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Easley v. Frey

January 11, 2006

IKE EASLEY, JR., PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
SHELDON FREY, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 01 C 7117-Robert W. Gettleman, Judge.

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

ARGUED NOVEMBER 1, 2005

Before BAUER, EVANS, and WILLIAMS, Circuit Judges.

Robert Taylor, the superintendent at Illinois' Pontiac Correctional Center, was stabbed to death in his office on the morning of September 3, 1987. The murder weapon was a homemade knife-in prison parlance, a "shank." Ike Easley, an inmate at Pontiac, was tried and convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death in connection with the crime. Later, his sentence was commuted to life in prison. He is here today appealing the denial of his petition for habeas corpus, see Easley v. Hinsley, 305 F. Supp. 2d 867 (N.D. Ill. 2004), filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254.

We start with a brief recounting of the facts as determined by the Illinois Supreme Court when it resolved Easley's direct appeal. See People v. Easley, 592 N.E.2d 1036 (Ill. 1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1082 (1993); see also Ward v. Hinsley, 377 F.3d 719, 721 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 125 S.Ct. 632 (2004) (state court's unrebutted factual determinations presumed correct).

At Easley's trial, inmate Lawrence Spillar testified that while he was visiting Superintendent Taylor, Easley "ran into the office, jumped on Taylor's desk and struck him in the face." Easley then "pulled a knife from his belt and appeared to stab Taylor." According to Spillar, a second inmate, Roosevelt Lucas, entered the office and struck Taylor with a pipe. Another witness, inmate Demetre Brown, saw Easley stab Taylor and also testified to seeing Easley and Lucas prepare for the murder by donning gloves and caps.

In addition to the inmate testimony, the Supreme Court recited other evidence of Easley's guilt. Correctional Officer Robert Baremore testified that he locked the inmates on "gallery five" in their cells immediately after the attack-Taylor's office was a converted inmate cell located on gallery five. Four other prison officials testified to seeing Easley near Taylor's office before the murder or locked in a gallery five cell after the murder, even though his assigned cell was in a different gallery. (One official did testify that "it was not unusual for inmates from other galleries to be near Taylor's office.") Technicians also recovered a bloody footprint from the scene matching Easley's shoe. Easley's fingerprint was found on the shank used to kill Taylor. Blood found on Easley's shoe and a pair of gloves removed from his cell, though, did not match Taylor's blood.

After the murder, corrections officers isolated and questioned approximately 30 inmates. The first round of questioning lasted about 10 minutes per inmate.*fn1 A second round of questioning focused on fewer than the original 30 inmates, including Easley. Investigators Doug Read and David Brubaker advised Easley of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966), and he invoked his right to remain silent. After he refused to answer questions, investigator Gerald Long joined Read and Brubaker. Long, who acknowledged that Read and Brubaker told him that Easley had refused to answer questions, testified he said the following to Easley:

'I understand you have been given your rights and you don't wish to say anything, and I do not wish to ask you any questions at this time, but I want to advise you what lies ahead.' At that point in time, I advised him that we had inmate testimony that indicates that he and another individual were the hitters or perpetrators of the murder of Superintendent Taylor and that even though he was currently institutionalized on a serious matter this was more serious in the fact that it was a capital crime and if convicted, could be subject to the death penalty.

Easley responded, "all you honkey motherfuckers want is a nigger donkey to pin this case on, and I am your donkey, I am your killer."

Easley moved to suppress his response to Long. According to Easley, Long's statement was the equivalent of interrogation, which was constitutionally impermissible after he invoked his right to remain silent. The trial court, though, found that Easley's response was not "coerced" or the result of a "calculated strategem [sic]." Thus, the court reasoned, Easley's right to remain silent under Miranda was not violated, and the statement was received in evidence.

The Illinois Supreme Court, reviewing the denial of the suppression motion on direct appeal, analyzed whether Michigan v. Mosely, 423 U.S. 96 (1975), required suppression of Easley's response because investigators did not "scrupulously honor" his "right to cut off questioning." Mosley, 423 U.S. at 103 (quoting Miranda, 384 U.S. at 479, 474). The Supreme Court differed with the trial court, finding that Long's exhortation (after Read and Brubaker initially discontinued questioning) was an " 'obvious effort to persuade [the defendant] to make a statement.' " Easley, 592 N.E.2d at 1046 (quoting People v. R.C., 483 N.E.2d 1241, 1244 (Ill. 1985)). But, the court continued, Long's statement did not itself "rise to the level of being the 'functional equivalent' of interrogation." Easley, 592 N.E.2d at 1047 (quoting Rhode Island v. Innis, 446 U.S. 291, 301 (1980)). The court observed that Long did not initially administer the Miranda warning, there was some separation in time between the initial warning and the time Long made his statement (though the court could not determine the lapse of time), and Long never asked Easley a question but only made a statement. Consequently, the Supreme Court affirmed the trial court's ruling admitting the response. Easley did not raise the issue again on post-conviction review. See People v. Easley, 736 N.E.2d 975 (Ill. 2000).

The district court, reviewing Easley's Mosely claim, held that the Illinois Supreme Court did not unreasonable apply clearly established United States Supreme Court precedent. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). Relying on the standard articulated in Lockyer v. Andrade, 538 U.S. 63, 75 (2003), and Hardaway v. Young, 302 F.3d 757, 762 (7th Cir. 2002), the district court found that "although the Illinois Supreme Court's decision on this issue may have been incorrect, it was not objectively unreasonable." Finally, the district court found in the alternative, under Brecht v. Abrahamson, 507 U.S. 619, 638 (1993), that the admission of Easley's response was harmless because it was not obviously inculpatory and there was overwhelming evidence of his guilt.

In this court Easley argues both that the Illinois Supreme Court erred when it determined that Long's statement was not a form of interrogation and that the district court wrongly determined that, even if a Miranda violation occurred, the admission of his response was harmless. We review the district court's ...


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