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United States v. Pate

May 28, 1964


Author: Duffy

Before HASTINGS, Chief Judge, and DUFFY and SWYGERT, Circuit Judges.

DUFFY, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a judgment of the District Court dismissing Staples' petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The District Court's findings of fact, conclusions of law and opinion appear at 222 F.Supp. 998.

About 11:30 p.m. on the evening of October 11, 1942, Staples' wife was killed, death resulting from blows from an axe. About 7:30 a.m., October 12, East St. Louis police officers arrested Staples. They took him to a funeral parlor to view his wife's body. Then, while in a police car with Officer Sherrod driving and Officer Hudson in the rear seat with Staples, he was told he was the prime suspect as to the cause of his wife's death. The officers said they would like to look through Staples' house. Staples told them that they could make the search. They drove to Staples' home where Staples unlocked the back door so that the officers could enter.

The officers searched three rooms. Behind the stove in the kitchen they found a bloody axe. Behind the refrigerator they found a blood-stained white shirt. In a dresser drawer in the bedroom they found a bloody pair of pants.

The police officers took these articles and Staples to the police station. Staples was questioned from 1 p.m. to about 4 p.m. At first, Staples maintained he had no knowledge of his wife's killing. When asked about the blood on the axe and clothes, Staples said it was from a pig that he had recently killed. The police suggested they would send the articles to a chemist to have the blood analyzed. Then, unaccompanied by any physical coercion or threats, Staples admitted killing his wife and he signed a written confession.The next morning, Staples was brought before a magistrate.

On December 18, 1942, petitioner was indicted for murder by the grand jury of St. Clair County. When arraigned a few days later in the Circuit Court of that County, he pleaded not guilty. On January 13, 1943, while represented by privately employed counsel, petitioner withdrew his plea of not guilty and entered a plea of guilty to murder. The presiding judge admonished petitioner as to the consequences of his plea but he persisted therein. After a hearing on the facts, petitioner was sentenced to 99 years' imprisonment.

The record discloses that Staples made repeated efforts in the State courts to have his conviction set aside. There were two petitions for writs of habeas corpus directed to the Supreme Court of Illinois; four such petitions to the Circuit Court of St. Clair County, and two such petitions to the Circuit Court of Randolph County. All were unsuccessful.

In February 1956, petitioner was the subject of a post conviction hearing in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County before Judge Spivey. He was represented by court-appointed counsel. At this hearing, petitioner made some extreme claims such as that five police officers had beaten him with blackjacks on three successive nights after his arrest; that he had pleaded not guilty but the court had entered his plea as guilty; that he had demanded a jury trial but this was denied to him.

At the same hearing, a number of witnesses testified for the state. Their testimony showed that at no time had petitioner been threatened or coerced; that he had voluntarily entered the plea of guilty and at no time had be requested a jury trial.

Judge Spivey ruled petitioner had been represented by competent counsel and that he had received regular and ordinary courtroom treatment and that the plea he had entered was that of guilty. This decision was affirmed on May 23, 1958 in an unreported order of the Supreme Court of the State of Illinois (No. 1978), cert. den. 358 U.S. 851, 79 S. Ct. 78, 3 L. Ed. 2d 84.

In the District Court, petitioner asked for a hearing on his petition for habeas corpus. He received such a hearing and was personally present throughout. He was represented by able counsel. Petitioner did not take the stand. In fact, nowhere in this record since petitioner first changed his plea of not guilty to guilty, has petitioner claimed that he did not cause his wife's death by striking her with blows from an axe. However, the record does disclose that in one proceeding in the State court, Staples claimed he acted in self defense.

The testimony in the District Court consisted solely of the testimony of two witnesses. One was the officer who searched petitioner's home.The other was the assistant state's attorney who handled the original prosecution. There was also introduced the common law record of Staples' original conviction and the record of Staples' post conviction proceeding in the Circuit Court of St. Clair County in 1956.

There was no evidence whatsoever at the District Court hearing that petitioner's plea of guilty was not voluntary and understandingly made. There was no testimony that any prior police misconduct was, in any way, involved in the plea. If such were the case, petitioner was ...

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