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White v. Steele

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

April 6, 2017

Christopher White Petitioner-Appellant
Troy Steele Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: March 9, 2017

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before RILEY, Chief Judge, [1] GRUENDER, Circuit Judge, and SCHREIER, [2] District Judge.

          GRUENDER, Circuit Judge.

         Christopher White was convicted of first-degree murder, armed criminal action, and first-degree assault following a jury trial in Missouri state court. White petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, arguing that the State failed to disclose that a key prosecution witness received favorable consideration in exchange for his testimony. The district court[3] denied White's petition, and we affirm.


         On the morning of June 21, 2002, three men with guns approached the house of Freddie Chew. Chew drew his gun and fired one shot at the men. In response, the men shot and killed Chew. Jeffrey Shockley, a friend of Chew who was present at the scene, later identified White as one of the shooters.

         Shockley testified at White's trial in January 2004. At the time, Shockley had state felony charges pending against him for possession of cocaine and unlawful use of a weapon. On cross-examination, Shockley admitted that these state charges were pending. On re-direct, he testified that he had not received a deal from the State and did not expect to "get anything" in exchange for his testimony. The jury found White guilty of all charges, and he was sentenced to life without parole. Later, Shockley pleaded guilty to his state felony charges and received a suspended imposition of sentence and one year of unsupervised probation.

         On direct appeal, White argued that a delay in his prosecution violated his right to a speedy trial, that the trial court erred in overruling his objections to the jury instructions, and that the trial court erred in preventing defense counsel from cross-examining Shockley about whether he was returning to his house to obtain drugs to sell. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed White's conviction. White then filed a motion for state post-conviction relief with the Missouri trial court under Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15, alleging ineffective assistance of counsel. The trial court denied the motion, and the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed.

         In February 2008, White filed a federal habeas petition, reasserting the four grounds for relief previously raised in the state courts. After White filed his habeas petition, one of his fellow prisoners, Darryl Smallwood, provided him with an internal public defender conflict-of-interest form regarding his co-defendant, Juane Kennell. Kennell's counsel had written on the form that he "learned that [Shockley's counsel] has negotiated a deal for Jeff Shockley to testify against [Kennell] . . . as well as possibly another defendant, Christopher White." White's counsel then obtained Shockley's guilty plea transcript, which did not mention a plea agreement but which revealed that the State had paid to relocate Shockley from his neighborhood.

         On the basis of the conflict-of-interest form and the guilty plea transcript, White amended his habeas petition in September 2009. He added a claim that the State violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), by failing to disclose the existence of a deal with Shockley, and he added a claim that the State violated Napue v. Illinois, 360 U.S. 264 (1959), by failing to correct Shockley's testimony that he did not receive a deal. White also maintained his speedy trial and ineffective assistance claims but abandoned his other two claims. By affidavit, White asserted that he had received the conflict-of-interest form in January 2009.

         The district court held that White's Brady and Napue claims were not time-barred under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA") because they were brought within one year of January 2009, which the court determined was "the date on which the factual predicate of the claim or claims presented could have been discovered through the exercise of due diligence." See 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(D). Nevertheless, the district court denied White's amended petition, holding that all of White's claims failed on the merits.

         White timely filed a motion to alter or amend the judgment, contending that his habeas petition was denied before he had completed discovery on his Brady claim. As a result, the district court granted White an evidentiary hearing. During the hearing, White and Smallwood both mentioned that Smallwood had given the conflict-of-interest form to White in 2007 or 2008. Shockley's former defense counsel, Robert Taaffe, testified that he never obtained a plea agreement for Shockley and that there was no "secret deal." Rather, he explained that around the time the conflict-of-interest form was dated, the State had made an offer to Shockley, but Shockley declined the offer because it required him to testify against his brother in another case.[4] Nevertheless, based on his notes from the time he represented Shockley, Taaffe suggested that the prosecutor in White's case "hinted at a nolle, " meaning that the charges would be dismissed. The prosecutor also testified and unequivocally denied making any such hint.

         After the hearing, the State disclosed expense records showing that, in 2002, the St. Louis Circuit Attorney's Victim Services Unit had paid for Shockley to stay at a hotel for one week and later paid him just over $1, 000 to help him relocate to an apartment in another neighborhood. Despite this additional evidence, the district court denied White's motion to alter or amend the judgment. Once again, the court held that ...

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