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Bryant v. Brown

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 23, 2017

Arthur J. Bryant, Petitioner-Appellant,
Richard Brown, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued January 4, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Terre Haute Division. No. 2:13-cv-00218-WTL-WGH - William T. Lawrence, Judge.

          Before Posner, [*] Easterbrook, and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          Sykes, Circuit Judge.

         Arthur John Bryant, an Indiana prisoner, was convicted of murdering his stepmother. He was 17 years old at the time of the killing. Under Indiana law juveniles in police custody have a statutory right to "meaningful consultation" with a parent before waiving their constitutional rights. See Ind. Code § 31-32-5-1. Bryant met with his mother and made an incriminating statement to her. Two detectives surreptitiously recorded their conversation, and the incriminating statement was introduced at Bryant's trial through the testimony of both eavesdropping officers. Bryant's counsel objected to the first detective's testimony but the objection was overruled. On direct appeal the Indiana Court of Appeals held that the statement should not have been admitted, but because Bryant's counsel did not object to the second detective's testimony about the same statement, the error was both unpreserved and effectively harmless.

         On state postconviction review, Bryant raised a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel under Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). He identified five errors, including his counsel's failure to preserve the surreptitious-recording issue and several other alleged missteps at trial. In a separate claim, he raised a Brady violation stemming from a falsehood in a police report. Finally, in a catch-all argument, he claimed a right to relief based on cumulative error.

         The trial judge was not persuaded by these arguments. Neither was the Indiana Court of Appeals. Bryant then sought federal habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, reiterating the same claims. The district court denied relief, and we affirm the judgment. The state appellate court reasonably applied Strickland and Brady.

         I. Background

         On January 4, 2000, Carol Bryant went missing. A few days later the police discovered her body in the trunk of her abandoned car. At the time of her death, Carol was living with her husband, Lee Bryant, at their home in Harrison County in southern Indiana. Lee's 17-year-old son, Arthur John Bryant, also lived with the couple; to avoid confusion we'll refer to him as "Bryant" and use first names for other family members.

         Bryant had previously lived with his mother, Kristi, but she kicked him out because she could no longer control his behavior. Among other things, he stole her truck, threatened to kill her, chased her around the house with a baseball bat, and choked her.

         On the day of Carol's disappearance, Lee came home midday to have lunch with his wife and son, then went back to work. When he returned home that evening, both Carol and Bryant were gone. Lee found a note from Bryant saying he was spending the night at a friend's house. Lee called Carol's family and friends in search of her, but no one knew where she was. When morning came without word from her, Lee reported her missing.

         Meanwhile, Bryant was driving around in Carol's car, showing it off to friends. He had stolen her jewelry, some of which he sold to a pawnshop; the rest he gave away. After several days he abandoned the stolen car on the side of a rural road. When police recovered and searched it, they found Carol's body in the trunk wrapped in a comforter. She had been strangled. Police also found a pair of Bryant's jeans in the trunk. The jeans were stained with bodily fluids. DNA analysis later confirmed that the bodily fluids were Carol's.

         Detectives soon learned that Bryant had an angry relationship with his stepmother. They discovered some rap lyrics he had written describing Carol in profane terms and discussing a plan to kill a woman and leave her body in the trunk of a car.

         On January 8 sheriff's deputies located Bryant in a nearby town and arrested him for Carol's murder. When they arrived at the Harrison County Sheriff's Office, Bryant asked for a lawyer. In the meantime, he was allowed to meet with his mother in accordance with an Indiana statute that gives juveniles in custody the right to consult with a parent before waiving their constitutional rights. See IND. CODE § 31-32-5-1. Sheriff's Detectives Richard Bauman and William Whelan secretly eavesdropped on the conversation using a hidden recording device. They overheard Bryant tell his mother: "I told dad I had a problem and if he didn't take care of it, I would, and I did."

         The investigation continued after Bryant's arrest. Detective Bauman interviewed Carol's friend Tracy Beemer (nee Borden), who told him that Carol had confided to her that Lee was abusive and had threatened to kill her. She also told the detective that she and Carol had contacted domestic-violence shelters a few days before Carol's death. Detective Bauman's report wrongly stated that Beemer told him that Carol had identified Bryant, not Lee, as her abuser. The prosecution disclosed this report to the defense before trial. Bryant's defense team-he had two attorneys-did not follow up by interviewing Beemer.

         Bryant stood trial for murder, theft, and obstruction of justice. Some factual detail about the trial is necessary to understand the issues raised in this appeal. The prosecution called both Detective Bauman and Detective Whelan as witnesses. The detectives testified about Bryant's incriminating statement to his mother at the Sheriff's Office. Bryant's counsel objected to this line of questioning during Detective Bauman's testimony, raising the statutory violation. The objection was overruled. Bryant's counsel did not reiterate the objection when Detective Whelan testified on the same subject.

         As relevant here, the prosecution also called Alice Alcorn, a friend of Carol's. She testified that Bryant told her he would kill Carol before he turned 18. This aspect of her testimony came as a surprise to everyone; Alcorn had ...

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