Shults v. Steele
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the petition for writ of habeas corpus [# 1 ] filed by Timothy Shults is DENIED. A separate judgment in accord with this Memorandum and Order is entered today. Signed by District Judge Catherine D. Perry on 6/1/15. (EAB)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
TIMOTHY D. SHULTS,
Case No. 4:13 CV 2326 CDP
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Pro se petitioner Timothy Shults1 is currently incarcerated at the Potosi
Correctional Center in Mineral Point, Missouri. Shults was sentenced to life
imprisonment without parole following a bench trial in which he was found guilty
of murder in the first degree. Shults’ conviction and sentence were affirmed by the
Missouri Court of Appeals. Ex. E., Memorandum Supplementing Order Affirming
Judgment Pursuant to Rule 30.25(b), No. ED97418 (Mo. Ct. App. December 4,
This matter is now before me on Shults’ petition for writ of habeas corpus
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In Shults’ petition he raises one claim for federal relief.
Shult’s argues that his conviction was obtained in violation of his Fifth
Amendment rights because the Missouri courts should have suppressed his
Also written as Timothy Schults in some Missouri Court documents.
statements to police about the location of the victim’s body and belongings, and
should have excluded the evidence discovered as a result of these statements.
This claim was raised before the Missouri Court of Appeals, who considered
it on the merits and denied it. The Missouri court correctly determined the facts
and applied the law, and so Shults’ claim for habeas relief fails.
I. Factual Background
Shults’ conviction arose from his murder of Deborah Marsch, who went
missing on July 3, 2009. On July 5, 2009, Lieutenant Kyle Kitcher and two other
Union police officers went to the home of Shults’ ex-wife Lorraine Doyle in search
of Shults for an unrelated report of domestic abuse involving his estranged wife
Betty Shults. Shults had recently been hospitalized at the VA Hospital for
depression and anxiety, and was found in a closet of Ms. Doyle’s home. He was
handcuffed and escorted outside the home. Lt. Kitcher sat Shults on a curb and
inquired about the missing woman. Lt. Kitcher showed Shults a picture of the
woman and asked if he had seen her, and Shults reacted violently with “No.”
Shults was arrested for the domestic violence crime against Betty Shults and
taken to the Union police station. Lt. Kitcher and Detective Steve Sitzes, of the
Washington police, took Shults into an interview room and activated the recording
system.2 Shults was non-responsive to most questions, answering, when informed
of his Miranda rights, “I don’t have the mental capacity to understand anything.”
As the officers continued to explain the rights and attempted to question him about
his understanding, Shults continued to be non-responsive, stared at the floor or put
his head on his knees, and again stated “I am not of sound mind to understand
anything.” When he did speak his voice was quavery and he referred to being
anxious. The officers were in plain clothes, their questioning was low-key and
generally non-confrontational, and Shults was allowed to walk around the room, at
times sitting, at times squatting on the floor. The officers brought him food
(hamburger, fries, drink), and Shults continued to either not answer or say he did
not know the answers. Because the officers did not believe he did not understand,
they asked his ex-wife to come to the station to talk to him to help assess his
mental mental status. When she arrived they specifically told her they were not
asking her to ask him any questions about the missing woman.
When Ms. Doyle arrived, she spoke with Shults and assured him of her
support. At one point she told him that whatever he told her was not admissible in
evidence. The officers had not instructed her to say this. Off and on during his
conversation with his ex-wife, Shults sobbed and stated that he wanted to die. She
All of what happened at the police station was recorded, and the state introduced the videos at
the motion to suppress hearing. I have independently reviewed the various videos, and the Court
of Appeals’ detailed summary of the evidence and its description of the interrogation and
confession is entirely accurate and consistent with those recordings. I therefore am not repeating
it all here, but provide only an abbreviated summary.
urged him to do what was right and cooperate with the police. After Shults spent
some time alone with Ms. Doyle, Lt. Kitcher then rejoined them in the interview
room, and asked if Shults would take him to the missing woman. Shults, using a
map provided by the police, indicated the whereabouts of the missing woman and
wrote directions to get there.
Once he gave directions to the body, Shults became much more responsive
and began speaking more coherently. Shults had only been at the police station an
hour and half before giving Lt. Kitcher directions to the body. Shults led the
officers to the woman’s body, which was hidden off a road in the woods, and then
proceeded to offer the locations where he had hidden her clothes, teeth, and wig.
He explained that he removed her clothing after killing her in hopes that would
keep her from being identified. After locating these items, the officers returned to
the scene of the crime with Shults, and recorded another reading of the Miranda
warnings. Shults eventually stated that he understood his rights and, in a relatively
composed manner, described on the recording how he killed the woman.
Lt. Kitcher took Shults back to the police station, where he again read the
Miranda rights and waiver form to Shults. Shults signed the waiver in the two
designated areas and again proceeded to calmly describe the murder of the woman
to Lt. Kitcher.3 He then wrote out a letter apologizing to the victim’s family.
II. Procedural Background
Shults filed a motion to suppress, and the trial court heard testimony of the
officers involved and reviewed the video of the interviews. The Court denied the
motion to suppress. The state originally indicated an intent to seek the death
penalty, but before trial, Shults waived his right to a jury trial and in exchange, the
state agreed not to seek the death penalty.
Shults did not contest the state’s version of the murder, which, based on his
confession, was that he had come upon the victim, a stranger, and killed her
because he was angry with the way his life had been going. Instead, he presented a
defense that he lacked the mental capacity to form the intent necessary to commit
first degree murder. He presented evidence that he suffered from a mental disease
or defect because of a traumatic brain injury that had resulted from a construction
The court found defendant guilty of first degree murder and sentenced him
to life imprisonment without parole. He appealed only the issue of the
During this part of the recordings Shults appears very calm, although he again states that he
wishes he could die. He thanks Lt. Kitcher for treating him well, and discusses his concerns that
his children will be labeled the children of a murderer. While waiting for the booking process,
he engages in calm small talk with assisting officers, and he is fully cooperative while DNA
samples are taken and during the other routine procedures.
voluntariness of his confession. The Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d) a court shall not grant habeas relief to a claim
adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings unless the state proceedings:
(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable
application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the
Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of
the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2) (2012). “A state court decision is ‘contrary to’ clearly
established federal law if it either arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached
by the Supreme Court on a question of law or if the state court arrives at a result
opposite to one reached by the Supreme Court on materially indistinguishable
facts.” Miller v. Dormire, 310 F.3d 600, 603 (8th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation
marks and brackets omitted). A state court’s decision is “an unreasonable
application of federal law” if the decision properly identifies the governing
Supreme Court legal principle but “unreasonably applies that principle to the facts
of the prisoner’s case.” Addai v. Schmalenberger, No. 776 F.3d 528, 532 (8th Cir.
2015). Upon federal habeas review under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, the factual
determinations of the State court are presumed to be correct. 28 U.S.C. §
2254(e)(1). The incarcerated party bears the “burden of rebutting the presumption
of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.” Id.
Voluntariness of Confession
Shults seeks habeas relief on the claim that his confession to the police,
including his statements about the locations of the woman’s body and her
belongings, was not voluntary because he could not fully understand the Miranda
warnings. He argues the statements were a result of police coercion and should
have been suppressed at trial. Shults’ petition first alleges that he “did not have the
mental capacity to understand or waive his rights.” He further alleges the police
used his ex-wife as an agent to obtain these statements.
A. Knowing and Intelligent Waiver
The question of whether Shults waived his Miranda rights knowingly,
intelligently, and voluntarily, turns on “the particular circumstances surrounding
that case, including the background, experience, and conduct of the accused.” N.C.
v. Butler, 441 U.S. 369, 374-75 (1979). The Fifth Amendment privilege is
knowingly and intelligently waived if it can be shown Shults understood he had the
right to remain silent or right to an attorney. The Constitution “does not require
that a criminal suspect know and understand every possible consequence of a
waiver of the Fifth Amendment privilege.” Colo. v. Spring, 479 U.S. 564, 574
The Missouri Appellate Court, in finding that Shults knowingly and
intelligently waived his rights, stated:
Here, Lt. Kitcher, who had known defendant for years, testified that he
believed that defendant’s initial claim that he did not understand was an
“act,” and there was evidence that defendant had the intellectual capacity to
understand the warnings in that defendant had served in the Marines and in
the National Guard where he had received military police training.
Moreover, a defendant’s actions after he was given the warnings can show
his understanding. See State v. Gray, 100 S.W.3d 881, 887 (Mo.App. 2003).
The court could consider that although defendant initially claimed he did not
have the mental capacity to understand the Miranda rights or know basic
facts about his family, within an hour and a half, his demeanor drastically
transformed, and he became composed, alert, and responsive, and he
exhibited rational behavior and coherent speech. See State v. Knese, 985
S.W.2d 759, 766 (Mo. Banc 1999).
It was within the trial court’s discretion to find that defendant was not
credible when he claimed he did not understand the warnings, but was
credible when, a few hours later, he said he did understand the warnings.
See Rousan, 961 S.W.2d at 845.
Ex. E. at 14—15.
This determination that Shults was able to understand the meaning of the
Miranda warnings is fully supported by the evidence, and the Missouri
Appellate Court’s factual determination is correct even in the absence of the
presumption of correctness.
B. Voluntary Waiver
A waiver of one’s Miranda rights is found to be voluntary when it is “not the
product of intimidation, coercion, or deception,” but rather the product of one’s
“free and deliberate choice.” Thai v. Mapes, 412 F.3d 970, 977 (8th Cir. 2005)
Shults has the burden of proving “that his statements were the product of police
coercion and his ‘will [was] overborne and his capacity for self-determination
critically impaired.’” Reese v. Delo, 94 F.3d 1177, 1183 (8th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Culombe v. Conn., 367 U.S. 568, 602 (1961). “Coercive police activity is a
necessary predicate to the finding that a confession is not ‘voluntary’ within the
meaning of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.” Colo. v.
Connelly, 479 U.S. 157, 167 (1986)).
The Missouri Court of Appeals found the police did not engage in trickery or
“[I]n order for alleged ‘coercive tactics’ or ‘trickery’ by police interrogation
to be of a nature that makes further statements of a defendant involuntary,
those tactics must demonstrate the defendant’s ‘will was overborne as a
result of said tactics.” State v. Mateo, 335 S.W.3d 529, 537 (Mo.App.
2011). Here, Lt. Kitcher made efforts to make defendant comfortable, and
allowed him to squat, sit, stand, and move about at will. He provided
defendant with food of his choice. There were breaks in questioning, and
the police brought Ms. Doyle to calm defendant down. The officers did not
compose defendant’s confession for him, and they did not strike, threaten, or
make promises to defendant.
Likewise, State v. Perkins, 753 S.W.2d 567 (Mo.App. 1988), on which
defendant also relies, does not apply to these facts. . . . Unlike the brother in
Perkins, Ms. Doyle was not paid to elicit information, and was not requested
to obtain information. The trial court did not clearly err in finding that Ms.
Doyle was not an agent of the police, and the conversation with Ms. Doyle
was not evidence of police coercion.
Ex. E. at 16—17.
The evidence shows there were never more than two officers in the
interrogation room with Shults at any time, Shults was uncuffed during most of the
interrogation, he was allowed to move freely about the interview room, he was
provided food and drink and asked repeatedly if he was comfortable. The officers
wore jeans and not their police uniforms, and the interrogation was not overly long.
Shults was only there for an hour and a half before taking the officers to the body
and belongings of the missing woman. Although his ex-wife did urge him to tell
the police what he knew, she did so in the context of telling him she supported him
and would stand by him even if he had done something wrong. Ms. Doyle
testified, consistently with the testimony of the police, that she believed she was
brought in to the police station to help calm Shults down because they were
investigating the domestic abuse allegation involving his current wife. Although
Lt. Kitcher told her that a woman was missing, she had told the police she was sure
he would not have been involved in anything like that. Lt. Kitcher testified that he
did not give her any particular questions to ask Shults.
The Missouri Court of Appeals identified the proper legal standard and
determined that the confession was not the result of coercion or trickery. The
Missouri court’s determination is not an unreasonable application of federal law or
an unreasonable determination of the facts, and so Shults has failed to show that he
is entitled to habeas relief.
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IV. Certificate of Appealability
Under 28 U.S.C. § 2253, an appeal may not be taken to the court of appeals
from the final order in a 28 U.S.C. § 2254 proceeding unless a circuit justice or
judges issues a Certificate of Appealability. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(1)(A). To grant
such a certificate, the justice or judge must find a substantial showing of the denial
of a federal constitutional right. Id. § 2253(c)(2); see Tiedeman v. Benson, 122
F.3d 518, 522 (8th Cir. 1997). A substantial showing is a showing that issues are
debatable among reasonable jurists, a court could resolve the issues differently, or
the issues deserve further proceedings. Cox v. Norris, 133 F.3d 565, 569 (8th Cir.
1997). I find that reasonable jurists could not differ on any of Shults’ claims, so I
will deny a Certificate of Appealability on this claim.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the petition for writ of habeas corpus [#1]
filed by Timothy Shults is DENIED.
A separate judgment in accord with this Memorandum and Order is entered
CATHERINE D. PERRY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated this 1st day of June, 2015.
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