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Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

7th Circuit Court of Appeals

Case Name: John Myers v. Ron Neal

Case No.: 19-3158

Officials: FLAUM, SCUDDER, and ST. EVE, Circuit Judges.

Focus: Ineffective Assistance of Counsel

Indiana University student Jill Behrman went for a bike ride one morning but never returned. The police later found her bicycle less than a mile from the home of John Myers II, on the north side of Bloomington. Two years later a woman named Wendy Owings came forward confessing to the murder, but the case was reopened when a hunter came upon Behrman’s remains far from the location Owings described. A renewed investigation led the authorities to Myers, who was eventually charged with the murder. Six years after Behrman’s disappearance, a jury convicted him. Multiple Indiana courts affirmed. Myers then sought relief in federal court, and the district court granted his application for a writ of habeas corpus, concluding that Myers’s counsel performed so deficiently at trial as to undermine confidence in the jury’s guilty verdict. We reverse.

The district court was right about the performance of Myers’s trial counsel. It was deficient and plainly so in at least two ways. What leads us to reinstate Myers’s conviction, though, is the strength of the state’s case against him separate and apart from those errors. Among the most convincing evidence were the many self‐incriminating statements that Myers made to many different people, like telling his grand‐ mother that, if the police ever learned what he did, he would spend the rest of his life in jail. The weight of these statements, when combined with other evidence, leads us to conclude that his counsel’s deficient performance did not prejudice him. The proper outcome is to respect the finality of Myers’s conviction in the Indiana courts.

Reversed and remanded

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Derek A Hawkins is trademark corporate counsel for Harley-Davidson. Hawkins oversees the prosecution and maintenance of the Harley-Davidson’s international trademark portfolio in emerging markets.

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