Strong v. Roper, Case No. 4:08CV1917 JCH

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
Writing for the CourtJean C. Hamilton
PartiesRICHARD STRONG, Petitioner, v. DONALD ROPER, Respondent.
Docket NumberCase No. 4:08CV1917 JCH
Decision Date29 June 2011

RICHARD STRONG, Petitioner,
v.
DONALD ROPER, Respondent.

Case No. 4:08CV1917 JCH

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI EASTERN DIVISION

Dated: June 29, 2011


MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Petitioner Richard Strong's Petition Under 28 U.S.C. §2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody ("Petition"; Doc. No. 17). Because this Court has determined that Strong's claims are inadequate on their face and the record affirmatively refutes the factual assertions upon which Strong's claims are based, this Court decides this matter without an evidentiary hearing.

BACKGROUND

Strong is incarcerated at the Potosi Correctional Center located in Mineral Point, Missouri pursuant to a conviction for the deaths of his former girlfriend, Eva Washington ("Eva"), and her daughter, Zandrea Thomas ("Zandrea"). On March 4, 2003, a jury found Strong guilty of two counts of murder in the first degree under Mo.Rev.Stat. §565.020. (Petition, pp. 1-2). On March 6, 2003, a jury assessed Strong's punishment at death on each count. (Petition, p. 2). On May 9, 2003, the Honorable Judge Gary M. Gaertner, Jr., Circuit Judge in the 22nd Circuit of Missouri, sentenced Strong to death in accordance with the jury's verdict. (Id.). Strong filed his notice of appeal with the Missouri Supreme Court on May 9, 2003. (Id). On August 24, 2004, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed Strong's convictions and death sentences. State v. Strong, 142 S.W. 3d

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702 (Mo. banc 2004). Strong filed a petition for writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court, but his petition was denied on January 10, 2005. (Petition, p. 11; Strong v. Missouri, 543 U.S. 1059, 125 S. Ct. 872, 160 L. Ed. 2d 786, 2005 U.S. LEXIS 578 (2005)). On December 7, 2004, Strong filed a motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Mo.S.Ct.R. 29.15 in the Circuit Court of the County of St. Louis, State of Missouri. (Petition, p.11)1 On December 14, 2006, Judge Gaertner denied Petitioner's 29.15 motion for post-conviction relief after an evidentiary hearing. (Petition, p. 21). On January 22, 2007, Petitioner filed a notice of appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court from the denial of his Mo.S.Ct.R. 29.15 motion. (Id.). On July 31, 2008, the Missouri Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's denial of post-conviction relief. (Petition, p. 24; Strong v. State, 263 S.W.3d 636 (Mo. 2008)). On December 23, 2008, Strong filed a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court; the writ was denied on March 30, 2009. (Petition, p. 25; Strong v. Missouri, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 2450 (Mar. 30, 2009)).

On September 29, 2009, Strong filed the instant Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus ("Petition") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Doc. No. 17). Respondent filed his Response on November 25, 2009 (Doc. No. 22), and Strong filed a Traverse on March 17, 2010 (Doc. No. 30).

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STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, a district court "shall entertain an application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). "[A]n application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the adjudication of the claim (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). The Supreme Court has emphasized the phrase "Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court," refers to "the holdings, as opposed to the dicta, of this Court's decisions," and has cautioned that § 2254(d)(1) "restricts the source of clearly established law to [the Supreme] Court's jurisprudence." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000). "'A state court's decision is contrary to ... clearly established law if it applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases or if it confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a [Supreme Court] decision . and nevertheless arrives at a [different] result.'" Cagle v. Norris, 474 F.3d 1090, 1095 (8th Cir. 2007) (quoting Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, 15-16 (2003)).

A state court "unreasonably applies" federal law when it "identifies the correct governing legal rule from [the Supreme] Court's cases but unreasonably applies it to the facts of the particular state prisoner's case," or "unreasonably extends a legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] precedent to a new context where it should not apply or unreasonably refuses to extend that principle to a new

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context where it should apply." Williams, 529 U.S. at 405. A court may not grant relief merely because it concludes that the state court applied established federal law incorrectly; instead, the application must also be unreasonable. Id. at 411. A state court decision may be considered an unreasonable determination "only if it is shown that the state court's presumptively correct factual findings do not enjoy support in the record." Ryan v. Clarke, 387 F.3d 785, 791 (8th Cir. 2004).

An application for a writ of habeas corpus may also be granted if any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court "resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(2). "[A] determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct," and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting that presumption by clear and convincing evidence. Id. at § 2254(e)(1); see Jones v. Luebbers, 359 F.3d 1005, 1011 (8th Cir. 2004) (state court decision unreasonable only if showing made that factual findings do not enjoy support in the record); Boyd v. Minnesota, 274 F.3d 497, 500 (8th Cir. 2001) (factual determination of state court presumed correct).

The habeas review applies to any claim "that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). "The Eighth Circuit noted that the determination as to whether a claim was adjudicated on the merits in state court requires a court to 'look at what a state court has said, case by case, and determine whether the federal constitutional claim was considered and rejected by that court.'" Barnett v. Roper, No. 4:03CV00614, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60130, at *23 (E.D. Mo. Aug. 24, 2006)(quoting Brown v. Luebbers, 371 F.3d 458, 461 (8th Cir. 2004)). Federal courts are bound to exercise only limited and deferential review of underlying state court decisions in habeas corpus cases. Barnett v. Roper, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 60130, at *24; Ryan v. Clarke, 387 F.3d 785, 790 (8th Cir. 2004); Luebbers, 359 F.3d at 1011.

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FACTUAL BACKGROUND

In habeas corpus proceedings, "a determination of a factual issue made by a State court shall be presumed to be correct." 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1).2 Accordingly, the facts in this case are as follows:

St. Ann police received a 911 call on October 23, 2000, at 3:30 p.m. The call was immediately disconnected. The dispatcher replayed the call and heard a scream. The dispatcher tried to redial the number repeatedly until officers arrived at the source of the call approximately two minutes later. The call originated from the apartment where Eva lived with her two daughters. The older daughter, Zandrea Thomas, was two years old. Strong is the father of the other girl, who was three months old.
When officers arrived at the apartment and knocked, initially there was no answer at the front or back door. They continued to knock and shouted, and Strong eventually came to the back door. Upon inquiries by the police, Strong initially told them Eva and the kids were sleeping. Strong meanwhile stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
The police again asked about Eva, and Strong told them she had gone to work. Because this was an inconsistent response, the police asked about the children, and Strong told them the kids were inside. The officers asked if they could check on the children, and Strong told them he had locked himself out.3 Strong knocked on the door and called for someone to open it.
Officers noted that Strong was sweating profusely, had dark stains on the knees of his jeans, and had blood on his left hand. They ordered Strong to step aside and kicked in the door. Strong ran. When the officers chased him, Strong told them, "Just shoot me; just shoot me." After he was handcuffed, he told the officers, "I killed them."4

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Inside the apartment, police found the dead bodies of Eva and Zandrea in a back bedroom. They had been stabbed repeatedly with a knife. On the bed, one of the officers found a large butcher knife and a three-month-old baby sitting next to a pool of blood. An autopsy revealed that Eva had been stabbed 21 times, with five slash wounds, and the tip of the knife used to stab her was embedded in her skull. The autopsy
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