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Myers v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

May 28, 2015

John R. Myers II, Appellant-Petitioner,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Respondent

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Appeal from the Morgan Superior Court. The Honorable G. Thomas Gray, Judge. Cause No. 55D01-0902-PC-33.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLANT: Stephen T. Owens, Public Defender of Indiana; Anne Murray Burgess, Joanna Green, Deputy Public Defenders, Indianapolis, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; Ian McLean, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Friedlander, Judge. Vaidik, C.J., and Robb, J., concur.


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Friedlander, Judge.

[¶1] John R. Myers II appeals from the denial of his petition for post-conviction relief (PCR). He raises the following restated issues on appeal:

1. Did the post-conviction court err in concluding that Myers was not denied the effective assistance of trial counsel?
2. Did the post-conviction court err in concluding that Myers's due process rights were not violated by the State's alleged failure to disclose all exculpatory evidence to the defense?
3. Did the trial court err in concluding that Myers was not entitled to relief based on his claims of prosecutorial misconduct?

[¶2] We affirm.

[¶3] The facts underlying Myers's conviction were set forth as follows in this

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court's opinion arising out of his direct appeal:

In the spring of 2000, John Myers II lived approximately seven tenths of a mile from the intersection of North Maple Grove Road and West Maple Grove Road, at 1465 West Maple Grove Road, north of Bloomington in Monroe County. Myers was on vacation from work the week of May 29 through June 2.
On the morning of May 31, 2000, Jill Behrman, an accomplished bicyclist who had just completed her freshman year at Indiana University, left her Bloomington home to take a bicycle ride. She logged off of her home computer at 9:32 a.m. Behrman did not report to the Student Recreational Sports Center, where she was scheduled to work from noon to 3:00 p.m. that day, nor did she appear at a postwork lunch scheduled with her father and grandparents. Following nationwide search efforts, Behrman's remains were ultimately discovered on March 9, 2003, in a wooded area near the intersection of Warthen and Duckworth Roads in Morgan County. The cause of her death was ruled to be a contact shotgun wound to the back of the head.
With respect to the events surrounding Behrman's disappearance, one report indicated that a young woman matching Behrman's description was seen riding her bicycle north of Bloomington on North Maple Grove Road at approximately 10:00 a.m. the morning of May 31. A tracking dog later corroborated this report. While another report placed Behrman south of Bloomington at 4700 Harrell Road at approximately 9:38 a.m., some authorities later discounted this report due to her log-off time of 9:32 a.m. and the minimum fourteen minutes it would take to bicycle to Harrell Road. The tracking dog did not detect Behrman's scent trail south of Bloomington.
At approximately 8:30 a.m. on the morning of May 31, 2000, in the North Maple Grove Road area, a witness saw a white " commercial looking" Ford van without identification on its doors or sides drive slowly past his driveway on North Maple Grove Road, heading south. Two men were inside the van. This witness saw the van two additional times that morning by approximately 9:00 a.m. and later identified the van as " exactly like" a Bloomington Hospital van.
At some point before noon on May 31, 2000, another witness saw a bicycle later determined to be Behrman's lying off of the east side of North Maple Grove Road near the intersection of North Maple Grove Road and West Maple Grove Road. The location of the bicycle was approximately one mile from Myers's residence and ten and one-half miles from Behrman's house.
On May 31, the date of Behrman's disappearance, two witnesses separately noted that the windows in Myers's trailer were covered, which was unusual. One of these witnesses also observed that Myers's car was parked fifty yards from its normal location and remained out of sight from the road for approximately three days. Myers told this witness that he had parked his car in that secluded spot because he did not want anyone to know he was home.
Myers's account of his activities during his vacation week of May 29 through June 2 was reportedly that he was " here and there." Myers's employer at the time was the Bloomington Hospital warehouse, where he had access to two white panel Ford vans. Besides being " here and there," Myers indicated that he had been mostly at home, that he had gone to a gas station, and that he had gone to Kentucky Kingdom but found it was closed. Myers additionally stated that he and his girlfriend, Carly Goodman,

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had cancelled their plans to go to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, and to Kings Island, Ohio, that week. Phone calls made from Myers's trailer on May 31 were at the following times: 9:15 a.m.; 9:17 a.m.; 9:18 a.m.; 10:37 a.m.; 10:45 a.m.; and 6:48 p.m. Myers's mother, Jodie Myers, testified that she had made those calls.[1] The calls were to drive-in theaters and various state parks.
Myers was reportedly almost hysterical on May 31 and spoke of leaving town and never coming back. Myers's aunt, Debbie Bell, observed that Myers had been very depressed in the preceding month and believed that this was due to problems with his girlfriend. In late April 2000, Myers had called Bell because he had been having problems with his girlfriend and felt like " a balloon full of hot air about to burst."
Carly Goodman was Myers's girlfriend beginning in approximately late October 1999. In March of 2000, Myers took Goodman for a long drive through Gosport, " over a bridge where there was a creek and into some woods." Myers pulled his car into a clearing in the woods where the two of them argued, which scared Goodman. Although it was nighttime, Goodman observed the appearance of this clearing from the car's headlights. In late April or early May of 2000, Goodman broke off her relationship with Myers. Goodman denied that she and Myers had ever made plans to go to Myrtle Beach or to Kings Island the week of May 29.
On June 5, 2000, Bell again spoke with Myers. Myers mentioned that a girl had been abducted in the area, and he was afraid he would be blamed for it. Myers further stated that the girl's bicycle had been found about a mile from his house and that " they blame [him] for everything." Myers additionally asserted, " [T]hey haven't found her body yet" and guessed that the girl was dead. In that same conversation, Myers indicated that he had been stopped by a roadblock and was " scared" of roadblocks, but he later changed his mind, laughed, and said he was not really " scared."
Following a tip due to this conversation, on June 27, 2000, Detective Rick Crussen of the Bloomington Police Department interviewed Jodie and Myers's father, John Myers Sr., at their residence at 3909 West Delap Road. The following day, Detective Crussen interviewed Myers.
On June 27, 2000, immediately after Detective Crussen interviewed Myers's parents and the day before he interviewed Myers, Myers called his grandmother, Betty Swaffard, and asked to borrow $200. Myers told Swaffard he was unable to come to her house for the money because there were roadblocks on Maple Grove Road, and he did not want to leave his home. Myers additionally stated that he was a suspect in the Jill Behrman disappearance. Myers did not come to Swaffard's home for the money.

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In July 2000, Bell noticed that John Myers Sr. was unusually nervous and agitated when in Myers's presence. Sometime in approximately August of 2000, Myers's brother, Samuel, who owned a twelve-gauge shotgun and had stored it at his parents' house on Delap Road since approximately 1997, noted that the gun was missing.
Myers raised the topic of Behrman's disappearance multiple times and in multiple contexts following her disappearance. Before Detective Crussen interviewed him, Myers falsely stated to his Bloomington Hospital supervisor that police had questioned him in connection with Behrman's disappearance because her bicycle was found close to his home. Also in June of 2000, Myers stated to a co-worker that he wondered whether authorities had investigated a barn in a field located on Bottom Road off of Maple Grove Road. Additionally, some weeks after Behrman disappeared, Myers told another co-worker during a delivery run that Behrman's bicycle was found in his neighborhood, and that Behrman was probably abducted near that site. Later in 2000 or 2001, while driving with his then-girlfriend, Kanya Bailey, Myers directed Bailey's attention to a location a short distance from his mother's residence and stated he had found Behrman's bicycle there.
In the late spring to late summer of 2001, Myers again raised the topic of Behrman's disappearance with another co-worker. As the two were driving on Bottom and Maple Grove Roads, Myers pointed out where he lived and stated that Behrman's bicycle had been found close to where he used to live. A short time later, while on Maple Grove Road, Myers stated that if he was ever going to hide a body he would hide it in a wooded area up " this way," pointing north. On another occasion, Myers stated to this co-worker that he knew of someone in Florida who had Behrman's identification card or checkbook.
Sometime in November or December of 2001, Myers raised the topic of Behrman's disappearance with a family member, indicating his bet that Behrman would be found in the woods. During this conversation, Myers further indicated his familiarity with the Paragon area and with Horseshoe Bend, where he liked to hunt.
Also in 2001, Myers stated to his mother, Jodie, that he had been fishing in a creek and had found a pair of panties and a bone in a tree. Jodie suggested that this might be helpful in the Behrman case, and Myers agreed to call the FBI. FBI Agent Gary Dunn later returned the call and left a message. Myers told Jodie that they should save the answering machine tape in case they were questioned.
Sometime in 2002, Wendy Owings confessed to Behrman's murder, claiming that she, Alicia Sowders-Evans, and Uriah Clouse struck Behrman with a car on Harrell Road, stabbed her with a knife in her chest and heart, wrapped her body in plastic tied with bungee cords, and disposed of her body in Salt Creek. In September 2002, authorities drained a portion of Salt Creek. They found, among other things, a knife, a bungee cord, and two sheets of plastic. Owings later recanted her confession.
On March 27, 2002, Myers, who at the time was in the Monroe County Jail on an unrelated charge, told Correctional Officer Johnny Kinser that he had found some letters in some food trays one morning that he believed Kinser should look at, apparently in connection with the Behrman disappearance. Myers said he felt bad about what had happened to that " young lady" and that he wished to help find her if he could.

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Myers additionally compiled a list of places potentially providing clues to Behrman's location. Indiana State Police Trooper James Minton investigated the list, including gravel pits off of Texas Ridge Road between Stinesville and Gosport. A route from Gosport to the intersection of Warthen and Duckworth Roads in Morgan County passes by Horseshoe Bend.[2]
On March 9, 2003, Behrman's remains were discovered by a hunter in a wooded area near the intersection of Warthen and Duckworth Roads in Morgan County approximately thirty-five to forty yards from a clearing in the timber north of Warthen Road. Authorities recovered approximately half of the bones in Behrman's skeleton. No soft tissue remained. Six rib bones were among the bones missing from her skeleton. There was no evidence of stab or knife wounds, nor was there evidence of blunt force trauma. Investigators recovered a shotgun shell wadding from the scene, as well as 380 number eight shot lead pellets. The wadding found at the scene was typical of a twelve-gauge shotgun shell wadding. The cause of Behrman's death was ruled to be a contact shotgun wound to the back of the head. Scattered skull fragments and the presence of lead pellets in a variety of places, together with certain soil stains consistent with body decomposition, suggested that after being shot, Behrman's body had come to rest and had decomposed at the spot where it was found. No clothing was found at the scene. There is nothing in the record to clarify whether Behrman's clothing, if it had been left at the scene, would or would not have completely disintegrated prior to her body being found.
In March 2003, Myers told another co-worker, who had brought a newspaper to work announcing the discovery of Behrman's remains, that the woods pictured in the newspaper article looked familiar to him, and that he had hunted there before. According to this co-worker, the woods pictured in the newspaper article did not appear distinctive. Myers also stated that it was good that Behrman had been found and that he was surprised that he had not been contacted because he knew the people who police thought had committed the crime. Myers knew Wendy Owings, who had falsely confessed to the crime, as well as Uriah Clouse and Alicia Sowders-Evans. Myers had a " cocky" tone of voice when he made these comments, according to the co-worker.
More than a year later, in November 2004, Myers called his grandmother, Swaffard. Myers, who was upset and stated that he needed time to himself, said to Swaffard, " Grandma, if you just knew the things that I've got on my mind. [I]f the authorities knew it, I'd be in prison for the rest of my life." Myers further stated that his father, John Myers Sr., " knew" and had " [taken] it to the grave with him." Subsequently, when Myers arrived at Swaffard's house, he said with tears in his eyes, " Grandma, I wish I wasn't a bad person. I wish I hadn't done these bad things."
Indiana State Police Detectives Tom Arvin and Rick Lang interviewed Myers

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again on May 2, 2005. During this taped interview, Myers denied having told anyone in his family that he was " scared" of the roadblocks or that he had talked to anyone besides the police about the case. Also in May of 2005, Myers, who was again in the Monroe County Jail on an unrelated charge, mentioned to his bunkmate that the state police were investigating him because Behrman's bicycle had been found in the vicinity of his house. Myers made approximately three or four references to Behrman's bicycle and was nervous and pacing at the time. During that conversation, Myers, who was also angry, made reference to the " bitch," and stated to this bunkmate, " [I]f she [referring to Behrman] wouldn't have said anything, . . . none of this would have happened."
On February 17, 2006, Detective Lang took Goodman on a thirty-sixmile drive north of Myers's home on Maple Grove Road and into rural Morgan County. Goodman recognized a clearing in the woods near the corner of Warthen and Duckworth Roads, approximately thirtyfive to forty yards from where Behrman's remains were discovered, as the place that Myers had driven her in March 2000.

Myers v. State, 887 N.E.2d 170, 176-80 (Ind.Ct.App. 2008) (footnotes and citations to the record omitted), trans. denied. A grand jury indicted Myers for Behrman's murder in April 2006. A twelve-day jury trial commenced on October 16, 2006, at the conclusion of which Myers was found guilty as charged and sentenced to a term of sixty-five years. This court affirmed Myers's conviction on direct appeal and our Supreme Court denied transfer.

[¶4] Myers filed a pro se PCR petition on February 2, 2009. Counsel subsequently entered appearances on Myers's behalf and amended the petition. An evidentiary hearing was held over several days in April and May 2013, at the conclusion of which the post-conviction court took the matter under advisement. The post-conviction court issued its written order denying Myers's PCR petition on November 18, 2013. Myers now appeals.

[¶5] In a post-conviction proceeding, the petitioner bears the burden of establishing grounds for relief by a preponderance of the evidence. Bethea v. State, 983 N.E.2d 1134 (Ind. 2013). " When appealing the denial of post-conviction relief, the petitioner stands in the position of one appealing from a negative judgment." Id. at 1138 (quoting Fisher v. State, 810 N.E.2d 674, 679 (Ind. 2004)). In order to prevail, the petitioner must demonstrate that the evidence as a whole leads unerringly and unmistakably to a conclusion opposite the postconviction court's conclusion. Bethea v. State, 983 N.E.2d 1134. Although we do not defer to a post-conviction court's legal conclusions, we will reverse its findings and judgment only upon a showing of clear error, i.e., " that which leaves us with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Id. at 1138 (quoting Ben-Yisrayl v. State, 729 N.E.2d 102, 106 (Ind. 2000)).


[¶6] Myers first argues that his trial counsel were constitutionally ineffective.[3] A petitioner will prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel only upon a showing that counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and that the deficient performance

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prejudiced the petitioner. Bethea v. State, 983 N.E.2d 1134. To satisfy the first element, the petitioner must demonstrate deficient performance, which is " representation that fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, committing errors so serious that the defendant did not have the 'counsel' guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment." Id. at 1138 (quoting McCary v. State, 761 N.E.2d 389, 392 (Ind. 2002)). To satisfy the second element, the petitioner must show prejudice, which is " a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 1139. " A reasonable probability is one that is sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome." Kubsch v. State, 934 N.E.2d 1138, 1147 (Ind. 2010) (quoting Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 694, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984)).

[¶7] There is a " strong presumption" that counsel rendered adequate service. Bethea v. State, 983 N.E.2d at 1139. " We afford counsel considerable discretion in choosing strategy and tactics, and '[i]solated mistakes, poor strategy, inexperience, and instances of bad judgment do not necessarily render representation ineffective.'" State v. Hollin, 970 N.E.2d 147, 151 (Ind. 2012) (quoting Timberlake v. State, 753 N.E.2d 591, 603 (Ind. 2001)) (alteration in original). Indeed, " strategic choices made after thorough investigation of law and facts relevant to plausible options are virtually unchallengeable; and strategic choices made after less than complete investigation are reasonable precisely to the extent that reasonable professional judgments support the limitations on investigation." Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. at 690-91. Moreover, because a petitioner must prove both deficient performance and prejudice in order to succeed, the failure to prove either element defeats the claim. See Young v. State, 746 N.E.2d 920 (Ind. 2001) (holding that because the two elements of Strickland are separate and independent inquiries, the court may dispose of the claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice if it is easier). Myers has raised numerous claims of ineffective assistance of trial counsel. We address them each in turn.


[¶8] Myers raises a number of arguments with respect to the admission into evidence of a redacted version of his May 2, 2005 police interrogation. First, he argues that trial counsel were ineffective for agreeing to the redactions because portions of the statement in which he denied any involvement in Behrman's disappearance and murder were excised, and those statements would have been helpful to the defense.

[¶9] The interrogation in question was conducted in two parts. In the first part of the interview, Myers was questioned by Indiana State Police Detectives Rick Lang and Tom Arvin, and Myers repeatedly denied any involvement in or knowledge of Behrman's disappearance and murder. Myers was then arrested on a separate charge of receiving stolen property, booked, fingerprinted, and swabbed for DNA. Thereafter, a second, post-arrest interview was conducted by Detective Jeff Heck, during which Myers again denied any involvement in Behrman's disappearance and murder. The State, defense, and trial court spent a substantial amount of time discussing redactions of the interrogation. Ultimately, the jury heard an audio recording of and was provided with a written transcript of the partially redacted pre-arrest interview; the post-arrest interview was omitted entirely. Myers does not appear to object to the manner in which the pre-arrest interview was redacted. Instead, he argues that the jury should also have heard the post-arrest interview.

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[¶10] We have reviewed both the redacted and unredacted interrogation, and Myers has not established either deficient performance or prejudice stemming from the redaction of the post-arrest interview. The post-arrest interview contained several long monologues in which the interviewer attempted to appeal to Myers's moral sensibilities, followed by relatively short responses from Myers. Some of these monologues spanned several pages of transcript and made specific reference to Myers's past substance abuse and recovery process. The trial court described the post-arrest interview as largely filled with " a lot of irrelevant gibberish" that " add[ed] nothing to the factual determination in this case." Trial Transcript at 26. We think this is a fair characterization. Although Myers continued to proclaim his innocence in the post-arrest interview, his denials of involvement were merely cumulative of his previous statements in the pre-arrest interview, which the jury heard. Myers also made statements in the post-arrest interview that the jury could have viewed as flippant under the circumstances. For example, at one point, Myers stated, " you know, as we're sitting there talking, I'm thinking cigarettes, I'm thinking coffee[.]" PCR Exhibit 305A at 154. It was not deficient performance for trial counsel to agree to redact the post-arrest interview in its entirety because it could have harmed Myers and, in any event, would have added little, if anything, to the pre-arrest interview. For the same reason, Myers was not prejudiced by the redaction.

[¶11] Myers also argues that counsel performed deficiently by failing to object to portions of Detective Arvin's and Detective Lang's testimony concerning the May 2, 2005 interrogation. Specifically, Myers notes that counsel did not object to Detective Arvin's testimony that Myers's demeanor during the interview was " nonchalant" and " cavalier" and that his answers appeared to be rehearsed. Trial Transcript at 2207. Additionally, on cross-examination by trial counsel, Detective Arvin asserted that Myers never " adamantly" or " expressly" denied guilt. Id. at 2211-12. In response to a jury question, Detective Arvin again testified that Myers's demeanor was nonchalant and cavalier. Additionally, Detective Lang testified that he did not expect Myers to confess to the murder based on his " prior intelligence" and because " murder is one of ...

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