The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied John Myers’ petition for writ of habeas corpus Tuesday. Myers was convicted of killing Jill Behrman, a 19-year-old IU student, in 2006.
Behrman disappeared on May 31, 2000, according to an IDS article, while on a morning bike ride that began in Bloomington.
Behrman’s bike, according to court documents, was later found within a mile from Myers’ home. In 2003, two hunters found human remains in Morgan County that were later confirmed to be Behrman’s.
Myers had made comments to several individuals after Behrman disappeared that indicated he had knowledge of her disappearance and was involved. These statements, in combination with testimony from a previous girlfriend and a criminal history, convinced a Morgan County jury he was guilty. Though no physical evidence was found tying him to the crime, Myers was sentenced to 65 years in prison for Behrman’s murder.
According to court documents, the district court granted Myers’ petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2019. The court held that his legal counsel performed inadequately, and Myers was harmed by his counsel’s errors.
A writ of habeas corpus is a legal action that compels a government official to deliver an imprisoned person to the court according to the Law Offices of Seth Kretzer’s website. When a writ for habeas corpus is granted, the court will usually hold a hearing on the matter where the inmate and the government can both present evidence regarding if there is a lawful basis for jailing. The judge could grant inmates relief in the form of a sentence reduction, release from prison, an order halting illegal conditions of confinement or a declaration of rights.
At the time, the court did not rule on three additional grounds for relief Myers had raised. He claimed his trial counsel was ineffective because it failed to challenge the state’s theory on Behrman's bike route and failed to present evidence supporting the theory that three other people, who confessed to killing Behrman but later recanted, may have murdered her. He also claimed that the state presented false evidence, in violation of Giglio v. United States (1972), and that the state withheld absolvable evidence, in violation of Brady v. Maryland (1963).
Myers’ attorney, Patrick Baker, was suspended for six months for his actions while defending Myers in his case, according to a article from WTHR.
In September 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit issued an amended opinion that reversed the district court’s 2019 grant of habeas relief to Myers.
According to court documents, the Seventh Circuit court held that while Myers' counsel had performed deficiently by making false promises during opening statements and failing to challenge evidence and expert testimony, these errors did not harm him.
Myers’ case was returned to the district court for the limited purpose of allowing the court to consider Myers’ unresolved Giglio and Brady claims.
In his Giglio claim, Myers claims that the state violated his due process right by presenting false testimony at trial, according to court documents.
After his initial conviction, the Indiana Court of Appeals found Myers fell short of establishing that the testimony and evidence were false or that the state knew they were false. The court also found Myers had not made an attempt to establish that his claims of prosecutorial misconduct were unavailable at trial or on direct appeal.
Under his Brady claim, Myers claimed the state failed to disclose thousands of pages of reports from the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Bloomington Police Department. Myers claimed most of these pages included investigation details which would demonstrate his innocence.
The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the post-conviction court’s conclusion that it was unclear if the trial counsel was given or had access to all the relevant investigative reports. Because of this, Myers had not satisfied his burden of establishing that the state suppressed such evidence. Without knowing what the evidence was, Myers could not identify a single piece of evidence that the state suppressed. So, the Court could not determine if it was favorable to the defense or relevant at trial.
According to the district court, these difficulties remain and despite Myers now listing specific evidence he claims is relevant and favorable, the evidence was not before the Indiana courts at the time and thus cannot be considered now.
Myers also argued that the state court’s decision was unreasonable because the court erred by holding that the prosecutor’s office did not have to turn over what it did not possess. In Kyles v. Whitley (1995) the Supreme Court held that a prosecutor is responsible for turning over evidence possessed by outside agencies, like the FBI or BPD.
Even if the state court erred, according to court documents, there was nothing unreasonable about the courts determination that Myers had not shown that any suppressed evidence was favorable and relevant because he had not identified any suppressed evidence. Thus, he isn’t entitled to habeas relief on his Brady claim.
The district court also denied Myers a certificate of appealability.