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Wells v. Bartley

May 16, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge


Petitioner Johnny Wells ("Wells") has brought a petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for a writ of habeas corpus. In 2001, a jury convicted Wells of the attempted first-degree murder of Belinda Smith ("Smith") and the aggravated battery of Gary Harris ("Harris"), and Wells received concurrent 30-year and five-year prison terms. Wells is currently in the custody of the State of Illinois Department of Corrections, and is incarcerated at the Pickneyville Correctional Center where respondent Ken Bartley is the warden. For the following reasons, I deny the petition.


A. Evidence Presented at Trial

The facts relevant to Wells' claims are as follows:*fn1 in 2001, a Cook County jury convicted Wells of attempted first-degree murder for the stabbing of Smith and aggravated battery for the stabbing of Harris. At trial, Smith testified that she had been romantically involved with Wells and had lived with him from 1991 to 1999. After their relationship ended, she became involved with Harris. She and Harris subsequently lived near Wells' residence. Smith testified that on June 3, 1999, she was walking down the street with Harris when Wells attacked her, cutting her face with a knife and threatening to kill her if he saw her with Harris again. Smith testified that a few days later, on June 8, 1999, Wells approached her in the backyard of the home where she lived with Harris and again threatened to kill her. Smith notified the police of both of these incidents and obtained an order of protection against Wells.*fn2

Smith also testified about events that occurred on June 22, 1999. That morning, Harris walked her to a bus stop near their home so that she could catch the bus to go to job training. Smith boarded the bus and moved to the rear as the bus pulled away from the curb. At this time, she saw Wells run toward the bus. The bus stopped and Wells boarded the front of the bus. Smith ran to the back of the bus and asked the driver to open the back door; the driver complied and Smith exited the bus and ran back down the street to where Harris was standing. Wells followed her off the bus and down the street. Smith testified that when she ran back to Harris, Harris tried to use his body to block Wells from reaching her, and Wells then stabbed Harris in the shoulder with a knife. Smith kept running, but Wells caught up with her and hit her in the chest. She fell to the ground, and Wells came around "to the back" of her and stabbed her twice in the back. She testified that he then said, "Bitch, I told you I was going to kill you." Smith said that a car then turned the corner and chased away Wells. Smith described her injuries and the prosecution introduced a photograph showing Smith had scars on her back from stab wounds.

On cross-examination of Smith, Wells' attorney elicited from Smith that when she saw Wells running to catch the bus, he looked "scary." Wells' attorney also questioned aspects of Smith's testimony, including whether Smith actually saw Wells with a knife, what Smith saw of Wells stabbing Harris, and Smith's testimony that Harris did not move toward Smith when she left the bus and ran toward him. Finally, Wells' attorney elicited that Smith had a child with Wells who lived with Wells' brother.

Harris also testified at the trial that on June 3, 1999, he was walking down the street with Smith when Wells ran toward them, pulled out a knife, and attacked Smith. Harris testified that during that attack he put himself between Wells and Smith, and that he then had to defend himself because Wells turned and "made motions with the knife in order to stab" him. Harris testified that he knocked the knife out of Wells' hand but then slipped and fell, allowing Wells to pick up the knife and cut Smith across the cheek. Harris also testified that on June 8, 1999, he was sitting in the back yard of his house with Smith when Wells "came to the fence and pointed his finger at [them] and went pow, pow, pow" and stated that he would kill Smith.

Harris testified that on June 22, 1999, he walked Smith to the bus and then stood on the street talking to someone else when it was brought to his attention that Wells was running down the street trying to catch the bus. Harris saw Wells board the bus, and then saw Smith exit the bus and run toward him with Wells following behind. Harris testified that Smith ran around him, and that Wells ran right behind her with a knife in his hand, attempting to stab her. Harris said that he put his body between Wells and Smith and tried to protect Smith, but that Wells stabbed him in the shoulder and then attacked Smith. Harris saw Wells hit Smith in the chest and, after Smith fell down, "make stabbing motions at her back, and just basically all over, whatever he could get to" while Smith was on the ground. At this time, Harris testified that Wells said, "I told you I was going to kill you, bitch." Harris testified that a car then turned the corner and Wells ran away.

On cross-examination, Wells' attorney elicited that at the time of the trial Harris was still romantically involved with Smith, but was not living with her. Harris admitted that he was convicted in 1994 and again in 1998 of the delivery of a controlled substance, in both cases cocaine or crack cocaine. He further testified that at the time Wells stabbed him in the shoulder, he did not touch Wells or try to push him away.

Vivica Griffin ("Griffin"), a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority, also testified during the trial. She stated that on the morning of June 22, she was driving the bus that Smith and Wells boarded. She stopped to pick up Smith and drove through an intersection when another man, identified in court by Griffin as Wells, ran down the street waving at the bus. She assumed that he was trying to catch the bus and stopped and opened the bus doors. At that point, Smith went to the back doors of the bus and "was screaming let her off the bus." Griffin testified that as Wells was climbing the bus's stairs, Smith left the bus, and that when Wells saw her exiting the bus he "backed back down the stairs and proceeded to chase her." Griffin closed the doors and resumed her route.

Willie Cole ("Cole") also testified for the prosecution. He testified that he knew both Harris and Smith from the neighborhood, and that Harris occasionally worked for him. Cole testified that he knew Wells from the neighborhood as well, and had purchased items from him. Cole testified that on the morning of June 22, he was sitting in his parked car when Harris and Smith approached and asked him to drive them to the train station. He was not able to do so, but waited with Smith and Harris for the bus. He was standing outside his car with Harris when he saw Wells come around the corner, flag down the bus, and board it. Smith then exited the back of the bus and ran back over to Cole's car. Wells followed her, and Harris grabbed him and "said it's not going to be none of that stuff." At this point Wells turned around and stabbed Harris. Harris testified that Wells then turned around, hit Smith, knocked her down, went around behind her and hit her in the back, and leaned over her and stabbed her. Cole called 911, and asked Wells to stop. A man then drove by and chased away Wells.

On cross-examination, Wells' attorneys led Cole to admit that on the day of the incident he told detectives that he saw Wells follow Smith out of the same doors of the bus that she had exited, even though he was not sure of that fact. Cole also admitted that he saw Harris grab Wells before Wells stabbed Harris.

In addition, the parties agreed to two stipulations. They stipulated that if an "Officer Forst" (who the parties do not identify more fully) were to testify, he would testify that he was working in police headquarters when Wells came in and said that the police were looking for him for a stabbing. "Officer Forst" would testify that he arrested Wells. The parties also stipulated that if Detective R. McVicker (who the parties also do not more fully identify) were called to testify, he would testify that he interviewed Cole and that during the interview Cole never told him that he saw Wells hit Smith.

Wells' counsel requested a self-defense instruction, at least for the attack on Harris, but the court refused to give it, finding there was no evidence that would justify such an instruction. After deliberations, the jury found Wells not guilty of the attempted first-degree murder of Harris, but guilty of aggravated battery of Harris, aggravated battery of Smith, and the attempted first-degree murder of Smith.

B. Wells' Difficulties with Counsel

Several of Wells' claims relate to the performance of his trial counsel and his relationship with trial counsel. Wells' first attorney, a public defender, hired a forensic psychologist to examine Wells, but the psychologist's schedule prevented him from preparing his report as quickly as Wells would have liked. Prior to his trial, Wells filed a complaint with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission ("ARDC") about his first attorney's performance. At a court hearing on April 7, 2000, Wells told the court that he was not ready to make a final decision whether to have that attorney continue to represent him, but that he wanted the attorney to "go ahead with his plans to help me consult a psychiatrist."

At a pre-trial hearing on May 16, 2000, as Wells' counsel requested an extension of time for the psychologist to examine Wells, Wells stated that he did not want the public defender's office to represent him because it had taken too long to prepare his defense, and because Wells believed that his counsel was not working in his best interest. At the hearing, the court advised Wells that he could hire his own lawyer if he chose, but that any lawyer appointed for him would be a public defender. The court also strongly advised Wells not to represent himself, despite Wells' request to exercise his right to do so and to seek a speedy trial. The court advised Wells that if he represented himself he would not have access to the psychologist that the public defender had hired and that "everything you're going to do on your own." The court questioned Wells on the rules of the court and legal issues related to his case. The court continued the proceedings until the following day. During the continuation of the proceedings a new public defender was present. Wells apologized to the court and asked if the new public defender could represent him. The court agreed since, at a subsequent proceeding on May 24, 2000, the public defender's office consented to the change.

During Wells' trial, after Smith and Harris' testimony, Wells stood up and stated, "[T]hey have proof they perjured themselves." The court excused the jury, and Wells' counsel then notified the court that Wells wanted to proceed pro se. The court denied the motion because Wells had already discharged and rehired his attorney. Wells again stated, "[T]hey have evidence they won't get into evidence." After a short recess, Wells apologized to the court for his outburst and withdrew his request to appear pro se. The court questioned Wells further, asking him if he wanted to continue with his current lawyers, and Wells said, "You had just told me it was too late, sir. Some things I just don't understand about this law, that's all to it." Wells then again reversed course, stating that he did not want to continue with his present counsel. He stated that the witnesses who had just testified had perjured themselves and that "[t]he lawyers got statements saying everything the people said out of their mouth is a lie." After the court spoke with him further, Wells stated that he wanted to move for a mistrial until he could hire his own counsel. The court responded that it was too late to change counsel, and that Wells should work out an understanding with his current attorneys. The court also stated, "If the lawyers told you police reports can't be read into evidence, they probably told you the right thing. It's in violation of the rules." The court also told Wells that if the police reports could be used to impeach the witnesses, his attorneys would have discussed it with him.

At this point, Wells stated that "at this time I will just take a seat." When the court asked if he was ready to proceed, Wells stated "I don't -- I don't know what I'm going to do at this point. I'm not trying to be disrespectful. I just don't know what to do." The court stated that if Wells did not tell him otherwise, the case would proceed and Wells would be represented by his current counsel, and Wells said that he understood. The court then proceeded with the case.

After the prosecution had finished its case-in-chief, the court asked Wells if he was communicating with his attorneys, and the court gave him a brief continuance to decide how he wanted to proceed with his defense. At the continuation of the trial, Wells declined to testify on his own behalf and at this time did not ask for new counsel or to represent himself.

At Wells' sentencing, after both attorneys had presented argument about the appropriate sentence, the court gave Wells the opportunity to speak. Wells stated that he had some things he wanted to say "just to have them on record." Wells then read some previous statements that Harris (referred to in the transcript as "Harrison") had given that differed from his trial testimony, including that Wells stabbed Smith before he stabbed Harris. Wells told the court that the witnesses had perjured themselves and that his counsel, "I ...

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