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Holstein v. Ballard

Supreme Court of West Virginia

March 24, 2017

Jason William Holstein, Petitioner Below, Petitioner
David Ballard, Warden, Mount Olive Correctional Complex, Respondent Below, Respondent

         Kanawha County 15-P-375


         Petitioner Jason William Holstein, pro se, appeals the April 19, 2016, order of the Circuit Court of Kanawha County dismissing his petition for a writ of habeas corpus without prejudice pursuant to Rule 4(c) of the West Virginia Rules Governing Post-Conviction Habeas Corpus Proceedings. Respondent David Ballard, Warden, Mount Olive Correctional Complex, by counsel Shannon Frederick Kiser, filed a summary response in support of the circuit court's order. Petitioner filed a reply.

         The Court has considered the parties' briefs and the record on appeal. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented, and the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. Upon consideration of the standard of review, the briefs, and the record presented, the Court finds no substantial question of law and no prejudicial error. For these reasons, a memorandum decision affirming the circuit court's order is appropriate under Rule 21 of the Rules of Appellate Procedure.

         On January 19, 2009, petitioner and co-defendants Larry Cantrell and Joshua Taylor traveled to the home of David Scarbro in Chelyan, West Virginia, with the intent to rob him of drugs and money. The trio was armed with a handgun and a sawed-off shotgun. Petitioner and Mr. Cantrell obtained these weapons from a third-party after which they modified the shotgun in preparation for the instant crimes.

         During the course of the robbery, Mr. Scarbro was repeatedly struck with the guns, causing him to suffer gaping wounds to his head, face, and other areas of his body, and he was repeatedly kicked in the ribs. The victim's wife returned home as the robbery was proceeding. Mrs. Scarbro reported that, as she neared the residence, she heard her husband arguing with a man. After she began beating on the front door, it opened, and she was pulled inside the home and thrown into a chair. Two masked men and her husband then ran onto the porch, at which time she heard two gun shots. Mrs. Scarbro found her husband lying motionless on the porch. Mr. Scarbro had been shot once in the back at close range and died at the scene from his injuries. Mrs. Scarbro did not know who shot her husband.

         Following an investigation by the Kanawha County Sheriff's Department, petitioner, Mr. Cantrell, and Mr. Taylor were arrested. According to Mr. Cantrell, petitioner would not stop saying that "[petitioner] finally got one, talking about killing someone." When Mr. Taylor was questioned by authorities, he stated that, as he ran out of the victim's home, he saw petitioner shoot Mr. Scarbro as he lay face down on the porch. In contrast, petitioner denied shooting Mr. Scarbro, reporting instead that Mr. Taylor said that the gun "just went off."

         All three men were indicted on two counts of breaking and entering, one count of attempted armed robbery, and one count of first-degree murder (felony murder). Mr. Cantrell and Mr. Taylor each pled guilty to first-degree felony murder, and both were sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

         On April 12, 2010, petitioner entered into a plea agreement with the State, in which he agreed to plead guilty to first-degree felony murder. In return, the State agreed to dismiss the other counts in the indictment and to stand silent at sentencing. Later this same day, a plea hearing was held before the circuit court. During this hearing, the petitioner testified that he read, reviewed, and discussed the plea agreement with his attorney prior to signing the agreement. The attorney confirmed this joint review and expressed his belief that the plea was in petitioner's best interest. The circuit court asked petitioner whether he understood the crimes he was charged with committing. Petitioner responded affirmatively. When questioned about his education, petitioner stated that he had a high school diploma and attended barber college.

         Petitioner informed the circuit court that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder; however, the circuit court observed that petitioner met with his attorney for approximately three hours that morning and asked whether counsel found petitioner to be "lucid" and whether he understood the purpose of the plea hearing. In response, the attorney described petitioner as "lucid and knows where he is and why we're here and what he's doing." Petitioner's attorney also responded affirmatively when asked whether petitioner was "oriented as to time and place" and able "to recall past events."

         Recounting his contact and collaboration with his client, petitioner's attorney stated he reviewed discovery received from the State and discussed all counts in the indictment with petitioner and the defense to be presented based on that evidence. Petitioner's attorney further stated that he hired an investigator to interview witnesses, served subpoenas, and was prepared to go to trial if that was petitioner's choice.

         In response to the circuit court's inquiry, petitioner stated that he was completely satisfied with his attorney's representation. Specifically, when the circuit court asked petitioner if his attorney did everything he wanted the attorney to do, petitioner answered, "[h]e's done everything I asked." Furthermore, when the circuit court queried whether petitioner's attorney entered into plea negotiations "with your permission and consent, " petitioner responded, "Yes ma'am. He did." Petitioner explained that he had his attorney "consult with my family on my behalf, and we feel that this is probably for the best." Petitioner further testified, as follows:

Q. Has anyone promised you a lenient sentence or made any promise to you other than as set forth in the . . . plea agreement?
A. No, ma'am.
Q. Has anyone threatened, intimidated, coerced or pressured you in any manner to give up your constitutional ...

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