Thomas R. Socha, Petitioner-Appellant,
Reed A. Richardson, Respondent-Appellee.
September 6, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Wisconsin. No. 08-C-994 - Rudolph T. Randa,
WOOD, Chief Judge, and ROVNER and Sykes, Circuit Judges.
Socha has won two battles in his effort to obtain relief from
his Wisconsin conviction for murder. See Socha v.
Pollard, 621 F.3d 667 (7th Cir. 2010) (Socha I);
Socha v. Boughton, 763 F.3d 674 (7th Cir. 2014)
(Socha II). He is now hoping to win the war. Perhaps
he would have been able to do so, if federal courts had
plenary authority to review state-court criminal proceedings.
But they do not. Especially since the enactment of the
Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) in
1996, state prisoners seeking federal habeas corpus relief
have been required to overcome a set of rules that, in the
aggregate, require every benefit of the doubt to be given to
the state courts. Socha would like us to find that the state
prosecutor in his case violated the obligation recognized in
Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), to disclose
potentially exculpatory evidence to him. But even though the
prosecutor indeed withheld potentially impeaching evidence
from Socha, the state courts concluded that there was no
reasonable probability that this evidence would have changed
the verdict. Because this conclusion was not so outlandish as
to be unreasonable, we must affirm the decision of the
district court refusing to issue the writ. See 28 U.S.C.
November 2001, Socha and his acquaintances, Lance Leonard and
Victor Holm, each forged a stolen check. On November 17,
police officers began asking questions. They went to
Holm's apartment, seeking Leonard, but Leonard was not
there. Holm agreed to go with them to the stationhouse, where
he admitted his forgery and said that Leonard had also forged
a check. Socha's name did not come up.
of what happened over the next few days differ. But it is
clear that Leonard moved from place to place, avoiding
contact with the police. On November 20, 2001, Holm and his
friend, Dennis Drews, drove Leonard from Berlin, Wisconsin,
140 miles or so upstate to Crandon. They arrived at the house
of Holm's brother, Vincent. Leaving Leonard behind and
armed with a shotgun, Holm, Drews, and Vincent left the house
and dug a grave. Back again at Vincent's house, Holm and
Drews persuaded Leonard to go on an errand with them. The
errand turned out to be a fateful one for Leonard. They drove
him to the grave they had just dug, murdered him, and buried
the body. Meanwhile, Socha was back in Berlin partying with
Holm's girlfriend, Beth Mrazik, and making sure that the
two were seen in several bars. That night and early morning,
Holm and Mrazik (and possibly Socha) exchanged multiple phone
days after November 20, news of the murder quickly spread.
Drews bragged about it to Mrazik, who told a friend, who in
turn informed the police. By December 6, Holm and Drews were
arrested. No one had yet implicated Socha. That did not
happen until a few months later when Mrazik, Drews, and Holm
alleged that Socha was involved in the plan to kill Leonard.
Eventually Mrazik, Drews, and Holm entered into plea
agreements with the state.
August 2002, Socha was tried for being a party to the crime
of first-degree intentional homicide. See Wis.Stat.
§§ 940.01, 939.05. The prosecution's theory of
the case identified Socha as the mastermind, who wanted
Leonard dead primarily to ensure that he did not reveal
Socha's drug-dealing and only secondarily to keep him
from telling the police about the check forgery scheme. The
state presented testimony from Holm and Drews that, with
Socha, they decided that Leonard had to die. Others testified
to seeing the three men in conversations in the days before
the murder. There was also testimony that Socha behaved
suspiciously once the police began investigating the murder.
After a two-day bench trial, the judge found Socha guilty.
on April 11, 2002, the police had interviewed Roy Swanson,
Holm's cellmate. While the recording and transcript of
the interview were turned over to Holm's counsel, a
slip-up in the prosecution's office resulted in a failure
to turn them over to Socha. Consequently, Socha was not aware
of the Swanson interview until after his trial. In the
interview, Swan-son discussed his impressions of Holm. He
commented that "[a] lot of times [Holm is] still
lying." He recounted statements exhibiting Holm's
lack of remorse about Leonard's death, saying at one
point that he "should get a medal for killing
[Leonard]." This was in marked contrast to the
performance Holm gave at trial, where he was wiping away
tears in supposed contrition. Swanson said that Holm had
admitted that he and Lance "were the ones who stole the
checks in the first place, " and even that Holm
confessed that he had "killed before in Arizona."
Swanson got the impression that Holm's accusation of
Socha was concocted: Holm, he said, "talked to his
lawyer [who] said, well if you were coerced in any way, or
forced to say something, you know what I'm saying, do
something against your will, you know, that's a ... Oh,
and then all of a sudden a big light bulb pops up on his head
and says, 'Oh, Mexican Mafia and Tom Socha ...
.'" Nonetheless, Swan-son's story was not
entirely helpful for Socha. At one point Swanson went so far
as to say that "Tom's a major player in the
knew about the Swanson interview by the time he filed his
direct appeal and post-conviction motions. Among other
things, he argued that he was entitled to a new trial under
Brady because the prosecutor failed to disclose the
Swanson transcript and recording. The circuit court, presided
over by the judge who had handled the trial, denied his
post-conviction motions. On December 5, 2006, the Wisconsin
Court of Appeals affirmed the denial of all relief. It
dispatched Socha's Brady claim in one paragraph,
which characterized the Swan- son evidence as
"inconsequential" and not "very
exculpatory." The Wisconsin Supreme Court denied
Socha's petition for review.
then turned to the federal court for habeas corpus relief
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. The district court dismissed his
petition twice on timeliness grounds, and we reversed twice.
See Socha I, 621 F.3d at 673; Socha II, 763
F.3d at 688. At last reaching the merits, the district court
found no grounds supporting issuance of the writ. We granted