State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, No. SC 84656.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Missouri
Writing for the CourtRichard B. Teitelman
Citation102 S.W.3d 541
PartiesSTATE ex rel. Joseph AMRINE, Petitioner, v. Donald P. ROPER, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center, Respondent.
Decision Date29 April 2003
Docket NumberNo. SC 84656.
102 S.W.3d 541
STATE ex rel. Joseph AMRINE, Petitioner,
v.
Donald P. ROPER, Superintendent, Potosi Correctional Center, Respondent.
No. SC 84656.
Supreme Court of Missouri, En Banc.
April 29, 2003.

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COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

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Sean D. O'Brien, Kent E. Gipson, Kansas City, for State.

Jeremiah W. (Jay) Nixon, Atty. Gen., Frank A. Jung, Asst. Atty. Gen., for Respondent.

RICHARD B. TEITELMAN, Judge.


This case presents the issue of whether a Missouri prisoner sentenced to death can obtain habeas relief on a claim of actual innocence alone, independent of any constitutional violation at trial.1 Because the continued imprisonment and eventual execution of an innocent person is a manifest injustice, a habeas petitioner under a sentence of death may obtain relief from a judgment of conviction and sentence of death upon a clear and convincing showing of actual innocence that undermines confidence in the correctness of the judgment.

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The newly discovered evidence presented by Amrine meets this standard.

While the dissenting opinion suggests that questions of credibility remain, the Court disagrees. In light of the resulting lack of any remaining direct evidence of Amrine's guilt from the first trial, Amrine has already met the clear and convincing evidence standard, for our confidence in the outcome of the first trial is sufficiently undermined by the recantation of all the key witnesses against him in the first trial to require setting aside his conviction and sentence of death. There would be no purpose to a preliminary determination of credibility by this Court sitting as a habeas court, either directly or through a master.

For these reasons, Amrine is entitled to relief from his conviction and sentence and to release subject to the prosecutor's decision whether to pursue new charges against Amrine if the state believes it has sufficient evidence to do so. This Court therefore orders Amrine conditionally discharged from Respondent's custody thirty days from the date the mandate issues in this case unless the state elects to file new charges against Amrine in relation to the murder of which he was convicted.

FACTS

On October 18, 1985, inmate Gary Barber was stabbed to death in a recreation room at the Jefferson City Correctional Center. Officer John Noble identified inmate Terry Russell as the perpetrator. While being questioned about Barber's murder, Russell claimed that Amrine admitted that he had stabbed Barber. Amrine was charged with Barber's murder.

The state's case against Amrine rested on the testimony of inmate witnesses Terry Russell, Randy Ferguson and Jerry Poe. Russell testified that Amrine admitted to the murder. Ferguson testified that Amrine was walking next to Barber for several minutes before pulling a knife out of his waistband and stabbing Barber. Poe was not asked to describe the murder and testified only that he witnessed Amrine stab Barber. There was no physical evidence linking Amrine to the murder.

Amrine introduced evidence showing that he was not the killer and that Terry Russell was. Officer Noble testified that he saw Barber chase Russell across the recreation room before Barber pulled the knife from his back, collapsed, and died. Six inmates testified that Amrine was playing poker in a different part of the room at the time of the stabbing. Three of those inmates identified Terry Russell as the person that Barber was chasing. None of them named Amrine. The jury found Amrine guilty of Barber's murder, and he was sentenced to death.

This Court affirmed Amrine's conviction and sentence on direct appeal. State v. Amrine, 741 S.W.2d 665 (Mo. banc 1987). Amrine filed for post-conviction relief, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel under Rule 29.15. Ferguson and Russell testified at the Rule 29.15 hearing and recanted their trial testimony identifying Amrine as the murderer. Poe did not appear or testify in any of the state post-conviction proceedings, leaving his trial testimony intact. The motion court denied Amrine's petition for relief. This Court affirmed the judgment without reviewing the recantations. Amrine v. State, 785 S.W.2d 531 (Mo. banc 1990).

Amrine then petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Although counsel argued that Amrine was actually innocent given the recantations of Russell and Ferguson, counsel introduced no new evidence of innocence. Because of the continued existence of Poe's testimony, the district court

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did not consider matters pertaining to the credibility of Russell and Ferguson and denied Amrine's petition.

Amrine obtained new counsel who located Jerry Poe. Poe offered an affidavit in which he recanted completely his trial testimony, stating that he did not see Amrine stab Barber and that he falsely implicated Amrine. Poe's affidavit, if believed, would contradict the key evidence against Amrine. In light of this new evidence, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a limited remand for the district court to conduct an evidentiary hearing to determine if Poe's evidence Amrine presented was new and reliable and warranted habeas relief under Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 115 S.Ct. 851, 130 L.Ed.2d 808 (1995).2 Amrine v. Bowersox, 128 F.3d 1222, 1228 (8th Cir.1997).

On remand, Amrine presented testimony from former inmates Russell and Dean, former corrections officer Noble, and videotaped testimony from Poe and Ferguson. The district court denied Amrine's claim on the basis that only Poe's testimony was "new evidence" and that his recantation was unreliable. The district court did not consider Amrine's other evidence, including the recantations of Russell and Ferguson, because that evidence was not new. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment, holding that the district court properly focused on Poe's testimony because the testimony from Russell, Ferguson, Dean and Noble was not new. Amrine v. Bowersox, 238 F.3d 1023 (8th Cir.2001). The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari. Amrine v. Luebbers, 534 U.S. 963, 122 S.Ct. 372, 151 L.Ed.2d 283 (2001).

Amrine petitions this Court for a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that he is actually innocent of the Barber murder. Because the recantations were made over the course of years and between rounds of federal court proceedings, no court has addressed, at once, all of the evidence of Amrine's innocence. This Court is the first forum in which all of the existing evidence of innocence will be considered.

DISCUSSION

Amrine contends that he is entitled to habeas relief because all of the evidence now available establishes that he is actually innocent of the Barber murder. Amrifle's claim for habeas relief rests on the proposition that his continued incarceration and eventual execution for a murder he did not commit constitutes a manifest injustice entitling him to habeas relief even though his trial and sentencing were otherwise constitutionally adequate. This case thus presents the first impression issue of whether and upon what showing a petitioner who makes a freestanding claim of actual innocence is entitled to habeas corpus relief from his conviction and sentence.

I. Habeas Review of Claims of Constitutional Error

Habeas corpus is the last judicial inquiry into the validity of a criminal conviction and serves as "a bulwark against convictions that violate fundamental fairness." Engle v. Isaac, 456 U.S. 107, 126, 102 S.Ct. 1558, 71 L.Ed.2d 783 (1982). To that end, Missouri law provides that a writ of habeas corpus may be issued when a person is restrained of his or her liberty in violation of the constitution or laws of the state or federal government. State ex rel. Nixon v. Jaynes, 63 S.W.3d 210, 214 (Mo.

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banc 2001). Even though the interests protected by the writ are fundamental, relief is limited in order to avoid unending challenges to final judgments. Habeas relief, therefore, is generally denied if the petitioner raises procedurally barred claims that could have been raised at an earlier stage or if other adequate remedies are available. Clay v. Dormire, 37 S.W.3d 214, 217 (Mo. banc 2000). Exceptions to this rule are recognized when the petitioner raises a jurisdictional issue, can demonstrate "cause and prejudice," or in extraordinary circumstances, when the petitioner can demonstrate that a "manifest injustice" would result unless habeas relief is granted. State ex rel. Nixon v. Jaynes, 63 S.W.3d at 215; State ex rel. Simmons v. White, 866 S.W.2d 443, 446 (Mo. banc 1993).

Amrine's petition for habeas relief turns on the application of the manifest injustice standard to his claim of actual innocence. The state argues that Amrine's right to habeas relief depends on whether he meets the standards discussed in Clay for habeas relief. Clay discussed the circumstances in which a prisoner who has failed to raise a claim of constitutional error within the time period allowed under Missouri law may nonetheless obtain review of that claim of constitutional error. Clay adopted the federal standard set out in Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. at 327, 115 S.Ct. 851, and required a showing of either (1) cause for failing to raise the claim in a timely manner and prejudice from the constitutional error asserted, or (2) a showing by the preponderance of the evidence of actual innocence, and this would meet the manifest injustice standard for habeas relief under Missouri law. A showing either of cause and prejudice or of actual innocence acts as a "gateway" that entitles the prisoner to review on the merits of the prisoner's otherwise defaulted constitutional claim. Clay, 37 S.W.3d at 217.

II. Freestanding Claims of Actual Innocence As Manifest Injustice

Here, however, Mr. Amrine does not assert actual innocence merely as a gateway to allow consideration of an underlying constitutional claim. Rather, he makes what has been termed a "freestanding" claim of actual...

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44 practice notes
  • Gould v. Comm'r of Correction.Ronald Taylor v. Comm'r of Correction., Nos. 18732
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 19, 2011
    ...of three purported eyewitnesses to the crime who had identified the petitioner as the perpetrator. State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, 102 S.W.3d 541, 544 (Mo.2003). No physical evidence linked the petitioner to the crime. Id. At his habeas trial, the petitioner proffered recantations from all t......
  • Tempest v. State, C. A. PM 04-1896
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • July 13, 2015
    ...and convincing evidence that . . . he is actually innocent of the crime of which he stands convicted"); State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, 102 S.W.3d 541, 548 (Mo. 2003) (requiring petitioner "make a clear and convincing showing of actual innocence that undermines confidence in the correctness ......
  • Gould v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 18732
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 19, 2011
    ...of three purported eyewitnesses to the crime who had identified the petitioner as the perpetrator. State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, 102 S.W.3d 541, 544 (Mo. 2003). No physical evidence linked the petitioner to the crime. Id. At his habeas trial, the petitioner proffered recantations from all ......
  • Childers v. Crow, No. 20-5014
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • June 14, 2021
    ...Crim. App. 1996) (permitting a gateway claim of actual innocence action in the interest of justice); State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper , 102 S.W.3d 541, 546 (Mo. 2003) (affirming actual innocence "as a ‘gateway’ that entitles the prisoner to review on the merits of the prisoner's otherwise defa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
44 cases
  • Gould v. Comm'r of Correction.Ronald Taylor v. Comm'r of Correction., Nos. 18732
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 19, 2011
    ...of three purported eyewitnesses to the crime who had identified the petitioner as the perpetrator. State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, 102 S.W.3d 541, 544 (Mo.2003). No physical evidence linked the petitioner to the crime. Id. At his habeas trial, the petitioner proffered recantations from all t......
  • Tempest v. State, C. A. PM 04-1896
    • United States
    • Superior Court of Rhode Island
    • July 13, 2015
    ...and convincing evidence that . . . he is actually innocent of the crime of which he stands convicted"); State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, 102 S.W.3d 541, 548 (Mo. 2003) (requiring petitioner "make a clear and convincing showing of actual innocence that undermines confidence in the correctness ......
  • Gould v. Comm'r of Corr., SC 18732
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Connecticut
    • July 19, 2011
    ...of three purported eyewitnesses to the crime who had identified the petitioner as the perpetrator. State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper, 102 S.W.3d 541, 544 (Mo. 2003). No physical evidence linked the petitioner to the crime. Id. At his habeas trial, the petitioner proffered recantations from all ......
  • Childers v. Crow, No. 20-5014
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Tenth Circuit
    • June 14, 2021
    ...Crim. App. 1996) (permitting a gateway claim of actual innocence action in the interest of justice); State ex rel. Amrine v. Roper , 102 S.W.3d 541, 546 (Mo. 2003) (affirming actual innocence "as a ‘gateway’ that entitles the prisoner to review on the merits of the prisoner's otherwise defa......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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