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Mahaffey v. Schomig

June 27, 2002


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 01 C 3677--James F. Holderman, Judge.

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

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


In this double homicide case, which started during the first term of the Reagan administration, two separate juries found Reginald Mahaffey guilty. After the convictions, two separate sentencing hearings ended in jury findings that Mahaffey was eligible for the death penalty and that no mitigating circumstances sufficient to preclude the imposition of the ultimate penalty were present. And so, Mahaffey received a sentence of death. Twice.

In July of 2001, after 18 years of litigation in state court, and the exhaustion of all remedies there, the case moved to federal court with Mahaffey's filing of a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Later in 2001, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois denied the petition, a decision we review today on Mahaffey's appeal.

Mahaffey was convicted after his second state trial in 1991 of the murders of Dean and Jo Ellen Pueschel, the attempted murder of their young son Ricky, the rape of Jo Ellen, home invasion, armed robbery, aggravated battery to a child, residential burglary, and theft. In addition to the death penalty, several prison terms on the non-capital charges were also imposed. We start our review with some, but by no means all, of the facts.

On a hot August night in 1983, 11-year-old Ricky Pueschel was sleeping in the bedroom of his Northside Chicago apartment when he was awakened by a stranger holding him in a headlock. He tried to scream, but a hand was over his nose and mouth. Two voices told him to be quiet. Ricky blacked out. After regaining consciousness he went to the kitchen where he saw a man holding his mother and another man coming through the back door. The men ordered Ricky and his mother to lie on their stomachs on the dining room floor. One of the men then began striking Ricky's mother with an object. She was crying, and she told Ricky to listen to the men and to do as they said.

The next thing Ricky knew, he woke up in his bed in a puddle of blood. He went to his parents' bedroom, where he found his father sprawled out against one of the walls with blood nearby. In the dining room he found his mother lying on the floor with her head in a pool of blood. She had no heartbeat. The phone was ringing, but Ricky could not answer it because someone had ripped off the receiver cord. He went outside, where he encountered his grandfather, Joseph Heinrich, who had come over because he was expecting Jo Ellen to bring Ricky to his house that morning. When she failed to arrive, Heinrich phoned the Pueschels' residence but got no answer. He then went over to the Pueschels' residence, where he found Ricky walking around outside. He was covered with blood. Ricky told him that his parents were dead.

Paramedics arrived and took Ricky to the hospital, where he remained for a week. His left eye was swollen shut, and he had a fractured skull, multiple stab wounds to the back, and a life-threatening brain hemorrhage. When police arrived at the Pueschels' apartment they discovered two of Ricky's baseball bats covered with blood. They also found an empty gun holster and an empty gun rack near Dean's body.

A few days after these horrific crimes, Cedric Mahaffey told police that two of his brothers, Reginald and Jerry, were involved in the Pueschel break-in. After questioning Cedric, the officers went to the apartment where Reginald Mahaffey was staying. Morriell Redmond, who was leasing the apartment from his grandmother and renting a room in it to Mahaffey, answered the door. The officers asked if Mahaffey was in the apartment. After Redmond gave permission to search the apartment, Mahaffey was discovered lying on the floor in one of the bedrooms. He was arrested. And one of the first things he said was that he knew the police were "coming after" him and that he was "going to get caught." He went on to provide details of the events that occurred in the Pueschel residence a few days earlier.

The police searched the Redmond-Mahaffey apartment and found 24 pieces of jewelry, all later identified as belonging to either Dean, Jo Ellen, or Ricky Pueschel. Police also recovered bullets and shotgun shells matching guns stolen from the Pueschels' apartment. Mahaffey told the police that they had recovered most of what he and his brother Jerry had taken, although Jerry still had the Pueschels' VCR, Atari game, and some videocassettes.

Mahaffey and the officers then went to the home of Roosevelt Mahaffey (the record does not tell us his relationship to Reginald, but it seems likely he is another brother), who signed a consent-to-search form. The officers found a rifle and a portable television that belonged to the Pueschels. The officers then went to Jerry Mahaffey's apartment and arrested him. During a search of his apartment they recovered a video recorder, electronic TV games, an Atari game, and some videocassettes belonging to the Pueschels, including a video of their wedding.

The officers took Reginald Mahaffey to the police station, where all the recovered proceeds were placed on a table. Mahaffey removed a white metal ring with a blue stone in the center from his left hand. From his pants pocket he removed a man's Seiko watch and a gold chain with a crucifix on it. These items were all taken from the Pueschel apartment.

An assistant state's attorney, Irving Miller, met with Mahaffey at the police station. He advised Mahaffey of his Miranda rights, and Mahaffey confessed again. He admitted that he raped Jo Ellen. He also stated that he had no complaints about the way the police had treated him. In fact, Miller said Mahaffey told him the police treated him "very fine." After being advised of his rights a second time, Mahaffey gave a 23-page statement detailing the break-in at the Pueschel residence. After reviewing the written statement, he initialed and signed it.

In the formal statement, Mahaffey said he and his brother Jerry had planned to burglarize a clothing store on the north side of Chicago but that their van broke down on the way. While walking away from the van, they noticed that one of the apartments in a nearby building had an open window. Reginald said they removed the screen and entered the apartment. Before exploring the rest of the apartment, the Mahaffeys drank some Kool-Aid from the refrigerator and took some money, about $11, from a wallet that was sitting on the kitchen table. Reginald then picked up a butcher knife and the brothers entered Ricky's room.

Reginald put a pillow over Ricky's head, telling him not to make any noise. Reginald then began choking Ricky while Jerry held his mouth. Ricky struggled and tried to call for help. Reginald directed Jerry to stab the boy, which he did. Then Reginald discovered a ...

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