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WILLIAMS v. HINSLEY

December 6, 2005.

JOHNNY WILLIAMS, Petitioner,
v.
CHARLES HINSLEY, Respondent.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MARK FILIP, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING PETITION FOR WRIT OF HABEAS CORPUS
Johnny Williams ("Williams" or "Petitioner"), has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus ("Petition") against Charles Hinsley, the warden of Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois. Petitioner challenges the constitutionality of the state court conviction and judgment under which he is incarcerated. For the reasons explained below, Williams's Petition for a writ of habeas corpus is respectfully denied.

BACKGROUND

  Petitioner is in custody of the Illinois Department of Corrections following his 1999 conviction in a bench trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, for first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. (D.E. 11, Ex. A at 1.)*fn1 Petitioner was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment for the murder, and two consecutive 10-year sentences for each count of attempted murder. (Id.) On June 16, 1996, William Dennis ("Dennis") drove with two men, Jerry Johnson ("Johnson") and Darren Brown ("Brown"), to an apartment complex to pick up Brown's cousin, Kimberly Skipwith, to celebrate her birthday. (Id. at 3.) Dennis was a member of the "Gangster Disciples" street gang at the time. (Id. at 5.) Unbeknownst to Dennis, Petitioner, a high-ranking member of the rival "Black Disciples" street gang, was at the apartment complex. (Id.)

  When Dennis, Johnson, and Brown arrived at the apartment complex, four or five men, including Williams, John Little ("Little"), and Atravius Thomas ("Thomas"), approached them and asked the men "what y'all is" — i.e., what was the gang membership of Dennis, Johnson, and Brown. (Id. at 3, 5.) Brown responded that they were Gangster Disciples. (Id. at 3.) Violence quickly ensued: Brown was struck in the face with a gun and Williams, Little, and Thomas all fired shots. (Id.) Dennis was fatally wounded and Brown and Johnson were shot in the arm and leg, respectively. (Id. at 3-4.)

  Williams, Thomas, and Little were all charged in connection with the shootings. (Id. at 1.) Williams opted for a bench trial, Thomas exercised his constitutional right to a jury trial, and Little pleaded guilty in exchange for a 28-year prison term. (Id.) On September 5, 1997, as part of the plea-bargaining process, Little provided Assistant State's Attorney Michael O'Malley ("ASA O'Malley") with a written statement concerning the shootings (also "Little's Written Statement"). (Id. at 5.) Detective Smith of the Chicago Police Department ("Detective Smith") was also present during the preparation of Little's Written Statement. (Id. at 8.) In his written statement, Little related that there was an ongoing gang war between the Black Disciples and the Gangster Disciples at the time of the shootings. (Id. at 5.) In it, Little also indicated that Williams approached the car and shot at Dennis after Brown responded that he was a Gangster Disciple, that Little shot twice at Brown and Johnson as they attempted to flee, and that Thomas fired in Dennis's direction three times. (Id.) Little signed each page of the statement. (Id. at 6.)

  Williams and Thomas were tried concurrently in severed proceedings. (Id. at 1.) Before trial, the State indicated that it might call Little as a witness (id. at 2); Little's attorney maintained that Little would assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. (Id.) The court determined that Little's decision not to testify was not protected by the Fifth Amendment because he had already pleaded guilty and been sentenced. (Id.) The trial court then held an evidentiary hearing to ascertain whether Little's Written Statement was admissible under 725 ILCS 5/115-10.2 ("Illinois Section 10.2"). (Id.) The trial court expressed its opinion that Little's Written Statement was admissible, but reserved ruling until trial. (Id. at 3.)

  A witness named Gary Dixon ("Dixon") testified to an Illinois grand jury that he witnessed the crime and saw Williams "[shoot] the `old man' three times." (Id. at 4.) At trial, Dixon essentially recanted his grand jury testimony. (Id.)

  At trial, the State also called Little to testify. (Id.) On direct examination, Little admitted to pleading guilty to the murder of Dennis, but initially refused to answer the State's questions regarding his written statement. (Id.) Little argued that his refusal was protected by the Fifth Amendment because answering the State's questions would hurt his "appeal and his post-conviction rights." (Id.) The trial court disagreed with Little's position on the circumstances presented,*fn2 and ordered Little to answer the State's questions. (Id.) Little then admitted that he had signed all but the first page of his statement, but claimed that he could not remember giving ASA O'Malley the information contained in his written statement. (Id.)

  In connection with Little's testimony, the trial court determined that Little's trial testimony was inconsistent with his prior written statement. (Id. at 5.) Thus, the trial court held, Little's Written Statement was admissible under 725 ILCS 5/15-10.1 ("Illinois Section 10.1"), which, under certain circumstances, "allows a prior inconsistent statement that would otherwise be excluded as hearsay to be admitted as substantive evidence." People v. Thomas, 821 N.E.2d 628, 631 (Ill.App.Ct. 2004). The trial court did not admit the statement under Illinois Section 10.2, irrespective of whether it was admissible on that basis as well. (Id. at 5.) The trial court also permitted ASA O'Malley and Detective Smith to testify to the circumstances surrounding the preparation of Little's Written Statement and the statement itself. (Id. at 7-8.)

  On cross-examination, Little answered every question co-defendant Thomas's attorney asked (id.); Williams's counsel adopted Thomas's cross and declined the opportunity to cross-examine Little further. (Id. at 5.) Williams's counsel also cross-examined ASA O'Malley and Detective Smith.

  After deliberation, the trial court/factfinder found Williams guilty on all counts. The trial court sentenced Williams to consecutive prison terms of 45 years for first-degree murder conviction and 10 years for each count of attempted first-degree murder, for a total sentence of 65 years. (Id. at 1.) On direct appeal, Williams raised two claims: (1) the trial court erred in preventing Little from exercising his Fifth Amendment right to be free from self-incrimination and (2) the trial court violated Williams's Sixth Amendment right to be confronted with the witnesses against him ("Confrontation Clause") when it admitted Little's Written Statement under Illinois Section 10.2.*fn3 (Id. at 6.) The appellate court affirmed Williams's conviction. With respect to his first claim, the appellate court held that Williams lacked standing to assert Little's Fifth Amendment rights. (Id.) With respect to his second claim, the appellate court determined that Little's written statement was admitted under Illinois Section 10.1 and not Illinois Section 10.2; the appellate court further held that there was no Confrontation Clause violation because Williams had a fulsome opportunity to cross-examine Little himself, as well as ASA O'Malley and Detective Smith, at trial. (Id. at 6-8.)

  Williams then filed a pro se petition for leave to appeal in the Illinois Supreme Court, advancing two claims that were substantially similar, at least in part, to the two raised on direct appeal. (See, e.g., id., Ex. B at 2 ("The Appellate Court erred where the defendant was denied his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation when the Court incorrectly granted the State's 115-10.2 motion."); id. Ex. B at 15-16 (same).) The Illinois Supreme Court denied the petition. (Id., Ex. C.)

  On May 15, 2002, Williams filed a pro se post-conviction petition that advanced the following claims: (1) the trial court's admission of Little's written statement violated the ex post facto clauses of the Illinois and United States Constitutions; (2) Williams's Confrontation Clause rights were violated through the admission of Dixon's grand jury testimony when he testified inconsistently at trial; (3) Williams's trial counsel was ineffective for failing to preserve his ex post facto and Confrontation Clause claims; and (4) appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the aforementioned claims on direct appeal. (Id., Ex. D at 3.)

  The trial court summarily denied the petition as frivolous and meritless (id., Ex. E) and the appellate court affirmed the denial, noting that the record showed that Little's Written Statement was admitted under Illinois Section 10.1 (not Illinois Section 10.2, as Williams contended) and that Williams had ample opportunity to cross-examine Little at trial. (Id., Ex. F at 2.) The appellate court did not expressly address the other arguments in the petition. (See id.)

  Williams subsequently filed a petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court that argued that the trial court erred as a matter of Illinois procedural law in summarily dismissing his petition for post-conviction relief on the merits without proceeding through more elaborate procedures otherwise called for under Illinois law. (Id., Ex. G at 3.) Williams's petition only identified one further substantive claim — that the trial court's admission of Little's written statement violated the ex post facto clause of the United States and Illinois Constitutions because Illinois Section 10.2 had not been enacted at the time Williams committed the murders and attempted murders. (Id., Ex. G at 3.) The Supreme Court of Illinois denied the petition on January 28, 2004. (Id., Ex. H.)

  On August 2, 2004, Petitioner filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the District Court for the ...


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