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Manley v. Buckner

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

June 20, 2019

CORNELL MANLEY, Petitioner,
v.
MICHELE BUCKNER[1], Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          NANNETTE A. BAKER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Cornell Manley's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. [Doc. 1.] Respondent filed a response to the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. [Doc. 9.] Petitioner filed a traverse (reply). [Doc. 10.] The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). [Doc. 8.] For the reasons set forth below, Manley's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus will be denied.

         I. Background

         The following evidence, in the light most favorable to the verdict, was presented at trial[2]: On the afternoon of October 3, 2009, Anthony Dodson picked up Manley in a maroon Toyota Avalon. Dodson and Manley stopped at a gas station, and Dodson went inside, where Trevon Sykes verbally confronted and flashed a gun at him. Dodson returned to the Toyota and Sykes climbed into the driver's seat of a green Pontiac Grand Prix, in which Craig Nichols and Brandon Campbell were waiting. Sykes followed Manley and Dodson out of the gas station parking lot, and Nichols fired a gunshot at the Toyota.

         Sykes, Nichols, and Campbell then picked up Sykes's girlfriend and drove to a Schnucks parking lot where they waited while the girlfriend shopped. From the parking lot, they saw Dodson and Manley drive by in the Toyota. At this point, Campbell, who was sitting in the driver's seat, drove the car out of the parking lot because he feared retaliation by Manley and Dodson.

         Dodson pursued the Pontiac while Manley fired an AK-47 at it. The Pontiac crashed, and Sykes and Campbell climbed out of the driver's side window and fled on foot. Nichols, who was injured, slowly emerged from the car. Dodson made a U-Turn and drove the Toyota onto the sidewalk where Nichols was lying. As Nichols begged Manley not to kill him, Manley shot Nichols at least six times. An ambulance transported Nichols to a hospital, where doctors pronounced him dead.

         On July 1, 2011, a jury found Manley guilty of first degree murder, two counts of first degree assault, and three counts of armed criminal action. The trial court sentenced Manley to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murder charge, fifteen years for each first degree assault charge, and life in prison for the armed criminal action charges. Manley filed a direct appeal and a motion for post-conviction relief, which were denied by the Missouri Court of Appeals. On September 9, 2016, Manley timely filed this petition for writ of habeas corpus in this court.

         II. Standard of Review

         “The writ of habeas corpus stands as a safeguard against imprisonment of those held in violation of the law. Judges must be vigilant and independent in reviewing petitions for the writ, a commitment that entails substantial judicial resources.” Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 91 (2011). “In general, if a convicted state criminal defendant can show a federal habeas court that his conviction rests upon a violation of the Federal Constitution, he may well obtain a writ of habeas corpus that requires a new trial, a new sentence, or release.” Trevino v. Thaler, 569 U.S. 413, 421 (2013). The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (AEDPA) applies to all petitions for habeas relief filed by state prisoners after this statute's effective date of April 24, 1996. Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 326-29 (1997). In conducting habeas review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a claim that was adjudicated on the merits in state court proceedings “(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 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. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).

         For purposes of § 2254(d)(1), the phrase “clearly established Federal law” “refers to the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of [the Supreme] Court's decisions as of the time of the relevant state-court decision.” Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 71 (2003). “In other words, ‘clearly established federal law' under § 2254(d)(1) is the governing legal principle or principles set forth by the Supreme Court at the time the state court renders its decision.” Id. at 71-72. To obtain habeas relief, a habeas petitioner must be able to point to the Supreme Court precedent which he thinks the state courts acted contrary to or unreasonably applied. Buchheit v. Norris, 459 F.3d 849, 853 (8th Cir. 2006).

         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)).

         A state court decision is an unreasonable application of clearly established Supreme Court precedent if it correctly identifies the governing legal rule but applies it unreasonably to the facts of a particular prisoner's case. Id. (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 407-408). “[A] federal habeas court making the ‘unreasonable application' inquiry should ask whether the state court's application of clearly established federal law was objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 793 (citing Williams, 529 U.S. at 409). “A state court decision involves ‘an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceedings,' 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2), only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings do not enjoy support in the record.” Evenstad v. Carlson, 470 F.3d 777, 782 (8th Cir. 2006). A “readiness to attribute error is inconsistent with the presumption that state courts know and follow the law.” Woodford v. Visciotti, 537 U.S. 19, 24 (2002). AEDPA's highly deferential standard demands that state court decisions be given the benefit of the doubt. Id.

         III. Discussion

         Manley presents four claims for habeas review. First, he asserts that the trial court abused its discretion by overruling objections to the prosecution's voir dire questioning. Second, he contends that the trial court failed to declare a mistrial and rushed the jury's verdict. Third, he asserts that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel when his counsel failed to call alibi witnesses. Fourth, he asserts that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel because his counsel failed to object and request a mistrial when the trial court closed the courtroom during a witness's testimony.

         A. Trial Court Rulings

         “In conducting habeas review, a federal court is limited to deciding whether a conviction violated the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 68 (1991). The admissibility of evidence is a matter of state law. “A federal issue is raised only where trial errors infringe on a specific constitutional protection or are so prejudicial as to amount to a denial of due process.” Bucklew v. Luebbers, 436 F.3d 1010, 1018 (8th Cir. 2006). “To meet this burden, a habeas petitioner must show that absent the alleged impropriety the verdict probably would have been different.” Skillicorn v. Luebbers, 475 F.3d 965, 972 (8th Cir. 2007).

         1. Objections During Jury Selection

         In the first issue for review, Manley contends that the trial court judge erred in overruling objections to the prosecutor's questions during voir dire. “No hard-and-fast formula dictates the necessary depth or breadth of voir dire.” Skilling v. United States, 561 U.S. 358, 386 (2010). “The conduct of voir dire is generally left to the trial court's sound discretion.” Nicklasson v. Roper, 491 F.3d 830, 835 (8th Cir. 2007). “Voir dire plays a critical role in assuring criminal defendants that their Sixth Amendment right to an impartial jury will be honored. Without an adequate voir dire the trial judge cannot fulfill the responsibility to remove prospective jurors who may be biased and defense counsel cannot intelligently exercise peremptory challenges.” Ramsey v. Bowersox, 149 F.3d 749, 756 (8th Cir. 1998) (citing United States v. Spaar, 748 F.2d 1249, 1253 (8th Cir. 1984)). “[The] proper test for exclusion of a juror for cause is whether the juror's views would prevent or substantially impair the performance of his duties as a juror in accordance with his instructions and his oath.” Sweet v. Delo, 125 F.3d 1144, 1156 (8th Cir. 1997) (citing Wainwright v. Witt, 469 U.S. 412, 424 (1985)). Deference must be given to the trial judge who sees and hears the juror. Wainwright, 469 U.S. at 426. “[A]lthough there are no constitutional provisions directly addressing the use of hypothetical questions during voir dire, there may be circumstances where a party's manner of conducting voir dire renders a jury impartial and thereby triggers a Sixth Amendment violation.” Hobbs v. Lockhart, 791 F.2d 125, 129 (8th Cir. 1986).

         In this case, Manley brought an appeal based on two lines of questioning by the prosecutor in this case. The first line of questioning concerned whether the jury would require a motive to make a decision. The prosecutor made the following statement:

And in those instructions, I don't anticipate that in any instruction given by the court that the court is going to require the state to prove motive, because that's not an element of the offense. And the reason I tell you that is - is I expect that you'll hear evidence in this case that gives you ideas and gives you information about what happened that day, but most people, you know, think about criminal cases, they want to hear all this intricate details about why something happened. Sometimes that information just isn't there. Sometimes that information on why something happened, why a crime happened, you may not get that information, but that doesn't mean that the state can't meet its burden of firmly convincing you. Does that make sense to everybody? Because unless there's an element of that offense that says this is why this happened the state doesn't have to prove that to you. Does that make sense to everybody? Hearing that, is there anybody here that's thinking, ‘Listen, this is a murder case. It's a criminal case. I need to know the why. I need to know what the motive is. And if I don't know what the motive is, I can't make a decision. It's a serious case.' Is there anybody here who's thinking, ‘I can't do that?' Anybody over here?

(Resp't Ex. S at 75-76.) Defense counsel objected to the question as “a commitment on the facts.” The trial court ...


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