Myers v. Superintendent, Ind. State Prison

Decision Date30 September 2019
Docket NumberNo. 1:16-cv-02023-JRS-DML,1:16-cv-02023-JRS-DML
Citation410 F.Supp.3d 958
Parties John MYERS, Petitioner, v. SUPERINTENDENT, INDIANA STATE PRISON, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Indiana

Marie F. Donnelly, Attorney At Law, Evanston, IL, for Petitioner.

Andrew A. Kobe, Kelly A. Loy, Office of the Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, for Respondent.



Petitioner John Myers filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in this Court challenging his murder conviction. A jury convicted Mr. Myers of murder in Morgan County, Indiana in 2006. His conviction was affirmed by the Indiana Court of Appeals. He then challenged his conviction in state post-conviction proceedings but was unsuccessful. Mr. Myers now seeks a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that his counsel provided ineffective assistance during trial, the State presented false evidence, and the State withheld exculpatory evidence.

The record presented in this case is massive, involving several thousand pages of grand jury proceedings, trial transcripts, state post-conviction transcripts, and exhibits from those proceedings. The parties' briefing spans three hundred pages. The Court's lengthy ruling is the product of this record.

After reviewing the record and the parties' briefs in detail, the Court concludes that Mr. Myers received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial in violation of his Sixth Amendment rights. Most notably, Mr. Myers's counsel made false statements to the jury during opening arguments, which counsel admitted to the Indiana Supreme Court in a subsequent attorney disciplinary proceeding. He also failed to object to two significant categories of evidence that should not have been presented to the jury. In the end, these serious errors all but destroyed the defense that trial counsel presented to the jury and tainted the entire trial.

In denying Mr. Myers's ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim, the Indiana Court of Appeals unreasonably applied clearly established Federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington , 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), and Wiggins v. Smith , 539 U.S. 510, 123 S.Ct. 2527, 156 L.Ed.2d 471 (2003). When these standards are correctly applied, they reveal that Mr. Myers's counsel's errors "so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result." Strickland , 466 U.S. at 686, 104 S.Ct. 2052.

A federal habeas court "will not lightly conclude that a State's criminal justice system has experienced the ‘extreme malfunctio[n] for which federal habeas relief is the remedy." Burt v. Titlow , 571 U.S. 12, 20, 134 S.Ct. 10, 187 L.Ed.2d 348 (2013) (alteration in original) (citation omitted). But this case presents a rare instance where this has occurred. Accordingly, Mr. Myers's petition for a writ of habeas corpus is GRANTED . A writ of habeas corpus shall issue ordering Mr. Myers's release from custody unless the State elects to retry Mr. Myers within 120 days of the entry of Final Judgment in this action.

A new trial will likely come only at considerable cost—to the State, yes, but, more important, to the victim's family and community still wounded by their tragic loss. Such costs do not enter into the constitutional analysis; and yet, the Court cannot help but express its empathy for those who must bear them for the sake of our Constitution and its protections.


The factual background necessary to understand Mr. Myers's claims is extensive. The Indiana Court of Appeals summarized much of the factual and procedural background in its opinion denying Mr. Myers post-conviction relief. The Court will set out that background here in full and will discuss the factual background necessary to understand each of Mr. Myers's claims in Part II below.

On appeal from the denial of post-conviction relief, the Indiana Court of Appeals summarized the relevant factual and procedural history as follows:

The facts underlying Myers' conviction were set forth as follows in th[e] [Indiana Court of Appeals'] opinion arising out of his direct appeal:
In the spring of 2000, John Myers II lived approximately seven tenths of a mile from the intersection of North Maple Grove Road and West Maple Grove Road, at 1465 West Maple Grove Road, north of Bloomington in Monroe County. Myers was on vacation from work the week of May 29 through June 2.
On the morning of May 31, 2000, Jill Behrman, an accomplished bicyclist who had just completed her freshman year at Indiana University, left her Bloomington home to take a bicycle ride. She logged off of her home computer at 9:32 a.m. Behrman did not report to the Student Recreational Sports Center, where she was scheduled to work from noon to 3:00 p.m. that day, nor did she appear at a postwork lunch scheduled with her father and grandparents. Following nationwide search efforts, Behrman's remains were ultimately discovered on March 9, 2003, in a wooded area near the intersection of Warthen and Duckworth Roads in Morgan County. The cause of her death was ruled to be a contact shotgun wound to the back of the head.
With respect to the events surrounding Behrman's disappearance, one report indicated that a young woman matching Behrman's description was seen riding her bicycle north of Bloomington on North Maple Grove Road at approximately 10:00 a.m. the morning of May 31. A tracking dog later corroborated this report. While another report placed Behrman south of Bloomington at 4700 Harrell Road at approximately 9:38 a.m., some authorities later discounted this report due to her log-off time of 9:32 a.m. and the minimum fourteen minutes it would take to bicycle to Harrell Road. The tracking dog did not detect Behrman's scent trail south of Bloomington.
At approximately 8:30 a.m. on the morning of May 31, 2000, in the North Maple Grove Road area, a witness saw a white "commercial looking" Ford van without identification on its doors or sides drive slowly past his driveway on North Maple Grove Road, heading south. Two men were inside the van. This witness saw the van two additional times that morning by approximately 9:00 a.m. and later identified the van as "exactly like" a Bloomington Hospital van.
At some point before noon on May 31, 2000, another witness saw a bicycle later determined to be Behrman's lying off of the east side of North Maple Grove Road near the intersection of North Maple Grove Road and West Maple Grove Road. The location of the bicycle was approximately one mile from Myers' residence and ten and one-half miles from Behrman's house.
On May 31, the date of Behrman's disappearance, two witnesses separately noted that the windows in Myers' trailer were covered, which was unusual. One of these witnesses also observed that Myers' car was parked fifty yards from its normal location and remained out of sight from the road for approximately three days. Myers told this witness that he had parked his car in that secluded spot because he did not want anyone to know he was home.
Myers' account of his activities during his vacation week of May 29 through June 2 was reportedly that he was "here and there." Myers' employer at the time was the Bloomington Hospital warehouse, where he had access to two white panel Ford vans. Besides being "here and there," Myers indicated that he had been mostly at home, that he had gone to a gas station, and that he had gone to Kentucky Kingdom but found it was closed. Myers additionally stated that he and his girlfriend, Carly Goodman, had cancelled their plans to go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and to Kings Island, Ohio, that week. Phone calls made from Myers' trailer on May 31 were at the following times: 9:15 a.m.; 9:17 a.m.; 9:18 a.m.; 10:37 a.m.; 10:45 a.m.; and 6:48 p.m. [Mr. Myers made these calls.] The calls were to drive-in theaters and various state parks.
Myers was reportedly almost hysterical on May 31 and spoke of leaving town and never coming back. Myers' aunt, Debbie Bell, observed that Myers had been very depressed in the preceding month and believed that this was due to problems with his girlfriend. In late April 2000, Myers had called Bell because he had been having problems with his girlfriend and felt like "a balloon full of hot air about to burst."
Carly Goodman was Myers' girlfriend beginning in approximately late October 1999. In March of 2000, Myers took Goodman for a long drive through Gosport, "over a bridge where there was a creek and into some woods." Myers pulled his car into a clearing in the woods where the two of them argued, which scared Goodman. Although it was nighttime, Goodman observed the appearance of this clearing from the car's headlights. In late April or early May of 2000, Goodman broke off her relationship with Myers. Goodman denied that she and Myers had ever made plans to go to Myrtle Beach or to Kings Island the week of May 29.
On June 5, 2000, Bell again spoke with Myers. Myers mentioned that a girl had been abducted in the area, and he was afraid he would be blamed for it. Myers further stated that the girl's bicycle had been found about a mile from his house and that "they blame [him] for everything." Myers additionally asserted, "[T]hey haven't found her body yet" and guessed that the girl was dead. In that same conversation, Myers indicated that he had been stopped by a roadblock and was "scared" of roadblocks, but he later changed his mind, laughed, and said he was not really "scared."
Following a tip due to this conversation, on June 27, 2000, Detective Rick Crussen of the Bloomington Police Department interviewed Jodie [Myers] and Myers' father, John Myers Sr., at their residence at 3909 West Delap Road. The following day, Detective Crussen interviewed Myers.
On June 27, 2000, immediately after Detective Crussen interviewed Myers' parents and

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