Williams v. Sachse

Decision Date28 September 2022
Docket Number4:19-CV-02272-SPM
PartiesMAURICE WILLIAMS, Petitioner, v. JENNIFER SACHSE, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Missouri


This matter is before the Court on the pro se petition of Missouri state prisoner Maurice Williams (Petitioner) for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1). The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1). (Doc. 7). For the following reasons, the petition will be denied.

I. Factual Background

The facts that formed the basis for Petitioner's convictions are set forth in the Missouri Court of Appeals' opinion denying Petitioner's direct appeal, as follows.[1]

At trial, [Mark] Bruner testified that he had known the owner of 4922 Penrose all his life. On July 31, 2014, Bruner helped Robert Turner, whose wife owned the property, clean the house, from which the previous tenants had recently been evicted. Bruner testified that the previous tenants had left beds, chairs and mattresses, but that there were no fixtures ripped out of the walls. Around 10:00 a.m. on August 1, 2014 Bruner went outside to put tags on his car. He heard the door knocker on the 4922 door bang as the door was closed, looked across the street, and “saw a gentleman coming out of the house.” During cross-examination, Bruner clarified that he “heard the door closing.” [Bruner also testified that the person was carrying two bags, which he described as a duffle bag and a white trash bag. Resp't Ex. 1, at 337.]
Bruner . . . testified that he followed the suspect at a safe distance, called 911 to report a break-in, and lost sight of Defendant when he ran on Kingshighway. Bruner further testified as to the show-up procedure [at which officers brought him to see Petitioner, in handcuffs, as a possible suspect, and Bruner identified Petitioner as the person he had followed[2], and identified Defendant in open court as the man he had followed and as the man he had identified during the show-up. He never lost sight of Defendant for more than a few seconds.
Officer Hill also testified at trial, largely recounting his testimony from the hearing on the motion to suppress. [At trial, Officer Hill testified that he was on routine patrol, in a marked police car, when he heard a radio description of a burglary in the Penrose neighborhood involving a suspect described as a black male wearing a blue shirt and black pants, carrying two bags (one white and one dark) last seen going south on North Kingshighway. Resp't Ex. 1, at 391-93. Hill drove to that area of Kingshighway and saw a suspect in the driveway of a vacant house who matched the description and who was manipulating a white bag that was on the ground. Id. at 394, 398. When he got closer, he observed that the white bag was actually a bed sheet that had been folded and tied at the corners. Id. at 395.] He testified that Defendant dropped the white bag (or sheet) and a baseball hat then ran. Less than five minutes later, other officers had apprehended Defendant. Officer Hill drove Defendant, whom he identified as the same person he saw running away, back to 4922 Penrose, where Bruner positively identified Defendant as the person who came out of the house. Officer Hill also showed the contents of the white bag to Robert Turner. Those contents, according to Officer Hill, included copper pipe, wiring, and plumbing fixtures, as well as a screwdriver. Defendant's black backpack contained cloth gloves, a pipe wrench, and a hacksaw.
Robert Turner also testified before the jury. Turner, whose wife owns 4922 Penrose, did maintenance work there from time to time. He testified that he had done some plumbing work at the house and that he was familiar with the fixtures and valves in the house. He spent six to eight hours per day in the house during late July 2014, including on July 31. Once he was informed that 4922 Penrose had been burglarized, he went to the address, where police showed him pipes and metal items spread out on the front porch. He recognized two shut-off valves as belonging to the house. On attempting to enter the front door, he noticed the locks were jammed: [i]t was jimmied or something” and he had to put his shoulder to it for entry. The door had operated normally the day before. On cross-examination, Turner admitted that he originally thought a former tenant had broken into the residence, and that he only realized there was something wrong with the front door after police had gone. Once inside the house, Turner noticed that the first floor sink was torn out, “busted out” walls and missing pipes in the basement, and water all over the floor. None of the wall damage or standing water had been there the day before. Police left the entire group of pipes and valves with Turner, who welded back in some of the pipes and re-installed the valves.
The defense rested without presenting any witnesses, and after being instructed the jury found Defendant guilty of both burglary in the second degree and of stealing.[3] . On July 24, 2015, the trial court sentenced Defendant, as a prior and persistent offender, to concurrent sentences of twelve years' imprisonment on the burglary conviction and one year on the stealing conviction.

Resp't Ex. 8, at 3-6.

In his direct appeal, Petitioner asserted three points of error: (1) that the trial court erred in denying Petitioner's motion to suppress evidence related to the out-of-court identification made by Mr. Bruner, because the show-up identification procedure was impermissibly suggestive; (2) that the trial court erred in denying Petitioner's request for a continuance to secure the testimony of Evidence Technician Unit Officer Julie Sommer, because her testimony would have contradicted the testimony of Mr. Turner regarding damage to the front door and other statements; and (3) that the trial court erred in accepting the guilty verdicts on each count of first degree burglary and stealing, because there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Petitioner entered 4922 Penrose or a finding that the items seized from him at the time of his arrest were taken from 4922 Penrose. Resp't Ex. 4, at 11-13. On August 16, 2016, the Missouri Court of Appeals denied all three points of error on the merits and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. Resp't Ex. 8.

On October 14, 2016, Petitioner filed a pro se motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. Resp't Ex. 11, at 24-30.[4] Subsequently, acting through counsel, Petitioner filed an amended motion for post-conviction relief pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15. Id. at 35-96. In the amended motion, Petitioner asserted eight claims of ineffective assistance of counsel,[5] plus a paragraph describing in summary fashion the claims raised in the pro se motion.[6] Id. at 38-91. On July 5, 2017, following an evidentiary hearing, the motion court entered an order denying the first eight claims on the merits. Id. at 108-41. With regard to the paragraph summarizing Plaintiff's various pro se claims, the motion court denied the claims because Petitioner did not comply with Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15(g)[7] in raising them. Id. at 139-40. The court also found that most of the claims in the list pertained to trial court errors not cognizable in a Rule 29.15 motion. Id. at 140.

On appeal from the denial of his motion for post-conviction relief, Petitioner raised three claims: (1) ineffective assistance of trial counsel in offering instruction eight, an instruction on eyewitness testimony based on a provisional version of MAI-CR 302.01 that failed to list all of the required factors and had other defects; (2) ineffective assistance of trial counsel in failing to request submission of a jury instruction on the lesser-included offense of trespass in the first degree; and (3) ineffective assistance of trial counsel in failing to move to strike juror Goodwin. Resp't Ex. 12, at 15-20. On December 18, 2018, the Missouri Court of Appeals found all three claims to be without merit and affirmed the judgment of the motion court. Resp't Ex. 16.

In the instant petition, Petitioner raises 39 separate grounds for habeas relief, several of which include multiple embedded claims.

II. Legal Standards

A prisoner in custody under the judgment and sentence of a state court may seek habeas relief under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (“AEDPA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a), “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). It is well established that “federal habeas corpus relief does not lie for errors of state law.” Estelle v. McGuire, 502 U.S. 62, 67 (1991) (quoting Lewis v. Jeffers, 497 U.S. 764, 780 (1990)). See also Nance v. Norris, 392 F.3d 284, 289 (8th Cir. 2004) (noting that “errors of state law are not cognizable in federal habeas courts). In a habeas proceeding, the Court reviews claims of error “only to determine whether an alleged error infringes upon a specific constitutional protection or is so prejudicial as to be a denial of due process.” Brende v. Young, 907 F.3d 1080, 1084 (8th Cir. 2018) (quoting Rousan v. Roper, 436 F.3d 951, 958 (8th Cir. 2006)).

Federal habeas review exists only “as ‘a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.' Woods v. Donald, 575 U.S. 312, 316 (2015) (per curiam) (quoting Harrington v. Richter, 562 U.S. 86, 102-03 (2011)).

III. Discussion

The Court will address Petitioner's claims in two groups: (A) claims Petitioner...

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