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UNITED STATES EX REL. BRYANT v. WASHINGTON

November 30, 1994

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. THOMAS BRYANT, Petitioner,
v.
ODIE WASHINGTON, Warden of Dixon Correctional Center and ROLAND BURRIS, Attorney General of the State of Illinois, Respondents.1


JAMES H. ALESIA, United States District Judge


The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES H. ALESIA

Thomas Bryant, a prisoner in state custody, has petitioned this court for a writ of habeas corpus. 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254. Petitioner Bryant offers two Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause grounds for relief: (1) insufficiency of the evidence to convict; and (2) the state trial court's erroneous restriction of cross-examination.

 I. BACKGROUND2

 Following a bench trial before the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, petitioner was convicted of attempted first degree murder, armed violence, and two counts of aggravated battery. The trial court sentenced petitioner to 10 years imprisonment on the attempted murder conviction.

 The victim of this offense, Scott Woods, testified that in April 1990 petitioner came to the house of Terresa Robinson, the present girlfriend of Woods and the former girlfriend of petitioner. After an initial fight, petitioner retrieved a small-caliber handgun, broke into the house and shot Woods in the neck, continuing to fire until the chambers were empty. At that point petitioner ran. Woods' treating physician testified he was treated for three gunshot wounds.

 Robinson was not an eye witness to the shooting, but testified as to the circumstances of mutual jealousy between Woods and petitioner. Robinson originally stated that petitioner earlier had a gun, but retracted the statement at trial.

 Jeffrey Anderson, who was at Robinson's house that night, testified that the circumstances were more ambiguous -- that there was a fight, there was a struggle over a gun, and then shots were fired.

 Petitioner testified that Woods was the initial aggressor when petitioner arrived at Robinson's house. Petitioner said that, concerned for the safety of his daughter by Robinson, he entered the house unarmed, accidently breaking a window. In the house, petitioner said, Woods attacked him and pulled out a handgun. There was a struggle and the gun discharged, after which petitioner fled because he was afraid.

 A police investigator and detective testified in rebuttal that Robinson had earlier stated petitioner had a gun when he entered the house.

 II. INSUFFICIENCY OF THE EVIDENCE

 Respondents do not argue procedural default on this ground, so the court proceeds directly to the merits. Where, as here, a federal district court considers the habeas ground of insufficient evidence to support conviction, the standard is "whether, 'after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the [State], any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.'" United States ex rel. Shore v. O'Leary, 833 F.2d 663, 666 (7th Cir. 1987) (quoting Jackson v. Virginia, 443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S. Ct. 2781, 2789, 61 L. Ed. 2d 560 (1979)).

 Petitioner's account of the evidence at trial is his side of the story -- the evidence marshalled on his behalf. But there being an argument for his innocence is a far cry from his burden -- to establish that no rational trier of fact could have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

 This court agrees with the Illinois Appellate Court's analysis on direct appeal. The victim's testimony, the surrounding circumstances, the nature of the act, and the impeachment of Robinson all support a conviction. Viewing the facts in a light most favorable to respondents it is clear that a rational trier of fact could have found petitioner guilty.

 Petitioner almost concedes this much. Towards the end of his discussion of this ground he argues that, while the evidence probably supports the conclusion that he committed the act charged, the evidence does not support the conclusion that he possessed the ...


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