The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES B. MORAN
Petitioner Robert Felder (Felder) brings this action under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 seeking habeas corpus relief from his state conviction for murder. In his petition Felder advances two arguments as grounds for relief. First, that he was deprived of effective assistance of counsel, in violation of the Sixth Amendment and, second, that the evidence admitted at his trial was insufficient to find him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, in violation of the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Although the exact chronology of events is difficult to discern, some basic facts are not disputed. During all relevant times Felder was the leader of a street gang called the Paymasters. On January 23, 1988, Felder ordered Master Watkins (Watkins), Cedric Golden (Golden), and Darnell Grissom (Grissom), all of whom were members of the Paymasters, to "violate" a woman named Ardella because she stole from the gang. In the vernacular of the Paymasters, to "violate" someone means to beat up that person.
After that, the facts become murky. Watkins testified that he, Golden and Grissom went to Ardella's apartment, where Golden and Grissom not only beat her but raped her as well. Watkins further testified that Felder was angry that Golden and Grissom disobeyed his order by raping Ardella. Because of this disobedience, Felder determined that Golden and Grissom themselves should be violated. Felder ordered Cedric Dickerson (Dickerson), yet a fifth member of the Paymasters, to carry out his order. Watkins testified that Dickerson ordered Grissom to lie on a mattress and then beat him with a baseball bat. While this beating was being administered, Felder allegedly watched from the other room. After the beating, Felder ordered those present to clean up the room and to dispose of the bat and mattress. Other testimony revealed that a Chicago police officer, responding to a report of a battery, found Grissom, badly injured, at the place of the beating. Grissom was rushed to the hospital, where he later died from massive trauma to the head.
Felder was arrested in connection with Grissom's death. After waiving his Miranda rights, he made two statements, one to a police officer and one to an assistant state's attorney. In the first statement Felder admitted ordering Dickerson to violate Golden and Grissom, but claimed that he took no part in Grissom's beating because he did not want to see him seriously hurt. In his second statement, Felder claimed to have violated Golden personally, but did not order Dickerson to violate Grissom and that he was not even present when the beating occurred.
Dickerson also made two statements, and testified on his own behalf. In his first statement, Dickerson alleged that Felder ordered him to violate Grissom, and that he struck Grissom on the legs with a bat until Grissom attempted to escape, at which point he admitted to striking Grissom on the head. Dickerson's second statement, and his testimony, roughly paralleled the first statement, although it is not entirely clear whether he continued to maintain that Felder ordered him to violate Grissom.
Cedric Golden and Belton Reed, both of whom were allegedly present when Grissom was killed, were never called to testify, either for the state or for the defense.
Felder and Dickerson were tried in a joint bench trial for Grissom's murder. The judge found Felder guilty of first degree murder under an accountability theory, and sentenced him to 25 years in prison.
Felder appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court, arguing that he received ineffective assistance of counsel and that the state failed to establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The appellate court affirmed his conviction, and his petition for leave to appeal was denied by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Felder later filed a petition under the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act, 725 ILCS 5/122-1, seeking to collaterally attack his conviction. His petition was denied as untimely. Felder sought no review of that decision.
A. Ineffective Assistance of Counsel
The standard for determining whether a prisoner received constitutionally deficient assistance of counsel is the two-part test laid out in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 80 L. Ed. 2d 674, 104 S. Ct. 2052 (1984). Strickland requires Felder to show that his counsel's performance fell below an objective standard of reasonableness and "that there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's unprofessional error, the result of the proceeding would have been different." Id. at 694. The Supreme Court has recently added that the prejudice prong ...