Middleton v. State, SC 84005.

Citation103 S.W.3d 726
Decision Date01 April 2003
Docket NumberNo. SC 84005.,SC 84005.
PartiesJohn J. MIDDLETON, Appellant, v. STATE of Missouri, Respondent.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
103 S.W.3d 726
John J. MIDDLETON, Appellant,
STATE of Missouri, Respondent.
No. SC 84005.
Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.
April 1, 2003.
Rehearing Denied May 27, 2003.

Page 727


Page 728


Page 729


Page 730

William J. Swift, Office of the Public Defender, Columbia, for appellant.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Adriane D. Crouse, Asst. Atty. Gen., Jefferson City, for respondent.


John J. Middleton appeals from the denial of post-conviction relief from his conviction and death sentence for the firstdegree murder of Alfred Pinegar. He alleges the state had an undisclosed deal with one of the key witnesses for the prosecution. He further alleges that trial counsel were ineffective in failing to challenge a juror during voir dire, in choosing not to present a diminished capacity defense in the guilt phase, in failing to present certain mitigating evidence, and in failing to object (1) to the admission of certain evidence, (2) to certain statements in closing argument, and (3) to certain jury instructions. Finally, he alleges that appellate counsel were ineffective in failing to raise an alleged conflict of interest on the part of one of his early trial counsel whom he claimed also represented a witness against him and in failing to object to the omission of the word "knowingly" from the portion of the penalty phase instructions that submitted that the killing of Mr. Pinegar was part of an attempt by Mr. Middleton to conceal his activities as a drug dealer.

For the reasons set out below, this Court finds that the motion court did not err in denying post-conviction relief. Affirmed.


John Middleton was a user and dealer of methamphetamine. On June 10, 1995, police arrested several people in Harrison County, Missouri, for possession and sale of the drug. Mr. Middleton was not one of the people arrested. About ten days after the Harrison County arrests, Mr. Middleton told a friend that "the snitches around here are going to start going down." Mr. Middleton stated that he had a "hit list" and that Mr. Pinegar was on it. Two days after making these statements, Mr. Middleton told the same friend that he was "on his way to Ridgeway, Missouri, to take Alfred Pinegar fishing."

Alfred Pinegar was also a dealer of methamphetamine and was associated with Mr. Middleton as a fellow drug dealer. He lived with his fiancée, Priscilla Hobbs, in Davis City, Iowa, just north of Harrison County, Missouri. On June 23, 1995, the day of Mr. Pinegar's murder, Ms. Hobbs was driving toward her home in Davis City when she saw Mr. Middleton and his girlfriend

Page 731

Maggie Hodges in a white Chevrolet 4x4 pickup traveling in the opposite direction. Priscilla Hobbs noticed that Maggie Hodges was sitting in the middle of the truck seat instead of in the right passenger's seat. When Ms. Hobbs reached her home, Mr. Pinegar was not there and the yard had been partly mowed, as if he stopped in the middle of the job. Mr. Pinegar habitually carried a twelve-gauge shotgun, and that shotgun and about $200 were missing from the home.

Around noon that same day, Wesley Booth was working in the sporting goods department of a Wal-Mart store in Bethany, Missouri. He was approached by Ms. Hodges, Mr. Middleton, and another man, presumably Mr. Pinegar. Mr. Middleton asked Mr. Booth for six boxes of ninemillimeter shells and two boxes of twelvegauge "double-ought" buckshot. Mr. Middleton paid cash for the ammunition. During the entire transaction, Mr. Middleton was standing at the counter across from Mr. Booth.

Mr. Middleton, Ms. Hodges, and Mr. Pinegar left Wal-Mart and drove several miles northeast of Bethany near the town of Ridgeway where they parked in a field. Mr. Pinegar got out of the truck and began to run when he saw Mr. Middleton raise the twelve-gauge shotgun. Mr. Middleton shot Mr. Pinegar twice in the back. Mr. Middleton then delivered the fatal wound to Mr. Pinegar, shooting him in the face. Mr. Middleton dumped Mr. Pinegar's body over a fence. After committing the murder, Mr. Middleton and Ms. Hodges went back to the Wal-Mart store in Bethany to return the nine-millimeter ammunition. They did not return the twelvegauge "double-ought" shotgun shells. Mr. Booth walked with Mr. Middleton to the sporting goods department, where he exchanged the nine-millimeter shells for ammunition of another caliber. The two then walked back to the service desk to complete the exchange.

Later that afternoon, Gerald Parkhurst saw Mr. Middleton and Ms. Hodges standing next to their pickup on the side of a road north of Bethany. Claiming their pickup had broken down, Ms. Hodges asked Mr. Parkhurst if he would give them a ride. When Mr. Parkhurst agreed to give them a ride, they transferred five or six firearms to the trunk of Mr. Parkhurst's car, including the twelve-gauge shotgun Mr. Middleton had used to kill Pinegar. Mr. Parkhurst took the two to Spickard, Missouri, where they unloaded the weapons.

Two days after the murder, John Thomas visited Mr. Middleton at his home. Mr. Middleton and Mr. Thomas discussed possible undercover drug informants, and Mr. Middleton stated that "something had to be done about them." Mr. Middleton also told Mr. Thomas that he had acquired Mr. Pinegar's twelve-gauge shotgun and that Mr. Pinegar "wouldn't be needing it no more." Mr. Thomas drove Mr. Middleton to the place were the pickup truck had broken down, helped him remove a defective part, and then Mr. Middleton drove the truck away. The next day, on June 26, 1995, Mr. Pinegar's body was found. At the murder scene, police found a piece of leather fringe, an empty box of twelvegauge shotgun shells, two expended twelve-gauge shells, a pair of sunglasses with a missing lens, and a small plastic clock with an adhesive square on the back of it.

Later, on September 11, 1995, while Mr. Middleton was in jail, Mr. Middleton told Douglas Stallsworth, a fellow inmate, that he killed Mr. Pinegar because he was afraid that Mr. Pinegar was going to "snitch" on him about his methamphetamine dealing. Mr. Middleton described

Page 732

the details of Mr. Pinegar's murder. He also told Mr. Stallsworth that some fringe was missing from his leather jacket and he was worried that it had been left at the murder scene.

Mr. Middleton was charged by information with first-degree murder and armed criminal action on October 18, 1995, in the Circuit Court of Harrison County. The prosecutor later voluntarily withdrew the charge of armed criminal action. Following a change of venue to Adair County, the case went to trial on February 24, 1997. Mr. Middleton did not testify at his trial and offered no evidence in his defense. The state presented evidence that Mr. Middleton killed Alfred Pinegar in order to keep him quiet about Mr. Middleton's drug activity. Its evidence included the testimony of John Thomas and Doug Stallsworth, that Mr. Middleton admitted the murder. The jury found Mr. Middleton guilty of first-degree murder.

In the punishment phase of the trial the state presented evidence that Mr. Middleton had also murdered Randy Hamilton and Stacey Hodge, as part of his plan to eliminate "snitches" and that Mr. Pinegar's murder was wantonly vile, horrible, and inhuman, involving depravity of mind. The jury recommended a death sentence. The circuit court sentenced Mr. Middleton to death in accordance with the jury recommendation.

A few weeks later, Mr. Middleton was tried in Callaway County on two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of armed criminal action for killing Randy Hamilton and Stacey Hodge. He was convicted of both murders and received death sentences for those murders also.

This Court affirmed Mr. Middleton's conviction of the murder of Mr. Pinegar on direct appeal in State v. Middleton, 995 S.W.2d 443 (Mo. banc 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1054, 120 S.Ct. 598, 145 L.Ed.2d 497 (1999). This Court also affirmed Mr. Middleton's capital murder convictions arising out of the Callaway County case, see State v. Middleton, 998 S.W.2d 520 (Mo. banc 1999), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1167, 120 S.Ct. 1189, 145 L.Ed.2d 1094 (2000) (Callaway County case). Last year this Court denied Middleton's post-conviction relief claims in the Callaway County case in Middleton v. State, 80 S.W.3d 799 (Mo. banc 2002).

In the instant case, Mr. Middleton is appealing the motion court's denial of postconviction relief under Rule 29.15, after an evidentiary hearing, from his conviction for the murder of Mr. Pinegar. This Court has exclusive jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, sec. 10; Order of June 16, 1988.


To be entitled to post-conviction relief, Mr. Middleton was required to show by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) trial counsel failed to exercise the customary skill and diligence of a reasonably competent attorney under similar circumstances, and (2) counsel's deficient performance prejudiced the defense. Deck v. State, 68 S.W.3d 418, 425 (Mo. banc 2002), citing, Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 687-88, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984).

Mr. Middleton bears a heavy burden in establishing the first prong of the standard by a preponderance of the evidence, for he must overcome a strong presumption that counsel provided competent assistance. Rule 29.15(i); Leisure v. State, 828 S.W.2d 872, 874 (Mo. banc 1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 923, 113 S.Ct. 343, 121 L.Ed.2d 259 (1992). He must show "that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness."

Page 733

Strickland, 466 U.S. at 688, 104 S.Ct. 2052. To do this, Mr. Middleton must identify specific acts or omissions of counsel that resulted from unreasonable professional judgment, and the "court must determine whether, in light of all the circumstances, the identified acts or omissions were outside...

To continue reading

Request your trial
92 cases
  • McLaughlin v. Steele, Case No. 4:12CV1464 CDP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • 22 Marzo 2016
    ...trial court error, including constitutional claims of trial court error, must be raised on direct appeal. See, e.g., Middleton v. State , 103 S.W.3d 726, 740 (Mo. banc 2003) ; Griffin v. State , 794 S.W.2d 659, 661 (Mo. banc 1990). Because Petitioner failed to present this claim to the Miss......
  • Storey v. State, SC 85980.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 22 Noviembre 2005
    ..."Where counsel has investigated possible strategies, courts should rarely second-guess counsel's actual choices." Middleton v. State, 103 S.W.3d 726, 736 (Mo. banc On review of a denial of post-conviction relief, the facts are interpreted "in the light most favorable to the verdict." Tokar,......
  • Deck v. Steele, Case No. 4:12 CV 1527 CDP.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
    • 13 Abril 2017
    ...process. Jolly , 28 F.3d at 53. Under Missouri law, claims of trial court error must be raised on direct appeal. Middleton v. State , 103 S.W.3d 726, 740 (Mo. banc 2003) ; Ham v. State , 7 S.W.3d 433, 440 (Mo. Ct. App. 1999). Because Deck failed to raise the instant claim of trial court err......
  • Johnson v. State, SC92448.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Missouri
    • 1 Octubre 2013
    ...(Mo.App. W.D.2003). Just because a jury returns a guilty verdict does not mean that defense counsel was ineffective. Middleton v. State, 103 S.W.3d 726, 737 (Mo. banc 2003). Movant has not overcome the strong presumption that counsel rendered adequate assistance, exercising reasonable profe......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT