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Morales v. Uchtman

March 29, 2007

JESUS FIDEL MORALES, PETITIONER,
v.
ALAN UCHTMAN, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Jesus Fidel Morales ("Morales" or "Petitioner") was convicted of murder for the January 16, 1995 shooting death of Kedric Bell ("Bell") in Chicago, Illinois. Before this Court is Morales's petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Morales's habeas petition states the following five claims: (1) that Morales was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel when the trial court failed to inquire adequately into his counsel's potential conflict of interest; (2) that Morales was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel because his counsel operated under an actual conflict of interest that adversely affected his performance; (3) that Morales was denied his Fifth Amendment rights when the trial court denied a motion to suppress his confession, which was rendered involuntary by sleep deprivation, inadequate nutrition, improper treatment of Morales's diabetes, and Morales's limited command of the English language; (4) that Morales was denied his Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when the trial court improperly restricted cross-examination of certain witnesses; and (5) that Morales was denied his Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights when the trial court improperly restricted voir dire of potential jurors. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.

STATEMENT OF FACTS*fn1

The Murder

During 1994, Morales distributed cocaine in Chicago and other cities in the Midwest. Jorge Hernandez ("Hernandez") was Morales's superior in the drug distribution organization. Hernandez obtained cocaine from Columbia and then supplied it to Morales.

In early 2005, Morales owed Hernandez approximately $200,000 for drugs previously supplied and was unable to pay the debt. Hernandez threatened Morales and sent a "courier" to Chicago to collect from Morales. Morales was able to negotiate an extension of time to pay the debt and the courier left.

Morales and an associate, Alexis Paredero ("Paredero"), then began planning to kill Hernandez's next courier. Morales planned to make it look as though he had paid the courier but that the courier had later become the victim of a random robbery by gang members. Paredero paid a gang member, Malcolm Ortiz ("Ortiz"), $10,000 for his agreement to commit the murder.

In January of 1995, Hernandez sent Bell to Chicago to collect from Morales. On January 15, 1995, Paredero set up a meeting between Morales and Ortiz, during which they agreed on the details of the killing. Later that evening, Paredero picked up Bell, who had been advised that he would receive payment for Morales's debt. Instead, Paredero took Bell to the site of the murder, where Ortiz and an associate -- posing as police officers -- shot him to death.

The Trial

Morales's attorney, Michael Blacker ("Blacker") of Miami, defended Morales at trial while simultaneously representing Hernandez in connection with federal drug charges in Florida. During a pretrial hearing on Morales's motion to suppress, Assistant State's Attorney David Kelley ("Kelley") advised the court that Blacker was also representing Hernandez, who was a potential witness for the State. While Blacker remained silent, Kelley explained the potential conflict of interest to the trial court as follows:

Judge, the other matter is something I want to put on the record. I have talked to Mr. Blacker about this earlier, and basically it involves Mr. Blacker's representation of a person by the name of George [sic] Hernandez.

So this Court is aware of this situation, Mr. Hernandez is someone who is somewhat related to this case, who could potentially be a witness for the State in its case in chief, and even more likely perhaps in aggravation if this case would proceed to a jury or your honor for a death penalty sentencing.

Mr. Hernandez, it's my understanding after talking to federal authorities in Miami, he's currently in custody under federal drug charges, will shortly possibly, it's not firmly cemented, but very likely will enter a plea to federal charges that would involve his agreement to cooperate with federal authorities, and after having talked with federal authorities myself and possibly testifying in several matters.

Mr. Blacker represents Mr. Hernandez in front of the federal government down in Miami, and I wanted to put on the record so Mr. Morales knows that Mr. Blacker, and I believe he already does, represents Mr. Hernandez and that there would be a possibility of a potential at least for conflict if the State does at some point attempt to call Mr. Hernandez regarding matters against Mr. Morales's interest.

So, therefore, I wanted to put the Court on notice and put Mr. Morales on notice in open court so that he knows what our motion is and then basically find out if he still wants Mr. Blacker to represent him, understanding what the possible conflict is. And if he does and it's his desire to have Mr. Blacker represent him, then that's fine, but I just wanted to put that on the record. (Brief of Plaintiff-Appellee, People of the State of Illinois, No. 99-0033, on file as Exh. D to Respondent's Answer to the Petition) (citing Supp. R. June 23, 1997, at 13-14).

After Kelley apprised the court of the potential conflict of interest stemming from Blacker's simultaneous representation of Morales and Hernandez, the court engaged Morales in the following three-question colloquy:

THE COURT: Mr. Morales, do you understand what the assistant [S]tate's attorney has just stated?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes.

THE COURT: Knowing of the possible conflict in regard to your attorney representing Mr. Hernandez, do you understand that?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Sir.

THE COURT: Knowing that, do you still wish for your attorney, Mr. Blacker, to represent you in this matter?

THE DEFENDANT: Yes, Sir.

THE COURT: Call your first witness.

People v. Morales, 329 Ill. App. 3d 97, 109 (Ill. App. Ct. 2002) (on file as Exh. B to Respondent's Answer to the Petition); (Brief for Defendant-Appellant in People v. Morales, No. 1-99-0033, on file ...


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