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Burrell v. Bowersox

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

March 20, 2019

EUGENE BURRELL, Petitioner,
v.
MICHAEL BOWERSOX, Respondents.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          E. RICHARD WEBBER SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Eugene Burrell's Petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody. ECF No. 1.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2011, Petitioner Eugene Burrell (“Petitioner”) was convicted by a jury of Murder in the Second Degree, Armed Criminal Action, and Unlawful Use of a Weapon. Tr. Pg. 756:4-14.[1]Petitioner was sentenced to 30 years on Count 1 of Murder, 30 years on Count 2 of Armed Criminal Action, and 4 years on Count 3 of Unlawful Use of a Weapon, all to run concurrently. Tr. pg. 775:1-6. Petitioner appealed his convictions to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, and his convictions were affirmed. See State v. Burrell, 377 S.W.3d 615 (Mo. App. E.D. 2012). Petitioner filed a post-conviction relief (“PCR”) motion pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. ECF No. 1-3 at pgs. 34-44. The PCR motion court denied Petitioner's claims and the court's decision was affirmed by the appellate court. Petitioner subsequently filed a PCR motion pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 91. ECF No. 12-11. The PCR motion court denied Petitioner's claim.

         The Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, described Petitioner's convictions as follows:

. . . on the night of August 25, 2010, Movant and Justin Young (Victim) were involved in an altercation outside of Movant's house. The two men exchanged words and a fist fight ensued. Police arrived, spoke with the men, and told everyone to go home. A short time later, Victim walked back to Movant's house and threw a brick at his window, breaking it. Immediately thereafter, Movant came out the front door armed with a .357 Rossi revolver and fired several shots at Victim, striking him three times in the abdomen and hip. Victim staggered backwards across the street and collapsed on the ground. Movant then walked over to where the victim was lying motionless on the ground and struck him twice on the head with the gun, causing a skull fracture. Victim died a short time later from his injuries.

ECF No. 12-10 at pgs. 2-3.[2]

         I. STANDARD

         “A state prisoner who believes that he is incarcerated in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States may file a petition for writ of habeas corpus in federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.” Osborne v. Purkett, 411 F.3d 911, 914 (8th Cir. 2005). In order for a federal court to grant an application for a writ of habeas corpus brought by a person in custody by order of a state court, the petitioner must show that the state court decision:

(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)(1)-(2). A determination of a factual issue made by a state court is presumed to be correct unless the petitioner successfully rebuts the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at § 2254(e)(1).

         A state court's decision is “contrary to” clearly established Supreme Court precedent “if the state court either ‘applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases' or ‘confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [the] precedent.'” Penry v. Johnson, 532 U.S. 782, 792 (2001) citing (Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-406 (2000)). An unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent is found where the state court identifies the correct governing legal principle but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of the case. Ryan v. Clark, 387 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2004). Finally, a state court decision may be considered an unreasonable determination of the facts “only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings do not enjoy support in the record.” Id.

         II.DISCUSSION

         Petitioner asserts the following nine claims in his petition: (1) the trial court abused its discretion in granting the State's motion in limine to exclude Petitioner's evidence of the prior criminal history of the victim; (2) the trial court erred in precluding Petitioner from introducing his videotaped statement to police at trial; (3) the trial court erred in precluding Petitioner from introducing his 911 call at trial; (4) Petitioner was denied due process and effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to offer an instruction for voluntary manslaughter; (5) Petitioner was denied due process and effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to offer a modified version of the self-defense jury instruction; (6) Petitioner was denied due process and effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to make an offer of proof to admit Petitioner's videotaped police statement into evidence at trial; (7) Petitioner was denied due process and effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to make an offer of proof to admit Petitioner's 911 call into evidence at trial; (8) Petitioner was denied due process and effective assistance of counsel when his trial counsel failed to inform him of a letter regarding plea negotiations; and (9) Petitioner was denied due process and effective assistance of counsel when his PCR counsel failed to raise the issue Petitioner's trial counsel had a conflict of interest which violated his Sixth Amendment rights. The Court will address each claim as follows.

         A. Non-Cognizable Claims - Claims 1, 2, and 3

         In his first three claims, Petitioner asserts the trial court improperly failed to admit three pieces of evidence: (1) the victim's past criminal acts; (2) Petitioner's videotaped statement to police; and (3) Petitioner's 911 call regarding the incident. All three are questions rooted in state evidentiary law.

         The United States Supreme Court held “federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law” and “it is not [the] province of a federal habeas court to reexamine state-court determinations on state-law questions.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67-68 (1991) quoting (Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990)) and citing (Pulley v. Harris, 465 U.S. 37, 41 (1984)). Because the admission or exclusion of evidence is primarily a question of state law, an evidentiary determination rarely gives rise to a federal question reviewable in a habeas petition. Scott v. Jones, 915 F.2d 1188, 1190-91 (8th Cir. 1990); Johnson v. Steele, No. 4:11CV01022 SNLJ, 2014 WL 4627174, at *7 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 12, 2014). Federal courts “may not review evidentiary rulings of state courts unless they implicate federal constitutional rights.” Evans v. Luebbers, 371 F.3d 438, 443 (8th Cir. 2004) citing (Estelle, 502 U.S. at 68).

         “A state court's evidentiary ruling is a matter of state law, and we may examine the ruling in a habeas petition only to determine whether the asserted error denied due process.” Bailey v. Lockhart, 46 F.3d 49, 50 (8th Cir. 1995). “A state court's evidentiary rulings can form the basis for habeas relief under the due process clause only when they were so conspicuously prejudicial or of such magnitude as to fatally infect the trial and deprive the defendant of due process.” Osborne, 411 F.3d at 917 quoting (Parker v. Bowersox, 94 F.3d 458, 460 (8th Cir. 1996)). To constitute a due process violation, an evidentiary mistake must be “so egregious that [it] fatally infected the proceedings and rendered [petitioner's] entire trial fundamentally unfair.” Anderson v. Goeke, 44 F.3d 675, 679 (8th Cir. 1995). The Supreme Court recognized, the Constitution guarantees criminal defendants a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. Lannert v. Jones, 321 F.3d 747, 754-55 (8th Cir. 2003) citing (Crane v. Kentucky,476 U.S. 683, 690 (1986)). However, the right to introduce favorable evidence is not ...


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