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Harden v. Norman

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

March 29, 2019

Joseph Harden, Petitioner - Appellee,
v.
Jeff Norman, Respondent - Appellant.[*]

          Submitted: September 28, 2018

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and GRASZ, Circuit Judges.

          COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

         The State of Missouri appeals the district court's grant of habeas corpus relief to Joseph Harden. Harden was convicted at a bench trial in Missouri state court of first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, and two counts of armed criminal action. The court sentenced him to life in prison. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed Harden's convictions on direct review, rejecting his claims of insufficient evidence. After exhausting remedies in state court, Harden petitioned for a writ of habeas corpus in the district court under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court granted relief on Harden's claim that there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction for first-degree robbery and the corresponding conviction for armed criminal action. The State appeals, and we conclude that the Missouri Court of Appeals did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. We therefore reverse the order granting in part Harden's petition.

         I.

         The evidence at trial showed that on July 7, 2008, Harden picked up Danny Singletary in Dyersburg, Tennessee, and brought him to Al Harper's house in Paragould, Arkansas. Harper paid Harden seventy dollars for this favor. Singletary recalls Harden saying that he was "broke."

         Later that night, the three men made their way back to Dyersburg. While they were driving through Hayti, Missouri, in the early morning hours, a police officer stopped the vehicle and arrested Singletary for driving while intoxicated. The officer released Harden and Harper.

         Harden and Harper walked to a nearby automated teller machine, where Harper made withdrawals for $20 and $200 at 4:23 a.m. and 4:25 a.m., respectively. Surveillance video from the ATM shows Harper making the withdrawals in Harden's presence and giving Harden some of the cash.

         Sometime between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., a passing motorist saw two men outside Brown's Grocery, which is located about a mile from the ATM. One man was using a pay phone and the other man was sitting down. Harden acknowledged at trial that he used a pay phone outside Brown's Grocery that morning to ask a friend to come and give a ride to him and Harper.

         Between 7:00 and 7:30 a.m., two passing motorists saw a shirtless man walking along the highway near a farm shop that was 250 to 300 yards from Brown's Grocery. One of the motorists observed that the man was "coming out from" the farm shop. The other motorist, who owned the farm shop, observed inch-tall letters tattooed across the upper part of the man's back. Harden has his surname tattooed in large letters across his shoulders.

         When the farm shop owner arrived at his business, he found Harper's body on the ground behind the shop. Police recovered a bloodied concrete block and knife in a field near the farm shop. Forensic testing showed that the blood on both items was consistent with Harper's DNA profile. Harper's body was left with a smashed face, a cut throat, and multiple stab wounds to the chest.

         Police later recovered a t-shirt, hat, and blood-stained jeans that Harden had discarded at nearby locations that morning. DNA on the t-shirt and jeans was consistent with the DNA profiles of both Harden and Harper. DNA on the hat was consistent with Harper's profile.

         Police also recovered Harper's wallet from a trash can in the parking lot of Brown's Grocery. The wallet contained a debit card but no cash. Harper had used the debit card ...


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