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Fuller v. Hulick

August 25, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge


Petitioner Tyrone Fuller filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, in which he complains that the state trial court erred by finding him to be death penalty eligible without a specific jury determination of his intent to kill as required by Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000), and that the state appellate court erred in holding that his guilty plea amounted to a waiver of his right to challenge his sentence under Apprendi. Fuller argues that the appellate court's decision upholding the trial court's finding that Fuller is death penalty eligible (i) was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the trial court proceedings; and (ii) was contrary to, and involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law as determined by the Supreme Court. Respondent Warden Donald Hulick moves to dismiss the petition as time-barred under 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d)(1)(A). For the following reasons, the Court grants Respondent's motion and dismisses Fuller's habeas petition.

I. Background

On December 1, 1999, Fuller pleaded guilty in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, to three counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted murder, and one count of armed robbery in connection with the December 18, 1997 shooting of jewelry store owner Marc Feldman during a robbery of Feldman's store.*fn1 The first degree murder counts alleged that (i) Fuller shot the victim with the intent to kill him; (ii) Fuller shot the victim knowing that his act created a strong probability of death; and (iii) Fuller shot and killed the victim while committing a forcible felony (armed robbery). Following sentencing hearings, a jury found that Fuller was death-penalty eligible under 720 ILCS 5/9-1(b)(6) based on the statutory aggravating factor that the murder was committed in the course of an armed robbery. No mitigating factors were found, and the trial court sentenced Fuller to death.

On February 22, 2002, the Illinois Supreme Court vacated Fuller's death sentence on the ground that the trial court's jury instructions as to the mental state required to establish death-penalty eligibility based on felony murder were erroneous. The Supreme Court also held that Fuller's convictions for knowing and felony murder should be merged into the most culpable murder count, intentional murder. The case was remanded to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing.

In January 2003, prior to the new sentencing hearing, Illinois Governor George Ryan granted clemency to all Illinois defendants on death row, including those who were not then under sentence. Thus, any potential death sentence against Fuller was commuted to a sentence of natural life without parole.

On August 4, 2004, on remand from the Illinois Supreme Court, the trial court, without a jury, sentenced Fuller to natural life, based on the prosecution's argument that he was death- penalty eligible.*fn2 On appeal, Fuller argued that, under Apprendi, he was entitled to a jury determination of death-penalty eligibility in the remanded sentencing action. On October 25, 2005, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the life sentence, holding that Fuller waived his sentencing challenge by pleading guilty to the offenses with full knowledge of the sentences that could be imposed.

Fuller filed a petition for leave to appeal (PLA) on November 16, 2005 (Resp. Ex. E) that was denied by the Supreme Court of Illinois on January 25, 2006 (Resp. Ex. F). Therefore, Fuller has exhausted his state court remedies on direct appeal.*fn3

On April 27, 2007, Fuller filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus, asking this Court to vacate his sentence and remand the cause for a new sentencing hearing. Fuller argues that the finding that he was death-penalty eligible, and therefore eligible for a sentence of natural life without parole, required a jury determination beyond a reasonable doubt that he acted with the requisite intent to kill during an armed robbery, despite his plea of guilty to intentional murder.

II. Discussion

In the motion now before the Court, Respondent Hulick moves to dismiss, with prejudice, Fuller's petition for writ of habeas corpus as untimely under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). Hulick argues that Fuller's habeas petition, filed on April 27, 2007, was due on or before April 25, 2007, under AEDPA's one-year statute of limitations. Hulick further argues that equitable tolling of the AEDPA statute of limitations is unwarranted because no extraordinary circumstances beyond Fuller's control prevented him from filing his petition in a timely manner and because Fuller did not exercise reasonable diligence in pursuing federal habeas relief.

A. Statute of Limitations for Habeas Petitions under AEDPA

AEDPA provides that:

A 1-year period of limitation shall apply to an application for a writ of habeas corpus by a person in custody pursuant to a judgment of a State court. The ...

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