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United States ex rel McLaurin v. McCann

November 15, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on Petitioner Charles McLaurin's Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus. For the following reasons, the petition is denied.


On August 16, 1992, Sauk Village firefighters discovered the body of Jarrell Edwards in a room on the second floor of his house. A piece of cloth was wrapped around Jarrell's head. The house had burned from a fire intentionally started with gasoline. The firefighters noticed surgical gloves at the top of the stairs, and a pattern of flammable liquid spread out on the floor leading from the room where Jarrell was found down the hallway. The burn patterns and charring in the house indicated that flammable liquid had been poured on Jarrell and then into the upstairs hallway. The fire was initially ignited in the hallway and then spread to the room where Jarrell was found.

Medical testimony at the trial explained that prior to the fire, Jarrell had five wounds, made with a sharp instrument, on his chest, abdomen, neck, cheek, and chin.

Evidence indicated that Jarrell was alive when the fire started. Jarrell's body was severely burned and the most likely cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning as a result of smoke inhalation.

Several items were stolen from Jarrell's home before the fire: two VCRs, two 13-inch television sets, some jewelry, a 12-gauge shotgun, Jarrell's clothing and gym shoes, and his mother's 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity automobile.

At trial, McLaurin's sister, Carla, testified that on the morning of August 16 or 17, she discovered two 13-inch televisions and two VCRs on her enclosed back porch. Later that day, the televisions and VCRs had disappeared from her porch.

Donna Bankston, a Sauk Village police officer, saw McLaurin driving the stolen Chevrolet. According to Bankston's trial testimony, while on patrol and stopped at a red light, she noticed a Chevrolet, also stopped at the light. Shortly thereafter, she heard a radio dispatch from the Sauk Village police department to the effect that they were looking for a blue, two-door Chevy Celebrity with a male black driver. Bankston's account was contradicted in some respects by Chief Cranston, who recalled that when he arrived to secure the car in response to Bankston's report, Bankston told him that she had noticed the Chevy because it had been traveling at a high rate of speed. She attempted to stop the car, but did not pursue it.

Four months later, on January 13, 1993, Delshea Ingram, McLaurin's girlfriend or wife, walked into a police station in Minneapolis after an argument with McLaurin and told the police officers about the August 16 murder in Sauk Village. During McLaurin's trial, Ingram admitted to telling the Minneapolis police and the Cook County grand jury different versions of how Jarrell was murdered in an effort to protect herself and conceal her involvement. The State's Attorney's office charged Ingram with first degree murder in the death of Jarrell Edwards. Ingram also testified that she had entered into an agreement with the State's Attorney's office for her truthful testimony concerning what happened on the night of Jarrell's murder in exchange for her plea of guilty and a twenty-year term of imprisonment. Ingram was examined concerning her plea agreement and her prior inconsistent statements. Further, an Assistant State's Attorney testified that Ingram had told him, before testifying to the grand jury, that she had left the house before she heard Jarrell scream.

Ingram testified at trial that she first met McLaurin in June of 1992 and married him on July 16, 1992. She met Jarrell Edwards the day before he died. Jarrell had flirted with Ingram, talking for about 15 minutes, and then invited her to a party he was planning to have while his parents were out of town. At 9 p.m. that evening, she told McLaurin's sister, Carolyn, that she was leaving to go to the store to buy cigarettes but went instead to Jarrell's house. She chatted with him for about a half an hour and then returned to Carolyn's house.

Later that night, a man whom Ingram did not know and whose identity she never learned, came to visit McLaurin at the house. The three of them discussed robbing Jarrell's house in order to obtain money so she and McLaurin could move out of Carolyn's house. The three planned that she would go to Jarrell's house and leave the door unlocked. She rang Jarrell's doorbell after midnight, and she and Jarrell went to his bedroom and talked for about 15 minutes. She asked to use the bathroom, and because she was "stalling for time" stayed in the bathroom for about 5 minutes. When she emerged from the bathroom, she saw the light go out in Jarrell's bedroom and the basement. She heard McLaurin's voice from the bedroom, telling her to leave the house. However, McLaurin's friend grabbed her, led her to the bedroom, and put the light on, at which time she saw Jarrell sitting on a wooden chair, unclothed, with his hands tied around his back and a scarf tied around his mouth. Ingram testified that McLaurin walked in front of Jarrell and asked him whether he would call police if McLaurin let him go. When Jarrell responded yes, McLaurin cut him on the chest with a straight razor several times. McLaurin removed the fabric tied around Jarrell's mouth and asked if Jarrell had any last words. According to Ingram, Jarrell pleaded for his life. McLaurin replaced the fabric and doused him with gasoline. McLaurin took a match from his pocket, and set Jarrell on fire. Ingram noticed that he had been wearing surgical gloves. Ingram then ran out of the house, and returned to Carolyn's without calling the police, an ambulance, or anyone. Ingram next saw McLaurin around 10 or 11 in the morning, sleeping on a couch in the front room of Carolyn's house. McLaurin told her that if anyone ever found out what happened to Jarrell, he would kill her, her three children, and her mother. Ingram further testified that two weeks later, she and McLaurin moved to Minneapolis and began using aliases.

McLaurin's witnesses told a different story. His sister, Carolyn, testified that on August 16, she was at home with others, including McLaurin and Ingram, drinking and watching movies. No one left the house that night with the exception of Ingram.

McLaurin testified on his own behalf, denying having left Carolyn's house on the evening of August 16. Further, he explained that he took a new name in Minnesota because there were some people there whom he knew from Chicago, and he did not want to be around them anymore. He thought that if they bothered him, he would just tell them that they had gotten him confused with someone else.

Following a 1996 jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, McLaurin was convicted of first degree murder, felony murder, home invasion, aggravated arson, residential burglary, and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. McLaurin represented himself during the guilt phase of the trial but requested that counsel be appointed for the sentencing phase. After waiving his right to a jury for the sentencing phase and the completion of a bench trial, McLaurin was sentenced to death for first degree murder and given concurrent sentences of 60 years in prison for home invasion, 30 years for aggravated arson, 15 years for residential burglary, and 7 years for possession of a stolen motor vehicle. He appealed his conviction; and ultimately, the Illinois Supreme Court, on September 24, 1998, affirmed his convictions on all counts with the exception of the residential burglary count and the aggravated arson count, which the Court held were lesser included offenses of home invasion and first degree murder, respectively. In 2003, McLaurin's sentence of death was commuted to life imprisonment by the then-governor of Illinois, George Ryan.

McLaurin filed a petition for post-conviction review in the Illinois Circuit Court on May 28, 1997, before he had exhausted his avenues of direct review, and counsel was appointed. The record is not clear as to why McLaurin's petition remained "pending" from 1997 to 2003, but it appears the case was not dismissed; on April 11, 2003, counsel filed a second amended petition for post-conviction review in the Illinois Circuit Court. The Circuit Court dismissed McLaurin's petition, and McLaurin appealed. On December 14, 2005, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of his petition, and on March 29, 2006, the Illinois Supreme Court denied McLaurin's petition for leave to appeal. McLaurin mailed the instant petition for writ of habeas corpus to this court on March 24, 2007. The matter is now fully briefed and we are in possession of the record.


District courts are empowered by 28 U.S.C. § 2254 to entertain writs of habeas corpus on behalf of state prisoners on the ground that they are imprisoned in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States. Review by federal courts is appropriate only when a prisoner has exhausted his challenges to his conviction in the state courts. § 2254(b)(1)(A).

The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") as codified in 28 U.S.C. § 2254, defines the scope of federal court review of state convictions, limiting such review to claims not adjudicated on the merits in state court unless the state court's adjudication: (1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding. § 2254(d); e.g. Guest v. McCann, 474 F.3d 926, 931 (7th Cir. 2006) (noting the deference to state court decisions required by AEDPA). A decision is considered "contrary to...clearly established Federal law" if "the state court either 'applies a rule that contradicts the governing law' set forth by the Supreme Court or decides a case differently than the Supreme Court has on materially indistinguishable facts." McDowell v. Kingston, 497 F.3d 757,759 (7th Cir. 2007) citing Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 405 (2000). A state has not unreasonably applied Federal law unless the application is more than incorrect and instead lies "well outside the boundaries of permissible differences of ...

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