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United States ex rel Klimawicze v. Sigler

April 15, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge


In 2000, an Illinois jury convicted Audrey A. Klimawicze ("Klimawicze") on charges of first degree murder, armed robbery, and home invasion. The trial judge sentenced Klimawicze to ninety-two years imprisonment on the murder charge and concurrent thirty-year terms on the armed robbery and home invasion charges. Klimawicze has petitioned the Court for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. She alleges that her Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against her was violated by the introduction of statements made by her co-defendant, Hector Mercado, while both she and Mercado were in police custody. For the following reasons, the Court denies Klimawicze's petition.


On August 2, 1997, Chicago police found the partially burned body of Klimawicze's mother, Audrey V. Klimawicze ("Mrs. Klimawicze"), in a garbage container located in an alley near her home on the south side of Chicago. Mrs. Klimawicze had been stabbed and strangled. Later the same day, the police arrested Klimawicze and Mercado.

Klimawicze and Mercado were tried simultaneously, before separate juries.

Klimawicze's sole claim in her habeas corpus petition concerns what she contends was the improper admission of statements made by Mercado to the police while both she and Mercado were in custody.

The Court takes the following description of Klimawicze's interrogation by the police from the Illinois Appellate Court's decision affirming her conviction:

The Chicago police found the partially burned body of Audrey V. Klimawicze on August 2, 1997, in a garbage container located in the alley of the 3300 block of South Emerald Avenue. The victim had been stabbed and strangled. At 7:05 that evening, the police arrested defendant, who was the victim's daughter, and co-defendant Hector Mercado.

Police questioned both defendant and co-defendant Mercado at 9:30 p.m. on August 2, 1997, and they denied any knowledge of the crime. At 10 p.m., an eyewitness identified Mercado in a lineup as the man she saw pushing the garbage cart down the alley the previous evening. At 12:30 a.m. on August 3, 1997, police told Mercado he had been identified in the lineup. Mercado told police that defendant told him she had a fight with her mother and that she had stabbed her. Defendant and a man named Mario placed the victim in a garbage can behind her apartment building. Mercado admitted he later moved the can further down the alley.

At 4 a.m. on August 3, 1997, taxi driver Joe Martinez told police he drove defendant and Mercado on August 2, 1997. [Martinez said that] [d]efendant told [him] she had an argument with her mother and had stabbed her. According to Martinez, defendant said, "The bitch deserved it," and Mercado replied, "You're right. She deserved it. They can't prove a thing."

At 4:30 a.m., police advised defendant of her Miranda rights and confronted her with Mercado's and Martinez's statements. She told police she had an argument with her mother and that her mother pulled a knife on her. Defendant was able to take the knife away. When she told Mercado what happened, he took the knife, went to the victim's apartment, and stabbed her. According to defendant, Mercado placed her mother's body in the garbage container. Defendant gave the same version of the story when interviewed by police three hours later.

At 8:30 a.m., Mercado repeated his 12:30 a.m. statement. The police again confronted defendant with Mercado's and Martinez's statements. She gave the same statement as earlier and agreed to repeat her statement to Mercado.

After listening to defendant, Mercado told police defendant had talked about killing her mother for three weeks. At 10:30 p.m. on July 31, 1997, defendant asked Mercado to accompany her to her mother's apartment so they could kill her. Mercado told police he refused but went down to the second floor apartment when he heard a loud noise. He saw defendant stab her mother with a large knife several times. Over the next 20 hours, he used money defendant found in the victim's apartment to buy heroin. On August 1, 1997, he placed the victim in the garbage container and later pushed it down the alley.

Police then confronted defendant with Mercado's latest statement. Defendant repeated her earlier statements. At 4 p.m. defendant initiated a conversation with police. She reiterated her earlier statement but added Mercado did not return to their apartment on the night of August 1, 1997. On the morning of August 2, 1997, Mercado told defendant he had burned the garbage cart and police were investigating.

At 7:30 p.m. on August 3, 1997, defendant, after being informed of her rights, gave the same statement to assistant State's Attorney Thomas Bilyk.

An hour later, Mercado gave Bilyk a different story. He said defendant told him she was going "to do" her mother. Defendant returned because her mother would not let her enter the apartment. Defendant then took a long black cord and Mercado took a hunting knife to the victim's apartment. Defendant kicked her mother and forced her way into the apartment. Mercado followed. Defendant then strangled the victim with the cord and instructed Mercado to stab her. He stabbed the victim three times while defendant continued to choke her. After taking money from the victim's apartment, they went to the projects to buy heroin and dispose of their weapons. The next day, Mercado placed the victim and a carpet into a garbage container from the alley. Later, they moved the container to the alley and set it on fire. He also said defendant told the cabdriver named Joe that she killed her mother.

At 9:15 p.m., defendant was confronted with Mercado's 8:30 p.m. statement.

She expressed disbelief that Mercado made the statement; the police brought him into defendant's interview room. He told defendant, "I told them the truth."

Police escorted him from the room, and Bilyk informed defendant of her rights.

She agreed to give a handwritten statement, which was later admitted at trial.

People v. Klimawicze, 352 Ill. App. 3d 13, 16-18, 815 N.E.2d 760, 765-67 (2004) ("Klimawicze II").

At trial, the prosecution introduced Klimawicze's written statement. The Court takes the following summary of the statement from the appellate court's initial decision in her appeal:*fn1

In the statement, defendant said she had trouble in her relationship with her mother about 60 percent of the time. On the night of July 31, 1997, defendant was upset and felt like killing her mother. She told Mercado she wanted to "choke the shit out of her." Mercado handed her a cord and told her to "do it the right way." She put a cord in her pocket, and Mercado put a knife in his pocket. They went downstairs to her mother's apartment. Defendant knocked on the door and convinced her mother to allow them inside. They entered, and Mercado closed and locked the door. Defendant came up behind her mother and pulled the cord tight around her mother's neck. Mercado stabbed the victim. When defendant released the cord, the victim fell to the floor. Defendant took money from a dresser drawer and left. The next day, she returned to the apartment and took more money. Defendant and Mercado then put the body in a garbage can and carried it down the back stairs. The next day he told defendant he had burned the can with lighter fluid. That day, defendants took a cab to a building, where they bought drugs. Defendant told the cab driver she had stabbed her mother and said she would be in real trouble if she did not finish what she started.

People v. Klimawicze, No. 1-00-3531, slip op. at 6-7 (Ill. App. Mar. 12, 2003) ("Klimawicze I").

The prosecution introduced other evidence in addition to Klimawicze's confession. Joe Martinez, a cab driver who had driven Klimawicze and Mercado shortly after the murder, testified that Klimawicze told him she had killed her mother. Dr. Joseph Cogan, an assistant medical examiner, testified that the victim died as a result of strangulation and six stab wounds. Based on Dr. Cogan's testimony, the prosecution argued that the murder had to have been committed by at least two people.

Klimawicze's defense was consistent with her initial statements to the police, in which she had denied killing her mother. Klimawicze testified in her own defense and stated that she had caught Mercado killing her mother and that he threatened to harm her and her child if she did not keep quiet. She testified that the handwritten confession she had signed was drafted by the assistant state's attorney present during the questioning and that it was false; she claimed she had signed it as a result of fatigue, isolation, confinement, and relentless police tactics.

Two witnesses for the prosecution, a police detective and a prosecutor, testified regarding the events leading up to Klimawicze's signing of the confession. They testified that Klimawicze changed her story and agreed to provide a written confession only after Mercado told her that he had told police the "whole story." Specifically, detective Joseph Danzl, one of the police officers who investigated the crime, testified as follows:

Q: Can you tell me after you heard the knocking [at the door] what you did?

A: I went to the door to see what she wanted.

Q: What happened then?

A: She told me she wanted to tell me the whole story.

Q: Did you then speak to her again?

A: Yes, I did. . . .

Q: What did she say to you and what did you say to her?

A: She told me basically the same story that she told at 7:30 in the morning, and then she also said that she went to bed around midnight on the night of the 1st of August, and she went to bed alone, and that Hector woke her up at about 6:15 in the morning, and this would be August 2 -- Saturday, August 2, and Hector told her that he had burned the garbage cart, and the police were in the alley. . . .

Q: And did that conversation end at that point?

A: Yes.

Q: Did you ever have another conversation with Audrey Klimawicze?

A: Yes, I did.

Q: About what time is this ...

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