Juniper v. Hamilton

Decision Date29 March 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 3:11cv746
Citation529 F.Supp.3d 466
Parties Anthony Bernard JUNIPER, Petitioner, v. Israel HAMILTON, Warden, Sussex I State Prison, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Virginia

Robert Edward Lee, Jr., Dawn M. Davison, Virginia Capital Representation Resource Center, Charlottesville, VA, Amy Leigh Austin, The Law Office of Amy L. Austin, Richmond, VA, Elizabeth Hambourger, Center for Death Penalty Litigation, Durham, NC, for Petitioner.

Liam Alexander Curry, Matthew P. Dullaghan, Office of the Attorney General, Richmond, VA, for Respondent.


John A. Gibney, Jr., United States District Judge This matter comes before the Court on the partiescross-motions for summary judgment in this habeas corpus matter. In 2005 a jury in the Circuit Court for the City of Norfolk convicted Petitioner Anthony Bernard Juniper of, among other things, four counts of capital murder for killing Keshia Stephens, Keshia's brother Rueben, and Keshia's two-year-old and four-year-old daughters, Nykia and Shearyia. The jury recommended the death penalty for each murder, and the Circuit Court sentenced Juniper to death.1

The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed Juniper's conviction on appeal, and the Supreme Court of the United States denied certiorari. Juniper then returned to the Supreme Court of Virginia and unsuccessfully sought habeas relief.

In November 2011 he moved this Court for a stay of execution, and then filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. After years of contentious litigation, the parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court now decides those motions.

A. Procedural History

This case has followed an unusual procedural path. After his direct appeal and state post-conviction proceedings, Juniper sought habeas relief in this Court.2 The Court appointed counsel, and Juniper filed his original petition on January 30, 2012, asserting claims under Brady ,3 Napue ,4 and Strickland .5 He also sought the appointment of additional counsel to submit claims based on Martinez .6 The Court denied Juniper's request for counsel to address the Martinez issue, and ultimately dismissed the entire habeas petition.7 Juniper v. Pearson (Juniper I ), No. 3:11cv746, 2013 WL 1333513 (E.D. Va. Mar. 29, 2013).

On review, the Fourth Circuit concluded that this Court should have appointed Juniper additional counsel to pursue his Martinez claims. Juniper v. Davis (Juniper II ), 737 F.3d 288, 290 (4th Cir. 2013). Without addressing the Brady issue, the Fourth Circuit vacated in part this Court's decision and remanded for the Court to appoint independent counsel. Id. at 290.

The Court appointed additional counsel to assert the Martinez claims and allowed Juniper to file an amended habeas petition. Ultimately, the Court found that procedural default barred his Martinez claims, and it dismissed his amended petition. Juniper appealed the dismissal.8

In Juniper's second trip to the Fourth Circuit, that court did not address any Martinez issues and instead returned to the remaining issue in Juniper's first appeal—this Court's 2013 Brady decision on Claim I. Juniper v. Zook (Juniper III ), 876 F.3d 551 (4th Cir. 2017). Claim I asserted that the prosecution had withheld information about Wendy and Jason Roberts, neighbors of the murder victims. The Robertses may have told the police a version of the events on the day of the murders that differed from the story told by the prosecution's witnesses at trial. The Fourth Circuit held that this Court should have granted Juniper an evidentiary hearing covering the Robertses’ testimony, and it remanded the case for a hearing. Id. at 573. The Fourth Circuit also said that this Court could give Juniper an opportunity to develop more evidence about the Robertses’ testimony, see id. at 572 n.9, which this Court construed as authorizing the Court to grant Juniper discovery.

The Court scheduled a motions hearing for May 24, 2018, and set the evidentiary hearing for August 20–24, 2018. Two days before the motions hearing, the Warden moved for summary judgment, arguing, for the first time in more than twelve years of state and federal habeas proceedings, that the prosecution had disclosed to Juniper's trial counsel the alleged Brady material on which Claim I was based. In support, the Warden attached affidavits from Cynthia Collard, Juniper's lead trial attorney, and Wayne Kennedy, Juniper's investigator. Their affidavits stated that they knew about the evidence underlying Claim I at the time of Juniper's trial, but they had declined to use it because of credibility issues with the Robertses.

In light of this new evidence, the Court canceled the August evidentiary hearing and allowed Juniper to conduct additional discovery. It later granted him leave to amend his petition two more times based on information learned in discovery. With numerous stops and starts—and needing frequent intervention by the Court—the parties conducted discovery from May 2018 until August 2019. On August 1, 2019, Juniper filed his Amended Petition.9

The Warden replied with a Rule 5 answer and motion to dismiss, and a 188-page brief. Juniper objected on the grounds that the tome of legal documents was too confusing and burdensome to parse through. The Court deemed the Warden's Rule 5 answer and motion to dismiss as a motion to dismiss only and denied it without prejudice. Hoping to get the case resolved in a reasonable length of time, the Court instructed the parties to file stipulations of fact, and, if appropriate, motions for summary judgment. The parties wrangled over the stipulations for months and finally filed them in June 2020. In August 2020 they filed cross-motions for summary judgment, supported by lengthy briefs.

B. Factual Background

At Juniper's criminal trial, the prosecution presented a mountain of testimonial and forensic evidence of his guilt. This evidence drives Juniper's strategy in this case: he wants a new trial in which he can bring forth evidence that would undercut the Commonwealth's case. Because of this tactic by Juniper, the Court must recite in some detail the prosecution's evidence of guilt.

The Supreme Court of Virginia reviewed the trial record and found the following facts.10 Except when in brackets, the footnotes are those of the state court.

On the afternoon of January 16, 2004, Keshia Stephens, her younger brother Rueben Harrison, III,11 and two of Keshia's daughters, Nykia Stephens and Shearyia Stephens,12 were killed in Keshia's apartment in the City of Norfolk. When police arrived, they found that the door to Keshia's apartment had been forcibly opened. All four victims were discovered in the master bedroom; each had died as a result of gunshot wounds.
Keshia was stabbed through her abdomen, shot three times, and grazed by a fourth bullet. One bullet went through her intestine, kidney, and spine, causing spinal shock and leg paralysis. Another bullet also passed through her intestines and then proceeded to her abdominal aorta and inferior vena cava, causing extensive bleeding.
The stab wound did not fatally wound Keshia, but tore through the muscle of her abdominal wall. There was a great deal of blood accompanying the wound, however, which led the medical examiner performing the autopsy to conclude that the stab wound was probably the first injury inflicted on Keshia. The stab wound was consistent with a wound that would have been caused by the knife blade found at the scene of the crime.
Two-year old Shearyia was shot four times while in her mother's arms. Two bullets entered Shearyia's body in the shin of her left leg, fractured the bone, and exited through her calf. A third bullet entered and exited Shearyia's body through her thigh. The fourth bullet entered the crown of her head and passed through her brain, causing bone fragments to chip off.
Rueben Harrison was shot three times. One bullet struck his pelvic bone, and ricocheted through his body into his abdomen, liver, heart and lung, finally coming to rest in his armpit. A second bullet hit his hip bone, and exited through the front of his leg. A third bullet broke his femur bone, and exited his body at his front thigh. The medical examiner testified that the broken bones would have caused excruciating pain and immediately disabled Rueben.
Four-year old Nykia was shot one time behind her left ear. The bullet moved through her skull and cerebellum to the base of her skull, into her esophagus and trachea, causing substantial damage and bleeding, before exiting her chest. The medical examiner testified that the bullet's path was consistent with Nykia ducking her head and body toward the shooter prior to being shot. In addition, the presence of blood in Nykia's lungs indicated that she had taken one or two breaths between being shot and dying. Her body was found lying on top of her uncle's body.
Evidence presented at trial showed that Juniper and Keshia had been involved in an on-again, off-again tumultuous relationship for approximately two years. On the morning of the shootings, Juniper telephoned his friend, Renee Rashid, from his mother's house where he was living at the time. Juniper asked Rashid to drive him to Keshia's apartment so that he could retrieve some of his belongings. A short time later Rashid picked up Juniper at his mother's house and drove him to Keshia's apartment.
Both Juniper and Rashid entered Keshia's apartment, which was on the second floor of the apartment building. Rashid saw four individuals in the apartment: Keshia, Rueben, who was asleep on the couch, and two of Keshia's children, Nykia and Shearyia, who were preparing to take a bath. After helping Juniper disconnect a DVD player, Rashid was talking to the two girls, but overheard Juniper and Keshia arguing in another room. Keshia repeatedly made comments such as, "[T]here's nobody but you. I told you I'm not seeing anybody but you."
After Rashid announced that she was

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