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Williams v. Bryant

March 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Harold A. Baker United States District Judge


The petitioner, James J. Williams ("Williams"), was convicted in the Circuit Court, Kankakee County, Illinois, of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to a thirty-year term of imprisonment. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal, and state post-conviction relief was denied.

Williams has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus [#1] and supplemental brief [#2], raising nine claims. Respondent Steven Bryant has filed an answer to the petition [#8] and supporting exhibits [#9].

For the following reasons, the petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.


Lewis Williams III*fn1 was shot to death in Kankakee, Illinois on July 10, 1996. The police sought Williams for questioning after they learned that he and the victim had been involved in an ongoing disagreement. The police found that Williams had moved to Arizona and went there to question him. The police had with them a warrant for Williams's arrest on an unrelated domestic battery charge. During the interrogation, Williams confessed to the crime and was charged with murder.

At a hearing on a motion to suppress the confession, Kankakee police officer Robin Passwater testified that he read Williams a Miranda form before the first round of questioning began, and both he and Williams signed the form indicating that Williams had been read and understood his rights. Officer Passwater testified that he never threatened or made any promises to Williams during the interrogation, and that Williams never asked for an attorney. During the course of the initial questioning, Williams admitted that he had been in the area and witnessed the shooting, but denied that he had shot the victim. The officers typed this initial statement, and both they and Williams signed the statement. After a short break, the police continued to interview Williams without re-reading him his Miranda rights. Williams ultimately confessed to the crime. His second statement was typed, and both Williams and Officer Passwater signed the statement. An Arizona police officer observed the questioning from an adjacent room and testified to essentially the same facts.

Williams told a different story. He testified that when he first spoke to Officer Passwater, he immediately requested an attorney but Officer Passwater told him he did not need counsel. Williams also testified the Officer Passwater put his hands on Williams's shoulders and pulled his shirt. Williams testified that he gave his first statement after an Arizona police officer grabbed him and said that he knew Williams was lying, and that no one would believe him because they were the police. Williams also testified that the officers called him a "mother fucker" and threatened to "kick his ass" two or three times during the course of the interrogation. Williams testified that he continued to ask for an attorney and ultimately confessed only because the officers continued to threaten him. Williams also denied signing either written statement or receiving Miranda warnings. He maintained that he remained handcuffed throughout the interview. The trial judge denied Williams's motion to suppress the confession.

A jury later convicted Williams of first-degree murder. At the sentencing hearing, Williams submitted a written statement to the court in which he maintained his innocence. In sentencing the defendant, the trial court stated: "[O]ne thing I have not heard or seen is any remorse. You certainly have the right to maintain your innocence.. But you have a factor that the Court can consider, the lack of remorse." The trial court sentenced Williams to a thirty-year term of imprisonment.


Direct appeal

Williams raised four claims on direct appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court: (1) the trial court improperly admitted testimony regarding the unrelated domestic battery charge; (2) the State failed to prove Williams guilty beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the trial court erred at sentencing when it considered Williams's lack of remorse as an aggravating factor; and (4) the truth-in-sentencing law was unconstitutional. The appellate court affirmed Williams' conviction and sentence.

Williams then filed a petition for leave to appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court, raising two claims: (1) Williams was denied his right to challenge his sentence when the appellate court refused to consider the unconstitutionality of the truth-in-sentencing law; and (2) the trial court erred in considering Williams's lack of remorse as an aggravating factor in determining an appropriate sentence when Williams maintained his innocence throughout the trial. The Supreme Court denied leave to appeal, but issued a supervisory order directing the appellate court to vacate its judgment on the first issue.

The Illinois Appellate Court reinstated its order but determined Williams was eligible to receive good conduct credit to which he was entitled before the ...

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