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Webb v. Pierce

September 21, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable David H. Coar


Before this Court is the 28 U.S.C §2254 petition for the writ of habeas corpus filed by Ramon Webb ("Petitioner"). For the reasons stated below, this petition is DENIED. All other motions are MOOT and TERMINATED. This case is CLOSED.


Following a jury trial, in which the following evidence was presented, Petitioner was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to a prison term of 55 years.

Cameron Lee was shot to death on the evening of January 18, 1995, while he was walking with Patricia Calhoun ("Calhoun"). When police arrived, Calhoun gave them a description of the assailant's clothing, described a gray car that had sped away from the scene immediately after the killing, and quoted the victim as saying either "Longstreet" or "Loanshark" immediately before his death. Calhoun repeated these details to investigating officers the next morning, but at this point mentioned that the assailant was in fact the Petitioner, whom she had known previously and identified by the name "Mone." Calhoun later led police to Petitioner's home. Petitioner attempted to evade police by hiding in his home and then supplying several false names. Calhoun identified Petitioner as the assailant at a subsequent police lineup.

At trial, the prosecution presented the testimony of Chanita Fowler ("Fowler"), at the time the Petitioner's girlfriend. At the time of the shooting, the two were residing with Petitioner's family at 6740 South Paulina. Fowler testified that she spent part of the evening of the shooting with Defendant (current Petitioner) and others in the basement of that residence. At 10:30 p.m., Defendant left the apartment and Fowler fell asleep. She woke up when Defendant knocked on the door, sometime between midnight and 12:30 a.m. She did not see Defendant in possession of a gun at that time. She went back to sleep after he entered the apartment. She woke up again when her friend Renee knocked at the door. Renee was upset and said that a man named "Cameron" had been shot.

Fowler testified that she asked Defendant about the shooting the next day. Fowler asked the defendant who shot the victim and why the victim was shot. Initially, she testified that he answered her. She then immediately changed her answer, and stated that he did not respond to her query. The prosecutor then asked for leave to proceed as if on cross-examination. Defense counsel offered no specific objection, but stated that "this is the State's witness. They called her." The trial court then granted the request.

Subsequently, the prosecution elicited from Fowler that she had given several statements to police and prosecutors to the effect that, on the day following the shooting, Defendant said that he had shot the victim for stealing cocaine from him. Fowler also admitted to testifying before the grand jury that Defendant had confessed to the murder on the day after the killing. In addition, Fowler admitted to making similar statements to the prosecutor immediately before trial, as well as describing the confession in a signed, written statement on February 9, 1995. Fowler testified that her appearance on the witness stand was the first time she had hesitated in recounting Defendant's confession. She further stated that she had never before told the prosecutor that Defendant did not answer her question about the victim's murder, or that her statements recounting the confession were not the truth. The assistant state's attorney who presented Fowler to the grand jury also testified, stating that he never threatened Fowler or told her what to say before the grand jury.

Petitioner did not present any evidence zat trial. The court's instructions to the jury included Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal No. 3.11 (3d ed. 1992) ("I.P.I. Criminal 3.11") regarding the use of prior inconsistent statements. Those instructions state in their entirety:

The believability of a witness may be challenged by evidence that on some former occasion he [(made a statement) (acted in a manner)] that was not consistent with his testimony in this case. Evidence of this kind [ordinarily] may be considered by you only for the limited purpose of deciding the weight to be given the testimony you heard from the witness in this courtroom. [However, you may consider a witness's earlier inconsistent statement as evidence without this limitation when [1] the statement was made under oath at a [(trial) (hearing) (proceeding)]. [or] [2] the statement narrates, describes, or explains an event or condition the witness had personal knowledge of and [a] the statement was written or signed by the witness. [or] [b] the witness acknowledged under oath that he made the statement. [or] [c] the statement was accurately recorded by a tape recorder, videotape, recording, or a similar electronic means of sound recording.] It is for you to determine [whether the witness made the earlier statement, and, if so] what weight should be given to that statement. In determining the weight to be given to an earlier statement, you should consider all of the circumstances under which it was made.

I.P.I. Criminal 3.11. Before the instructions were read, defense counsel requested that the second paragraph of this pattern language be struck because the personal knowledge exception did not apply. The request was denied. The jury found Petitioner guilty of first-degree murder.

During sentencing, the prosecution presented victim impact statements as aggravating factors, while Petitioner tried to mitigate by denying that he distributed cocaine,*fn2 expressing his condolences to the family, and generally maintaining his innocence. In determining Petitioner's sentence, the trial court considered, among other things, the pre-sentence investigation report, victim impact statements, statements by counsel, Petitioner's statements, facts and circumstances of the case, and Petitioner's background including his lack of a criminal history. According to the court, the final sentence of 55 years imprisonment was intended to deter not only the Petitioner, but other individuals as well.

On his appeal to the Appellate Court of Illinois, First Judicial District, Petitioner's claims included: (1) insufficiency of the evidence; (2) abuse of court discretion through admission of Fowler's prior statements and denial of fair trial through prosecution's use of these statements; (3) improper bolstering of Calhoun as a witness; (4) denial of fair trial through improper closing arguments; (5) denial of fair trial through use of evidence of other crimes; and (6) abuse of discretion based on the severity of the sentence. An opinion written by Judge Joseph Urso conceded that Fowler's prior statements should not have been admitted, but nonetheless found their content cumulative and deemed the error harmless. All other claims for relief were denied outright.

Petitioner then requested a rehearing, stating that, among other claims, Fowler's statements were not cumulative. This request was denied. Petitioner next requested leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Illinois based in part on the allegedly improper admission and repetition of Fowler's statements. The Supreme Court denied this petition but demanded that the Appellate Court resolve other "outstanding issues." Petitioner also filed a pro se post-conviction petition for relief under 725 ILL. COMP. STAT. 5/122-1 (1992), claiming that his constitutional rights were denied by: (1) police errors in failing to disclose ...

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