United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Delta Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MICHAEL P. MILLS, District Judge.
Petitioner Anthony Sneed, Mississippi prisoner no. 127401, has filed a federal habeas petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging his State court conviction for murder. Having considered the submissions of the parties, the State court record, and the law applicable to Petitioner's claims, the Court finds that the petition should be denied.
Background Facts and Procedural History
On August 11, 2006, Herman Fair was found dead at the bottom of a set of outdoor stairs at an apartment building in Friars Point, Mississippi, with his head in a pool of blood. After an investigation by law enforcement officials, Anthony Sneed (a/k/a "Trigger"), Anthony Smith (a/k/a "Sticky"), Thomas German (a/k/a "Tommy C."), Jamario Brady (a/k/a "Mario" or "Turtle"), and Johnny Bickham were apprehended as suspects.
Earlier on August 11, 2006, a verbal and physical altercation occurred between Fair and Smith's mother, Leanna Smith (a/k/a "Baddy"). Rotandria Foster, Smith's cousin and eyewitness to the incident, told Smith about the altercation. Wanting to speak with Fair about the altercation with his mother, Smith and the other four defendants walked to Fair's apartment building and waited at the bottom of the stairs for Fair to emerge from his apartment. Foster and Terinesia Burton also walked to the apartment building. Foster testified Fair came downstairs and yelled "Where that bitch ass Baddy' at?", and that Smith punched Fair in the face, knocking him to the ground. Foster testified that Brady began hitting Fair with a golf club, and that Smith attempted to stop Brady, telling Brady that Smith did not want to kill Fair. Foster stated that all of the defendants kicked Fair one time while he was on the ground, and that she and four of the defendants fled, leaving Brady still hitting Fair with the golf club. Foster testified that she later heard Brady brag to the other defendants that he killed Fair.
Following witness interviews and a preliminary investigation, all five defendants were interviewed. All five defendants waived their Miranda rights and gave statements to Officer Magsby, a criminal investigator with the Coahoma County Sheriff's Department. Brady admitted striking Fair on the leg with the golf club and later led officers to a field where the club was recovered. Smith admitted he punched Fair and knocked him down. Petitioner, German, and Bickham admitted to kicking Fair one time.
The defendants were indicted by a Coahoma County grand jury for deliberate-design murder pursuant to Miss. Code Ann. § 97-3-19(1)(a). Petitioner, Smith, and German each filed a motion to sever their trials from all of the other defendants, and after a hearing on the motions, the motions to sever were all denied. The court ordered that the defendants' statements to law enforcement officials could be used in the State's case-in-chief only after they were redacted to delete any reference to the other defendants.
At trial, Officer Magsby testified as to what each defendant said in his statement, but the jury was instructed before each statement that it could only consider the statement as evidence against the defendant who gave it. No written statements of the defendants were introduced into evidence.
Dr. Steven Hayne, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Fair's body, testified that although Fair had scalp injuries consistent with being struck with a golf club, the cause of Fair's death was blunt force to the chest that caused tears to his lungs and bleeding into his chest cavity. Dr. Hayne testified that Fair had one broken rib and bruises and tears on his lungs, and that over three quarts of blood were present in Fair's chest cavity. Dr. Hayne testified that the injuries could be attributed to someone kicking or stomping Fair in the chest.
None of the defendants testified in his own defense, and Petitioner was the only defendant to call a witness. Shelia Croom testified in Petitioner's defense. Croom was the next-door neighbor of Loretta Smith, with whom Fair sometimes lived. She testified that she was with Fair on August 11, 2006, and that he had an argument earlier that day with a man named Dennis Thompson. She stated that she heard a thump outside of her apartment later that evening, and that when she looked out of her window, she saw Thompson crouched over Fair's body, searching through Fair's pants pockets.
At the close of evidence, Petitioner and two other defendants renewed their motions to sever. The court denied the motions. Among the instructions given to the jury were instructions on murder, aiding and abetting, and manslaughter. All of the defendants were found guilty of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Each defendant filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict or, in the alternative, a new trial, which were all denied.
Petitioner appealed his conviction. On August 25, 2009, the Mississippi Court of Appeals affirmed Petitioner's judgment of conviction and sentence in a written opinion. See Sneed v. State, 31 So.3d 33 (Miss. Ct. App. 2009), reh'g denied, December 15, 2009, cert. denied, March 25, 2010 (Cause No. 2007-KA-00381) (Answer, Ex. A).
Aggrieved of this decision, Petitioner, proceeding pro se, filed in the Mississippi Supreme Court an application for leave to file for post-conviction relief. By order filed July 15, 2010, the Mississippi Supreme Court denied the application. (Answer, Ex. B) (Cause No. 2010-M-00789). Petitioner then filed his pro se federal habeas petition on or about May 9, 2011, raising the following claims:
Ground One. The trial court erred in denying the motion for severance filed by the petitioner.
Ground Two. Jury instruction C-16, an aiding and abetting instruction, was confusing and lessen[ed] the State's burden of proof.
Ground Three. The verdict was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence.
Ground Four. Petitioner was denied his right to effective assistance of trial and appellate counsel.
Ground Five. Petitioner['s] conviction stems from inconsistent witnesses' testimony that was unworthy of belief.
The Court's review of Petitioner's claims is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), because his federal habeas petition was filed after the statute's effective date. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997). The AEDPA prohibits the grant of federal habeas relief on any claim adjudicated on the merits in state court unless that adjudication (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established United States Supreme Court precedent; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the presented evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) & (2); Schriro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 473 (2007).
A state court's decision is "contrary to" Supreme Court law if (1) "the state court applies a rule that contradicts the governing law set forth in [Supreme Court] cases, " or (2) "if the state court confronts a set of facts that are materially indistinguishable from a decision of [the Supreme] Court and nevertheless arrives at a result different from [its] precedent." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405-06 (2000). The "unreasonable application" clause is reserved for decisions that either fail to identify the correct governing law, or that identify the correct governing law but misapply it to the case. Id. at 407-08. Under this standard, a state court's decision will not warrant federal habeas relief unless its application of federal law is both incorrect and unreasonable. Garcia v. Dretke, 388 F.3d 496, 500 (5th Cir. 2004) (emphasis in original) (citation omitted). A federal habeas court considers only the state court's conclusion when determining whether there has been an unreasonable application of federal law, and not the court's reasoning in reaching the decision. Neal v. Puckett, 286 F.3d 230, 246 (5th Cir. 2002).
I. Motion for ...