Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 04-2059-Harold A. Baker, Judge.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cudahy, Circuit Judge.
Before CUDAHY, FLAUM, and WOOD, Circuit Judges.
Jesse Watson, a state inmate in the Danville Correctional Center, is serving an aggregate 60-year sentence for multiple counts of attempted murder, aggravated battery with a firearm and reckless conduct. The district court denied Watson's habeas corpus petition, finding that he was not denied effective assistance of counsel during his criminal trial or his direct appeal. We affirm.
Jesse and Pearl Watson married in 1978 and divorced in 1990. On the morning of July 30, 1990, Watson argued with Pearl at the developmental disabilities center in Kankakee, Illinois where they both worked. That same*fn1 day at about 8:30 in the evening, Watson defied a restraining order by visiting Pearl at her home. He entered the house uninvited and found Pearl in the living room together with her new boyfriend Clifford Nelson, her two daughters from a previous relationship, her daughters' boyfriends and her grandson. After Watson was unable to persuade Pearl to talk with him in private, he announced that it was "party time," drew a gun and opened fire on the gathering. First, he shot Pearl, who had been holding her grandson Antonio on her lap at the time. (Pearl managed to throw Antonio to the ground before the bullet struck her in the stomach and lodged in her spine.) Next, Watson turned his attention to Pearl's boyfriend Nelson, firing on him repeatedly as he attempted to flee and hitting him in both legs and an arm. Watson then opened fire on Pearl's daughter Dormiletha, shooting her in the arm and also hitting her boyfriend Terrence Lindsey in the arm as Lindsey attempted to pull Dormiletha from the path of the gunfire. Finally, Watson walked over to Pearl's side, held his gun to her head and repeatedly pulled the trigger. By then, however, the gun was empty.
Watson was charged with four counts of attempted murder and aggravated battery with a firearm. He rejected the State's plea offer, and a jury convicted him*fn2 of three counts of attempted murder and three counts of aggravated battery with a firearm-based on the shooting of Pearl, Dormiletha and Nelson-and one count of reckless conduct, based on the shooting of Lindsey. The trial court sentenced Watson to an aggregate sentence of 60 years' imprisonment: 30 years for the battery and attempted murder of Pearl, 15 years for the battery and attempted murder of Dormiletha and 15 years for the battery and attempted murder of Nelson.*fn3
After his conviction and sentence became final, Watson commenced a state court collateral challenge, alleging that he was denied effective assistance of counsel in three ways: first, he argued that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to render proper advice concerning the criminal sentence he was facing if he were found guilty at trial; second, he argued that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the fact that he was charged with attempted murder, but the jury instructions did not define "murder"; and third, he argued that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to make an issue of trial counsel's failure to challenge the jury instructions on direct appeal.
The history of the post-conviction proceedings in State court is somewhat tortured and need not be recounted in detail here. What is significant is that the State trial court denied Watson's post-conviction petition on the merits in 2001, and the Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed over one judge's dissent. The Appellate Court*fn4 found that Watson was not prejudiced by his trial counsel's advice relating to the State's plea offer, noting that Watson had testified only that he would have "considered" pleading guilty if he had been properly advised of his maximum possible sentence. The Appellate Court also appeared to reject Watson's claims based on the jury instructions that were given at his trial.
The district court denied Watson's subsequent federal habeas petition, but granted a certificate of appealability because it took it to be a "closer call" whether Watson's lawyers gave ineffective assistance by failing to challenge the jury instructions.
We review the decision of the last state court to address Watson's arguments. See Williams v. Bartow, 481 F.3d 492, 497-98 (7th Cir. 2007). Our review is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214. The AEDPA was intended to prevent federal habeas "retrials" and to ensure that state court convictions are given effect to the extent possible under the law. Bell v. Cone, 535 U.S. 685, 693 (2002). Under the AEDPA, a federal court may grant habeas relief only if the state court's adjudication of a habeas petitioner's constitutional claims was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, or was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1); Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 376-77 (2000). A state court decision rests on an "unreasonable application" of clearly established federal law if it lies "well outside the boundaries of permissible differences of opinion." Jackson v. Frank, 348 F.3d 658, 662 (7th Cir. 2003); see also Williams, 529 U.S. at 407-08.
Again, Watson claims that he is entitled to habeas relief because the assistance of counsel he received at trial and on direct appeal was constitutionally defective. The Sixth Amendment guarantees criminal defendants the right to effective assistance of counsel. See Hill v. Lockhart, 474 U.S. 52, 57 (1985); Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 684-85 (1984) ("The Sixth Amendment recognizes the right to the assistance of counsel because it envisions counsel's playing a role that is critical to the ability of the adversarial system to produce just results. An accused is entitled to be assisted by an attorney, whether retained or appointed, who plays the role necessary to ensure that the trial is fair."). To prevail on an ineffective assistance claim, a petitioner must prove both (1) that his counsel's performance was objectively unreasonable and (2) that he suffered prejudice as a result. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687; McDowell v. Kingston, 497 F.3d 757, 761 (7th Cir. 2007). We may address these issues in whichever order is most expedient. As the Supreme Court explained, "[i]f it is easier to dispose of an ineffectiveness claim on the ground of lack of sufficient prejudice, which we expect will often be so, that course should be followed." Strickland, 466 U.S. at 697.
Watson argues that (1) his trial counsel was constitutionally ineffective for failing to convey the information he needed to properly evaluate the State's plea offer, and (2) both trial and appellate counsel were ineffective for failing to make an issue of the fact that he was charged with attempted ...