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Halliburton v. Superintendent

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

August 7, 2017




         An Indiana jury found Tyrice Halliburton guilty of murder. Halliburton now challenges that conviction, seeking a writ of habeas corpus. For the reasons explained in this Entry, Halliburton's petition for a writ of habeas corpus must be denied and the action dismissed with prejudice. In addition, the Court finds that a certificate of appealability should not issue.

         I. The Habeas Petition

         A. Background

         The circumstances associated with Halliburton's offense and aspects of the prosecution were reviewed in his direct appeal:

On March 18, 2008, responding to a 911 call, police discovered the lifeless body of Sheena Kiska in her apartment in Bristol, Indiana. The base of her skull was fractured, a stab wound of great force had gone through a rib and organs, and a knife wound had severed her carotid artery as well as the jugular veins on both sides of her neck. In all, Kiska had received more than fifty stab wounds. Multiple bloody knives were found in the apartment, and blood splatters, smears, and droplets were abundant in the apartment. Two days later officers returned to the apartment to conduct further investigation but were unable to gain entry because other officers had changed the lock on the door for security reasons. Halliburton, who lived in the apartment next door, observed the officers having difficulty entering Kiska's residence and retrieved a tool from his own apartment that appeared to be “a little screwdriver that kind of ha[d] a bend on the top of it.” Tr. at 225. With the officers' permission, Halliburton used the screwdriver to unlock the door in a manner the officers “had never seen” before. Tr. at 225.
Halliburton was interviewed by the police three different times in the days following Kiska's death. During the first and second interviews, Halliburton stated that he left for a veterinary appointment at 1:15 the afternoon of the killing but claimed to have seen Kiska and her daughter standing outside by a white truck when he left. During the third interview, Halliburton initially began by reiterating his prior story but then offered a different account of what he had seen that day. During this interview, Halliburton claimed that he saw another resident in the hallway exiting Kiska's apartment as he was leaving for the veterinarian. He further declared that he heard noises coming from Kiska's apartment at which point he “propped the door just a little bit, ” Tr. at 420, and “saw [the resident] in there cutting her up.” Tr. at 421. Halliburton described the layout of Kiska's apartment and was “[v]ery detailed” about where the furniture was located and where the attack occurred. Tr. at 426. He identified the exact locations of where she had been stabbed and said that Kiska's face looked like “a piece of meat.” Tr. at 429. Halliburton also said that Kiska had been attacked because “she came in at the wrong time.” Tr. at 431. After the interview, the investigating officer tried to confirm Halliburton's claim with respect to where he said he had been standing when he peered through Kiska's door and purportedly witnessed the attack. However, the officer determined that it would have been physically impossible for Halliburton to have seen the attack from a crack in the door; instead he had to have been at least “two to three feet” inside the apartment. Tr. at 433. Around this same time officers recovered from Halliburton's car a DVD player that had been taken from Kiska's apartment about a month earlier.
The investigation continued, and in August 2010, Halliburton sent a letter to the police saying, “I want to clear [the resident's] name. I didn't really see him doing it.” Tr. at 433-34. In January 2011, the State charged Halliburton with murder. Alleging he committed the murder by intentionally killing the victim while committing or attempting to commit burglary-pursuant to Indiana Code section 35-50-2-9(b)(1)(B)-the State filed an amended information in January 2012 seeking life imprisonment without parole. The State also charged Halliburton as a habitual offender.
Trial began April 16, 2012. During the guilt phase, testimony largely from State's witness Nicole DeFronzo revealed that in early 2008 she and her then-boyfriend Halliburton lived together in an apartment next door to Kiska. On March 18, 2008, Halliburton took his cat to a veterinary appointment where he had arranged to meet DeFronzo. Halliburton told DeFronzo that he had entered Kiska's apartment when she was not there. However, Kiska came home unexpectedly, and a struggle ensued resulting in her brutal death. More precisely, according to DeFronzo, Halliburton told her that when Kiska came home, “he didn't want to get caught so he killed her.” Tr. at 523. Halliburton left Kiska's apartment and changed his bloody clothes. DeFronzo helped dispose of the clothes and they drove to the home of DeFronzo's mother, a registered nurse, who bandaged a wound on Halliburton's hand. For over three years DeFronzo did not reveal to anyone what Halliburton had told her about Kiska's death. Nor had she revealed her own complicity in helping get rid of evidence.
During trial the State introduced numerous exhibits including photographs of the crime scene, pre and post autopsy photographs, and a rib bone of the victim that had been removed during autopsy. The State also introduced evidence that Halliburton had committed a burglary of Kiska's apartment approximately a month prior to the killing; and for which the trial court gave a limiting instruction. Further the State called DeFronzo's mother as a witness who testified, among other things, that she had counseled her daughter to come forward with what she knew and “to tell the truth.” Tr. at 484.
The jury found Halliburton guilty of murder as charged. At the penalty phase of trial, the jury recommended life imprisonment without parole. And thereafter Halliburton admitted to being a habitual offender. Following a sentencing hearing the trial court sentenced Halliburton consistent with the jury's recommendation.

Halliburton v. State, 1 N.E.3d 670, 673-75 (Ind. 2013) (footnote omitted). After this direct appeal, the denial of Halliburton's petition for post-conviction relief was affirmed in Halliburton v. State, 65 N.E.3d 644 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016), transfer denied, 76 N.E.3d 142 (Ind. 2017).

         This action followed. Halliburton's habeas claims are that:

(1) his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate ...

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