The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bucklo, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Mr. Frank Williams was convicted of capital murder and
sentenced to death. He filed a state petition for post-conviction
relief pro se in 1995, and then an amended petition with
appointed counsel in 1996, but his counsel failed to attach any
affidavits or other evidence. The Illinois Supreme Court denied
his petition in February 1999, and denied rehearing on March 29,
1999. In March, 2000, Mr. Williams filed a second state petition
raising the old claims and some new ones, including Brady
violations and what he describes as a claim of actual innocence
on the basis of newly discovered evidence. The government
contends that Mr. Williams only claims that he was innocent of
capital murder, not of the underlying killing.
On March 27, 2000, Mr. Williams filed a petition for federal
habeas relief under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 that contained both the
exhausted and the unexhausted state claims now pending before the
Illinois circuit court. I entered an order on March 8, 2000,
setting a schedule for the filing of the petition and responsive
pleadings, with a ruling date set for June 30, 2000. Mr. Williams
now moves that I vacate that order and hold in abeyance his
federal habeas petition until his state petition for
post-conviction relief is resolved.
The government objects that allowing this sort delay holds up
the quick disposition of federal habeas claims intended by
Congress in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of
1996, and applicable here, but I think the state should be
allowed to examine Mr. Williams' claims before I take them up.
The case on which the government principally relies, Neal v.
Gramley, 99 F.3d 841 (7th Cir. 1996), is distinguishable. Here,
the state courts have not found procedural default; there they
had, id. at 843, and the defendant's counsel in Neal conceded
that he was attempting to get around the limitations on
successive petitions. Id. at 846. Mr. Williams' counsel make no
It matters that a man's life is at stake. Death cases
especially demand "respect for the basic ingredient of due
process, namely, an opportunity to be allowed to substantiate a
claim before it is rejected." Ford v. Wainwright, 477 U.S. 399,
414, 106 S.Ct. 2595, 91 L.Ed.2d 335 (1986). In Illinois, where
more condemned men have been exonerated of capital crimes than
have been executed for them in the last two decades, there is no
need to rush to close off avenues of review for a process that an
Illinois Supreme Court Justice has characterized as flawed, see
People v. Bull, 185 Ill.2d 179, 235 Ill.Dec. 641,
705 N.E.2d 824, 847 (1998) (Harrison, J., concurring in part and dissenting
in part) ("[T]he system is not working. Innocent people are being
sentenced to death.") (giving examples), and which the Governor
has put into moratorium pending reform because of the
unacceptable risk of executing the innocent.
I therefore GRANT the motion to hold Mr. Williams' habeas
petition in abeyance until the final resolution of his state
petitions for post-conviction relief, and accordingly, VACATE my
order of March 8, 2000.
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