructed, this Court employed the standard of review from the AEDPA and found that Weaver was entitled to a writ of habeas corpus vacating his sentence of death on the ground that the prosecutor made inflammatory statements during closing arguments in the penalty phase that violated petitioner's due process rights. Doc. 46 at 133. This Court further found that all other claims for relief were either procedurally barred or failed on the merits. This Court vacated petitioner's death sentence and ordered that he either be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole or be given a new penalty-phase trial. The Court did not issue a certificate of appealability as to any of the claims it denied. Following Weaver's motion to alter, amend or set aside judgment pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, this Court amended its judgment and did issue a certificate of appealability as to two of petitioner's claims relating to the prosecutor's closing arguments during the guilt phase of the trial.

         The State appealed the granting of habeas relief to the Eighth Circuit. Weaver also filed a cross-appeal. Weaver appealed this Court's decision regarding six statements the prosecutor made during the guilt phase closing arguments. This Court had determined that the claims were procedurally defaulted under Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 750 (1991), and that Weaver had failed to show cause and prejudice, or demonstrate a fundamental miscarriage of justice arising from the failure to consider the claims. Doc. 46 at 16. The Eighth Circuit held that Weaver had failed to address the procedural default issue in his appellate briefs and, therefore, he had abandoned his cross-appeal. Weaver v. Bowersox, 438 F.3d 832, 838 (8th Cir. 2006). It declined to review the merits of Weaver's cross-appeal. Id.

         As for the State's appeal, the Eighth Circuit held that the claims fell under the AEDPA's standard of review.[1] Applying the more stringent standard of review, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the judgment of this Court. Id. at 842. The Eighth Circuit found:

The conclusion by the Missouri Supreme Court that “the penalty phase arguments . . . [were] reasonable” is unreasonable under existing United States Supreme Court precedents. It is unclear which precedents the Missouri Supreme Court applied. Regardless, there can be no interpretation of the inflammatory remarks by the prosecutor that is reasonable under the various applicable United States Supreme Court precedents.[2]

Id. The parties filed petitions for rehearing by the panel and for rehearing en banc, which were denied.

         Weaver did not appeal. The State, however, filed a petition for a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, which was granted. Roper v. Weaver, 550 U.S. 598 (2007). The Supreme Court granted certiorati on the issue of whether the Eighth Circuit's application of the more stringent standard of review under the AEDPA was consistent with the Supreme Court's interpretation of the statute. Id. at 599. In a per curiam opinion dated May 21, 2007, the Supreme Court noted that it had become “aware” of Weaver's argument that the AEDPA should not govern his case because he had filed his original federal habeas petition before the effective date of the AEDPA. Id. Citing Lawrence v. Florida, 549 U.S. 327, 332 (2007), the Supreme Court stated that this Court had erroneously dismissed Weaver's first federal habeas petition. Id. at 601 (“‘state review ends when the state courts have finally resolved an application for state postconviction relief' - even if a prisoner filed a certiorari petition”). The Supreme Court, however, declined to resolve whether the AEDPA applied to Weaver's second petition, and dismissed the writ of certiorari as “improvidently granted, ” writing:

Whether this unusual procedural history leads to the conclusion, as respondent colorably contends, that the AEDPA standard is simply inapplicable to this case, is a question we find unnecessary to resolve. Regardless of the answer to that question, we find it appropriate to exercise our discretion to prevent these three virtually identically situated litigants from being treated in a needlessly ...

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