Vernon Brown

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Banned
Vernon Brown





Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape
Number of victims: 3 - 5 +
Date of murders: 1980 - 1986
Date of arrest: October 27, 1986
Date of birth: October 1, 1953
Victims profile: Girls and young women
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Indiana/Missouri, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Missouri on May 17, 2005





Summary:

Walking home from Cole School in north St. Louis around 3:00 p.m., nine-year-old Janet Perkins passed the home of Vernon Brown, who enticed her into the house.

Brown’s stepsons and a neighbor saw Janet enter the house. Brown then locked the stepsons in their bedrooms, but they listened to her screams through the air vents as he took Janet to the basement and bound her feet and one hand with a coat hanger. Brown then strangled Janet to death with a rope.

The next day, Janet’s body was found in two trash bags near a dumpster in an alley behind Brown’s house.

Upon arrest, Brown confessed to the murder and also admitted murdering 19 year old Synetta Ford a year earlier.

At that time, Brown was living under an alias and working as a maintenance man in an apartment building when he strangled Ford in her basement apartment with an electrical cord and stabbed her in the chest and throat. Brown was also convicted of this murder and sentenced to death.

Brown had been convicted of sexually assaulting a 12 year old girl in the 1970's and spent four years in prison.

Citations:

State v. Brown, 902 S.W. 2d 278 (Mo.banc 1995)(PCR- Perkins Murder).
State v. Brown, 998 S.W.2d 531 (Mo. 1999) (PCR- Ford Murder).
State v. Brown, 958 S.W.2d 553 (Mo. 1997) (PCR- Ford Murder).
Brown v. Luebbers, 344 F.3d 770 (8th Cir. 2003) (Habeas - Ford Murder).
Brown v. Luebbers, 371 F.3d 458 (8th Cir. 2004) (Habeas - Ford Murder).

Final Meal:

Shrimp, french fries, salad and cake.

Final Words:

"You'll see me again. To all my friends, don't think of me as being gone, but there with you. And to Jazz, who has my heart and love. Peace, love. Vernon Brown."


Capital Punishment in Missouri from Missouri.net

Vernon Brown

Donald Jones was executed at 02:35 a.m., May 17, 2005.

Case Facts: On October 24, 1986, nine-year-old Janet Perkins left Cole School in north St. Louis around 3:00 p.m. and walked toward her home three and a half blocks away. She generally took the same route each day, west on Enright Avenue. Under normal circumstances, the trip took less than 15 minutes.

Vernon Brown, who was using the name of Thomas Turner, had picked up his stepsons from Cole School and returned to their home on Enright Avenue in time to see Janet walking past. Brown called to her and ultimately enticed her to enter the house. Brown’s stepsons saw Janet enter the house. A neighbor’s relative saw Brown on the front porch and Janet walking up the steps to the house. Brown ordered the stepsons to their bedroom and locked the door from the outside.

Despite Brown’s claims that at this point he began suffering PCP-induced blackouts, Brown’s own statements, the testimony of his stepsons, and the physical evidence show that he took Janet to the basement of the house, and bound her feet and one hand with a wire coat hanger, forcing her into a crouched position that permitted her head to reach the height of Brown’s genitalia. Brown then strangled Janet to death with a rope. The next day, enforcement authorities found Janet’s body in two trash bags near a dumpster in an alley behind Brown’s house.

Brown was arrested on October 27, 1986.

Vernon BROWN

A drifter who resided in twenty-three states during his last decade of freedom, Vernon Brown had settled in Indianapolis by 1980, serving time for molesting a 12-year-old girl.

On August 25, nine-year-old Kimberly Campbell was found, raped and strangled, in a vacant house owned by Brown's grandmother. Brown had been seen with the child on August 24, but in the absence of solid evidence no indictment was filed.

A year later, warrants were issued charging Brown with six counts of child molestation and he promptly skipped town.

In March 1985, Synetta Ford, 19, was stabbed and strangled in her St. Louis apartment. Virgil Brown, working at the complex under an alias, was arrested in April, after his wife told police he had claimed responsibility for the murder. Charges were later dismissed, as Missouri law forbids spousal testimony in cases where victims are eighteen or older.

On October 25, 1986, nine-year-old Janet Perkins disappeared from her home in St. Louis. Her lifeless body was discovered near Brown's home the following day, and he was picked up for questioning, offering police a confession in which he blamed the crime on uncontrollable side effects of PCP intoxication.

Indianapolis police questioned Brown in April 1987, and a warrant has been issued charging Brown with the murder of Kimberly Campbell in 1980.

He is also suspected in the murder of 15-year-old Tracey Poindexter, killed in Indianapolis during April 1985, and in another local homicide from August of that year. Authorities in more than twenty states are studying their "open" files for crimes that match the lethal drifter's modus operandi


Girl’s killer is put to death


May 17, 2005

Bonne Terre, Mo. — Vernon Brown, who killed a 9-year-old girl and a 19-year-old woman, and was a suspect in a child killing in Indiana, was executed at 2:35 a.m. Wednesday morning.

After more than three hours strapped to a gurney waiting to hear the U.S. Supreme Court's final decision on his appeal, Brown looked to the left towards his spiritual advisor and one of his lawyers, then looked up at the ceiling of the death chamber. After the first drug was administered at 2:32 a.m., Brown moved his head slightly with his eyes closed, and pointed his chin up towards the ceiling blowing air out of his mouth, which then fell open. A doctor pronounced Brown dead at 2:35 a.m.

Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman John Fougere said that Brown was strapped into the gurney at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday night. The U.S. Supreme Court notified the Missouri Attorney General's office of a temporary stay of execution at 11:56 p.m. Fougere said the issues in front of the court dealt with the constitutionality of Missouri's method of lethal injection and racial disparity in executions.

One of Brown's attorneys, public defender Janet Thompson, said that Missouri uses a method of lethal injection, "that we don't even allow veterinarians to use." Brown's lawyers have argued in legal filings that there is no way to tell if a prisoner is suffering during the administration of the three drugs the state uses to execute prisoners. His spiritual advisor is a former supervisor of the laundry at the prison in Potosi, and is a layman with a strong religious background, Thompson said.

Brown had a last meal of shrimp, french fries, salad and cake, watched a little television and took calls from his brother, and according to Fougere, a woman proporting to be his mother. However, Thompson said that Brown's mother is dead. She said she saw Brown during the evening and said that his mood could be described as "scared." Fougere said Brown declined a sedative at 7 p.m. but agreed to sedation at about 1 a.m. Fougere said that Brown fell asleep for a "good amount of time" before the procedure was begun.

"Tonight the process of our judicial system has been carried out," commented Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt after Brown was pronounced dead. "The courts and the Missouri Department of Corrections have met their responsibilities under law. I reviewed applications for clemency and the history of legal proceeding. I found nothing to merit setting aside the result of previous judicial proceedings."

Brown issued his own statement Tuesday night. "You'll see me again. To all my friends, don't think of me as being gone, but there with you." He continued, "And to Jazz, who has my heart and love. Peace, love. Vernon Brown."

Brown, 51, was put to death for the 1986 killing of Janet Perkins, 9, although he was also under a death sentence for the 1985 murder of 19-year-old Synetta Ford.

Brown and his lawyers unsuccessfully appealed to state and federal courts and Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt for clemency. “I support the sentence issued and upheld by both Missouri and U.S. courts and believe it is a just punishment for this horrific crime,” Blunt said in a prepared statement. The Missouri Board of Probation and Parole also recommended against clemency, and the 8th U.S. Court of Appeals denied Brown’s motion for a stay of execution Tuesday afternoon.

Brown did not present a very sympathetic case. The high school dropout spent four years in prison in the 1970s for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl. He then moved to St. Louis and married a homeless woman.

On March 7, 1985, while living under an alias and working as a maintenance man in an apartment building in the 3500 block of Washington Avenue, he strangled Ford in her basement apartment with an electrical cord and stabbed her in the chest and throat. Although police arrested Brown, he wasn’t charged with Ford’s murder until more than a year later, after police arrested him in Perkins’ death and he confessed to killing both.

At trial, Brown’s stepsons told jurors that on the afternoon of Oct. 24, 1986, Brown called their friend Janet Perkins inside the house and sent the boys to their room. They listened to her screams through a vent as Brown strangled her. He then dumped her body in two trash bags in the alley behind his house in the 4100 block of Enright Avenue. She lived about a block away.

Brown told police that he strangled Janet while under the influence of the drug PCP. In the other murder case, he said, Ford attacked him with the knife and accidentally stabbed herself.

In 1987, Indianapolis prosecutors charged him with the murder of 9-year-old Kimberly Campbell, who was tied up, beaten, sexually assaulted and strangled in 1980. Prosecutors also charged him with molesting an 11-year-old boy and three girls, aged 9, 7 and 2. He was convicted of Janet Perkins’ murder in 1988 and Ford’s murder in 1991.

Brown declined an interview request passed through the Missouri Department of Corrections Tuesday.

Rita Linhardt, spokeswoman for the Missouri Catholic Conference and Missourians to Abolish the Death Penalty, did not question Brown’s guilt in a telephone interview Monday but said death was not an appropriate punishment. Brown’s lawyers and supporters say jurors, when deciding Brown’s punishment, should have been told about his “horrendous” early life. They say he was physically and sexually abused and may have been the product of an incestuous relationship between his grandfather and mother.

Brown had a low IQ and a head injury that left him suffering from periods in which he had memory lapses and was not responsible for his actions, they said. Brown supporters also said that jurors in the 1988 trial never heard from Brown’s brother, Darius Q. Turner, who would have described a caring, protective family man who changed after a stint in prison. Linhardt said jurors never knew those details, so were unable to give Brown an appropriate sentence. She also said Brown’s lawyers needed more money and help defending him.

Brown’s lawyers also argued that Missouri’s method of execution was cruel and unusual — that Brown could feel intense pain from one of the three drugs used to execute him but would be too paralyzed to show it. Opponents of the death penalty protested and held prayer services outside the prison Tuesday night. Fougere said that there were 35 protesters outside the prison, with 31 opposed to the death penalty, and four in favor of the death penalty. Ford’s sister and mother attended the execution. Both declined to comment.

Tuesday afternoon, Susie Perkins, Janet’s grandmother, said she and other family members would not attend. “I’m a little ill to make it, but I will be glad when it happens. When it’s over with,” she said. “It’s taken a long time. It’s finally here, so I’m glad.”


The Missouri Supreme Court set a May execution date for a St. Louis man convicted of killing a neighbor girl. Vernon Brown, a drifter who resided in twenty-three states during his last decade of freedom, is scheduled to die by injection at 12:01 a.m. May 18.

Brown had served time after being convicted for molesting the body of a 12-year-old girl in Indiana. On August 25, 1980, nine-year-old Kimberly Campbell was found, raped and strangled, in a vacant house owned by Brown's grandmother. Brown had been seen with the child on August 24, but in the absence of solid evidence no indictment was filed. A year later, warrants were issued charging Brown with six counts of child molestation and he promptly skipped town.

In March 1985, Synetta Ford, 19, was stabbed and strangled in her St. Louis apartment. Brown, working at the complex under an alias, was arrested in April, after his wife told police he had claimed responsibility for the murder. Synetta Ford was found dead in her basement apartment with a knife sticking out of her throat and the electrical cord from a curling iron "tightly knotted around the neck."

The door to her apartment had been forced open. The evidence showed that Brown first strangled her, taking the time to knot the electrical cord around her neck, and then as she was dying he stabbed her in the chest and neck. The stab wound to her neck severed her carotid artery, the major artery in the neck.

The jurors saw photographs of Ford's body as it appeared when it was discovered on the floor of her apartment and also an autopsy photograph. In addition, the jury watched a videotape of Brown's confession, where he claimed that Ford had accidentally stabbed herself before and after he strangled her with the cord. Brown was picked up for questioning, offering police a confession in which he blamed the crime on uncontrollable side effects of PCP intoxication.

After Brown was picked up in connection with the Perkins murder and confessed his guilt, he led officers to another dumpster a block from where the body was found. There they found a bag containing Janet Perkins's missing shoe, a yellow plastic raincoat, and some of her school papers.

Indianapolis police questioned Brown in April 1987, and a warrant has been issued charging Brown with the murder of Kimberly Campbell in 1980. He is also suspected in the murder of 15-year-old Tracey Poindexter, killed in Indianapolis during April 1985, and in another local homicide from August of that year.

Additionally, the jury heard evidence that Brown committed acts of sodomy on his stepsons who were about five, seven, and nine years old at the time of the abuse to which they testified. The seven year old, age eleven at the time of the sentencing, testified that before Brown was arrested for the Perkins murder in October 1986, he would take the boy alone into the bedroom Brown shared with the boy's mother and tell him to undress and lie on his stomach on the bed. Brown would undress, put "hair grease" on his penis, and anally and orally sodomize the boy.

Brown committed these acts of sodomy on several different occasions. The boy told no one about the incidents until Brown was in jail because Brown had said that if he told, he "would never see any of [his] brothers or [his] mother again." The five year old, nine years old when he testified, also explained to the jury how Brown had performed anal sex on him and said that Brown had threatened to "kill us" if he told anyone.

The oldest boy, thirteen at the time of the trial, testified that Brown sodomized him as well. The boys said that Brown would commit the acts of sodomy when their mother was not at home, taking them one at a time from playing with their brothers and locking the door so that the boys who were not being victimized at the time could not come in.

National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty

Missouri - Vernon Brown - May 18, 2005

Shortly after midnight on May 18, 2005, the state of Missouri is scheduled to execute Vernon Brown. Brown is to be executed for the October 1986 murder of Janet Perkins in St. Louis City. Perkins was 9 years old at the time of her death. On Oct. 24, 1986, Brown lured Perkins into his residence, tied her up, and then strangled her to death. He was arrested three days later for the murder.

Brown was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. In a later, unrelated case, Brown was convicted of first-degree murder for the March 1985 death of Synetta Ford. He received a death sentence for that crime as well.

Brown experienced a tumultuous childhood. His father had absolutely no presence in his life and his mother was often not around the house. This left Brown to be largely reared by his grandparents. Brown’s grandfather was overly stern and terribly abusive, sexually molesting and severely beating Brown throughout his youth. Brown’s difficult childhood was further complicated by a head injury that he endured at a young age. Brown’s attorney maintains that, “since the injury, [Brown] has suffered severe headaches during which his body would become rigid, he would lapse into a trance and would not remember what happened.”

Although Brown has confessed to Perkins’ murder, he claims that his ability to reflect upon his behavior prior to and during the commission of the crime was diminished by drug use. Brown, an admitted PCP user, asserts that his PCP use caused him to experience an episode of blackouts while Perkins was inside his home. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, PCP, which has anesthetic properties, “induces a profound departure from reality, which leaves the user capable of bizarre behavior and severe disorientation.”

Because Brown endured a traumatic childhood and there exist indications that he was not acting in a conscious manner when he took Perkins’ life, his execution should not proceed.

Please write to Gov. Matt Blunt and express your opposition to the state of Missouri’s plan to execute Vernon Brown.

Man called 'destroyer of children' is executed

Springfield News-Leader
May 17, 2005

Bonne Terre, Mo — Vernon Brown, a man who killed a 9-year-old girl and a 19-year-old woman, spent more than three hours on his execution gurney before being put to death early this morning. Brown, 51, was strapped to the gurney about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday in preparation for the execution, which was scheduled for 12:01 a.m. this morning.

But U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued a temporary stay of execution at 11:56 p.m. while the full court considered three separate motions for stays of execution. About two hours later, the justices voted 5-4 to allow the execution to continue. "We asked him a number of times if he was comfortable," said Missouri Department of Corrections spokesman John Fougere. Around 1 a.m., Brown accepted a sedative, though he had declined one earlier, Fougere said.

Brown, who was once called a "destroyer of children" offered no words of explanation or apology to the families of his victims. His last words were "You'll see me again. To all my friends, don't think of me as being gone, but there with you. And to Jazz, who has my heart and love. Peace. Love. Vernon Brown." Fougere said he was uncertain who Jazz was.

When the lethal injection began about 2:30 a.m., Brown's eyes were closed, his head moved to the left and right once and his lips parted slightly. He was pronounced dead at 2:35 a.m.

Lawyers for Brown had argued he had an exceptionally difficult childhood, was raised in poverty and physically and sexually abused.

But Dianne Perkins, the aunt of murdered fourth grader Janet Perkins, said the killer had the benefit of almost two decades of life denied to her niece. "He lived for years, but she only saw nine," Perkins said. Perkins and other family members did not attend Brown's execution.

At the time of Janet's murder, he was living in St. Louis under the phony name Thomas Turner. When Brown picked up his stepsons from school on Oct. 24, 1986, he spotted Janet, who was also walking home. He persuaded the child to come inside his home, then locked his stepsons in their bedroom.

He strangled the little girl with a rope in the basement, wrapped her body in trash bags and left her outside near a trash container. He told authorities he was on the drug PCP and suffered blackouts, claiming he didn't recall the assault.

Brown had committed another murder in St. Louis a little over a year earlier. He was arrested, but records indicate he was freed after he gave investigators a phony name. In 1985, Brown strangled 19-year-old Synetta Ford, whose body was found in her basement apartment in a building where Brown worked as a maintenance man. Ford was strangled with an electrical cord from a curling iron and stabbed. Brown tried to convince police the woman accidentally stabbed herself.

Her mother, Ann Ford of St. Charles, said she wanted to witness Brown's execution to make sure he paid for killing her daughter. "I can't say it's like closure, because there will be no closure while I live," she said before the execution.

Brown was arrested shortly after Ford was killed, but gave police a phony name and was released. Prosecutors at the time said an FBI report with Brown's true identity, based on his fingerprints, had been misplaced.

After he was sentenced to death for killing the child, Brown was convicted in the killing of Ford and received another death sentence.

Assistant Circuit Attorney Robert Garrison said at the time, "I can't think of a more appropriate case for the death penalty than this man." He called Brown a "destroyer of children."

Brown's stepsons testified during the trial in Ford's killing that he had abused them, testimony that brought some jurors to tears. Brown was also convicted in 1973 for sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl in Indiana. He served four years for that crime.

St. Louis killer to be executed tonight


AP - May 17, 2005

ST. LOUIS — Lawyers and death penalty opponents fought Monday to halt the execution of a St. Louis man twice sentenced to die. Barring a court ruling or clemency from Gov. Matt Blunt, Vernon Brown, 51, is scheduled to die by injection at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre. It would be the third execution in Missouri this year.

In two unrelated cases, Brown was convicted of choking and stabbing to death 19-year-old Synetta Ford on May 7, 1985, and of strangling 9-year-old Janet Perkins on Oct. 24, 1986. The pending execution is for Perkins’ murder.

Brown saw the child walking home from school and persuaded her to come inside his home. He locked his stepsons in their bedroom and took the girl to the basement, where he bound her feet and a hand with a wire coat hanger and strangled her with a rope. Her body was found in trash bags in an alley behind Brown’s house the next day.

Brown’s lawyers acknowledge in a clemency application that both murder convictions are “probably warranted.” But, they say, “the death sentences are not, either as a matter of law or a matter of humanity.” They describe Brown as a man damaged early in life. Brown’s attorneys said after he was knocked unconscious as a 5-year-old, he suffered headaches and was known to lapse into trances.

Brown, they said, was sexually and physically abused as a child by his grandfather, George McGuire, now deceased. “Vernon was chained naked and beaten with a switch, a belt, a buggy whip and a bull whip. This abuse left a trail of welts and bruises. When anyone in the family protested this treatment, George tied Vernon to a bed and severely beat him yet again,” the clemency application said.

Attorney General Jay Nixon said Brown must be held responsible for the killings. “Obviously, the juries didn’t think someone other than Vernon Brown should be blamed for these murders, and neither do I,” Nixon said.

On Friday, a federal judge in St. Louis denied a request for a temporary restraining order to block the execution, after lawyer John Simon argued that the lethal injection could subject Brown to excessive pain, citing an April article in the Lancet medical journal.

Missouri executes serial child killer

May 18, 2005

ST. LOUIS, Mo. (Reuters) - A Missouri man was executed on Wednesday for the 1986 murder of a 9-year-old schoolgirl he lured into his home and then strangled. Vernon Brown, 51, received a lethal dose of chemicals and was pronounced dead at 2:35 a.m. EDT (0635 GMT), a prison official said.

Janet Perkins, a neighbor who had been walking home from school when Brown enticed her into his home, was found bound with a coat hanger and wrapped in trash bags behind his house. She had been strangled with a rope.

Brown was later convicted and given the death penalty a second time for killing 19-year-old Synetta Ford in 1985. She had been stabbed and strangled with an electrical cord.

His last words were: "You will see me again. To all my friends, don't think of me as being out there without you. And to Jazz, who has my heart and love. Peace, love, Vernon Brown, CP75."

His last meal consisted of shrimp, french fries, salad and cake.

The execution was delayed more than two hours beyond its scheduled time by an unsuccessful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court over whether lethal injection constituted cruel and unusual punishment, the prison official said.

In his confession, Brown claimed he murdered Perkins while in a trance, blaming his use of the drug PCP for worsening the blackouts he suffered as a result of a childhood head injury. His lawyers argued Brown had been traumatized by physical and sexual abuse doled out by his grandfather, who raised him.

A drifter as an adult who lived in two dozen states, Brown was also suspected of having murdered two girls in Indianapolis during the 1980s and other killings. He left Indianapolis in 1985 before his arrest on child molestation charges and fled to St. Louis, living under the pseudonym Virgil Brown.

He was the 967th person put to death since the United States restored the death penalty in 1976 and the 23th U.S. execution this year. He was the third person to be executed in Missouri this year.

Death-penalty opponents decry inmate's three hours on gurney

May 17, 2005

BONNE TERRE, Mo. (Associated Press) - Death-penalty opponents objected to an inmate's three hours strapped to a gurney before his execution, saying the wait adds grist to their claims that death by injection is inhumane. The state Department of Corrections defended its treatment of Vernon Brown, saying the inmate never complained of discomfort and actually slept part of the time after taking a sedative he earlier had declined.

"He was sentenced to death, not torture," Margaret Phillips of the Eastern Missouri Coalition to Abolish Death Penalty said of Vernon Brown's death. "Everything about it is unsettling. The fact that lethal injection might be painful, with or without the delay, is cause for immense distress. There was no good outcome."

Brown, 51, was secured to the gurney in the death chamber at a prison in Bonne Terre, south of St. Louis, about 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, 31 minutes before his scheduled execution. But U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas issued a temporary stay five minutes before the injections were to begin. Brown remained immobilized until the high court, by a 5-4 vote, gave the go-ahead about two hours later for the sentence to be carried out. Brown, who while strapped down accepted a sedative and remained attached to an intravenous line, got the first of three injections at 2:32 a.m. Wednesday and was declared dead three minutes later.

John Fougere, a spokesman for Missouri's prison system, said the Department of Corrections was following its protocol on keeping Brown on the gurney, having been advised by the Supreme Court to "remain in the ready position" during the stay it pressed was only temporary. "We did make sure the offender was not in any physical pain. He told us he was not," Fougere said, noting that Brown fell asleep shortly after taking the sedative about 1 a.m. The inmate was awakened shortly after the Supreme Court lifted the stay about 2:10 a.m.

Though some suggested that perhaps Brown could have been taken to his holding cell near the death chamber as his 11th-hour appeals were meted out, Fougere said that "when we were having thoughts about how long this would go, (the Supreme Court) assured us they were still working on it and to be on standby mode." Fougere said that in his eight years with the Department of Corrections, "I don't believe there's been a time the offender has been on the gurney this amount of time."

Among other things, Brown's attorneys had argued that the drugs used in lethal injection could cause excessive pain, citing a recent article in The Lancet medical journal with research "showing the three-chemical process used by some states to carry out lethal injections has the possibility of causing unnecessary cruelty and suffering." "What you saw this morning was part of a process that just doesn't work," said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "There's no nice way of doing it, and there are problems inherent with it. Brown's execution "is part of a continuum of disturbing things that take place," she said.

Brown was put to death for the 1986 slaying of 9-year-old Janet Perkins, the St. Louis fourth-grader that Brown enticed into his home, bound with a coat hangar in his basement and strangled with a rope while his stepsons were locked in their bedroom. Her body was found the next day wrapped in trash bags in an alley behind Brown's house.

Brown also had been sentenced to death in the 1985 death of 19-year-old Synetta Ford, whom Brown stabbed and eventually strangled with a curling iron cord.

Fougere said the Department of Corrections would analyze Brown's execution, as it does after any death sentence is carried out. "We do a complete debriefing on every aspect to see if we handled every situation in the right way, and this one is no different," he said.

Governor denies two-time killer clemency


AP - May 17, 2005

BONNE TERRE, Mo. - Gov. Matt Blunt denied clemency for two-time convicted killer Vernon Brown on Tuesday, while a federal court in St. Louis denied a stay of execution.

Blunt said the Board of Probation and Parole recommended clemency be denied and he saw no reason to set aside the death sentence for Brown's murder of 9-year-old Janet Perkins. "We cannot begin to understand the pain her family has endured, and I cannot imagine how they have suffered at the loss of their little girl," he said in a statement.

John Simon, a lawyer for Brown, 51, said he was still seeking a re-hearing in federal court on the matter that was just denied and that requests for a stay were still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. Lawyers for Brown argued that the drugs used in lethal injection could cause him excessive pain. A three-judge panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against the stay.

However, Circuit Judge Kermit Bye dissented. He said Brown's action was partly based on a recent article in The Lancet medical journal with research "showing the three-chemical process used by some states to carry out lethal injections has the possibility of causing unnecessary cruelty and suffering."

Family members of the two murder victims said Brown did not deserve to live after the killings. "The world missed out on a great person to walk around with, and they were left with Vernon Brown," said Ann Ford of St. Charles, the mother of 19-year-old Synetta Ford, who was killed by Brown in 1985. "I think he's getting his just rewards."

Relatives of Janet Perkins, the 9-year-old girl killed by Vernon Brown in 1986 have no plans to attend his execution. But, they believe the two-time convicted killer "should pay for the crimes," the child's aunt said. Perkins' relatives didn't think watching Janet Perkins' killer die early Wednesday would bring comfort. The execution was scheduled for 12:01 a.m. at the Eastern Reception Diagnostic and Correctional Center in Bonne Terre, and would be the third in Missouri this year. "I'm not a person that believes in hurting someone, but he should pay for the crimes he did," Janet's aunt, Dianne Perkins of St. Louis, said.

Brown declined an interview request.

Brown has been convicted of first-degree murder twice, both times receiving the death penalty, though the Wednesday execution was set only for the killing of the child. In the other case, Brown stabbed 19-year-old Ford and strangled her with a curling iron cord in 1985. Ford's mother and sister planned to attend the execution.

On Oct. 24, 1986, Janet was walking home from school when Brown enticed the child into his home. He locked his stepsons in their bedroom and took the girl to the basement. There, he bound her feet and a hand with a wire coat hanger and strangled her with a rope. Her body was found wrapped in trash bags in an alley behind Brown's house the next day.

Perkins said she wonders to herself, "Did she suffer? Did she cry? Was she crying for help? How were her last moments?" Perkins said the fourth-grader, her sister Suzanne's daughter, was fond of animals and jumping rope with her friends. "She would have been 28. He took her away from her family and friends. She never had a chance to really experience life," she said.

Brown's lawyers said he was sexually and physically abused as a child, suffered a head injury and was on the drug PCP at the time he killed Perkins. In their appeals, the lawyers also argued that drugs used in lethal injection cause excessive pain.

Missouri Inmate Executed For Two St. Louis Murders After Delay of 2 1/2 Hours


May 18, 2005

(KSDK) - Convicted killer Vernon Brown was executed early Wednesday morning for committing two murders in the mid 1980's. Brown's attorney asked for clemency, claiming he was abused as a child and he was prone to drug induced blackouts as an adult. That clemency was denied.

But at 11:56 pm Tuesday night, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on the execution. At 2:10 am that stay was lifted and the execution went ahead as planned.

Vernon Brown had been behind bars since 1986. His victims' families waited a long time for this day. He was convicted in two murders, and suspected of several others.

"March 8th of 1985, my daughter was found murdered in her apartment," said Ann Ford. His first victim was 19 year old Synetta Ford. Brown eventually confessed to the crime, but only after he was arrested and then released on a technicality. "A year and seven months later, he killed little Janet Perkins," said Ford's mother.

Janet Perkins was on her way home from school when the attack happened. Brown lured the 9-year-old child into his house and strangled her. Police later found her body in a dumpster. Perkins' family has said that Brown is finally getting what he deserves after all these years. Suzanne Perkins says, "Yes, he is going to get executed. But it's not going to bring her back. It's not going to bring her back at all." Janet Perkins' family chose not to attend Brown's execution. They said it wasn't something they needed to see.

However, Synetta Ford's family said they wouldn't miss Wednesday's execution for the world. "I don't say that it means closure, because there will be no closure as long as I am alive. But it will be closure for him. It's just something I wanted to see since my daughter was found."

State v. Brown, 902 S.W.2d 278 (Mo. 1995) (PCR- Perkins Murder).

Defendant was convicted before the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, Evelyn M. Baker, J., and was sentenced to death. Subsequently, the Circuit Court, Robert G. Dowd, Jr., J., overruled defendant's postconviction motion, and he appealed. The Supreme Court, Robertson, J., held that: (1) trial court did not err in overruling motion to strike venireperson for cause; (2) court did not err in finding defendant's minor stepsons competent to testify against him; (3) evidence was sufficient to support element of deliberation; (4) court did not err in denying continuance sought by defendant on ground that counsel needed time to prepare for evidence that state failed to timely disclose; and (5) imposition of death penalty was not excessive or disproportionate. Affirmed.

ROBERTSON, Judge.

A jury convicted Vernon Brown of first degree murder in violation of Section 565.020, RSMo 1994 and recommended that he be put to death. The trial court agreed and entered a sentence of death. Subsequently, the motion court overruled Brown's Rule 29.15 motion. This appeal followed. We have jurisdiction. Mo. Const. art. V, § 3. The conviction, sentence and denial of post-conviction relief are affirmed.

We interpret the facts in the light most favorable to the verdict. State v. Shurn, 866 S.W.2d 447, 455 (Mo. banc 1993), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 837, 115 S.Ct. 118, 130 L.Ed.2d 64 (1994).

On October 24, 1986, nine-year-old Janet Perkins left the Cole School in north St. Louis around 3:00 p.m. and walked toward her home three and a half blocks away. She generally took the same route each day, west on Enright Avenue. Under normal circumstances, the trip took less than 15 minutes.

Vernon Brown, who was then using the name Thomas Turner, had picked up his stepsons from Cole School and returned to their home on Enright Avenue in time to see Janet walking past. Brown called to her and ultimately enticed her to enter the house.

Brown's stepsons saw Janet enter the house. A neighbor's relative saw Brown on the front porch and Janet walking up the steps to the house. Brown ordered the stepsons to their bedroom and locked the door from the outside. Despite Brown's claims *284 that at this point he began suffering PCP-induced blackouts, Brown's own statements, the testimony of his stepsons, and the physical evidence show that he took Janet to the basement of the house, and bound her feet and one hand with a wire coat hanger, forcing her into a crouched position that permitted her head to reach the height of Brown's genitalia. Brown then strangled Janet to death with a rope.

The next day, enforcement authorities found Janet's body in two trash bags near a dumpster in an alley behind Brown's house. Further investigation raised suspicion about Brown. When suspicion turned to probable cause, the police arrested Brown on October 27, 1986, confronted him with their evidence, including testimony of a neighbor who had seen Janet enter Brown's house, and asked Brown to tell them where to find Janet's missing shoe, raincoat and school papers. Brown led police to a different dumpster, in which they found a bag containing Janet's missing property.

Brown made a videotaped statement implicating himself as Janet's killer. In a subsequent statement, Brown also admitted killing Synetta Ford, a woman who had been murdered on March 7, 1985.

On November 18, 1986, a St. Louis City grand jury indicted Brown on two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of Janet Perkins and Synetta Ford. Brown's counsel moved to suppress the two videotaped statements and to sever the trials on the two murders. The trial court sustained the motion to sever but overruled the motion to suppress.

The jury convicted Brown of Janet Perkins' murder and, in the penalty phase, found four statutory aggravating circumstances and four nonstatutory aggravating circumstances. The jury recommended that Brown be put to death. The trial court concurred, entering its judgment of conviction and sentence of death on December 2, 1988. Subsequently, Brown filed a timely Rule 29.15 motion. After an evidentiary hearing, the motion court overruled the Rule 29.15 motion. This appeal followed.

A few preliminary matters require our attention. First, we choose to depart from Brown's presentation of the issues to proceed chronologically.

Second, Brown operates under several fundamental misconceptions about the proper subjects of a motion for post-conviction relief. He repeatedly assigns error to the motion court's refusal to order relief for acts or omissions which, if erroneous, would constitute simple trial errors subject to review on direct appeal. We will not address claims of motion court error founded on alleged trial court errors which appellant should have preserved for direct appeal.

* * *

Brown initially contends that the trial court erred in finding his stepsons competent to testify against him, and in permitting the prosecutor to use leading questions in examining the boys. At the time of the trial, the stepsons, Tommy Johnson, Christopher Moore and Jason Moore, were ages eleven, nine, and seven, respectively.

* * *

The trial began October 17, 1988, nearly two years after Janet's murder. The state endorsed Brown's stepsons as witnesses in the penalty phase on May 26, 1987. Two weeks prior to trial, the state furnished Brown a copy of a police report showing allegations that Brown had sodomized his stepsons. On October 10, 1987, the state informed Brown that it intended to use the sodomies as evidence of an aggravating circumstance at the penalty phase of the trial.

On October 14, 1987, Brown filed a motion for a continuance, claiming that he suffered a medical condition that would make it difficult for him to sit through trial and that he had only recently been provided the police report outlining Brown's sodomies against his stepsons. The trial court denied the continuance.

On October 14, 1988, the state provided Brown with statements of various witnesses from Indianapolis, Indiana, surrounding Brown's guilty plea to charges of assault and battery with intent to gratify sexual desire in Indiana in 1973. The victim of the Indiana felony was a 12-year-old female. Brown received a sentence of up to five years as a result of that conviction.

On October 18, 1988, the day after voir dire in the trial commenced, Brown filed a motion for sanctions to prevent the state from using the Indiana evidence or, in the alternative, for a continuance. The trial court overruled both motions. 2.

The state offered the evidence that Brown sodomized his stepsons in support of nonstatutory aggravating circumstances. Brown now claims that the trial court erred in admitting the sodomy evidence, and in denying a continuance, on the ground that the state's failure to disclose its intent to prove the sodomy as a nonstatutory aggravating circumstance deprived his counsel of time to prepare for that evidence.

* * *

Dr. James Monteleone testified for the state during the penalty phase concerning the sodomy of Brown's stepsons in 1987. Monteleone's testimony showed that physical evidence corroborated the claims of Tommy Johnson and Jason Moore that Brown had sexually abused them. On cross-examination, Brown's counsel attempted to ask about a 1984 physical examination of the boys conducted at the request of their mother. The state objected on the ground of relevance. The trial court sustained the objection. Brown now claims trial court error in the decision to sustain the objection.

A 1987 police report provided Brown by the state indicated that the boys were examined at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in 1984 following a previous report of abuse. Brown offered no evidence in an offer of proof either that Dr. Monteleone participated in any examination of any of the children in 1984 or was aware of the 1984 examination.

It appears from the record and from Brown's brief that Brown's counsel's inquiry was an attempt to bring out a statement in the 1987 police report that the boys' mother paid no attention to Christopher's complaint that Vernon "was messing with him" because she believed "the children played, lied." [Emphasis added.] Dr. Monteleone's testimony of physical trauma to Tommy Johnson and Jason Moore's anuses rebutted the mother's statement as to the question of whether the sexual abuse actually occurred. The trial court did not err in sustaining the state's objection. The point is denied.

* * *

Brown first insists that the Indiana conviction for assault and battery with intent to gratify sexual desires is not a "serious assaultive criminal conviction" within the meaning of Section 565.032.2(1) and the trial court erred in submitting it as a statutory aggravating circumstance. We disagree.

The Indiana indictment charged Brown with assault and battery by fondling a 12-year-old child in a "rude or insolent manner." Brown seizes on the words "rude or insolent" to argue that the Indiana assault was not also "seriously assaultive." Brown pled guilty to a felony in Indiana. By definition a felony is a "crime of a ... more serious nature than those designated misdemeanors." Black's Law Dictionary 617 (7th ed. 1990).

Obviously, an assault and battery to gratify sexual desires is an assault. To conclude, as Brown urges, that sexual assault of a child that results in a felony conviction is not seriously assaultive misunderstands the nature of the offense. Any felony assault and battery that constitutes a sexual invasion of a child is seriously assaultive within the meaning of Section 565.032.2(1).

* * *

This Court finds the imposition of the death penalty in this case is not excessive or disproportionate. The judgments are affirmed.

State v. Brown, 958 S.W.2d 553 (Mo. 1997) (PCR- Ford Murder).

Defendant was convicted in the Circuit Court, City of St. Louis, Michael Godfrey and David Mason, JJ., of first-degree murder, and was sentenced to death. He appealed conviction and denial of postconviction relief. The Supreme Court held that defendant preserved for appeal his Batson claim. Remanded with directions.

PER CURIAM.

In 1991, appellant Vernon Brown was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. A motion for post-conviction relief was filed and overruled. . . . this case is remanded to the trial court for a hearing to determine whether the prosecutor used the state's peremptory strikes to remove members solely on the basis of gender. Upon completion of that hearing, the record of the proceeding shall be certified to this Court.

State v. Brown, 998 S.W.2d 531 (Mo. 1999) (PCR- Ford Murder).

Defendant who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death filed motion for post-conviction relief. On remand from the Supreme Court, 958 S.W.2d 553, the Circuit Court, City of St. Louis, David Mason , J., denied motion. On consolidated appeal, the Supreme Court, Wolff , J., held that: (1) state's reasons for striking venirepersons were sufficiently race and gender-neutral to survive Batson challenge; (2) defendant was not entitled to individual voir dire and sequestration of jury during voir dire; (3) testimony of two witnesses that victim told them that she was afraid of defendant was relevant to victim's state of mind; (4) defendant's confession was not rendered involuntary, unintelligent, or unknowing because he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol; (5) finding that defendant's trial counsel was not ineffective was supported by evidence; and (6) defendant was not entitled to instruct jury on specific nonstatutory mitigating circumstances. Affirmed.

MICHAEL A. WOLFF, Judge.

In 1991, appellant Vernon Brown (also known as Thomas Turner) was convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to death. Brown filed a motion for post-conviction relief and the motion was overruled. Brown appealed to this Court. On September 12, 1997, this Court issued a per curiam remanding this case to the trial court for "gender-Batson hearing." State v. Brown, 958 S.W.2d 553 (Mo. banc 1997). On November 23, 1998, the hearing court held a gender-Batson hearing. After hearing, it rejected Brown's gender-Batson challenge. This Court has jurisdiction in Brown's consolidated appeal. Mo. Const. art. V, section 3. We affirm.

Facts

In 1986, Brown was charged by indictment with murder in the first degree. Brown and his wife, Kathy Moore, lived in an apartment at 3435 Washington in the City of St. Louis. Brown worked in that apartment complex as a maintenance worker, and he also worked next door at the Grand Cafe on Washington as a dishwasher. Brown and his wife moved to 4028 Enright after February 13, 1985. A few days later, the victim, Synetta Ford, moved into a basement apartment of the building at 3435 Washington. Ford's roommate was Alesia Brown.

On February 23 or 24, 1985, Alesia Brown, Synetta Ford, Earl Bedford and Vernon Brown played cards together in Ford's apartment. Bedford testified that Brown flirted with the victim, Ford, but she appeared not to be interested.

On February 28, 1985, Alesia Brown checked into a hospital for about ten days because she was pregnant. Prior to her admission into the hospital, Alesia had discussed with the appellant the possibility of him working on their apartment rug and vent. Brown went to the victim's apartment to take up the rug on March 2 nd and 4 th, but the victim told him to wait until her roommate, Alesia Brown, came back from the hospital.

On March 5, 1985, the victim called her friend, Vickie Noland, she spoke very fast, and she asked Noland to "come get me now." Ford told Noland that she was afraid because she came home and found Brown on the stairway near the entrance of her apartment. Noland picked Ford up at about 2:35 p.m., and she spent the night with Noland. The last time that Noland saw Ford was when Ford left for work, on the morning shift at Victor Foods, at about 4:30 a.m. the next morning.

Alesia Brown's brother, Anthony Brown, works with Ford at Victor Foods. Anthony Brown testified that he last saw Ford on Wednesday, March 6, 1985, between 3:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. at Victor Foods. He testified that he spent the night with Ford on Tuesday night at her apartment, and she had told him about her encounter with the maintenance person.

On March 7, 1995, at about 10:30 a.m., Brown arrived at the Grand Cafe on Washington and told a chef that he was sick and did not want to work. The chef told him to go home and come back the next day if he felt better.

On March 8, at about 4:00 p.m., Alesia Brown was picked up from the hospital by Earl Bedford. When they arrived at her apartment, which she shared with Ford, she unlocked the front door. When they arrived at the door that led to the apartment, they found out that the door was shattered from the frame. Upon entering the apartment, they observed Ford's body on the floor with a cord around her neck and a knife in her throat. They ran out and called the police.

After they returned to the front of the apartment building, people, including Brown, began to gather. Brown asked Alesia Brown what happened, and she replied that she found her roommate dead. Brown appeared surprised. Brown was interviewed by the police at the crime scene. Brown told the police that he moved out of the apartment building where the victim lived three weeks earlier, but that he still received mail there.

Brown alleged that he stopped by to pick up some mail at about 10:15 a.m. on March 7, and he heard Ford arguing with a Cuban man. Brown gave the police a description of the purported Cuban man. When Brown arrived home, he told his wife that Ford had been found dead. Initially, his wife was in disbelief. Later, Brown told her that he killed Ford. Brown's wife testified that Brown told her that he and Ford got into a fight over money and that Ford threatened to tell that they were having an affair.

After Ford left the apartment, Brown went inside and hid in the bathroom. After Ford returned and changed into her nightclothes, he came up behind her and wrapped a cord around her neck. According to Brown, they got into a scuffle over a knife, and he took the knife away from the victim and stabbed her in the neck with it. Brown then kicked in the door to make it look like someone broke into the apartment.

Brown was interviewed by the police on March 9, 22, and 26. Brown told his wife that he was tired of the police bothering him about Ford's murder. On March 28, 1985, Brown packed his clothes and left town. He told his wife to tell the police that he had been abducted by three men, dressed in black and carrying guns, in a red Pinto down the street. On April 1, 1985, Brown's wife told the police the above story when they came looking for Brown. On April 2, 1985, Brown's wife told them that the story about the abduction was not true and that she wanted to be a secret witness because she was afraid of Brown. She told the police that Brown told her that he killed Ford and told them how Brown killed Ford.

On April 24, 1985, Brown was arrested pursuant to a warrant, taken to the police station and was given his Miranda rights. Brown told them the abduction story. The police told him that they did not believe him because his wife had told them the truth.

About fifteen months later, on October 29, 1986, Brown confessed to the murder of Ford. Brown said that around 10:00 a.m. on March 7, 1985, he left home and headed for his place of work at the Grand Cafe. When he arrived at work he told the cook that he was not feeling well, and the cook told him that he could go home. Instead, Brown went to 3534 Washington. Brown went to the basement. He said that he saw Ford standing in the door way to her apartment and that Ford asked him what he was doing there. Brown replied, "I'm getting a pair of gloves."

According to Brown, as he walked up the stairs, she attacked him with a butcher knife. They began to tussle and ended up in the apartment. As Ford swung the knife at him, she accidentally stabbed herself in the chest. As he tried to leave, she removed the knife from her chest and attacked him the second time.

Then, he grabbed an electric curling iron, wrapped its cord around Ford's neck several times, and tied a knot in the cord. They wrestled, falling to the ground, and in their struggle the victim stabbed herself in the throat with the knife. He got up and left Ford's apartment. When he reached the top of the steps, he realized that he had left his keys inside Ford's apartment. Brown kicked in the door, went back inside Ford's apartment, got his keys, and then left.

The autopsy that was performed indicated that Ford died from strangulation. The autopsy also revealed that Ford was stabbed twice, once in the chest and once in the neck.

* * *

Finally, the sentence in this case was not excessive or disproportionate to the penalty imposed in similar cases, considering the crime, the strength of the evidence and the defendant. This case is similar to other cases in which the death penalty was imposed. A sentence of death has often been imposed when the murder involved acts of brutality and abuse that showed depravity of mind. See, e.g., State v. Barnett, 980 S.W.2d 297, 310 (Mo. banc 1998).

Also, the Court has upheld death sentences where the defendants who were sentenced to death had prior murder convictions. See, e.g., State v. Wise, 879 S.W.2d 494, 525 (Mo. banc 1994). The evidence of Brown's guilt is very strong. For all of the foregoing reasons, the judgments are affirmed.

Brown v. Luebbers, 344 F.3d 770 (8th Cir. 2003) (Habeas - Ford Murder).

After petitioner's conviction for first-degree murder and his death sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, and his motion for state postconviction relief was denied, 998 S.W.2d 531, petitioner sought federal habeas corpus relief. The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Jean C. Hamilton, J., denied petition. Petitioner appealed. The Court of Appeals, Richard S. Arnold, held that: (1) claims that prosecutor made improper comment during closing argument, and that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object, were procedurally defaulted; (2) exclusion of portions of social worker's expert testimony did not violate due process; (3) appointment of defense counsel to represent petitioner in one murder prosecution did not constitute invocation of Sixth Amendment right to counsel for purposes of another murder; (4) petitioner's confession was not rendered involuntary because of his prior use of drugs; (5) counsel's actions in disclosing petitioner's conviction and death sentence for another murder was reasonable trial strategy; and (6) exclusion of letter written by petitioner's brother, during the sentencing phase, violated the Eighth Amendment and due process. Affirmed in part; reversed and remanded in part. Bowman , Circuit Judge, filed dissenting opinion.

RICHARD S. ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.

Vernon Brown appeals from the decision of the District Court denying his 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (2000) petition for a writ of habeas corpus. We affirm in part and reverse in part.

In 1991, a jury convicted Brown of first-degree murder in the 1985 strangulation death of Synetta Ford in St. Louis, Missouri, and he was sentenced to be executed. His motion for state post-conviction relief filed pursuant to Missouri Supreme Court Rule 29.15 was overruled. That decision, as well as Brown's conviction and sentence, were affirmed in a consolidated appeal taken to the Missouri Supreme Court. State v. Brown, 998 S.W.2d 531(Mo.) (en banc), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 979, 120 S.Ct. 431, 145 L.Ed.2d 337 (1999).

In 2000, Brown filed in the District Court a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, raising thirty-one grounds for relief. The District Court denied Brown's petition but granted a certificate of appealability on eleven grounds.

* * *

he told them that he had seen Ford arguing with a Cuban man. After being questioned by police on three subsequent occasions, Brown left town on March 28, 1985, telling his wife, Kathy Moore, that he was tired of the questioning. He instructed Moore to tell police that he had been abducted at gunpoint by three men in a red Pinto. On April 1, Moore told that story to police when they came looking for him; on April 2, she told police that Brown had told her that he had killed Ford.

On April 24, 1985, Brown was arrested for Ford's murder and told police the abduction story. Soon after, Moore said she had lied to police about Brown telling her that he had committed the murder, so the charges against Brown were dropped.

On October 27, 1986, Brown was arrested for the murder of nine-year-old Janet Perkins, waived his right to have counsel present during questioning, and confessed. Prosecutors filed a complaint on October 28 charging him with the Perkins murder. Counsel from the public defender's office visited with Brown the next morning, sometime around 8:30 or 9:30, and found him to be indigent.

Later that morning, around 11:30, the officers who were investigating Synetta Ford's death visited Brown and read him his rights; Brown agreed to talk with them. During the course of the afternoon, after two additional Miranda [FN3] readings and two waivers of those rights, Brown made incriminating statements, eventually memorialized on videotape, telling this story: Brown struggled with Ford in her apartment when she came at him with a butcher knife.

According to Brown, Ford swung the knife wildly and stabbed herself in the chest. Then she removed the knife and attacked Brown again, at which time he wrapped the cord of an electric curling iron several times around her neck and knotted the cord. As the struggle continued, she stabbed herself again, this time in the throat, and Brown left.

* * *

Having concluded that petitioner's murder trial was fatally flawed in the penalty phase, we reverse the order of the District Court and grant the writ of habeas corpus, requiring the State to reduce the penalty to life in prison, or to retry the issue of life or death. We leave the conviction undisturbed. It is so ordered.

Brown v. Luebbers, 371 F.3d 458 (8th Cir. 2004) (Habeas - Ford Murder).

Background: The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Jean C. Hamilton, J., denied a habeas petition. A panel of the United States Court of Appeals, 344 F.3d 770, affirmed the District Court in part but granted the writ on one of petitioner's claims challenging his sentence.

Holdings: On rehearing en banc, the Court of Appeals, Bowman, Circuit Judge, held that:
(1) Missouri Supreme Court adjudicated petitioner's federal constitutional claim on the merits, and therefore deferential Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) standard of review applied, and
(2) exclusion from penalty phase of murder trial of letter from petitioner's younger brother did not constitute a due process violation warranting habeas relief. Affirmed.

BOWMAN, Circuit Judge.

In 1991, a jury convicted Vernon Brown in Missouri state court for the 1985 strangulation death of Synetta Ford. He was sentenced to death. His consolidated direct appeal and post-conviction challenges in the Missouri Supreme Court were unavailing. State v. Brown, 998 S.W.2d 531(Mo.) (en banc), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 979, 120 S.Ct. 431, 145 L.Ed.2d 337 (1999). His 28 U.S.C. § 2254 petition in the District Court raising thirty-one grounds for relief was denied, but the court granted a certificate of appealability on eleven grounds. A panel of this Court affirmed the District Court in part but granted the writ on one of Brown's claims challenging his sentence. Brown v. Luebbers, 344 F.3d 770 (8th Cir.2003).

Both Brown and Allen D. Luebbers (representing the State) filed petitions for rehearing with suggestions for rehearing en banc. We requested from Brown a supplemental response addressing the appropriate standard of review to apply to the issue upon which the writ had been granted. After receiving the response, the panel denied both petitions for rehearing. The Court en banc rejected Brown's suggestions for reconsideration by the full Court but granted an en banc rehearing to the State.

The claim in question concerns a letter that Brown's defense counsel sought to have read into evidence during the penalty phase of Brown's trial for the Ford murder. Counsel represented to the trial court that the letter was from Darius Q. Turner, Brown's younger brother, and had been sent to Brown's counsel in the public defender's office.

According to the letter, Turner, a sergeant in the United States Army, was deployed in Saudi Arabia in Operation Desert Shield at the time of Brown's sentencing. As a result, he was unable to be present in the courtroom to testify. In the letter, Turner noted the love and understanding between him and his brother and recounted how Brown had protected Turner from bigger boys when Turner was a child. As for their relationship as adults, Turner expressed regret for not staying in touch and told his brother that the telephone calls and letters from Brown meant more to him than those he received from others.

Finally, he implored those who might read the letter to let God's law decide Brown's fate. The trial court excluded the letter as hearsay. We now affirm the District Court's denial of relief on all grounds. In doing so, we adopt the holdings and reasoning of the panel opinion, except for Part VIII and the result.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 as amended by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) in 1996, a decision by a state court "with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" is entitled to deference by the federal courts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). That is, we look only to see if such adjudication "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 "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." Id. § 2254(d)(1), (2). AEDPA effected a move toward greater deference in the § 2254 courts' review of state-court decisions. See Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 333 n. 7, 117 S.Ct. 2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997) (noting " § 2254(d)'s new, highly deferential standard for evaluating state-court rulings").

* * *

In any event, we are confident that the exclusion of the letter was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. "A constitutional error is harmless when 'it appears "beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained." ' " Mitchell v. Esparza, 540 U.S. 12, ----, 124 S.Ct. 7, 12, 157 L.Ed.2d 263 (2004) (citations to quoted cases omitted). As we have explained, the Turner letter's statements, to the extent they may be relevant, were cumulative to evidence as to Brown's character that was already before the jury.

Moreover, the evidence of aggravating circumstances was devastating. This is not a case, like Chambers, where the evidence in question was highly relevant to actual guilt or innocence. The Turner letter was not offered to prove that Brown was actually innocent, either of the crime or of the death penalty. Here, Brown received the constitutionally required "individualized consideration" before the death penalty was imposed. Lockett, 438 U.S. at 605, 98 S.Ct. 2954 (plurality opinion).

In these circumstances, we are convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that the admission of the letter would not have altered the jury's decision to impose the death penalty on Brown, and thus its exclusion was harmless error at most.

The judgment of the District Court denying the writ on any and all of Brown's claims is affirmed.
 
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