United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
THOMAS G. WOLFIN, JR., Petitioner,
JASON LEWIS, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. SIPPEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
matter is before me upon the petition of Missouri state
prisoner Thomas Wolfin for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. After carefully considering his pro
se petition, respondent's brief, and petitioner's
multiple supplemental filings, I will deny the petition for
the reasons set forth below.
was convicted on February 26, 2014, of first-degree domestic
assault, third-degree assault of a law-enforcement officer,
and resisting arrest in the 24th Judicial Circuit Court of
Missouri, St. Genevieve County. (Doc. 16, Ex. 1 at 274). He
was sentenced as a prior and persistent offender on May 20,
2014, to prison terms of twenty years for domestic assault
and concurrent one-year sentences for the other two
convictions. (Id. at 296-297).
raised two grounds in his direct appeal. (Doc. 16, Ex. 2).
First, he argued that the prosecution failed to prove
first-degree domestic assault because the victim
(“HB”) sustained only “physical
injury” rather than “serious physical
injury” as required by statute. (Id. at 17).
Second, petitioner argued that the trial court plainly erred
in excluding additional evidence surrounding his divorce from
HB, because it precluded petitioner from presenting his
defense that the allegation of domestic assault was a
fabrication intended to obtain favorable divorce settlement
terms. (Id. at 19).
Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed
the trial court on both grounds. (Doc. 16, Ex. 6). The court
held that the prosecution's burden of proof on
first-degree domestic assault was not to show that the victim
actually sustained “serious physical injury, ”
but rather that petitioner attempted to cause such injury.
(Id. at 4). After reviewing the evidence presented
at trial, including that “Wolfin told H.B. [throughout
the assault] that he was going to kill her[, ]” the
court held that:
Evidence that Wolfin repeatedly head-butted H.B., choked
[her], and slammed [her] into the floor is consistent with an
intent to create a substantial risk of death, serious
disfigurement, or impairment. Any of these
individual acts could qualify as a substantial step
toward causing [her] serious physical injury. Evidence of
these cumulative acts unquestionably [does so.]
(Id. at 5) (emphasis added). The court also declined
to exercise its discretion to review Wolfin's second
point for plain error, because Wolfin failed to raise this
claim during his trial. (Id. at 6). The court found
that petitioner was, in fact, able to present his defense
theory to the jury in the form of evidence that H.B. filed
for divorce, sought maintenance, and sought an award of
property. (Id. at 7). The court concluded that the
trial court's determination that “any evidence or
argument as to the fairness of the divorce settlement was
irrelevant and likely to confuse the jury” was a
reasonable exercise of its broad discretion. (Id.)
subsequently returned to the trial court for post-conviction
review. His initial pro se motion for an evidentiary hearing
(Doc. 16, Ex. 7 at 13) was substantially amended by appointed
counsel (Id. at 27). His amended motion presented
two claims. First, he argued that he received ineffective
assistance of trial counsel when counsel did not introduce
HB's hospital records as evidence challenging the
severity of her injuries. (Id. at 28). Second, he
argued that he received ineffective assistance of trial
counsel when counsel did not have him evaluated for his
competency to stand trial. (Id. at 30).
trial court denied both claims. (Id. at 61). The
court cited the Court of Appeals' holding that the
severity of HB's injuries was irrelevant; rather,
“the State was required [to show only] that the
[petitioner] attempt to kill or cause serious physical
injury. The evidence abundantly established such proof, both
by [petitioner's] repeated conduct and by [his]
statements at the time of the assault, as overheard by the
victim's daughter.” (Id. at 62). The court
further held that based on the information available to trial
counsel at the time, as evidenced by the trial transcript,
petitioner clearly understood the proceedings and was
competent to assist in his own defense. (Id. at 63).
Appeal of Post-Conviction Review
subsequently returned to the Court of Appeals, claiming that
the trial court clearly erred in denying his post-conviction
review motion. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court
on both grounds. (Doc. 16, Ex. 10). The Court of Appeals
substantially reiterated its previous holding on
petitioner's first argument: “Given the abundant
evidence showing [petitioner's] attempts to cause serious
physical injury, he fails to establish that there is a
reasonable probability that the result of the proceedings
would have been different if the medical evidence [that
serious physical injury was not actually sustained] had been
admitted.” (Id. at 8).
denying petitioner's second point, the court noted that
“‘[when] communication problems are caused by the
defendant's desire to control the defense, as opposed to
mental impairments, and there is no indication that the
defendant is generally incapable of cooperating with counsel,
the defendant does not demonstrate that he is incompetent to
stand trial.'” (Id. at 8 (quoting
Davis v. State, 486 S.W.3d 898, 911-12 (Mo. banc
2016) (internal citation omitted))). The court further
observed that “[nothing] in the record was sufficient
to indicate to [trial counsel] that [petitioner] possessed a
questionable mental condition such that she had a duty to
have [him] evaluated. Therefore, that [she] did not have
[him] evaluated was not ineffective assistance of
counsel.” (Id. at 10).
Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
Wolfin's pro se petition appears to raise nine grounds
for relief, as follows:
that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel
because state-appointed public defenders “are defending
the state.” (Doc. 1 at 6).
that the prosecuting attorney engaged in a conspiracy to
fabricate the charges. (Id. at 6).
that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel when
counsel did not call additional (unnamed) witnesses and make
additional objections. (Id. at 14).
that he received ineffective assistance of appellate counsel
when counsel allegedly accepted a bribe from the prosecuting
attorney and did not call additional witnesses as requested
by petitioner. (Id. at 23).
that the Missouri Department of Corrections refused to
provide allegedly-exculpatory photos sent to Wolfin by family
members while he was incarcerated during his appeal.
(Id. at 25).
that his ex-wife and her daughter are mentally disabled.
(Id. at 28).
that each successive defense counsel refused to bring
accusations of prejudice against the prosecuting ...