247 F.3d 699 (8th Cir. 2001), 99-4202, Bracken v. Dormire

Docket Nº:99-4202
Citation:247 F.3d 699
Case Date:April 05, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

Page 699

247 F.3d 699 (8th Cir. 2001)




No. 99-4202

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 5, 2001

        Submitted: November 14, 2000

        Rehearing Denied May 10, 2001

        Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.

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        Before McMILLIAN, Richard S. Arnold, and Bowman, Circuit Judges.

        Bowman, Circuit Judge

        Dave Dormire, Superintendent of the Jefferson City Correctional Center (the State), appeals the District Court's conditional grant of habeas corpus relief to Antoine Bracken, who was convicted in 1994 of second-degree murder and armed criminal action and was sentenced to two concurrent terms of life imprisonment. The State's appeal challenges the District Court's determination that Bracken's habeas petition properly raised the claim upon which it granted relief--that the trial court did not expressly find that Bracken's confession was voluntarily given before the court admitted it into evidence. While Bracken presented a general argument in his petition that his confession was "coerced," we find that he did not raise the voluntariness claim upon which the District Court granted relief. The claim is procedurally defaulted and we reverse the District Court.


        On December 28, 1992, a woman called the St. Louis Police Department to report her belief that her two-year-old daughter had been sexually abused by a man named Bryce Wade. An officer was dispatched to the residence and examined the girl but could find no signs of abuse. The next day the young girl's mother brought the child to the hospital for a more thorough examination, which proved inconclusive. Despite the inconclusive examination, the child's father, Terrell Moore, threatened to kill Bryce Wade for "raping" his daughter. Wade was last seen alive in late December 1992.

        On March 21, 1993, a burned body was discovered in an abandoned building. The police analyzed the fingerprints from the body's unburned fingers and positively identified the body as Bryce Wade. The fire investigator concluded that kerosene had been poured on Wade and then was ignited, and the medical examiner determined that Wade had been alive at the time he was burned.

        After receiving a tip from a relative of Terrell Moore that Antoine Bracken had information regarding Wade's death, the police picked up Bracken for questioning. Within three hours, Bracken had completed a videotaped confession in which he admitted that he and Moore had encountered Wade, whom they overpowered and dragged into an abandoned building. Bracken alleged that Moore struck Wade with a board several times and then doused him with kerosene and lit him on fire. In addition, detectives testified that Bracken took them to the abandoned building, re-enacted the assault on Wade, and identified the kerosene heater containing the kerosene that Moore had used in the assault.

        The jury convicted Bracken, and the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis sentenced him to life imprisonment. Bracken sought post-conviction relief pro se under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. Counsel was reappointed and filed an amended Rule 29.15 motion on Bracken's behalf. The motion was denied and the Missouri Court of Appeals summarily affirmed in a consolidated appeal. State v. Bracken, 916 S.W.2d 419, 420 (Mo. Ct. App. 1996) (per curiam). Bracken then filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 petition for habeas corpus relief. The District Court conditionally granted the writ, and the State now appeals.


        The State argues that the District Court erred in granting relief because

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Bracken did not include in his habeas petition the claim that the trial judge failed to expressly rule on the voluntariness of his confession before admitting it into evidence as required under Jackson v. Denno, 378 U.S. 368 (1964). In Sims v. Georgia, 385 U.S. 538, 544 (1967), the Supreme Court expounded on its holding in Jackson by stating that "[a]lthough the judge need not make formal findings of fact or write an opinion, his conclusion that the confession is voluntary must appear from the record with unmistakable clarity." The State argues that Bracken's petition presented a substantive claim that as a matter of law his confession was coerced and involuntary--a different claim from the Jackson claim upon which the District Court granted conditional habeas relief.

        Bracken first raised the general issue of the voluntariness of his confession during the trial court's pre-trial suppression hearing. The court ultimately denied the motion. The transcript of the suppression hearing is ambiguous, however, as to whether the trial court denied the motion to suppress and admitted the contested statements into evidence because it believed the statements were voluntary, or because the court felt it was the province of the jury to decide whether the statements were voluntary. 1 Despite the ambiguity, Bracken's trial counsel did not object to the court's failure to find the voluntariness of the statements on the record with unmistakable clarity as required under Jackson.

        At trial, the videotaped confession was admitted into evidence and played for the jury. Bracken's trial counsel renewed his earlier, general argument that the statements were involuntary, but did not argue that the trial court failed to find the voluntariness of those statements on the record with unmistakable clarity.

        After Bracken was convicted, he filed a motion for a new trial. Again, Bracken did not argue that the trial court failed to find the voluntariness of his statements on the record with unmistakable clarity. The trial court denied the motion. Bracken's next pleading--a consolidated appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals--squarely raised the procedural-voluntariness Jackson claim for the first and only time. The State opposed the Jackson claim on the grounds that it was procedurally defaulted and meritless. The Missouri Court of Appeals summarily denied Bracken's appeal.

        After his unsuccessful consolidated appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Bracken filed a 28 U.S.C. 2254 habeas corpus petition with the District Court. Bracken's habeas petition abandoned the procedural-voluntariness Jackson claim articulated in his consolidated appeal brief and returned to the general "coercion" argument found in his initial motions and Rule 29.15 motion. The District Court granted conditional relief on the Jackson claim and remanded to the trial court for a post-hoc finding on voluntariness.

        The District...

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