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Pippins v. Burt

September 25, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge


This matter is now before the Court on Petitioner, Johnny Pippins' ("Pippins") Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus. For the reasons set forth below, the Petition [#1] is DENIED.


This Habeas Corpus Petition raises a number of claims related to Pippins' future sentence imposed by the State of Illinois for his involvement in kidnaping, armed robbery, and murder, in the Circuit Court of Rock Island, Illinois. He will begin serving his Illinois sentence upon completion of his lengthy Iowa sentence, imposed for unrelated felonies. As such, the Illinois Attorney General, Lisa Madigan, has filed a response to the Petition in which Pippins' current custodian, the Warden of the Anamosa State Penitentiary in Anamosa, Iowa, has joined.

The story of Pippins' misdeeds began with a quest for drugs and money.*fn1 In the evening hours of August 1, 1996, Janeen McKenzie ("McKenzie") heard a knock on her door. When she opened the door, she was knocked to the ground, struck, and held down while a number of people searched her apartment. Not finding the sum of money and drugs they were looking for, they gagged McKenzie, forcibly placed her into a car and took her to the home of Jermaine Campbell ("Campbell"). The captors compelled McKenzie to knock on Campbell's door. When Campbell opened the door, McKenzie tried to signal him and Campbell slammed his door shut. McKenzie fled down the street, heard a gun shot, and contacted police. Campbell was not so fortunate; he was shot in the chest and died from that wound.

Pippins' involvement in these crimes was deduced from various sources and forensic evidence. Police lifted the fingerprints of William Pippins from McKenzie's apartment. William Pippins is Petitioner's brother. A witness described the getaway car, a candy apple red car with Illinois plates. Police also found spent shell casings, a Ruger P89 handgun, two bandannas (one of which contained DNA that did not belong to Campbell), and other items at Campbell's house. Two bullets recovered from Campbell's house and from Campbell were fired from the same .380 High Point gun.

The police interviewed William Pippins who, although initially denying involvement, admitted to his involvement and implicated Olden Antwan Butler ("Butler"). Subsequently, William Euring ("Euring") and Nakia Ivy ("Ivy") were arrested and admitted involvement. Petitioner also was interviewed and denied involvement, but admitted to purchasing the guns. William Pippins, Butler, Euring, and Ivy testified against Petitioner for reduced sentences and other consideration. Pippins' cousin, Tamika Simms and his girlfriend, Schamlain Gathright ("Gathright"), also testified against him.

The testimony at trial revealed that Pippins, his brother, Butler, Euring, and Ivy conspired to rob Campbell. On August 1, 1996, Pippins and Simms went to a gun store and purchased two Ruger handguns and two .380 High Point guns with ammunition. Simms also assisted Pippins in renting a car similar to the one described by witnesses. Pippins instructed Simms to report the guns missing a month after the purchase. Identical coveralls were also bought by four of the conspirators, including Pippins.

Pippins' co-conspirators testified that they left the rental car by Campbell's house and drove another car to McKenzie's apartment. Once there, they assaulted McKenzie and searched for drugs. Butler left the scene by himself with what he believed to be a bag of marijuana. Pippins took McKenzie to the car and drove to Campbell's house with William Pippins, Ivy, and Euring. Once there, they went to the rented car, acquired the weapons, and proceeded to Campbell's house. Pippins stood behind McKenzie when she knocked on Campbell's door. He shot Campbell and then fled the scene in the candy apple red rental car. Gathright, who was initially Pippins' alibi witness, testified that Petitioner did not join her until the morning of August 2, 1996. She further testified that she found guns, bandanas, latex gloves, and other items in her apartment on August 2, 1996. Gathright observed Pippins counting the bandanas and noting that one was missing. She also stated that Pippins told her that he was going to get $50,000 from Campbell and observed him throw guns in a river.

There were discrepancies in the testimony of the various co-conspirators. Euring testified that he didn't go to purchase the coveralls while the others stated he was there. Euring also testified that he didn't go into Campbell's house but rather waited by the car. Ivy denied carrying a gun while the others stated that he did. Butler, Euring, and Ivy testified that William Pippins was the ringleader -- a fact vehemently denied by William Pippins.

In addition, three convicts, Scotty Baltimore, Donald Tomsha, Jermaine Allen, who were housed with William Pippins at various penal institutions, testified that William Pippins made various statements that exonerated Petitioner. One indicated that William Pippins implicated Petitioner in order to save himself. Another stated that William Pippins told him that Petitioner had nothing to do with the murder and that he was with Gathright at the time. The third indicated that William Pippins admitted to setting his brother up and that he only intended to rob Campbell, not kill him.

The jury apparently did not believe these witnesses as Petitioner Johnny Pippins was found guilty of two counts of kidnaping and two counts of felony murder, one predicated on the kidnaping and the other predicated on the armed robbery. On February 11, 1999, he was sentenced to two concurrent terms of 22 years on the felony murder convictions and 4 years on the kidnaping to be served consecutively.

Pippins pursued an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, in which he raised essentially eight arguments: (1) his murder conviction had to be reversed because the state failed to prove the predicate offense of armed robbery beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the prosecutor erred by violating the advocate-witness rule during his cross-examination of defense witness Jermaine Allen ("Allen") and impeaching Allen with information that was not proven; (3) he was denied a fair trial when the prosecutor elicited prejudicial testimony regarding other crimes; (4) he was denied a fair trial by the prosecutor's closing argument; (5) one of his convictions for murder and his conviction for aggravated kidnaping must be reversed based on the one-act, one crime doctrine; (6) his consecutive sentences must be modified to run concurrently; (7) the statute that grants the court discretion to order his sentences to be served consecutively to his Iowa sentence is unconstitutional; and (8) the trial court erred in failing to award him credit toward his Illinois sentences for the time between his Illinois indictment and sentencing. On July 5, 2001, his conviction was affirmed in part, reversed in part, and vacated in part. All of Pippins convictions except for his conviction for felony murder predicated on aggravated kidnaping were vacated.

Pippins filed a Petition for Leave to Appeal ("PLA") to the Illinois Supreme Court, in which he argued that: (1) the Appellate Court erred in failing to reverse his felony murder conviction based on armed robbery; (2) he was deprived of his right to a fair trial based on prosecutorial misconduct; (3) the statute that grants the court discretion to sentence petitioner consecutively to his sentence in Iowa is unconstitutional; (4) he ...

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