The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARK FILIP, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
Now before the Court is Petitioner Dionna Beachem's Petition
for a Writ of Habeas Corpus against Respondent Alyssa Williams,
Warden of the Dwight Correctional Center, challenging the
constitutionality of the state court judgment under which
Petitioner is being held. The Court has received Respondent's
answer and obtained the state court record of Petitioner's trial
and state post-conviction proceedings. For the reasons stated
below, the Petition is dismissed.
Petitioner is imprisoned pursuant to a judgment of the Illinois
courts. The Court has taken the facts of the matter from the
record of Petitioner's trial and post-conviction petition,
appellate court opinions and orders in her criminal case and
post-conviction petition, and from her own filings in those
cases. Ms. Annie Jones, the victim in this case, was seventy-seven
years old when her landlord and a worried friend discovered her
dead body in her disordered apartment on December 6, 1994.
People v. Beachem (Beachem I), No. 1-96-3260, slip op. at 2, 6
(Ill.App.Ct. Jan. 22, 1998). Petitioner and a friend of hers,
Tianna Jackson, were arrested in connection with Ms. Jones's
death the next day, December 7. Id. at 2. The police suspected
Petitioner and Jackson of the crime because they had attempted to
use Ms. Jones's credit card on December 5, 1994, the day before
Ms. Jones's body was discovered. Id.
Petitioner told the police a series of stories, the last of
which was transcribed by the police, signed by Petitioner, and
later admitted into evidence at Petitioner's trial. Id. First
Petitioner claimed that she had found Ms. Jones's car with Ms.
Jones's keys and purse inside. Id. Then Petitioner said that
she and Jackson had taken Ms. Jones's car and credit card from
Ms. Jones's apartment building, but Petitioner denied that she
had injured or harmed Ms. Jones. Id. Finally, in the version
which was transcribed and signed, Petitioner admitted to using
violence against Ms. Jones.
Petitioner said that she had plotted with Jackson to rob Ms.
Jones of her credit card. Id. at 2-3. Petitioner stated that
she and Jackson had tried to get Ms. Jones to let them into Ms.
Jones's apartment building on December 2, 1994, but Ms. Jones
refused to do so because they would not identify themselves and
Ms. Jones started yelling at them. Id. at 3. Petitioner (who
was at least somewhat acquainted with Ms. Jones, id.) and
Jackson therefore refined their plan and devised a ruse to get
Ms. Jones to allow them into her building.
A few days later, on December 5, Petitioner and Jackson tried
again to get Ms. Jones's credit card. Id. This time, according
to Petitioner, "she and Jackson figured out a way to get Ms. Jones to open the door for them." Id. When Ms. Jones asked
who was at the door, Petitioner and Jackson stated that they were
Jehovah's Witnesses, and Ms. Jones opened the door. Id.
Petitioner said that as soon as Ms. Jones opened the door,
Petitioner grabbed the "skull cap" Ms. Jones always wore and
pulled it down over Ms. Jones's eyes. Id. at 3-4. Jackson then
pushed Petitioner through the doorway into the building, causing
Petitioner to knock Ms. Jones down and fall on top of her. Id.
at 4. Jackson locked the front door. Id.
Ms. Jones struggled in the hallway outside of her apartment and
was making noise. Id. Ms. Jones also was praying and begging
Petitioner and Jackson not to hurt her, saying such things as
"Lord, please send somebody" and "In the name of Jesus, don't
hurt me." Id. Ms. Jones told Petitioner and Jackson that they
could have whatever they wanted. Id.
Petitioner tried to keep the skull cap in place over Ms. Jones
eyes, but eventually Ms. Jones succeeded in removing it. Id.
Petitioner told police that when this occurred, she "snapped" and
banged Ms. Jones's head against the floor "about three times."
Id. Petitioner said that after she repeatedly banged the
elderly woman's head on the floor, Ms. Jones became quiet and
stopped struggling. Id. Petitioner and Jackson dragged Ms.
Jones into Ms. Jones's apartment and loosely bound her with a
phone cord and tied her "skull cap" pulled down over her face
with a phone cord that Petitioner had brought with her. Id.
Petitioner and Jackson left Ms. Jones on the floor while they
searched for the credit card and any other valuables that might
be found. Id. Petitioner stated that she later thought she
heard Ms. Jones making sounds, so she told Jackson to check on
Ms. Jones; Petitioner said that Jackson went to Ms. Jones and
kicked her in the back of the head. Id. at 5. Petitioner said
that she and Jackson found and took Ms. Jones's purse, credit
card, identification, and car keys, as well as some rings, and left in Ms. Jones's car, which they
stole. Id. at 4-5.
Petitioner said that she and Jackson soon went to a jewelry
store at the Ford City Mall and tried to make a $1,200 purchase.
Id. at 5. The store owner became suspicious, called the credit
card company, and asked Petitioner and Jackson for picture
identification. Id. at 5-6. Petitioner first claimed that the
credit card was hers, but she later admitted that it was not;
mall security detained both Petitioner and Jackson in the store's
back room. Id. at 6. Petitioner said in her signed statement to
police that while she was in that room, she threw Ms. Jones's car
keys into the trash. Id. Ms. Jones's body was discovered on
December 6, after a friend became concerned because she did not
come to church as usual. Id.
Petitioner was charged with first degree murder, home invasion,
residential burglary, and robbery. Id. at 1. The prosecution
corroborated at least parts of Petitioner's confession with
further evidence at trial. For example, one of Ms. Jones's
neighbors testified that Ms. Jones's car had been in front of the
apartment building at 7:30 a.m. on December 5, but was gone at
1:00 p.m. on the same day. Id. at 7. A police officer testified
that she found the car parked in the Ford City Mall parking lot.
Id. A detective testified that he discovered the car's keys in
one of the Mall's dumpsters the next day; the store owner
testified that three days thereafter, he found Ms. Jones's
driver's license hidden in his store. Id. A doctor who had
performed an autopsy on Ms. Jones testified to numerous injuries
that her examination revealed, and opined that Ms. Jones had died
because head trauma had caused hemorrhaging in her scalp and
brain, which had in turn caused her brain to swell. Id. at 7-8.
The doctor also testified that when she first saw Ms. Jones, she
had a knit cap pulled over her face and tied with a cord. Id.
at 7. The doctor testified to various other injuries Ms. Jones
had suffered, including broken ribs, various facial bruises and
lacerations, and a bruised heart. Id. at 8. Petitioner's trial counsel responded first by attacking the
alleged correspondence between the physical evidence and
Petitioner's confession. For instance, he called the first police
officer to see Ms. Jones's body to the stand as a defense
witness; the officer testified that he had seen marks on Ms.
Jones's neck that he believed were signs of strangulation. Id.
at 8. In closing argument, Petitioner's counsel further stressed
alleged incongruities, noting the lack of evidence of a struggle
in the hallway (Supplemental Exhibits (D.E. 15), Supp. Ex. 1
("Trial Transcripts, People v. Beachem, Circuit Court of Cook
County, No. 95 CR 406") at H-49), the fact that Ms. Jones's
slippers were found in the room rather than the hallway (id. at
H-50), and the fact that the injuries were more extensive than
Petitioner's confession acknowledged (id. at H-51). The
confession, he then repeatedly argued, had been coerced. (Id.
at H-47, H-53 to H-54, H-57.) Petitioner had unknowingly used Ms.
Jones's property, but was not involved in the murder. (Id. at
H-42 to H-43.) The police had merely latched onto the first lead
available and decided to ensure the conviction of the resulting
suspects. Beachem I, No. 1-96-3260, slip op. at 8.
The defense was unsuccessful: the jury convicted Petitioner on
all counts. Id. at 1, 8. The trial court sentenced Petitioner
to concurrent prison terms of ninety, thirty, fifteen, and six
years on the murder, home invasion, burglary and robbery charges,
respectively. Id. at 1.
Normally, sentences for first degree murder in Illinois are not
to exceed sixty years. 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(a)
(2002). Under the law applicable at the time of Petitioner's
conviction, however, a court was permitted to sentence defendants
to terms of up to one hundred years if it found certain
aggravating factors. 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-8-1(a)(1)(b)
(1996), superceded by 2000 Ill. Legis. Serv. P.A. 91-953
(West); 730 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-8-2(a)(1) (1996), superceded
by 2000 Ill. Legis. Serv. P.A. 91-953 (West). At sentencing, the
court found two such aggravating factors including that the
victim, Ms. Jones, was over sixty years old. See Beachem I, No. 1-96-3260, slip op. at 13-15; see also 730
Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/5-8-2(a)(1) (1996); 730 Ill. Comp. Stat.
5/5-5-3.2(b)(2), (4)(ii) (1996). The jury had not been asked to
make a determination regarding this aggravating factor in regard
to the murder count. People v. Beachem (Beachem II),
784 N.E.2d 285, 288, 295 (Ill.App.Ct. 2000). However, the jury was
required in connection with the robbery count to find that Ms.
Jones had been more than sixty years old, because "Beachem was
charged with committing a robbery on a victim over 60 years of
age." Id. at 295; see also id. ("Thus the jury's guilty
verdict was a finding that the murdered victim of the robbery was
Petitioner appealed her conviction to the Illinois Appellate
Court, alleging both that improper comments in the prosecution's
closing argument had denied her a fair trial and that the trial
court had abused its discretion in sentencing her to a ninety
year prison term. Beachem I, No. 1-96-3260, slip op. at 1-2.
The appellate court rejected both arguments. It found that the
comments which Petitioner alleged had drawn improper and
irrelevant sympathy to the victim that Ms. Jones had been a
"deeply religious woman," a "benevolent, deeply religious woman,"
"a true victim," and "the type of woman that our society, at
least some of us, have been taught to respect," id. at 8-9
were not improper. For example, the court explained that
according to Petitioner's confession, she and Jackson schemed to
exploit Ms. Jones's religious convictions to gain entry to her
apartment by pretending to be Jehovah's Witnesses; the court
found that the prosecution's comments properly pointed out this
correspondence between the confession and Ms. Jones's personality
without improperly dwelling on Ms. Jones's religion. Id. at
10-11. Similarly, the court found that the description of Ms.
Jones as a "true victim" was both accurate and reasonable. Id.
Petitioner further alleged that the prosecution had made two
arguments unsupported by evidence in its closing argument: that Petitioners' fingerprints
were not found in Ms. Jones's apartment because Petitioner had
worn gloves, and that the police did not leave the State's
Attorney alone in an interview with the Petitioner because
Petitioner was a killer. Id. at 9. The appellate court found
the first prosecution argument to be supported by the evidence.
Because the crime had occurred in Chicago in the middle of winter
and the jury had heard testimony that gloved hands do not leave
fingerprints, it was reasonable to suggest that Petitioner had
committed the crime but had worn gloves. Id. at 11.
Petitioner's trial counsel never objected to the prosecution's
comment about the State's Attorney interview at trial, and the
appellate court considered arguments based upon it waived. Id.
at 11-12. In the alternative, the court found that if the comment
was otherwise objectionable, the defense had provoked it by
claiming that the police had remained in the room with the
State's attorney in order to intimidate Petitioner. Id. at 12.
As to the allegedly improper arguments and comments by the
prosecution, the court concluded with an alternative holding. The
court held that even if it had found that the allegedly offending
comments were improper, such error would have been harmless
because of the "overwhelmin[g]" evidence supporting the
conviction. Id. at 12.
Finally, Petitioner alleged that had the trial court had
underweighted or ignored so many factors calling for a lower
sentence that it had abused its discretion by sentencing
Petitioner to ninety years in prison, ignoring the likelihood
that she would be rehabilitated. The appellate court noted that
Petitioner had been eligible for the death penalty, and held that
it was not an abuse of discretion for the trial court to conclude
that although the various alleged mitigating factors suggested
that Petitioner should not receive a death sentence, she should
nonetheless be sentenced to ninety years. Id. at 13-16; see
also id. at 15 ("The facts of this case indicate that Beachem formulated a plan to rob Annie Jones months before she
acted on it. . . . Beachem tailored her plan so that she could
get Ms. Jones to open the door for her. Then Beachem beat a
frail, elderly woman to keep her from making noise and exposing
their plan to steal a credit card. . . .").
The appellate court thus affirmed the judgment of the trial
court. Petitioner sought leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme
Court. Her petition presented the same bases for relief as her
earlier appeal: that the prosecution had made improper comments
designed to draw sympathy to Ms. Jones (Answer (D.E. 12), Ex. B
(Pet. for Leave to Appeal) at 9-10) and misstated evidence in its
closing argument (id. at 11-12), and that the trial court
abused its discretion in sentencing (id. at 12-16). The court
denied her petition without an opinion. Beachem I, No. 85093,
slip op. at 1 (Ill. June 25, 1998).
The next year, Petitioner filed a petition for post-conviction
relief in the Illinois state courts. She raised a number of new
claims which purported to prove that her trial counsel had been
so ineffective as to deny her the constitutional right to
counsel. Petitioner's trial counsel allegedly failed to move to
quash Petitioner's arrest and confession, Beachem II,
95-CR-00406, slip op. at 14-15 (Ill. Cir. Ct. Jan 14, 1999),
forbade her to testify at trial, id. at 15-17, failed to inform
her of a plea offer from the prosecution, id. at 17-18, failed
to object to victim impact statements introduced at sentencing,
id. at 18-19, failed to challenge two jurors for cause, id.
at 20, and presented an inadequate closing argument, id. at
20-21. She further alleged that her trial counsel should have
objected to a line of questioning the prosecution pursued with
one police witness, in which the prosecution elicited testimony
to the effect that the witness had heard from Petitioner's father
that Petitioner had stated that she knew something about Ms.
Jones's murder. Id. at 19. Petitioner also renewed her argument
that the original trial court had abused its discretion in sentencing. Id. at 9, 21.
The trial court dismissed the petition for post-conviction
relief as "frivolous and patently without merit" (id. at 1)
after reviewing the claims in a lengthy opinion. Id. at 1-22.
The trial court did not hold an evidentiary hearing because
Petitioner's claims were not supported by the requisite
affidavits or supporting evidence required under Illinois law and
were not clearly supported by the record. Id. at 8-9, 17-18,
see also 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/122-2.1(a)(2) (2002). (The
trial court noted that the only arguments offered came via the
petition and Beachem's own affidavit, which was insufficient
under Illinois law, particularly given that "[t]he tendered
documents . . . do not explain with any degree of specificity,
how the petitioner's rights were violated. They further do not
support any of the claims alleged in the petition." (Beachem
II, 95-CR-00406, slip op. at 9 (Ill. Cir. Ct. Jan. 14, 1999)
(collecting Illinois authorities).) The trial court also held
that the abuse of discretion claim was barred by "res judicata"
because of its previous litigation in the direct appeal, id. at
13, and that all of the ineffective assistance claims except for
the one based on failure to report a plea agreement could have
been raised on direct appeal and were thus waived, id. at
The court offered alternative substantive grounds for the
dismissal of most of the claims; the Court relays those relevant
to the present petition for habeas corpus. The court found that
the record indicated not that Petitioner's counsel had refused to
permit her to testify "as to how she became involved in the
situation," id. at 9, but rather that counsel had merely
advised her not to testify, id. at 17. The trial court
admonished Petitioner of her right to testify, and Petitioner
acknowledged that she understood and did not wish to do so. Id.
With respect to Petitioner's claim that her trial counsel had
failed to relay a plea agreement from the prosecution to her, the
court discussed the lack of any affidavit or other evidence other
than Petitioner's conclusory allegation, and held as a matter of state law that "[u]nsupported
conclusory allegations in the petition or in the petitioner's own
affidavit are not sufficient to require a hearing under the
[Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing] Act." Id. at 17-18
(collecting Illinois cases). The court dismissed Petitioner's
claim as insufficiently developed and as meritless in any event.
Petitioner appealed, narrowing her claims for relief to her
trial counsel's alleged failure to relay a plea offer (D.E. 12,
Ex. E (Brief and Argument for Petitioner-Appellant) at 12-15) and
her trial counsel's failure to object to the prosecution's line
of questioning that produced hearsay evidence regarding a
discussion between Petitioner and her father (id. at 17-19).
Petitioner also added the claim that the prosecution had deprived
her of a fair trial by eliciting testimony from a witness to the
effect that Jackson had confessed to the crime. (Id. at 20-22.)
Petitioner also alleged, either as an independent ground for
relief or as an excuse for failing to raise the issue sooner,
that her appellate counsel had been ineffective in failing to
raise this last argument. Finally, in a supplemental brief, the
Petitioner alleged that her sentence violated the rule of
Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), that "any fact
that increases the penalty for a crime beyond the prescribed
statutory maximum must be submitted to a jury, and proved beyond
a reasonable doubt." Id. at 490. Petitioner argued that unless
the jury had been instructed in regard to the murder charges to
determine whether any of the statutory aggravating factors
applied, Petitioner could not have been sentenced to more than
sixty years in prison, the normal statutory limit of 730 Ill.
Comp. Stat. 5/5-8-1(a). (D.E. 12, Ex. F (Supp. Brief and Argument
for Defendant-Appellant) at iv-v.)
The appellate court initially found against the Petitioner on
everything but her Apprendi claim. The court affirmed the trial
court's dismissal of Petitioner's plea agreement claim, finding
it "frivolous" and "patently without merit" because there was no
record support as required by Illinois law. See Beachem II, 740 N.E.2d 389, 391
(Ill.App. 2000) ("It was pure unsupported conclusion.").
Although Petitioner claimed that she had in fact attached an
affidavit from her mother to her petition, of which the trial
court allegedly had failed to take note (D.E. 12, Ex. E at
14-15), the court disagreed: the affidavit was addressed "To the
Appellate Court" and was dated almost a month after the trial
court dismissed the petition. Beachem II, 740 N.E.2d at 391.
The appellate court could not consider it because it had not been
properly presented to the trial court. Id. The court also found
that the prosecutorial misconduct issues had not been properly
raised below and were waived. Id.
By contrast, the court initially found Petitioner's Apprendi
argument at least potentially persuasive. (It reversed itself
shortly thereafter on remand after consulting intervening
precedent.) The court held that Apprendi applied retroactively
to judgments finalized before that decision, and that it
presented potential implications for Petitioner's case. Id. at
397. However, the court was reluctant to make any determinations
before the issue was developed more fully below, and the court
remanded the petition to the trial court for reconsideration in
light of Apprendi. Id. at 399.
The State of Illinois petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court for
summary review and remand to the appellate court for
reconsideration in light of three cases from the Illinois Supreme
Court. (D.E. 12, Ex. H (Motion for Summary Remand in Light of
People v. Ford (Ill. 2001), People v. Hopkins (Ill. 2002),
and People v. Rogers (Ill. 2001).) The Illinois Supreme Court
remanded the case to the appellate court for reconsideration
without an opinion. Beachem II, 779 N.E.2d 1147, 1148 (Ill.
On remand, the appellate court changed its mind on the merits
of Petitioner's Apprendi claim and affirmed the trial court's
dismissal of her post-conviction petition. Although it still held that the rule established in that case applied retroactively
to the Petitioner's, it found that the trial court's ninety year
sentence was consonant with that rule. Beachem II,
784 N.E.2d 285, 295 (Ill.App.Ct. 2002). First, the court found that the
"statutory maximum" penalty for first degree murder was death,
rather than sixty years in prison, and that the ninety year
prison term was more lenient than a death sentence, so that there
was no need for either of the aggravating factors upon which the
trial court relied to have been found by a jury. Id. Second,
the court found that Apprendi's jury-finding requirement had
been met when the jury had explicitly found ...