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Winters v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

September 25, 2014


Page 23


Michael Shane Winters, Pro se, appellant.

No response.


Page 24



In 2011, appellant, Michael Shane Winters was convicted in a bifurcated trial of two counts of capital murder and two counts of aggravated robbery for which he was sentenced to two sentences of life imprisonment without parole for the capital murders and two sentences of life imprisonment for the aggravated robberies. The sentences were ordered to be served consecutively. We affirmed. Winters v. State, 2013 Ark. 193, 427 S.W.3d 597.[1]

Subsequently, appellant timely filed in the trial court a verified, pro se petition for postconviction relief pursuant to Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2011). The trial court denied the petition, and appellant lodged an appeal from that order in this court. He now seeks by pro se motion an extension of time to file his brief-in-chief. As it is clear from the record that appellant could not prevail if the appeal were permitted to go forward, the appeal is dismissed, and the motion is moot. See Williams v. State, 2014 Ark. 70 (per curiam).

Appellant was found guilty of the aggravated robberies and capital murders of Christina Bishop and Louise Bishop. The Bishops were the forty-year-old mother and eighty-one-year-old grandmother of appellant's accomplice, Nicholas Johansen. The Bishops were reported missing in June 2009. In 2010, a woman came forward and informed the authorities that appellant had confessed to her that he and Johansen had committed the murders during a planned robbery. During questioning by the police, appellant admitted his involvement in the crimes and revealed the location of the bodies, which were found in a makeshift grave on property owned by the Johansen family. The cause of death of both victims was strangulation.

Page 25

In his petition for Rule 37.1 relief, appellant alleged that he was not afforded effective assistance of counsel at trial. This court has held that it will reverse the trial court's decision granting or denying postconviction relief only when that decision is clearly erroneous. Conley v. State, 2014 Ark. 172, 433 S.W.3d 234. A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court, after reviewing the entire evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Sartin v. State, 2012 Ark. 155, 400 S.W.3d 694.

When considering an appeal from a trial court's denial of a Rule 37.1 petition based on ineffective assistance of counsel, the sole question presented is whether, based on a totality of the evidence under the standard set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674 (1984), the trial court clearly erred in holding that counsel's performance was not ineffective. Taylor v. State, 2013 Ark. 146, 427 S.W.3d 29.

The benchmark for judging a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel must be " whether counsel's conduct so undermined the proper functioning of the adversarial process that the trial cannot be relied on as having produced a just result." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 686. Pursuant to Strickland, we assess the effectiveness of counsel under a two-prong standard. First, a petitioner raising a claim of ineffective assistance must show that counsel made errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the " counsel" guaranteed the petitioner by the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Williams v. State, 369 Ark. 104, 251 S.W.3d 290 (2007). There is a strong presumption that trial counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of professional assistance, and an appellant has the burden of overcoming this presumption by identifying specific acts or omissions of trial counsel, which, when viewed from counsel's perspective at the time of the trial, could not have been the result of reasonable professional judgment. Henington v. State, 2012 Ark. 181, 403 S.W.3d 55; McCraney v. State, 2010 Ark. 96, 360 S.W.3d 144 (per curiam). Second, the petitioner must show that counsel's deficient performance so prejudiced petitioner's defense that he was deprived of a fair trial. Holloway v. State, 2013 Ark. 140, 426 S.W.3d 462. A petitioner making an ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim must show that his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness. Abernathy v. State, 2012 Ark. 59, 386 S.W.3d 477 (per curiam). The petitioner must show that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's errors, the fact-finder would have had a reasonable doubt respecting guilt, i.e., the decision reached would have been different absent the errors. Breeden v. State, 2014 Ark. 159, 432 S.W.3d 618 (per curiam). A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Id. The language, " the outcome of the trial," refers not ...

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