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United States ex rel Sims v. Hulick

January 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Blanche M. Manning United States District Court Judge


Petitioner Bobby Sims' pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 is before the court. For the following reasons, Sims' petition is denied.

I. Background

The court will begin by summarizing this case's procedural posture, and then will recap the facts which are relevant to Sims' § 2254 petition.

A. Procedural Posture

Petitioner Bobby Sims (prisoner #A63742) is incarcerated at the Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois, where he is in the custody of the warden of that facility, Donald Hulick.

1. Direct Proceedings

On January 13, 1992, following a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Sims was convicted of two counts of first degree murder, two counts of armed robbery, two counts of home invasion, and one count of residential burglary. The trial court sentenced Sims to death on July 15, 1992.

Sims appealed his judgment of conviction directly to the Supreme Court of Illinois pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 603. Sims raised numerous claims, including that: (1) he had been arrested without probable cause; (2) he was denied due process of law when the trial court prevented him from fully explaining the circumstances surrounding his written confession to the jury; and (3) he was denied due process of law when the trial court failed to order a mistrial based on the State's discovery violations.

On September 21, 1995, the Supreme Court of Illinois vacated one of the home invasion convictions, but otherwise affirmed Sims' conviction and sentence. The Supreme Court of Illinois denied rehearing on December 4, 1995, and the Supreme Court of the United States denied Sims' petition for a writ of certiorari on April 29, 1996.

2. State Post-Conviction Proceedings

On July 17, 1995, Sims filed a pro se state post-conviction petition, which was dismissed shortly thereafter on July 31, 1995. Sims appealed, and on March 20, 1996, the Supreme Court of Illinois entered a supervisory order directing the trial court to vacate the judgment of dismissal and to provide Sims with counsel. Sims, through counsel, filed a supplemental post-conviction petition on August 14, 1998, raising additional claims. He also filed a pro se supplemental petition that included other claims.

On June 12, 2000, the trial court denied Sims' post-conviction petition. As he was then under a death sentence, Sims appealed directly to the Supreme Court of Illinois. In 2003, while his appeal was pending, then Illinois Governor George H. Ryan, Sr. commuted Sims' death sentence to a sentence of natural life imprisonment. In light of the commutation, the Supreme Court of Illinois reassigned the appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court. On November 7, 2003, the Illinois Appellate Court vacated the trial court's judgment as to one of Sims' claims and specified that Sims was entitled to an evidentiary hearing on that issue, but otherwise affirmed the judgment dismissing the post-conviction petition.

On remand, after engaging in discovery and receiving an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied relief as to the remanded claim. Sims appealed again, counsel was permitted to withdraw pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987), and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's judgment on July 21, 2006. Sims did not file a petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") with the Supreme Court of Illinois.

3. § 2254 Petition

On July 18, 2007, Sims placed his petition for a writ of habeas corpus into the Department of Correction's legal mail system and his envelope was postmarked on that same day. On July 23, 2007, this court docketed Sims' § 2254 petition. The petition raises five claims. Three claims were included at all levels of his direct proceedings: (1) Sims was arrested without probable cause; (2) Sims was denied due process of law when the trial court prevented him from fully explaining the circumstances surrounding his written confession to the jury; and (3) Sims was denied due process of law when the trial court failed to order a mistrial based on the State's discovery violations. Claims four and five were presented as part of Sims' state post-conviction proceedings, which were not appealed to the Illinois Supreme Court: (4) Sims received ineffective assistance of counsel on direct appeal because his attorney failed to argue that his confession was involuntary and thus should have been suppressed; and (5) the State improperly relied on the coerced testimony of James Jackson at trial.

B. Facts

The court will presume that the state court's factual determinations are correct for the purposes of habeas review as Sims does not challenge those facts and, in any event, has not provided clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Todd v. Schomig, 283 F.3d 842, 846 (7th Cir. 2002). The court thus adopts the state court's recitation of the facts. See People v. Sims, 167 Ill.2d 483 (Ill. 1995) (direct appeal); People v. Sims, No. 1-03-1132 (1st Dist. Nov. 7, 2003) (unpublished order) (post-conviction appeal); People v. Sims, No. 1-04-3429 (Jul. 21, 2006) (unpublished order) (post-conviction appeal after evidentiary hearing).

The bodies of William Brown and Robert Nelson, who lived in neighboring apartments in Chicago, were found in Nelson's apartment on November 21, 1998. Brown died from multiple stab wounds and Nelson died from blunt trauma and a stab wound to the chest. Nelson's apartment had been ransacked, and some items had been taken.

Nelson was last seen alive by his son, Randall Williams, the previous morning. Williams went to his father's apartment on the evening of November 20th but no one appeared to be there. The next day, Williams returned to the apartment, looked through a back window, and saw a dead body. Williams and his aunt alerted the police about this grim discovery. When officers arrived, they broke down the apartment door and discovered Brown and Nelson's bodies.

After searching the apartment for fingerprints and other clues, the police focused on three objects on the kitchen table: a large grapefruit juice bottle, a wine cooler bottle, and a drinking glass. Nelson's fingerprints were on the wine cooler bottle and drinking glass, and Sims' fingerprints were on the grapefruit juice bottle. Witnesses at trial included Josie Ivy (Sims' girlfriend), Lee Ivy (Josie Ivy's brother), James Jackson (Sims' nephew), Chicago police detectives Vucko and Boock, Assistant State's Attorney Robert Chapman Buckley, Jr. (who interviewed Sims after his arrest), Sims, Eloise Cole (Sims' sister), Howard Hradek (a paramedic supervisor at Cermak Hospital, where Sims was treated after his arrest), and Randall Williams (victim Robert Nelson's son).

1. Josie Ivy

Josie Ivy testified that on the day of the murders, Sims left her apartment around 5 p.m., accompanied by Tony Bey. Sims returned to Josie's apartment later that evening at approximately 9 or 10 p.m. Upon his return, Sims told Josie that Bey "had hurt some people." He also repeatedly told her that he had knocked someone out with a brick while Bey had stabbed a second man, and that Bey went over to the man whom Sims had knocked out and stabbed him to "finish the job." In addition, Sims told her that Bey had given him a VCR taken from the apartment where the two men had been killed. Pursuant to Sims' instructions, Josie called her brother, Lee, and arranged for him to take the VCR. When Lee arrived at Josie's apartment to retrieve the VCR, Sims gave Lee two BB guns.

According to Josie, two days later, on November 23, 1988, she went accompanied Sims and her brother to the home of Sims' nephew, James Jackson. Sims asked Jackson if the police had been looking for him. Jackson responded by asking Sims what had happened, and Sims told him, "It's in the papers; read the paper." Sims then told Jackson that two men had been stabbed and one of these men had first been struck by a brick. He also stated that his fingerprints might be on a bottle in the apartment. Sims appeared nervous and said that he wanted to leave town.

2. James Jackson & Lee Ivy

Lee Ivy and James Jackson also testified about the events at Jackson's home on November 23, 1998. Like Josie, Jackson stated that Sims came to his house on November 23, 1988, and that Sims told him that he might be in trouble because some people may have been killed at a house on 12th Place in Chicago. According to Jackson, Sims also said that the people had been stabbed, that a brick had been used, that his fingerprints might be found on a bottle in the apartment, and that the police were looking for him. Jackson also testified that Sims told him that the incident "may be in the paper" and suggested that Jackson "buy a paper."

Next, Lee Ivy testified about his encounter with Sims and Josie on November 23, 1988. Lee stated that when he arrived at Josie's apartment, Sims looked nervous and said that he wanted to leave town. Lee's testimony regarding Sims' offer of BB guns and a VCR was substantially similar to the account given by Josie. Lee also gave substantially similar testimony regarding their trip to Jackson's home and Sims' demeanor and statements while there.

3. Sims' Confession

Detective Ralph Vucko of the Chicago police department testified that Sims was arrested on December 21, 1988, transported to the police station, and placed in an interview room. According to Vucko, Sims was not handcuffed while he was held in the interview room. Vucko advised Sims of his Miranda rights and Sims agreed to speak to the police. Initially, Sims denied that he was involved in the incident. However, after Vucko told him that the police had spoken with Tony Bey, Rodney Ivy, Josie Ivy, and James Jackson, Sims acknowledged that he was lying and said he would tell Vucko what had happened on the night of the murders.

Vucko testified that Sims told him that he was at Josie's apartment when Tony Bey came over. Bey said he needed money and suggested that they go over to Robert Nelson's apartment. As they were walking there, they were joined by Rodney Ivy. When the three men arrived at Nelson's apartment building, Rodney Ivy stayed outside. Nelson let Sims and Bey into the apartment, where William Brown was also present. The group had drinks together in the kitchen. Nelson then gave Sims and Bey money to buy cigarettes and food.

Sims and Bey left the apartment together and joined Rodney Ivy outside. While Sims, Ivy, and Bey were walking around the area, Bey suggested that they buy knives instead of food. They went to a grocery store, where Bey bought a kitchen knife. As they walked back toward Nelson's apartment. Bey told Sims, "You do your part, and I'll do mine." Sims picked up a brick lying on the ground and put it in his coat pocket. When they arrived at Nelson's apartment, Rodney Ivy remained outside to stand watch.

Brown let Bey and Sims into Nelson's apartment, and Bey stabbed Brown near the front door. Sims went to the kitchen, where Nelson was seated at the kitchen table. Sims heard a commotion in the front of the apartment, and hit Nelson on the head several times with the brick. As Nelson fell to the ground and began moaning, Sims went to the bedroom to search for a gun that he knew was in the apartment.

While in the bedroom, Bey told Sims that Nelson was still alive and that he "would take care of him." Bey and Sims then took several items from the apartment, including the VCR, and left the apartment. Rodney Ivy, Sims, and Bey walked back to Josie Ivy's apartment.

When they arrived at Josie's apartment, Bey said that he had taken $20 from the victims and gave Sims $12. Bey also told Sims to take what he wanted from the group of items taken from the apartment. Sims took what he believed were two guns. Bey told him that he would sell the VCR later, and advised Sims to go home because he was "full of blood." After realizing that the guns were BB guns, Sims gave them to Rodney along with $2.

Vucko denied that he struck, kicked, or threatened Sims during his interrogation, and testified that Sims was given food and drink. He further stated that Sims did not ask to use the telephone or say he had been beaten.

4. Robert Chapman Buckley, Jr.

Assistant State's Attorney Robert Chapman Buckley, Jr., testified about his conversations with Sims after Sims' arrest on December 21, 1988. Buckley stated that when he took the statement from Sims, he did not see any injury to Sims' face, head, eyes or mouth. Buckley then left the room, and wrote out the statement that Sims had given him, which described the events surrounding the murders in substantially the same fashion as the account Sims allegedly gave to Detective Vucko.

The statement prepared by Buckley included a section indicating that no one had promised Sims anything, or forced or threatened him in connection with the statement. In addition, the statement specified that the police and Assistant State's Attorney had treated Sims well, that Sims was not under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and Sims made the statement freely and voluntarily. Sims, Vucko, and Buckley reviewed Sims' statement together, and Sims signed the bottom of each page of the statement and the portion of the statement that set out his Miranda rights.

5. Sims

a. Sims' Testimony About His Confession

Sims took the stand at trial. He testified that he did general handyman work, such as plumbing and electrical repairs. Sims's brother introduced him to Nelson in 1987 or 1988. Sims stated that he had been at Nelson's apartment four times, but had never borrowed money from Nelson. According to Sims, the last time he was at Nelson's apartment was in the second or third week of November of 1988, when he worked on Nelson's plumbing and drank juice offered by Nelson.

In his trial testimony, Sims recanted his confession and testified that he signed the confession because the police had assaulted him during questioning. Specifically, Sims testified that on December 21, 1988, at approximately 11 p.m., Chicago police officers arrested him and took him to the police station. According to Sims, upon his arrival, he was placed in an interview room and handcuffed to a ring on the wall. After approximately 20 minutes, Detective Vucko entered the room and told Sims, "You are going to tell me about the sissies that were killed." Sims responded by saying he did not know anything about the murders. Vucko accused Sims of lying, stating that Josie Ivy "had told him."

Sims testified that after he again denied that he knew anything about the murders, Vucko repeatedly struck him in the face and continued to accuse him of being a liar. When Sims continued to deny any involvement in or knowledge of the murders, Vucko assaulted him, causing Sims to sustain injuries to his leg, ribs, mouth, face and eyes. According to Sims, Vucko then said, "We are going to do you like we did Tony Bey" and started "hollering" at Sims.

Vucko left the room and returned with a written statement that he had drafted. Vucko sat in front of Sims, read the statement (in which Sims confessed to the murders) , and asked Sims if it was correct. Sims answered yes because he was afraid that Vucko would continue to beat him if he did not agree.

Sims also testified that Assistant State's Attorney Buckley entered the room after he signed the confession provided by Vucko. Vucko again read the statement that he had prepared, and Sims again agreed that it was accurate. However, when Buckley gave Sims another written statement that he had prepared, Sims refused to sign it because "it wasn't true." Sims asked Buckley, "[I]f I don't sign it, would the police beat me anymore?" and Buckley responded, "[T]he best thing [I] can do is tell [you] to sign it." Sims testified that he then signed the statement, because he was afraid the police would ...

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