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Ellison v. Walls

June 13, 2008

LORENZO ELLISON, PETITIONER,
v.
JONATHAN R. WALLS, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Joan B. Gottschall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Petitioner Lorenzo Ellison ("Ellison") has filed a petition for habeas corpus relief, alleging that : (1) he was denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution; (2) the state did not meet its burden of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because the state did not prove his intent to cause death or serious bodily harm to the victim; (3) the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed autopsy photographs to be shown to the jury; (4) the trial judge failed to change venue sua sponte in response to the publicity surrounding the case; (5) the trial court abused its discretion by allowing certain allegedly inflammatory statements made by the prosecution in its closing argument, despite objections by the defense; and (6) the trial court abused its discretion by considering his claim of innocence to be an aggravating factor in sentencing. For the reasons set forth below, Ellison's petition for habeas corpus relief is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

Ellison was convicted, following a jury trial, of the first degree murder of Quincy King ("King"), a four month old infant. At trial, the state argued that King's death was the result of "shaken baby syndrome" and that it was Ellison who shook the baby to death. Ellison argued that he was in fact playing with the child too roughly, and that this caused the infant's death. The jury rejected Ellison's explanation, and he was sentenced to 60 years imprisonment.

Ellison appealed his conviction and sentence to the Illinois Appellate Court, arguing that: (1) his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to obtain an expert witness to testify on whether King's death was actually the result of shaken baby syndrome; (2) the state did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he had the requisite mental state to commit murder; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion when it considered his protestations of innocence as an aggravating factor in sentencing. The Illinois Appellate Court, Second Judicial District, affirmed Ellison's conviction and sentence. People v. Ellison, No. 2-93-1089 (Ill. App. Ct. 1995).

Ellison then filed a pro se post-conviction petition, alleging: (1) that the trial court abused its discretion by allowing autopsy photographs of King to be submitted to the jury; (2) that his counsel was ineffective for: (a) not filing a motion to transfer venue when the trial judge indicated that he had heard about the case and when the jurors would likely have heard of the case because of its publicity; (b) failing to move to suppress Ellison's statements to the police; and (c) failing to object to certain remarks made by a defense expert; (3) that the trial judge abused his discretion by allowing the prosecutors to make certain remarks to the jury in closing arguments; (4) that his appellate defense counsel was ineffective for not raising the foregoing issues on appeal; and (5) that the Illinois Department of Corrections denied him access to the courts; and (6) reasserting the issues raised in his original appeal. The court dismissed all of these claims. People v. Ellison, 92 CF 2930.

Ellison then appealed this decision. His state-appointed counsel for the appeal was allowed to withdraw, despite Ellison's motion opposing his withdrawal. The Appellate Court then affirmed the denial of Ellison's post-conviction petition. People v. Ellison, No. 2-01-0019 (Ill. App. Ct. 2001). Ellison then filed a petition for leave to appeal this decision to the Illinois Supreme Court; that petition was likewise denied. People v. Ellison, No. 93113 (Ill. 2002). Ellison then filed the instant motion for habeas corpus relief.

II. ANALYSIS

In his petition for habeas corpus relief, Ellison argues that: (1) he was denied effective assistance of counsel in violation of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because: (a) his counsel did not retain an expert on shaken baby syndrome; (b) his counsel did not file a motion to change venue upon discovering that the trial judge had heard about the case and that the jurors would likely have heard of the case from the media; and (c) his counsel failed to move to suppress Ellison's statements to the police; (2) the state did not meet its burden of proving his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt because the state did not prove his intent to cause death or serious bodily harm to King; (3) the trial court abused its discretion when it allowed autopsy photographs to be shown to the jury; (4) the trial judge failed to change venue sua sponte in response to the publicity surrounding the case; (5) the trial court abused its discretion by allowing certain allegedly inflammatory statements made by the prosecution in its closing argument, despite objections by the defense; and (6) the trial court abused its discretion by considering his claim of innocence to be an aggravating factor in sentencing. The court now considers each of these arguments in turn.

A. Standard of Review

When deciding the habeas corpus petition of an individual in state custody, the court relies upon the standard of review mandated by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act ("AEDPA") for all habeas petitions not decided before April 24, 1996. Holman v. Gilmore, 126 F.3d 876, 879-80 (7th Cir. 1997). The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted AEDPA to give courts two possible grounds for granting habeas corpus relief. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002). First, " a Federal habeas court may issue a writ under the 'contrary to' clause [of AEDPA] if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or if it decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court did] on a set of materially indistinguishable facts."

Id. Second, a "court may grant relief under the 'unreasonable application' clause [of AEDPA] if the state correctly identifies the governing legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies it to the facts of a particular case." Id. With respect to the definition of "unreasonable," an application is not unreasonable if it is merely wrong; the application must be "objectively unreasonable." Id. The Seventh Circuit has expanded upon this definition and has determined that an application is objectively unreasonable when "decisions [are] at such tension with governing U.S. Supreme Court precedents, or so inadequately supported by the record, or so arbitrary, that a writ must issue," Hall v. Washington, 106 F.3d 742, 749 (7th Cir. 1997).

When applying these two tests to the facts of a particular case, the court still reviews both state court legal determinations and mixed questions of law and fact de novo. Id. at 748. The court, however, must show a "high measure of deference" to the state ...


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