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Murphy v. Superintendent

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

April 17, 2018

ROBERT A.C. MURPHY, Petitioner,


          Philip P. Simon Judge

         Robert A. C. Murphy, a prisoner without a lawyer, seeks habeas corpus relief from his conviction at a bench trial for murder for which he was sentenced to sixty-five years of incarceration. In deciding this petition, I must presume the facts set forth by the state courts are correct unless they are rebutted with clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Here's how the Court of Appeals of Indiana summarized the evidence presented at trial:

In late February or early March of 2009, Jason Osborne (Osborne) and Jennifer Stafford (Stafford) were in a relationship. They rented a trailer together in Muncie, Indiana. Osborne met Murphy when Murphy was looking for work. They started talking and eventually began spending time together. Both Osborne and Murphy bought their drugs from Jeffrey Allen (Allen).
Stafford owned a Wii game system and a Play Station 2, which were both kept in the trailer. Murphy indicated to Osborne that he wanted the Wii and told Osborne that he could buy it from him and “make it look like a robbery.” Osborne declined. However, unbeknownst to Stafford, Osborne sold some of her Wii and Play Station 2 games and used the money to purchase cocaine. Over time, Osborne incurred a thirty dollar drug debt with Allen. Stafford did not know about the drug purchases or the debt.
From March 15 to March 21, 2009, Osborne was living at his mother's home in Baltimore, Ohio, and working for his uncle and cousin. During this time, Murphy contacted Osborne inquiring about the money to pay off the drug debt. Osborne promised to get him the money that weekend. On March 18, 2009, Murphy left a voicemail for Osborne's mother and father respectively indicating that Osborne owed money and that Murphy was stuck with it. Believing that he and Murphy had made plans by phone to make the payment, Osborne asked Stafford to wire him some money. It was Osborne's plan to give Murphy the money because he did not know how to reach Allen.
That same night, March 18, 2009 at around 7:55 p.m., Stafford spoke on the phone with her mother, Deborah Stafford (Deborah). She told Deborah that Murphy was at her trailer looking for Osborne because of the money owed and was playing with the Wii system. This was Deborah's last conversation with her daughter. Even though she attempted to reach Stafford the next day, she never received an answer. That same night, Stafford's brother, Clyde Stafford, Jr. (Clyde), also called Stafford's residence. He spoke with Murphy who wanted to know how to reach Osborne, and Clyde informed Murphy that Osborne was in Ohio. When the receiver was returned to Stafford, Clyde asked her to call him later that night to ensure that she was all right. She never contacted him.
Later that evening and early the next morning, Stafford made money withdrawals from two different banks. Both times, the transactions were recorded. Sometime after 1 a.m., Stafford, together with Murphy, drove to the Speedway Gas Station in her car, a Grand Am, to send a money gram for sixty dollars to Osborne. She was upset and was crying. Osborne received the money gram at approximately 4:30 a.m. in Ohio.
The morning of March 19, 2009, Murphy returned to the residence where he was living with his fiancée and her family, including her son, Kenneth Watson (Watson). While Watson was in the shower, Murphy asked to borrow his car. It was the first time Murphy had made such a request, and he did not say why he needed the car or where he was going. Watson called Murphy later that day, asking him to return the vehicle as he needed his car. Even later, Murphy contacted Watson asking him for a ride to pick up another car. When Watson saw Murphy, he was upset and crying and was speaking with his pastor. Murphy was in possession of a Play Station 2 game, which Watson thought belonged to his younger brother, so Watson took it and put it in his brother's room. When Watson took Murphy to the other car, he noticed that it was Stafford's Grand Am. Murphy entered Stafford's car and sped away. Watson did not see Murphy again until Murphy returned to the residence that Murphy shared with his fiancée and her family. Murphy parked the Grand Am behind the home and packed his belongings in the vehicle. He informed Watson he was taking the car to a “chop shop” and driving to Michigan.
Later on March 19, 2009, Murphy spoke with Allen by phone. He told Allen that he had a Wii game system for sale and would bring it to Allen's residence, who was on house arrest. Murphy sold Allen the Wii for fifty dollars, with a thirty dollar down payment. It was later determined that the Wii belonged to Stafford.
Meanwhile, Stafford had failed to show for work on the morning of March 19, 2009. At 8 a.m., Stafford's employer called her home and cell phone lines but received no reply. Other employees also unsuccessfully tried to contact Stafford. The next morning, March 20, 2009, Stafford again failed to show for work and Stafford's employer contacted Stafford's mother. That same morning, Stafford's parents went to Stafford's trailer. When they arrived, they saw that Stafford's car was not in the driveway. Upon entering the trailer, they noticed several items missing: the Wii game system, the Play Station 2; the shower curtain, and a candle holder from the table in the front room. Walking into Stafford's bedroom, they saw blood all over the wall and Stafford laying on her bed with her head smashed in. There was no sign of a forced entry and there were no broken windows. Stafford's parents called 911.
During the ensuing police investigation, police officers contacted Osborne in Ohio who advised them that he believed Murphy had murdered Stafford. Osborne returned to Muncie to show the officers where they might find Murphy and Allen. When the officers talked with Allen, Allen provided them with the Wii game system while admitting that he thought it was stolen. The officers also retrieved the Play Station 2 from Watson. In the meantime, police officers in Michigan retrieved Stafford's car. The contents of the car were missing, all that remained was dirt and traces of blood, as revealed by the officers' use of luminol.
The police officers took samples for DNA testing and blood evidence from Stafford's home and car. Sergeant Rodney Frazier with the Muncie Police Department (Officer Frazier) found blood traces in Stafford's bedroom consistent with blood dispersed through forceful impact upon Stafford, onto another surface, indicative of multiple blows inflicted. The patterns were also consistent in shape and size with an exact replica of Stafford's candleholder. No. fingerprints or DNA evidence of Murphy was found. Linda McDonald (McDonald), a DNA analyst with the Indiana State Police DNA Unit, explained that “Stafford's blood overwhelmed just about everything I tested.” Pathologist Dr. Paul Mellen (Dr. Mellen) opined that Stafford had suffered more than twenty blunt force injuries caused with a heavy, blunt instrument consistent with the candlestick holder from Stafford's home. He concluded Stafford's manner of death to be homicide.
On March 21, 2009, Murphy turned himself in to the Muncie Police Department. Officers James Johnson (Officer Johnson) and Al Williams (Officer Williams) led Murphy's interrogation. After having advised Murphy of his Miranda rights, the officers verified that Murphy understood these rights. Initially interrogating Murphy about his personal information, the officers turned the conversation to Stafford and her death. At that point, Murphy asked to “get an attorney here because this is about to get real deep.” The officers replied that they would “stop talking then” and asked him if he had an attorney. Murphy denied having an attorney nor could he provide the officers with the name of an attorney he wanted to talk to. Upon stopping the interview, the officers placed Murphy in a holding cell until they could process the appropriate paperwork to arrest him. They told him that he would be charged with Stafford's murder.
While they were drafting the paperwork, Murphy banged on the wall between the holding cell and the officers' office. When the officers entered the holding area, they informed Murphy that they could not talk to him because he had requested an attorney. However, Murphy indicated that he wanted to resume talking. Officer Williams advised Murphy that his Miranda rights still applied; the officers then resumed the interview. Later, during the interview, Murphy admitted to beating Stafford.

Murphy v. State, 941 N.E.2d 568 (Ind.Ct.App. 2011); ECF 9-5 at 4-8.

         Murphy argues that he is entitled to habeas corpus relief, alleging that the trial court erred by denying the motion to suppress his confession and by convicting him based on insufficient evidence. He also alleges that he was denied effective assistance of counsel when trial counsel failed to object to the charge of murder; and when appellate counsel failed to raise the exculpatory value of the DNA evidence; failed to raise the exculpatory value of eyewitness testimony that another individual was seen near the victim's house; and failed to withdraw even though appellate counsel had a life-threatening illness; and when the trial court allowed only one defense attorney to question witnesses. He further alleges that his due process rights were violated when the prosecution failed to turn over cell phone information and introduced perjured testimony; and when the post-conviction relief appellate court denied a motion to stay, which deprived him of the complete record.

         The first issue to consider is whether Murphy has exhausted all available remedies in state court. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b)(1)(A); Lewis v. Sternes, 390 F.3d 1019, 1025 (7th Cir. 2004). I can't get to the merits of the petition unless Murphy has fully and fairly presented his federal claims to the state courts. Boyko v. Parke, 259 F.3d 781, 788 (7th Cir. 2001). Fair presentment “does not require a hypertechnical congruence between the claims made in the federal and state courts; it merely requires that the factual and legal substance remain the same.” Anderson v. Brevik, 471 F.3d 811, 814-15 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Boyko, 259 F.3d at 788). It does, however, require “the petitioner to assert his federal claim through one complete round of state-court review, either on direct appeal of his conviction or in post-conviction proceedings.” Lewis, 390 F.3d at 1025 (internal quotations and citations omitted). “This means that the petitioner must raise the issue at each and every level in the state court system, including levels at which review is discretionary rather than mandatory.” Id. “A habeas petitioner who has exhausted his state court remedies without properly asserting his federal claim at each level of state court review has procedurally defaulted that claim.” Id.

         Murphy presented his claims that the trial court erred by denying the motion to suppress his confession and by convicting him based on insufficient evidence to the Indiana Supreme Court and Court of Appeals of Indiana on direct appeal. ECF 9-3 at 23-27; ECF 9-6. He also presented his claim that appellate counsel failed to raise the exculpatory value of the DNA evidence to the Indiana Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals of ...

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