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Todd v. Schomig

March 14, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 98-428-GPM--G. Patrick Murphy, Chief Judge.

Before Flaum, Chief Judge, and Evans, and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Williams, Circuit Judge

Argued October 9, 2001

Petitioner Robert Todd is on death row. The direct and post-conviction challenges to his conviction and death sentence have proven unsuccessful. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, which the district court denied. Now, he appeals and asks us to reverse the district court's decision. Because there is no basis upon which to grant his petition, we affirm the judgment of the district court.


On June 1, 1998, Todd filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus, challenging the constitutionality of his custody in the Pontiac Correctional Center, where he is on death row for his state court conviction of first-degree murder. Our review of his challenge to his conviction and death sentence is controlled by the restrictive standards set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"). See 28 U.S.C. sec. 2254; see also Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320 (1997) (applying the statute to petitions filed after April 24, 1996). Pursuant to the AEDPA, state court factual findings that are reasonably based on the record are presumed correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting that presumption by clear and convincing evidence. See 28 U.S.C. sec. 2254(e)(1); see also Cossel v. Miller, 229 F.3d 649, 651 (7th Cir. 2000). The following summary of the facts is derived from the state court opinions, and is supplemented where appropriate from the appellate record. See Whitehead v. Cowan, 263 F.3d 708 (7th Cir. 2001).

A. The Facts

On July 11, 1989, Sandra Shelton entered the Sports Page Bar & Grill in Carlyle, Illinois. Shortly thereafter, Robert Todd entered the bar, sat next to her, ordered a draft beer, and started a conversation. They left together at approximately half-past midnight and went to the Main Street Saloon in Beckemeyer, where they danced, had a couple drinks, and left.

They then went to Shelton's home. According to the testimony of jailhouse informant, Scott Nielson, Todd described the events at Shelton's home as follows: Shelton put on a Bob Seger tape, and they sat and drank. Todd tried to "make moves" on Shelton, but she resisted. A bit later, Todd tried again, but Shelton told him "no" and shoved him. Todd slapped Shelton a couple times, but he then blacked out and next remembered waking up in the morning at a convenience store.

Shelton's 14-year-old daughter discovered her mother's body at eleven the next morning. In the home, the stove burners were running, creating a strong odor of natural gas; several candles were still burning; and a container of vegetable oil was on the floor in the living room.

Shelton's body was nude except for a green blouse tied around her neck, intertwined with a necklace and two shoe strings that were tied to her right wrist. Shelton's body appeared to have a shiny, oily substance on it, and small red droplets of wax were spread over her body from the shoulders down.

A red candle and a Miller Lite beer can were underneath a blanket that partially covered Shelton's left foot. Another can of Miller Lite was on an ashtray table, and a six-pack of Miller Lite with two cans missing was in the refrigerator.*fn1

Pathologist Dr. Steven Nuernberger performed an autopsy and found a linear depression on Shelton's neck, where the blouse had been. He noticed hemorrhaging to the muscles on both sides of the neck, indicating that Shelton's trachea had been crushed. He listed strangulation as the primary cause of death.

He noticed five stab wounds down the left side of Shelton's body. Four penetrated her chest wall. There was a small amount of blood in Shelton's chest cavity and abdomen, which indicated that she was stabbed at the time of her death or shortly thereafter. In his opinion, the stab wounds were caused by a sharp knife, and were to "mak[e] sure the victim was dead."

He also observed bruising and swelling around Shelton's left eye, left lower lip, and cheek bone. He noted hemorrhages that indicated blunt trauma to her head. In his opinion, the head injuries were caused by at least five separate blows to her head. Dr. Nuernberger observed bruises or contusions on Shelton's wrist, right shoulder and breast. The wrist bruise was consistent with someone tightly grabbing the wrist, and the chest bruise indicated a blow to the chest.

Dr. Nuernberger believed that Shelton was standing when she was suffocated. He also believed that the wax droplets were applied after death. Although Dr. Nuernberger found no identifiable presence of sperm and no evidence of trauma to the vagina or rectum, in his opinion, these facts did not rule out the possibility of sexual assault.

Forensic scientist David Peck examined the tennis shoes Todd was wearing at the time of his arrest with the shoe prints collected at Shelton's home. He concluded that two prints were made by Todd's left shoe and one was made by his right shoe. He also compared inked bare footprints of Todd's feet with footprints at Shelton's home, concluding that one of the latent footprints at Shelton's home was Todd's. He also concluded that Todd's fingerprint was present on one of the doorknobs in Shelton's home.

Forensic scientist Cheryl Cherry compared the wax droplets on Shelton's body with wax droplets from Todd's bathtub, and she concluded that they were similar and could have originated from the same candle. Forensic microscopist Eleanor Gillespie compared the standards of Todd's hair to the hairs from Shelton's body, and she concluded that there was no hair transfer between Todd and Shelton.

After a bench trial, Todd was convicted of first-degree murder and attempted aggravated sexual assault. The trial court concluded that the murder was accompanied by brutal and heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty. At the first stage of the sentencing, the sentencing court found Todd eligible for the death penalty because the murder was committed in the course of a robbery and while attempting to commit aggravated criminal sexual assault.

At the second stage of the sentencing, the state presented its case in favor of the imposition of the death penalty. Joyce Ely testified that Todd had worked for a facility for the mentally retarded, but was fired for two incidents with patients--one in which he put a yelling and aggressive patient in an arm-lock and another in which he attempted to prevent an upset patient from leaving the area by pushing him back with his fingers. Todd's ex-wife, Shelly Steele, testified that he had a bad temper and was occasionally physically violent. She also testified that he liked to tie her up during sex, enjoyed having pain inflicted on himself during sex, and always had candles or incense burning during sex. She also testified that she was fired from her job because Todd showed up, started an argument with her, and threatened to kill another employee if he did not get out of his way.

Then Todd presented mitigation evidence. Mitigation Social Worker Arlene Peters recounted Todd's background, including his alcoholism, drug use, suicide attempts, physical abuse, and troubled childhood. Her investigation, however, was limited--principally to Todd's immediate family. Todd's reverend, fiancee's parents, and family also testified, essentially to his good character, and helped to corroborate the mitigation social worker's report.

The sentencing court determined that only one statutory mitigating factor had been presented--lack of significant prior criminal history--in addition to evidence of non-statutory mitigating factors. The court determined that the aggravating ...

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