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Styre v. Adams

April 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. William W Schwarzer United States District Judge


State prisoner Robert E. Styre ("Styre" or "Petitioner") filed a Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 on September 7, 2007. Styre is serving a sentence of twenty-seven years to life for his January 1982 conviction for first degree murder in the Madera County Superior Court. The Petition challenges Governor Schwarzenegger's July 26, 2005 reversal of the Board of Prison Terms' ("BPT" or "Board") determination that Styre was suitable for parole. After a thorough review of the Petition, Respondent's Answer, Petitioner's Traverse, and all supporting documents, the court finds Petitioner is entitled to the relief requested and therefore GRANTS the Petition.

I. Background

In December 1980, Styre visited his son and his son's mother, Kathy Millus, in San Jose. He was approached by Richard Mosely, a member of the Hell's Angels gang. Mosley told him that John Bronstad (the victim) was a police informant, and threatened to harm Styre's son if he did not "take care of" Bronstad. Pet., Ex. C (Psychosocial Assessment, October 26, 2004) at 3.

Several days later, on December 14, 1980, the Petitioner told Ms. Millus that Mr. Bronstad needed to be taken care of that day. Pet., Ex. D (Life Prisoner Evaluation, March 1996) at 10. After Mr. Bronstad declined Styre's request to go for a drive, the Petitioner directed Ms. Millus to call Mr. Bronstad and ask for his help to move a car. Id. He agreed, and Ms. Millus, the Petitioner, and another acquaintance picked up Mr. Bronstad at his home. Pet., Ex. C at 4.

Instead of going to move the other car, the group drove up to the mountains on a logging road. They stopped the car in a secluded area. Pet., Ex. D at 11. Everyone got out of the car to walk around and smoke some hashish. Id. Styre admits that he had also been using methamphetamine on the day of the murder and for several days beforehand. Pet., Ex. B (Parole Hearing Transcript, March 14, 2005) at 14. At some point while the group was walking, Petitioner called out to the victim, said "goodbye," and shot him once in the chest. Pet., Ex. D at 11. The Petitioner and the other individuals fled the scene. Id. Mr. Bronstad's remains were discovered several months later. Styre was arrested and later convicted of murder.

Prior to the instant conviction, Petitioner had an extensive juvenile record, including convictions for auto theft and various drug related offenses. Pet., Ex. D at 12-13. He also has one additional adult conviction for burglary in 1979. Id. At his March 2005 parole hearing, Petitioner stated that he came from an abusive home, both of his parents were alcoholics, and that he turned to drugs at a very young age. Pet., Ex. B at 18-19, 42-43.

To his credit, Petitioner made tremendous strides while in prison. He received three citations for non-violent disciplinary infractions early in his prison term, but has remained discipline free since 1986. Pet., Ex. B at 33. He completed his GED, and gained state certification in two vocational programs, watch repair and auto body and fender repair. Id. at 34-35. Petitioner also participated in a number of therapy and self-help programs, including Creative Conflict Resolution and a parenting course, and became involved in religious activities. Pet., Ex. B at 36; Ex. C at 4.

The psychologists who evaluated Styre have also noted substantial progress. Based on a 2004 evaluation, Dr. Russell Jordan, the senior psychologist at Petitioner's treatment center, stated that "the inmate has cemented into his consciousness a completely different lifestyle and is very committed to acting in a very Christian and moral manner in every aspect of his life." Pet., Ex. C at 4. He noted that the Petitioner has not used drugs since 1984 and showed genuine remorse and sorrow over his crime. Id. at 2. Dr. Jordan concluded that Petitioner's risk of dangerousness was no greater than the average citizen, and that there are no significant risk factors in this case. Id. at 4-5. He stated that "[i]t is unlikely that this inmate will commit any further acts of violence; even relapse into substance abuse is a low probability." Id. at 5.

The Board took note of Petitioner's positive evaluations, stating that the record is "replete with statements by psychologists that indicate you made a tremendous change." Pet., Ex. B at 56. The board also found that Petitioner had maintained strong family ties with his wife of ten years, as well as his children, step-children and grandchildren. Id. at 57-58. He had realistic parole plans, including a place to live and several job offers. Id. The BPT found that he did not currently pose a substantial danger to society and found him suitable for parole. Id. at 56.

Pursuant to the authority granted to him under Article 5, Section 8(b) of the California Constitution, the Governor reversed the BPT's grant of parole. Pet., Ex. E at 1. In his decision explaining the reversal, the Governor stated that the Petitioner planned and carried out a heinous murder, and noted the Petitioner's extensive pre-commitment criminal record and history of substance abuse. Id. at 2-3. He noted that although Petitioner had participated extensively in prison self-help programs, he had only attended a limited number focused on substance abuse. Id. at 2.

II. Standard of Review

Petitioner's claim is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). Under AEDPA, a federal court may only grant the Petition if Styre demonstrates that the state court decision denying relief 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 ...

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