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United States ex rel Menotti v. Sigler

July 14, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Amy J. St. Eve, District Court Judge


Before the Court is pro se Petitioner Rosalie Menotti's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). For the following reasons, the Court denies Menotti's habeas petition.


Menotti does not present clear and convincing evidence challenging the statement of facts set forth in the Illinois Appellate Court's opinions affirming the Circuit Court of Cook County, and thus the Court presumes those facts are correct for purposes of its habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); see also Virsnieks v. Smith, 521 F.3d 707, 714 (7th Cir. 2008). The Court therefore adopts the underlying facts as set forth by the Illinois Appellate Court, First District. See People v. Menotti, 1-02-3413 (Ill.App.Ct. Mar. 3, 2004) (post-conviction appeal); People v. Menotti, No. 1-99-3576 (Ill.App.Ct. Dec. 19, 2001) (direct appeal). The Court begins with a recounting of the facts determined by the Illinois Appellate Court. See Easley v. Frey, 433 F.3d 969, 970 (7th Cir. 2006).

I. Factual Background

A. State's Case

On July 19, 1996, Petitioner Rosalie Menotti shot and killed her husband, Nicholas Menotti, at their apartment. Following a bench trial in 1999, the trial court convicted Menotti of first degree murder. At trial, Mendotti's thirteen-year-old daughter testified that prior to her father's death, she and her mother shared a bedroom because Mendotti was afraid that her husband would sexually abuse their daughter. Mendotti's daughter further testified that she saw her mother examine her underwear for signs of sexual abuse. Also, she testified that her mother kept a gun in a filing cabinet in their room and that her parents often argued about money and her mother's trips to Italy. On July 18, 1996, Mendotti was planning to take her daughter to Italy. Mendotti's daughter testified that she did not believe that her father knew about this trip because her mother told her not to tell him. On the day of the shooting, Mendotti took her daughter to the babysitter's house and was supposed to pick her up at 8 p.m. Mendotti, however, called at 6:30 p.m. and asked the babysitter to keep her daughter overnight, which was unusual.

The Mendotti's next door neighbor, Grace Pellos, testified at trial that on the evening of July 19, 1996, she was asleep in her bedroom when she heard four or five pounding noises. Ten to fifteen minutes later, she heard these noises again. In fact, Pellos heard these noises several times throughout the evening, but never saw anyone. Pellos further testified that she heard someone running or walking very fast from one room to the other, although she never heard any yelling or arguing.

At trial, Officer Robert Pignataro testified that he received a 911 telephone call from Mendotti on the night of the shooting. He testified that she told him that she and her husband had been fighting and that he had tried to kill her, so Mendotti shot and killed him. When Officer Pignataro asked Mendotti if she had a weapon, she stated that she would not talk to him without a lawyer. Officer Harold Juntunen testified that he and his partner were dispatched to Mendotti's home immediately after the 911 call. Upon arrival, Mendotti met the police officers at the door. Officer Juntunen testified that Mendotti was calm and did not appear to be injured. After telling the police officers her name, Mendotti stated that she would not talk to them without a lawyer. At that time, the police officers took Mendotti into custody.

Detective William Rollet testified at trial that he saw Mendotti at the police station while she was in the processing room. He testified that other than complaining of abdominal cramps, Mendotti appeared calm. Further, he did not notice that she was injured although he took her to the hospital at her request because of her cramps. Later, Detective Rollet went to Mendotti's apartment and found passports for Mendotti and her daughter; an application for Italian citizenship; documents explaining transporting pets to Italy; airline tickets to Italy; handwritten notes about shooting, ammunition, and targets; and a February 29, 1996 letter showing a change of beneficiary in Nicholas Mendotti's will listing Mendotti and her daughter as beneficiaries.

Investigator Farahat Levy testified that on the night of the shooting, he went to Mendotti's apartment and observed her husband lying on the floor. He further testified that a total of 41 spent shell casings were found throughout the apartment. Moreover, three bullet holes were found in the walls of the apartment and two were found in the living room next to Nicholas Mendotti's body. Levy also testified that blood was on the floor near the body and on the wall next to him. Lyle Boicken, a forensic scientist with the Illinois State Police, testified that no skin or blood was recovered from the victim's fingernails. Furthermore, trial evidence revealed that Mendotti shot her husband 38 times, two of which were inflicted at close range.

B. Insanity Defense

1. Mendotti's Case

In support of her insanity defense, Mendotti called Dr. Henry Lahmeyer, an expert in neuropsychiatry and forensic psychiatry. He testified that during his interviews with Mendotti, she told him that she began suspecting that her husband was sexually abusing their daughter when the child was two years old. On the night of the shooting, she and her husband argued over money and her plans to travel to Italy. Mendotti told Dr. Lahmeyer that she mixed up a milkshake with three bottles of sleeping pills in it and gave it to her husband. Her husband drank some of the milkshake, but detected a bitter taste. Mendotti then threw the milkshake out. After her husband went to bed, Mendotti shot him. She attempted to commit suicide after killing her husband, but decided against it for the sake of their daughter. Mendotti also told Dr. Lahmeyer that she knew she was in trouble and that is why she called 911 and told them that she had killed her husband in self-defense.

After the initial interview, Dr. Lahmeyer requested that Dr. Daniel Lilie, a clinical psychologist, administer psychological tests to Mendotti to determine if she was malingering of feigning mental illness. Dr. Lahmeyer testified that Dr. Lilie's report concluded that Mendotti was paranoid, but not psychotic and that she was not attempting to feign a psychiatric illness.

Dr. Lahmeyer also testified that during a second interview, Mendotti told him that she believed that her husband had tried to harm her. She also believed that her husband was having an affair, tried to poison her drinks, and rigged the wiring in her car to make it catch on fire. Mendotti also told Dr. Lahmeyer that she had attempted suicide at least five times, although these attempts were never documented or verified by independent sources. Mendotti further revealed to Dr. Lahmeyer that she purchased a .38 caliber revolver in January 1993. During that same year, she attempted to press criminal charges against her husband for sexual abuse of their daughter. In addition, Mendotti told Dr. Lahmeyer that she frequently examined her daughter and her daughter's underwear for signs of sexual abuse. Dr. Lahmeyer testified that he believed Mendotti suffered from psychotic depression and a delusional disorder at the time of the shooting and that her behavior was disorganized ...

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