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Juniper v. Zook

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

November 16, 2017

ANTHONY BERNARD JUNIPER, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
DAVID W. ZOOK, Warden, Sussex I State Prison, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued: September 15, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, at Richmond. John A. Gibney, Jr., District Judge. (3:11-cv-00746-JAG)

         ARGUED:

          Dawn Michele Davison, VIRGINIA CAPITAL REPRESENTATION RESOURCE CENTER, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Matthew P. Dullaghan, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

         ON BRIEF:

          Elizabeth Hambourger, Johanna Jennings, CENTER FOR DEATH PENALTY LITIGATION, Durham, North Carolina, for Appellant.

          Robert E. Lee, Jr., VIRGINIA CAPITAL REPRESENTATION RESOURCE CENTER, Charlottesville, Virginia, for Appellant.

          Mark R. Herring, Attorney General, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF VIRGINIA, Richmond, Virginia, for Appellee.

          Before GREGORY, Chief Judge, WYNN and DIAZ, Circuit Judges.

          WYNN, Circuit Judge:

         Following a bifurcated jury trial in the Circuit Court, City of Norfolk, Virginia, a jury convicted and sentenced to death Petitioner Anthony Juniper ("Petitioner") for the January 16, 2004 murders of Keshia Stephens, her younger brother Rueben Harrison, and her two daughters Nykia Stephens and Shearyia Stephens. After unsuccessfully pursuing collateral relief from his conviction and death sentence in Virginia courts, Petitioner filed an action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against Respondent David W. Zook, in his official capacity as Warden, Sussex I State Prison ("Respondent"). Before the district court, Petitioner asserted numerous bases for relief, including that his prosecutors failed to turn over certain pieces of "material" exculpatory and impeaching evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The district court granted Petitioner limited documentary discovery, denied Petitioner's request for an evidentiary hearing, and rejected all of Petitioner's claims and dismissed his petition.

         After conducting a careful review of the record, we conclude that the district court abused its discretion in dismissing Petitioner's Brady claim without holding an evidentiary hearing because it failed to assess the plausibility of that claim through the proper legal lens. Accordingly, we vacate the district court's decision as to the Brady claim and remand the case to the district court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.[1]

          I.

          A.

          According to the evidence presented at trial, Petitioner and Keshia Stephens had been involved "in an on-again, off-again tumultuous relationship for approximately two years." Juniper v. Commonwealth, 626 S.E.2d 383, 394 (Va. 2006). On the morning of the murders, Renee Rashid, who testified under a grant of immunity, took Petitioner to Keshia's apartment to retrieve some of his belongings. Rashid and Petitioner arrived at the apartment, which was on the second floor of a building in Norfolk, Virginia, at approximately 10:20 a.m. While in the apartment, Rashid heard Petitioner and Keshia arguing, with "Keshia repeatedly ma[king] comments such as, '[T]here's nobody but you. I told you I'm not seeing anybody but you.'" Id. at 393. Rashid left the apartment, and Petitioner remained behind. Rashid testified that as she drove away, "she heard four 'booms, ' which she described as 'sound[ing] like gunshots.'" Id.

          Rashid drove to the house of Gwendolyn Rogers, Petitioner's mother, where she met Rogers and Keon Murray, a friend of Petitioner. Murray, also testifying under a grant of immunity, said that while at Rogers's house he received a call from Petitioner, which originated from Keshia's phone number. According to Murray's testimony, Petitioner told Murray over the phone that "They gone, " and that Petitioner "killed them, " but did not name whom he had killed. Id. at 395.

         Murray then called his friend Tyrone Mings, a twice-convicted felon who lived with his girlfriend, Melinda Bowser, one block from Keshia's apartment building. According to Mings's testimony, Murray asked Mings to check on Keshia's apartment because "[Murray] heard some shots." J.A. at 412. Some time later, Mings walked down the street to Keshia's apartment and found that Keshia's front door appeared to have been "kicked in." Juniper, 626 S.E.2d at 395.

Upon entering Keshia's apartment, Mings testified that he saw [Petitioner] standing in the living room with a white substance on his face and holding an automatic pistol. When Mings asked [Petitioner] about Keshia, [Petitioner] directed Mings to the back of the apartment. Upon entering the master bedroom, Mings saw Rueben and a young girl lying on the bed. Mings did not see Keshia and asked [Petitioner] where she was. [Petitioner] told Mings she was "between the bed and the dresser." Mings returned to the bedroom and called to the people in the room, but no one answered. Mings departed Keshia's apartment, leaving [Petitioner] in the living room, still holding the pistol.

Id. Mings testified that he then returned to his apartment and told Bowser what he had seen at Keshia's apartment.

         Meanwhile, according to Rashid's and Murray's testimony, Rashid and Murray left Rogers's apartment in Rashid's car, picked up Petitioner's cousin, John Jones, and proceeded to Keshia's apartment building. While Rashid waited in the car, Murray and Jones got out of the car and searched for Petitioner. Jones called out several times for Petitioner to "[c]ome out." J.A. 406. Petitioner came down to the car and got into the passenger seat, beside Rashid. Murray and Jones got in the back seats. Both Rashid and Murray testified that Petitioner was holding a handgun when he got in the car. Id. at 390, 408. Rashid further testified that Petitioner "appeared to be jittery" and "was breathing real hard." Id. at 389. And according to Murray, Petitioner "look[ed] nervous." Id. at 407.

         After telling Bowser what he had seen, Mings walked back from his apartment toward Keshia's apartment. Mings testified that while he was walking to Keshia's apartment, he saw Petitioner, Murray, and Jones leaving Keshia's apartment. Mings then observed Petitioner, Murray, and Jones get into a car, which was driven by "a female, " and drive off. Id. at 415-17. At that point, Mings walked back to his apartment. Mings testified that when he returned to his apartment, Bowser called the police. At trial, a Norfolk Police officer testified that at 12:44 p.m. he responded to a call reporting a disturbance and possible gunshots at Keshia's apartment. The officer, who was later joined by another officer, walked around the complex, talked to two residents, and, finding nothing troubling, "left the apartment complex believing the call to have been a false report." Juniper, 626 S.E.2d at 395.

         Meanwhile, Rashid drove Petitioner and Jones to Jones's apartment, and then returned to her own apartment. Rashid testified that, after arriving at home, she called Petitioner's mother. Phone records introduced at trial established that this call occurred at 1:10 p.m.

          In the meantime, Mings walked back to Keshia's apartment a third time, this time accompanied by Bowser. On the way to her apartment, Mings and Bowser saw the officers who had responded to the 12:44 p.m. call leave. Mings and Bowser returned to their apartment, and Bowser called the police a second time. At approximately 2:20 p.m., a large number of Norfolk Police Department officers responded to a second call regarding a disturbance at Keshia's apartment. Mings and Bowser were waiting outside the apartment when the officers arrived. Mings testified that he told the officers there were victims inside, but did not tell the officers that he had observed Petitioner inside the apartment with a gun because Mings "feared for [his] safety." J.A. 419.

         One of the officers who responded to the 2:20 p.m. call testified that, when he reached the front door of Keshia's apartment, the "whole center part of the door was completely knocked . . . inward into the apartment, and wooden debris from the door was lying inside the apartment." Juniper, 626 S.E.2d at 395. Upon entering the apartment, officers found

Nykia's body lying across Rueben on the bed in the master bedroom. They then observed Shearyia's body lying across Keshia's body on the floor beside the bed. The officers received no response from any of them. . . .
All four victims . . . died as a result of gunshot wounds. Keshia was stabbed through her abdomen, shot three times, and grazed by a fourth bullet. . . . The stab wound did not fatally wound Keshia, but tore through the muscle of her abdominal wall. There was a great deal of blood accompanying the wound, however, which led the medical examiner performing the autopsy to conclude that the stab wound was probably the first injury inflicted on Keshia. . . . Two-year old Shearyia was shot four times while in her mother's arms. . . . Rueben Harrison was shot three times. . . . Four-year old Nykia was shot one time behind her left ear.

Id. at 394-95.

          At the crime scene, police officers found the handle and blade of a steak knife, which originally were joined. According to expert testimony, the "stab wound was consistent with a wound that would have been caused by the knife blade found at the scene of the crime." Id. at 394. Investigators found Petitioner's latent thumbprint on the part of the knife blade nearest the handle, and Petitioner's DNA on the knife ...


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