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Masten v. United States

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

May 28, 2014

Deborah L. Masten, Petitioner - Appellant
v.
United States of America, Respondent - Appellee

Submitted: January 14, 2014.

Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis.

For Deborah L. Masten, Petitioner - Appellant: George Brad Crowell, Columbia, MO; Deborah Jean Westling, GUILFOIL & PETZALL, Saint Louis, MO.

Deborah L. Masten, Petitioner - Appellant, Pro se, Queen City, MO.

For United States, Respondent - Appellee: Dean R. Hoag, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, Eastern District of Missouri, Saint Louis, MO.

Before LOKEN, MURPHY, and SMITH, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1143

LOKEN, Circuit Judge.

A jury convicted Deborah L. Masten of starting a fire that heavily damaged her failing tavern, Too Talls Two Eatery and Spirits (" Too Talls" ), in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(i). We affirmed the conviction, rejecting Masten's claim of insufficient evidence. " While the evidence showed that Masten left the bar shortly after the last two employees," we explained, " the Government presented evidence . . . that Masten could have set the fire in that short period of time." United States v. Masten, 281 F.Appx. 640, 642 (8th Cir. 2008). Masten then filed a motion for new trial followed by a motion to vacate the conviction, see 28 U.S.C. § 2255, arguing that newly discovered evidence discredited critical testimony by government witnesses regarding the timing of events on the night in question; that the government suppressed this evidence in violation of Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 86-88, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963); and that trial counsel provided ineffective assistance in failing to discover it. After an evidentiary hearing, the district court[1] denied a new trial and § 2255 relief. Masten appeals, arguing that the district court erred in denying relief under Brady. We granted a certificate of appealability on that issue and now affirm.

I.

The fire started shortly after employees and then Masten left Too Talls after the bar closed on New Year's Eve, January 1, 2005. The government presented extensive evidence that the fire was intentionally started using an accelerant and that Too Talls was then in dire financial straits, sufficient for the jury to infer that Masten, the bar's owner, had motive and opportunity to commit the crime. These were the principal issues on direct appeal. See Masten, 281 F.Appx. at 642.

Regarding the timing of events, a Too Talls bartender testified that, when he left after the bar closed, the building was intact and only Masten remained inside. Two employees of the Adair County detention center, located in the same block as Too Talls, testified that while taking a break just after 2:00 a.m., they saw Too Talls employees leaving from a parking lot across from the center and that Masten's red BMW was the last to depart. Highway patrolman Nicholas Berry testified that, at approximately 2:20 a.m., after leaving a DUI suspect at the detention center, he parked his patrol car in the parking lot to complete an Incarceration Report. Berry saw two other vehicles leave the parking lot and then saw Masten at the corner walking toward a red car. She waved to Berry; he waved back and soon drove away. Masten later testified that

Page 1144

the other employees left Too Talls and drove away before she did, and that she waved at a highway patrolman before getting into her vehicle and driving home. A 911 operator logged a call reporting the Too Talls fire at 2:23 a.m.; emergency personnel were dispatched one minute later.

The government introduced portions of the detention center's surveillance videos to corroborate this testimony. The trial exhibit was a DVD copy of relevant footage from two of the surveillance cameras. The government provided Masten with a copy of the DVD disc seven to ten days before trial, describing it as an accurate but poor quality copy. At trial, the government introduced the disc during the direct examination of Police Officer Douglas Fleshman. After Fleshman testified that he viewed the original video from the detention ...


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