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United States ex rel Flowers v. Gaetz

February 10, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


In March 1995, Petitioner Darrell Flowers pleaded guilty to charges of murder and armed robbery in connection with the stabbing death of Dorothy Moore and was sentenced to consecutive prison terms of 60 and 30 years. Flowers's direct appeal was dismissed in July 2001. His post-conviction appeal in the Illinois courts was dismissed in October 2003, and Flowers failed to seek federal habeas review within one year of its termination as required by statute. In August 2006, Flowers's filed a second successive post-conviction appeal in the state courts, which was also ultimately dismissed. Flowers filed his pro se petition for federal habeas relief in this court in February 2009. Respondent Donald Gaetz, Warden of the Menard Correctional Center, moves to dismiss Flowers's petition as untimely. For the reasons stated herein, Respondent's motion to dismiss is granted.


Flowers appears to concede that his habeas petition is untimely. Nevertheless, Flowers asks the court to consider his petition because, he asserts, he has been prevented from timely filing by virtue of his mental incapacity. Flowers further claims that the psychiatric treatment and medication provided to him while in prison exacerbated and prolonged his inability to understand and assert his legal rights. This treatment, he contends, constitutes a state-imposed impediment to the timely filing of his petition. In the alternative, Flowers contends that his mental incapacity entitles him to equitable tolling. Before addressing these arguments, the court recounts the facts as found by the Illinois courts, paying particular attention to Petitioner's claimed mental incapacity and treatment.*fn1

I. Petitioner's Plea and Sentence

In March 1995, Petitioner pleaded guilty to charges of first-degree murder and aggravated robbery in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. People v. Flowers, No. 1-00-0369 (1st Dist. Ill. App. June 29, 2001) (Rule 23 Order, Ex. C to Resp.'s Mot. at 1.) Petitioner confessed that he and his girlfriend, Markiesha Johnson, had robbed and murdered Johnson's landlady, Dorothy Moore. (Id. at 2.) On December 11, 1992, after waiting for Moore for approximately 90 minutes, Johnson and Petitioner ambushed Moore in her garage as she arrived home. (Id.) Petitioner forced Moore into the back seat of her car, where Johnson stabbed Moore several times with a five-inch steak knife. (Id. at 2-3.) Johnson then handed the knife to Petitioner, who stabbed Moore in the left side of her chest. (Id. at 3.) After this brutal assault, Petitioner and Johnson took $45 from Moore's wallet and left. (Id. at 3.) Moore died of multiple stab wounds to her neck, chest, and upper body. (Id.) The state initially sought the death penalty but ultimately agreed to a plea bargain pursuant to which the court sentenced Petitioner to 60 years in prison for murder and 30 years for aggravated robbery, to be served consecutively. (Id. at 4; People v. Flowers, No. 1-95-3949 (1st Dist. Ill. App. June 30, 1998) (Rule 23 Order, Ex. A to Resp.'s Mot. at 1).)

Prior to the guilty plea proceeding, Petitioner's lawyer requested a psychiatric evaluation to determine whether Petitioner was competent to stand trial and sane at the time of the murder. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. A to Resp.'s Mot. at 1.) On June 7, 1994 , Dr. Albert Stipes of the Illinois Psychiatric Institute reported to the trial court that, based on his examination, Petitioner was mentally fit to stand trial. (Id. at 2.) Dr. Stipes stated that Petitioner "was in contact with reality" and showed no evidence of psychosis nor any significant intellectual defects. (Id.) Stipes also stated that, in his opinion, Petitioner had been legally sane at the time of the offense. (Id.) It was Stipes's view that Petitioner was malingering, as his responses during the examination indicated that Petitioner was deliberately "exaggerating his symptoms." (Id.; Rule 23 Order, Ex. C to Resp.'s Mot. at 3.) The psychiatric summary included with Stipes's report noted that Petitioner reported taking the antidepressant drug Prozac and the allergy-relief medication Benadryl. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. A to Resp.'s Mot. at 1.) Petitioner also reported having previously taken the antidepressant drugs Zoloft and Sinequan and the anti-psychotic drug Thorazine, but had discontinued those medications due to adverse side effects such as swelling in his hands and feet. (Id.) Stipes diagnosed Petitioner as suffering from adjustment disorder and noted that Petitioner displayed some symptoms of situational depression, but concluded that Petitioner was fully capable of understanding the proceedings and assisting his counsel and was otherwise fully competent to stand trial. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. C to Resp.'s Mot. at 3-4.)

In accepting Petitioner's guilty plea, Judge John Madden of the trial court admonished Petitioner in accordance with the Illinois Supreme Court Rules. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. A to Resp.'s Mot. at 1.) Judge Madden asked Petitioner a series of questions about the charges against him, the possible sentences, the waiver of trial rights, and whether he understood the terms of the plea agreement. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. C to Resp.'s Mot. at 4.) Petitioner stated that he understood the questions and the impact of his guilty plea and that he wished to proceed, and the parties stipulated to Petitioner's involvement in the murder. (Id. at 1.)

During an interview for his pre-sentence investigation report, filedin March 1995, Petitioner reported that he had again begun taking daily doses of Thorazine and Sinequan. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. A to Resp.'s Mot. at 3.) Petitioner's attorney asked for a continuance at the sentencing hearing because, as counsel told the court, Petitioner had conferred with a psychiatrist at the jail and had expressed concerns that he had not made a reasoned decision to plead guilty. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. C to Resp.'s Mot. at 5.) The case was held over for a week, at which time Petitioner's attorney told the court he had learned that Petitioner had spoken with a jail worker, not a psychiatrist or other healthcare professional, and that counsel saw no reason to believe Petitioner was not fit to go forward. (Id.) Following evidence in aggravation and mitigation, Petitioner made the following statement before the court:

I would like to say that I'm very sorry for our proceedings. Something that is so tragic. I never meant to cause any harm. And I not only caused harm to Miss Moore's family, but I caused harm to my family. And Markiesha Johnson's family. They [sic] life may never be the same. My family's life will never be the same. My life will never be the same, all because of a stupid mistake. I put a lot of people through a lot of pain. I never meant for my life to turn out like this, nor did I never [sic] meant for anything like this to happen to Miss Moore. I would like to turn to her brother. And I would like to say that if I could take my own life and bring your sister's life back, I would. I mean it from the bottom of my heart. I'm sorry. I wish there was more I can [sic] do. (Id. at 6.) Petitioner was then sentenced in accordance with the plea agreement. (Id.)

In August 1995, Petitioner filed a pro se motion before the trial court, asking that his sentence be reduced because he had been on psychotropic medication that, he claimed, had "severely impaired [his] reasoning and decision making ability" before and after his sentencing. (Id.) Petitioner stated that he "was not in the proper frame of mind to sign away or off on a 90 year guilty plea." (Id.) The trial court denied the motion.

II. Petitioner's Direct and First Post-Conviction Appeal

In his direct appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, Petitioner sought the reversal of his conviction, contending that his guilty plea was involuntary and that the trial court erred by failing to order a full fitness hearing. (Id. at 1.) On February 14, 1997, while that direct appeal was pending, Petitioner filed a separate pro se petition for post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court of Cook County, contending that his trial counsel had been ineffective for failing to seek a fitness hearing. (Post-conviction Petition, Ex. D. to Resp.'s Mot.) On June 30, 1998, the state appellate court remanded the case on direct appeal to the trial court to determine whether Petitioner had indeed been taking psychotropic medications at the time of his guilty plea and, if so, to conduct a hearing to determine whether Petitioner was mentally competent at the time of his plea. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. C to Resp.'s Mot. at 10-11.)

On remand from the direct appeal, Petitioner retained psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Hardy of Loyola University to examine Petitioner and opine on his fitness and competency. Hardy reviewed Petitioner's medical records, and he examined Petitioner in April 1999. (Rule 23 Order, Ex. C to Resp.'s Mot. at 7.) According to Hardy, the medical records indicated that Petitioner had been treated with large doses of Prozac, moderate doses of Sinequan, and low doses of Thorazine prior to giving his plea and while awaiting sentencing. (Id. at 8.) Hardy reported that he found Petitioner cooperative, but that Petitioner displayed signs of memory and concentration deficits and psychomotor agitation. (Id.) In Hardy's opinion, at the time of his examination in 1999, Petitioner "could not adequately identify the functions of a judge, his attorney, the prosecutor, or a jury." (Id.) Hardy diagnosed Petitioner with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and stated that, in his medical opinion, Petitioner was not legally competent either at the time of his plea or at the time of his 1999 examination. (Id.)

Dr. Stipes also examined and reevaluated Petitioner in July 1999. (Id.) Stipes largely repeated his earlier report; he stated that Petitioner showed no signs of psychosis or intellectual deficit, that Petitioner had been able to understand the charges against him and to assist his counsel, and that Petitioner was fully fit and competent at both the time of his plea and the time of his reexamination. (Id. at 9.) Stipes further stated that Petitioner required no medication in order to ...

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