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Collier v. Davis

August 29, 2002

ERNEST C. COLLIER, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
CECIL DAVIS, SUPERINTENDENT OF THE INDIANA STATE PRISON, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 00 C 139--Allen Sharp, Judge.

Before Coffey, Diane P. Wood, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge

ARGUED APRIL 3, 2002

Ernest T. Collier, after unsuccessful direct and post-conviction appeals of his murder and criminal recklessness convictions in Indiana state court, seeks federal habeas corpus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. After the district court denied Collier's petition and declined to issue a certificate of appealability, we issued a certificate of appealability to determine whether the State's alleged failure to disclose an understanding or informal agreement of leniency in exchange for the key witness's testimony violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). Because Collier has failed to produce sufficient evidence to support his Brady claim, we affirm the district court's judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

More than thirteen years ago, Frederick McGuire was shot in the head at close range in front of his home in Indianapolis, Indiana. He died three days later. Although nobody saw the shooting, the State's key witness, James Merrill, testified that Collier was at the McGuire home and possessed a gun at the time of the shooting. The relevant portion of his testimony follows.

After a full day of drinking and driving around Indianapolis, Merrill went with Collier to a local fast-food restaurant, where Collier's ex-girlfriend worked. While they were there, Collier got into an argument with his exgirlfriend, and then left with Merrill. They drove for a couple of miles and stopped when they reached a house on 40th and Webster in Indianapolis. Chris Hollins, Jr. ("Junior"), Collier's ex-girlfriend's brother, was in front of the house. Junior was also a friend of Frederick McGuire, the victim. Collier got out of the car, began arguing with Junior, and apparently threatened to shoot him. While they were arguing, Chris Hollins, Sr. came outside and told Collier, "You're not the only one who has a gun." The elder Hollins went back inside the house and then Collier returned to the car. At this point Merrill noticed Collier was carrying a gun. Collier placed the gun in the car console.

According to Merrill, he and Collier left Junior's home and headed North to 42nd and Catherwood in Indianapolis. Collier asked Merrill to drive and the two changed positions. When they got to 42nd and Catherwood, Collier asked Merrill to slow down as they approached a house. Collier got out of the car and asked Merrill to turn the car around. Merrill complied and heard a gunshot. At that point, he also noticed that the car's open console, where Collier had originally laid his handgun, was empty.

Merrill drove back to the house on 42nd Street, where he saw Collier waiting in the yard. Collier returned to the car, sat down and said, "That's the way I like to play." Merrill's testimony linked Collier to the murder and directly contradicted Collier's claim at trial that Merrill was the shooter.

Merrill was the only witness who linked Collier, in possession of a gun, to Frederick McGuire's home at the time of the shooting. But other witnesses provided testimony that was consistent with Merrill's. Michael Johnson, who lived across the street from McGuire, saw Collier's car approach, then saw someone he was later unable to identify exit the car and shoot McGuire. Another witness, Cory Wills, testified that he saw Collier in a beige car in the vicinity of the McGuire house on the afternoon of the shooting. According to Wills, Collier was sitting in the passenger's seat. A third witness, Junior, stated that he saw Collier with a gun on the afternoon of the shooting.

The police caught Collier the evening of the murder. At the time of his arrest, Collier was in the passenger's seat of a two-door brown car. Collier did not have a gun, and the results of a gunshot residue test performed on his hands shortly after the arrest were negative. But after a search, the police found a slip of paper on Collier with Merrill's contact information. Merrill was apprehended three days later. Although Merrill had been driving in the car with Collier on the afternoon of the shooting and was placed and identified in a lineup, he was never charged with the shooting.

B. Procedural ...


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