Fourth Circuit Reverses Denial of Hearing on §2254 Case; Defendant Entitled to Evidentiary Hearing on Alleged Brady Violations

Juniper v. Zook (No. 13-7)

Anthony Juniper was convicted at trial for the murders of Keshia Stephens, along with Ms. Stephens’ brother, and her two daughters. The evidence at trial showed that Juniper and Stephens were involved in a tumultuous relationship. On the morning of the murders, Juniper went to Stephens’ apartment at approximately 10:20 am. While there, Juniper and Stephens argued. An eyewitness described hearing four “booms,” which she described as “sounding like gunshots.” A friend of Juniper’s testified that Juniper called him and said “they gone,” and that Juniper had “killed them,” without specifying who he was talking about. Another witness testified that he went over to Stephens’ apartment and saw that the front door had been kicked in. He further testified that he entered the apartment and saw Juniper holding a pistol, and that he saw the alleged victims dead in the master bedroom. A third witness testified that she drove to Stephens’ apartment and that Juniper came out of the apartment and got into her car, and that Juniper was holding a handgun when he got into the car.

Police arrived on scene at approximately 12:44 pm in response to a disturbance call at the apartment complex with possible gunshots. The officers who responded walked the apartment complex and then departed, not having observed anything out of the ordinary. Later, at approximately 2:20 pm, a large number of police officers responded to the second disturbance call. When police arrived, one of the trial witnesses was on scene and informed the officers that the victims were inside Stephens’ apartment. Officers entered the apartment and discovered the victims in the master bedroom.

Juniper was charged and convicted for capital murder, burglary, and use of a firearm in commission of a felony. After conviction, Juniper’s case worked its way through the state direct appeal and collateral review stages; Juniper was denied relief in those proceedings. 

In 2011, the lead investigator in Juniper’s case, Detective R. Glenn Ford, was federally prosecuted for and convicted of taking bribes. During that prosecution, it was revealed that investigative notes maintained by Ford related to Juniper’s case had not been turned over to Juniper’s trial counsel. Among the items that were not disclosed were notes which stated that, in the immediate aftermath of the murders, investigators interviewed one of Stephens’ neighbors, Wendy Roberts, and asked her to view a photo line-up. Juniper’s trial counsel did not know that Wendy had discussed the case with investigators.

Investigators assisting in Juniper’s habeas proceedings approached Wendy, who provided an affidavit averring that the night before the murders she heard a man and woman arguing in Stephens’ apartment. She heard arguing again the following morning. And then in the afternoon, as she was taking her dog outside, she heard “a series of loud pops.” Soon after, a man came down the stairs from  Stephens’ apartment and told Wendy “What the f—- are you looking at lady?” The man then got into a car and drove away. Wendy stated that the man, who was one of three African-American men who regularly visited Stephens’ apartment, was the only person in the car.  Wendy further averred that this occurred sometime between 1:00 and 2:30 p.m. and approximately five minutes before a large number of police officers arrived. Wendy’s son, Jason, also provided an affidavit to Juniper’s habeas investigators. Jason, who lived with Wendy at the time of the murders, averred that he heard “gunshots” and looked out his window and saw an African-American man running to a car parked in front of the building. Jason said he immediately ran outside and saw the man get into the driver’s seat of the car and drive off. According to Jason, within five minutes, approximately thirteen police officers arrived.

In Juniper’s federal habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. 2254, he asserted that the State’s failure to disclose the above-referenced statements constituted a Brady violation. During the discovery that took place pursuant to that proceeding, it was confirmed that investigators spoke with Ms. Roberts at the scene during their initial investigation of Stephens’ murder. It was further revealed that Roberts viewed a photographic lineup and identified an individual who was not Juniper as the man who left Stephens’ apartment that day. The prosecuting attorney submitted an affidavit maintaining that the Roberts materials were not materially exculpatory—and thus not subject to disclosure under Brady—because “Wendy Roberts’ statements on January 16, 2004 were factually inconsistent with the documented event chronology of the [Police Department] response and activities in and around [Stephens’ apartment] on January 16, 2004.” The district court denied Juniper’s habeas petition, finding that the withheld statements did not meet Brady‘s “materiality” requirement.

The Fourth Circuit now reverses the district court, remanding the case for an evidentiary hearing (which was denied below). The Fourth Circuit finds that the district court did not apply the proper legal standard in determining whether Juniper alleged or established sufficient facts regarding materiality to warrant an evidentiary hearing. First, the Fourth Circuit holds, the district court failed to “construe facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff . . . and draw all reasonable inferences in his favor.” Second, the district court failed to properly account for the impeachment value of the withheld Roberts statements. Third, the district court improperly made credibility determinations based on the written record.

Whereas the forensic evidence inculpating Petitioner was strong, but not unassailable, the withheld Roberts materials—viewed in the light most favorable to Petitioner—had significant exculpatory value. First, Wendy’s statement to the investigators and identification of a different individual in the photo array would have allowed Petitioner to mount an “other suspect” defense. Courts have long recognized that “new evidence suggesting an alternate perpetrator is ‘classic Brady material.’” Williams, 623 F.3d at 1265 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Boyette v. Lefevre, 246 F.3d 76, 91 (2d Cir. 2001)); Hart, 798 F.3d at 588 n.1. To that end, courts have found withheld evidence material when the evidence pointed to a different individual as perpetrating the convicted offense

Second, by establishing that Keshia was alive between 12:30 and 12:45 p.m., Wendy’s statement to Investigator Jones, if proven credible, would call into question the government’s theory that the murders occurred at 11:44 a.m.

Third, the withheld evidence “would have raised opportunities to attack . . . the thoroughness and even the good faith of the investigation.” Kyles, 514 U.S. at 445 (concluding withheld evidence describing potential alternative perpetrator was material, in part because it could have been used to cast doubt on adequacy of government’s consideration of alternative suspects).

Fourth, the withheld evidence was not cumulative of other evidence. Cf. Johnson v. Folino, 705 F.3d 117, 129 (3d Cir. 2013) (“Suppressed evidence that would be cumulative of other evidence . . . is generally not considered material for Brady purposes.”).

Finally, Petitioner’s trial counsel could have used the investigative notes of the Roberts’s statements to pursue evidence of Petitioner’s innocence that could have been used at trial.

 

Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit concludes, the district court abused its discretion in dismissing Juniper’s Brady claim premised on the withheld Roberts materials without holding an evidentiary hearing.

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