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Leon v. State

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 6, 2015

IRA R. LEON, Petitioner,
v.
STATE OF NEBRASKA, and SCOTT FRAKES, Director of the Nebraska Department of Corrections, Respondents.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

LYLE E. STROM, Senior Judge United States District Court

This matter is before the Court on respondents’ Motion for Summary Judgment (Filing No. 13). Respondents argue that petitioner Ira Leon’s (“Leon”) habeas corpus action brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 must be dismissed because it is barred by the statute of limitations. The Court agrees.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Conviction and Sentence

The Court states the facts as they were recited by the Nebraska Supreme Court in State v. Leon, 781 N.W.2d 608 (Neb. 2010) (affirming state district court’s denial of motion for DNA testing). See Bucklew v. Luebbers, 436 F.3d 1010, 1013 (8th Cir. 2006).

Leon was charged with first degree murder, robbery, and use of a weapon to commit a felony in the February 19, 1992, death of Bettie Christensen. Leon had originally been charged with premeditated murder or, in the alternative, felony murder. But pursuant to a plea bargain, Leon agreed to plead no contest to premeditated first degree murder, robbery, and use of a weapon to commit a felony. In exchange, the State of Nebraska (“State”) amended the information against Leon, striking that portion charging him with felony murder. The State also agreed not to seek the death penalty or the maximum terms of imprisonment for the robbery and use charges, and further agreed not to present any additional evidence at sentencing. Per the agreement, the State was permitted to ask the state district court for a minimum period of incarceration of 17 years in addition to Leon’s life sentence for the first degree murder conviction.

In support of the no contest plea, the State alleged that at around 10:10 p.m. on February 19, 1992, Leon and another man, Stacey Fletcher, entered the Barn Store, a convenience store located in North Platte, Nebraska. Leon and Fletcher were in possession of two tire irons at the time they entered the store. Upon realizing that Leon and Fletcher were going to rob the store, Christensen, the store clerk, screamed and ran toward the back room. According to Fletcher, at that point, Leon began beating Christensen about the head. After Christensen was dead, Leon and Fletcher stole $400 to $500 in cash from the cash register and left the store. They were later apprehended at a North Platte residence. The tire irons were recovered. Both tire irons tested positive for the presence of human blood. One tire iron also had hair resembling the victim’s on it. In addition, a customer who entered the store at the time of the murder and robbery positively identified Leon.

Leon was sentenced to consecutive terms of life imprisonment for first degree murder, 12 to 25 years imprisonment for robbery, and 5 to 10 years imprisonment for use of a weapon to commit a felony. He did not file a direct appeal.

B. Postconviction Motion and Appeal

Leon filed a motion for postconviction relief in the state district court on January 28, 1993, which the state district court denied on August 20, 1993. (Filing No. 14-2 at CM/ECF pp. 1-6.) The Nebraska Court of Appeals affirmed the state district court’s decision on April 21, 1994. (Filing No. 14-1 at CM/ECF p. 2.) Leon did not petition the Nebraska Supreme Court for further review.

C. Motion for DNA Testing

Leon filed a motion for DNA testing in the state district court on May 4, 2009. He alleged that DNA evidence would show Fletcher, not Leon, actually caused Christensen’s death. (Filing No. 14-6 at CM/ECF pp. 1-3.) The state district court denied the motion on June 15, 2009. (Id. at CM/ECF pp. 4-7.) The Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed the state district court’s decision on April 23, 2010. Leon, 781 N.W.2d at 608.

D. Habeas Corpus Action

Leon filed his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (“petition”) in this Court on January 15, 2014 (Filing No. 1). He filed an Amended Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (“amended petition”) (Filing No. 8) on July 21, 2014. Thereafter, respondents moved for summary judgment (Filing No. 13), arguing the petition and amended petition were barred by the relevant statute of limitations. In response to the summary judgment motion, Leon argued that he is actually innocent of Christensen’s murder and the robbery of the Barn Store (Filing No. 19). Respondents submitted evidence of Leon’s guilt in response to Leon’s assertion of actual innocence, and the parties engaged in additional ...


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