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UNITED STATES EX REL. RIGGINS v. MCGINNIS

July 28, 1994

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. JIMMY LEE RIGGINS, Petitioner,
v.
KENNETH R. MCGINNIS and ROLAND BURRIS, the Attorney General of the State of Illinois, Respondents.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES RONALD NORGLE, SR.

 CHARLES R. NORGLE, SR., District Judge:

 Before the court is the petition of Jimmy Lee Riggins ("Riggins") for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the following reasons, the petition is denied.

 FACTS1

 On June 30, 1986, Riggins went to Jackson Park Hospital for a kidney dialysis treatment. After the treatment, he went directly to his house. Riggins felt weak and woozy, but later that evening he decided to visit a local lounge, the Black Marble Lounge ("BML"). Upon arriving at BML, he engaged in a conversation with the decedent, Kevin Williams ("Williams"). Williams was acquainted with Riggins. Both had spent a considerable amount of time together before that evening.

 During their conversation, Williams began to make derogatory comments about the female population. Williams, however, did not limit his verbal assault to women in general. He began calling his own mother, and Riggins' wife, and Riggins' mother certain unflattering names. Naturally, Riggins did not appreciate the comments and told Williams that Riggins had nothing to do with the way women were and that Williams should not talk about Riggins' wife and mother in that way. A few minutes later, he decided to leave BML to avoid further conflict with Williams.

 As Riggins reached for the door to leave BML, Williams grabbed Riggins and slammed his head against the concrete/marble pillar adjacent to the entrance. Riggins feared that the surgical implants in his arm might be torn out by Williams' attack. After slamming Riggins' head into the pillar, Williams then applied a choke-hold on Riggins. Riggins knew that the hold was not strong enough to choke him to death and that Williams was unarmed. But, Riggins knew that Williams had a reputation for causing trouble in BML and that Williams had stabbed other people. Fearing that Williams was going to kill him, Riggins pulled a folding knife from his pocket while Williams held him in the choke-hold. He then opened the knife with one hand and stabbed Williams one time.

 Following the stabbing, the altercation between Williams and Riggins ended. Riggins quickly entered his vehicle and drove to an acquaintance's house. Several hours later, Riggins returned to his vehicle and drove away. During this drive, Chicago Police Officer David Cristovic ("arresting officer") followed Riggins and eventually placed him under arrest for the murder of Williams. At the time of the arrest, Riggins exclaimed, "oh, man, the guy died?"

 The above factual account, delivered by Riggins at his trial was, however, largely contradicted by other eye-witnesses to the stabbing. On the night in question, Cortez Mack ("Mack") was working the bar at BML. At approximately 9:00 p.m., Mack observed Riggins come into the establishment. At about the same time he saw Williams inside the bar. Contrary to Riggins' account of the events inside BML, Mack did not see Riggins and Williams argue, or see Williams provoke an argument or physically attack Riggins.

 Another witness for the prosecution, Vinckley Harris ("Harris"), was inside BML at the time of the stabbing. Harris did observe Riggins and Williams engage in what appeared to him as a mild argument inside BML. As Harris walked towards the entrance, he overheard Riggins warn Williams that Williams ought to stop talking to him. He did not hear Williams say anything in response. When Harris reached the doorway, he exited and stood on the corner near BML.

 As Harris was standing, he heard a door smashing against a building. Instinctively, he turned toward the noise. As he turned, Harris observed Williams coming out the doorway of BML backwards. Harris further observed Riggins facing Williams and coming out after him. Riggins followed Williams to a grassy area where Williams collapsed. While Williams was on the ground, Riggins raised his knife and attempted to stab Williams. To avoid being stabbed, Williams began kicking his legs and flailing his arms. As Riggins stood directly over Williams with his raised knife, another eye-witness John Jones ("Jones") shouted at Riggins to stop, causing him to retreat.

 In addition, the prosecution elicited testimony from Riggins that at the time of the stabbing, he was on probation for the crime of possession of a controlled substance with the intent to deliver. Further, the arresting officer and various medical personnel testified that there was no visible sign of a head injury when Riggins was arrested.

 At the conclusion of Riggins' trial, the jury found him guilty of murder and armed violence. Subsequently, the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, sentenced him to twenty-five years in prison. Riggins attacks the conviction and requests habeas corpus relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. In support of his habeas petition, he presents three arguments: (1) that he was denied effective assistance of counsel; (2) that the counsel for the prosecution made improper remarks during his closing argument; and (3) that the trial court's jury instructions on murder and voluntary ...


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