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Cazares v. Cassady

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

June 19, 2018

MANUEL CAZARES, Petitioner,
v.
JAY CASSADY, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          RONNIE L. WHITE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Manuel Cazares's Petition under 28 U.S.C. §2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus By a Person in State Custody (ECF No. 1 ("Motion")). Because this Court has determined that Cazares's claims are inadequate on their face and the record affirmatively refutes the factual assertions upon which Cazares's claims are based, this Court decides this matter without an evidentiary hearing.[1]

         BACKGROUND

         In 2011, a St. Charles County Circuit Court jury convicted Cazares of two counts of second degree murder and one count of armed criminal action. The court sentenced Cazares to consecutive terms of life imprisonment for each murder charge, and twenty-five years for armed criminal action. In his Petition, Cazares raises four claims for habeas relief: 1) that the trial court erred in admitting photographs of the crime scene and autopsy photographs of the victims; 2) that the trial court erred in permitting the prosecutor to require Cazares to demonstrate how he stabbed the victims on cross-examination; 3) that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to compel the presence of Jennifer Breshears, a "material witness" whose testimony Cazares claims would have refuted the eyewitness testimony of the two state witnesses who claimed to have seen Cazares in the same location as the victims on the night of the murders; and 4) that counsel was ineffective for failing to raise diminished capacity as a defense at trial.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254, a district court "shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only 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). "[I]n a §2254 habeas corpus proceeding, a federal court's review of alleged due process violations stemming from a state court conviction is narrow." Anderson v. Goeke, 44 F.3d 675, 679 (8th Cir. 1995). "[A]n application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim (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 in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. §2254(d). '"A state court's decision is contrary to ... clearly established law if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a [Supreme Court] decision ... and nevertheless arrives at a [different] result.'" Cagle v. Norris, 474 F.3d 1090, 1095 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003)). The Supreme Court has emphasized the phrase "Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court, " refers to "the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of this Court's decisions, " and has cautioned that §2254(d)(1) "restricts the source of clearly established law to [the Supreme] Court's jurisprudence." Williams, 529 U.S. at 412. A State court "unreasonably applies" federal law when it "identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case, " or "unreasonably extends a legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new context where it should apply." Williams, 529 U.S. at 407. A State court decision may be considered an unreasonable determination "only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings do not enjoy support in the record." Ryan v. Clarke, 387 F.3d 785, 791 (8th Cir. 2004) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1)).

         FACTS

         This case was summarized by the Missouri Court of Appeals as follows:

Amanda Thomas was Defendant's former girlfriend and the mother of Defendant's child. One night in 2009, Ms. Thomas went to several bars in Hannibal. At one of the bars, Ms. Thomas encountered a former classmate, Carl Patrick Epley. When the bars closed, Ms. Thomas and Mr. Epley went to Ms. Thomas's home, where they planned to spend the night together. Defendant had been expecting Ms. Thomas to telephone him that night, but she never called him. The next morning, Defendant went to Ms. Thomas's home and knocked on the door. When no one answered, Defendant entered the home. Defendant walked into the bedroom and saw Ms. Thomas in bed with Mr. Epley. Defendant went to the kitchen, retrieved a knife, and returned to the bedroom. Defendant "took the covers off them, . . . saw that they were naked and . . . started to stab" Mr. Epley. After stabbing them, Defendant felt "a rage inside of [himself] that [he] couldn't control." Ms. Thomas died of a fatal stab wound to the heart, and Mr. Epley died of exsanguination resulting from seven stab wounds to the chest.
Defendant drove to the police station that morning and instructed an officer to arrest him. Defendant stated that he had killed two people by stabbing them with a knife at Ms. Thomas's home. Police officers went to Ms. Thomas's home and discovered the two bodies and a bloody knife in the trash.

ECF No. 14-7, State v. Cazares, No. ED97189 (Mo.Ct.App. Nov. 27, 2012).

         The jury found Cazares guilty of two counts of second-degree murder and one count of armed criminal action, and the court sentenced him to consecutive prison terms of life, life, and twenty-five years in prison, respectively. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed Cazares's convictions on appeal.

         Cazares timely filed a Rule 29.15 motion for post-conviction relief, which the motion court denied after an evidentiary hearing. On appeal, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the motion court.

         DISCUSSION

         I. CLAIMS I AND II

         In his first and second claims, Cazares raises claims of evidentiary error by the trial court. In claim one, he asserts that his due process rights were violated when the trial court admitted photographs of the crime scene and the victims' autopsies. In claims two, Cazares asserts that the trial court should not have allowed the prosecutor to require Cazares to demonstrate how he stabbed the victims during the State's cross-examination.

         Regarding the admission of the photographs, Cazares objects to the admission of seventeen photographs on the grounds that they were inflammatory and prejudicial. Of the seventeen photographs Cazares challenges, two of the photographs are of the crime scene, with one depicting Mr. Epley's body as the police discovered it and the other showing the pools of blood remaining after the officers removed his body from the bed. See ECF No. 14-7, State v. Cazares, No. ED97189 (Mo.Ct.App. Nov. 27, 2012). The State introduced the crime scene photographs during the testimony of the police officer who collected evidence at the scene. The State also sought to admit fifteen photographs taken during the autopsies of both bodies and revealing multiple stab wounds on the bodies, primarily in the chest area. The State introduced the autopsy photographs during the testimony of the pathologist who performed the autopsies.

         The Missouri Court of Appeals summarized the exchange between the State and Cazares regarding the demonstrative request:

During the State's cross-examination of Defendant, the prosecutor asked Defendant to hold an object and "pretend this [was] the knife." Defendant objected on the ground that he had already testified that he did not remember how he held the knife or how many times he stabbed the victims. The trial court overruled the Defendant's objection. The prosecutor asked Defendant to demonstrate to the jury how he stabbed Ms. Thomas and Mr. Epley. Defendant ...

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