United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
DECISION AND ORDER DENYING PETITION FOR WRIT OF
E. JONES, United States Magistrate Judge.
2011, Ronnell Donyell Farr was sentenced to life in prison
after a Wisconsin jury convicted him of the first-degree
murder of Michael Bender outside a Milwaukee nightclub. Mr.
Farr filed a post-conviction motion, arguing that his trial
lawyer failed to investigate key evidence. He further argued
that his post-conviction lawyer erred in failing to allege
that his trial lawyer was ineffective, the prosecutor engaged
in misconduct, and the trial court abused its discretion in
allowing certain evidence to be presented. The state courts
rejected Mr. Farr’s arguments, finding that he had not
demonstrated that either lawyer exhibited deficient
performance or that he was prejudiced by his lawyers’
alleged errors. Mr. Farr is currently serving his sentence at
Dodge Correctional Institution in Waupun, Wisconsin.
2017, Mr. Farr filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, alleging that he is in
custody in violation of the United States Constitution
because his trial and post-conviction lawyers provided
ineffective assistance of counsel. The respondent maintains
that Mr. Farr has not satisfied his burden of proving that
his claims merit relief under the deferential standards set
forth in § 2254. The Court agrees. Because the state
court’s decision denying Mr. Farr’s claims was
not objectively unreasonable, Farr is not entitled to relief
under § 2254. The Court therefore will deny his federal
March 28, 2010, Michael Bender was shot and killed outside
Quarters nightclub in Milwaukee’s Riverwest
neighborhood. See Exhibit 2 to Answer to Petition
for a Writ of Habeas Corpus, ECF No. 20-2:7. A few days
later, Ronnell Farr was arrested and interrogated about
Bender’s death. See Id . at 7–12. After
several interrogations, Mr. Farr confessed to Detective
Rodolfo Gomez that he had shot Bender, id. at
11–12, though he claimed the shooting was
unintentional, see Id . at 23.
Circuit Court proceedings
April 5, 2010, Mr. Farr was charged in Milwaukee County
Circuit Court with first-degree intentional homicide with the
use of a dangerous weapon. Id. at 14. Prior to
trial, Mr. Farr filed a motion to determine the admissibility
of his statements to law enforcement. Id. Following
a hearing, the Circuit Court concluded that Mr. Farr’s
statement to Detective Gomez was voluntary and could be used
at trial. See Exhibit 25 to Answer, ECF No. 20-25;
Exhibit 26 to Answer, ECF No. 20-26:1–35.
case was tried before a jury in February 2011. See
Answer Ex. 26; Exhibit 27 to Answer, ECF No. 20-27; Exhibit
28 to Answer, ECF No. 20-28; Exhibit 29 to Answer, ECF No.
20-29; Exhibit 30 to Answer, ECF No. 20-30; Exhibit 31 to
Answer, ECF No. 20-31; Exhibit 32 to Answer, ECF No. 20-32;
Exhibit 33 to Answer, ECF No. 20-33. At trial, Mr. Farr
testified that he recognized Bender inside Quarters as the
man who stole his designer eyeglasses and shot him back in
August 2009. See Answer Ex. 30, 67:3–81:17. He
later saw Bender outside the club and decided to “run
up on him and take [his] glasses back.” Id. at
88:11–89:9. Mr. Farr pointed the gun at Bender, not
intending to shoot, but the gun fired multiple times.
Id. at 88:22–89:18. He then fled the scene.
Id. at 89:19–90:8.
of his defense, Mr. Farr called Detective Gomez to testify
about the statement Farr made to him. Detective Gomez
testified that he assisted in a live lineup involving Mr.
Farr on April 3, 2010. Answer Ex. 31, at 77:23–78:2.
According to Detective Gomez, while escorting Mr. Farr back
to the prisoner processing section, Farr lamented that he
didn’t mean to kill Bender. Id. at
jury ultimately found Mr. Farr guilty of intentional
homicide. See Exhibit 33 to Answer, ECF No. 20-33.
He was sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for
release to extended supervision after forty years.
See Exhibit 34 to Answer, ECF No. 20-34; see
also Exhibit 1 to Answer, ECF No. 20-1.
Farr was appointed new counsel for post-conviction
proceedings. See Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 By a Person in State
Custody at 11–12, ECF No. 1, He “filed a motion
for a new trial alleging violations of his constitutional
rights and trial court error.” Answer Ex. 2, at 49. The
trial court denied the motion without a hearing. See Id
. at 49–51.
Farr appealed, arguing that his confession to Detective Gomez
was involuntary, the Circuit Court erred in determining that
the confession was voluntary and failing to make a
Miranda finding, evidence derived from the
involuntary confession-including an interview with an alleged
accomplice-should have been excluded, and a new trial was
warranted in the interests of justice. See
Attachments to Habeas Petition at 1, ECF No. 1-1; see
also Answer Ex. 2; Exhibit 3 to Answer, ECF No. 20-3;
Exhibit 4 to Answer, ECF No. 20-4. On February 18, 2014, the
Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision affirming Mr.
Farr’s judgment of conviction and the order denying his
post-conviction motion. See Exhibit 5 to Answer, ECF
No. 20-5; see also State v. Farr, Appeal No.
2013AP504-CR, 2014 Wisc.App. LEXIS 133 (Wis. Ct. App. Feb.
18, 2014). The court determined that judicial estoppel barred
Mr. Farr’s claim concerning his confession, the police
would have interviewed the alleged accomplice regardless of
Mr. Farr’s confession, and the case did not warrant
discretionary reversal. See Id . ¶¶
Farr sought review of the appellate court’s decision.
See Exhibit 6 to Answer, ECF No. 20-6; Exhibit 7 to
Answer, ECF No. 20-7. The Wisconsin Supreme Court summarily
denied his petition for review on August 4, 2014.
See Exhibit 8 to Answer, ECF No. 20-8. Mr. Farr did
not file a petition for certiorari in the United States
Supreme Court. See Pet. at 4.
without the assistance of counsel, on August 14, 2015, Mr.
Farr filed a motion for post-conviction relief seeking a new
trial pursuant to Wis.Stat. § 974.06 and State ex
rel. Rothering v. McCaughtry, 556 N.W.2d 136 (Wis. Ct.
App. 1996). See Exhibit 9 to Answer, ECF No.
20-9:63. He argued that his post-conviction lawyer was
ineffective for failing to raise claims of ineffective
assistance of trial counsel, prosecutorial misconduct, and
abuse of discretion by the trial court. See Id . at
63–71. The Circuit Court rejected these arguments and
denied the motion without a hearing. See id.
Farr appealed again. See Answer Ex. 9; Exhibit 10 to
Answer, ECF No. 20-10; Exhibit 11 to Answer, ECF No. 20-11.
On November 16, 2015, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a
decision affirming the denial of Mr. Farr’s §
974.06 motion. See Exhibit 12 to Answer, ECF No.
20-12; see also State v. Farr, Appeal No.
2015AP1901, 2016 Wisc.App. LEXIS 749 (Wis. Ct. App. Nov. 16,
2016). The court held that trial counsel was not ineffective
for failing to investigate, post-conviction counsel was not
ineffective for failing to challenge alleged prosecutorial
misconduct, and the trial court had properly exercised its
discretion in managing the challenged evidence. See Id
. ¶¶ 7–42.
Mr. Farr sought review of the appellate court’s
decision. See Exhibit 13 to Answer, ECF No. 20-13;
Exhibit 14 to Answer, ECF No. 20-14. The Wisconsin Supreme
Court summarily denied his petition for review on March 13,
2017. See Exhibit 15 to Answer, ECF No. 20-15.
Federal habeas proceedings
June 6, 2017, Mr. Farr filed a federal habeas petition
alleging ineffective assistance of trial and post-conviction
counsel. See Attach. to Pet. at 3–8. The
matter was randomly assigned to this Court, and all parties
have consented to magistrate-judge jurisdiction. See
Consent to Proceed Before a Magistrate Judge, ECF Nos. 6
& 11 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P.
73(b)). The Court has jurisdiction over Mr. Farr’s
petition under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The petition is fully
briefed and ready for disposition. See
Petitioner’s Supporting Memorandum, ECF No. 2;
Respondent’s Brief in Opposition, ECF No. 23;
Petitioner’s Reply, ECF No. 24.
Standard of Review
Federal habeas corpus review is governed by the Antiterrorism
and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) of 1996, Pub. L. No.
104-132, 110 Stat. 1214. Under AEDPA, a prisoner in custody
pursuant to a state-court judgment of conviction is entitled
to federal habeas relief only if he is “in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). With respect
to claims adjudicated on the merits in state court, a federal
court can grant an application for a writ of habeas corpus
“only if the state court’s decision was contrary
to clearly established Supreme Court precedent, involved an
unreasonable application of such precedent, or was based on
an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the
evidence presented in state court.” Promotor v.
Pollard, 628 F.3d 878, 888 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing 28
U.S.C. § 2254(d)); see also White v. Woodall,
134 S.Ct. 1697, 1702 (2014).
legal principle is ‘clearly established’ within
the meaning of [§ 2254(d)(1)] only when it is embodied
in a holding of [the Supreme Court].” Thaler v.
Haynes, 559 U.S. 43, 47 (2010) (citing Carey v.
Musladin, 549 U.S. 70, 74 (2006); Williams v.
Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 412 (2000)). A state-court
decision is “contrary to” clearly established
federal law if “the state court arrives at a conclusion
opposite to that reached by [the Supreme Court] on a question
of law or if the state court decides a case differently ...