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United States ex rel Carter v. Gaetz

July 2, 2010

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. JONATHAN CARTER, PETITIONER,
v.
DONALD GAETZ, WARDEN, MENARD CORRECTIONAL CENTER, RESPONDENT.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

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

I. Background

The court will presume that the state court's factual determinations are correct for the purposes of habeas review as Carter 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, and will briefly summarize the key facts that are relevant to Carter's § 2254 petition.

A. Procedural Posture

Following the death of Willard Jackson, Carter was charged with robbery, vehicular hijacking, multiple counts of first-degree murder, including knowing and intentional murder, and two counts of felony-murder predicated on robbery and vehicular hijacking. After a jury trial, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to forty-two years in prison.

Carter appealed, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. Carter filed a petition for rehearing that was denied on January 1, 2008. He then filed a petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") with the Illinois Supreme Court challenging the trial court's refusal to instruct on self-defense. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the PLA on March 26, 2008. Carter filed a petition for a writ of certiorari in the United States Supreme Court. His petition was denied on October 6, 2008. Carter did not file a state post-conviction petition.

On September 28, 2009, Carter filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 contending that the trial court's refusal to give a self-defense instruction and the state courts' interpretation of Illinois' felony murder rule violated his right to due process.

B. Facts

Evidence at trial established that on January 23, 2003, Jonathan Carter approached the victim, Willard Jackson, near Jackson's car outside the American Legion Hall in Maywood, Illinois. The two men had an argument. Loretta Gross testified that she drove through Maywood that night and saw a tall, slim, black man cross the street near the corner of 12th and Madison Streets. As she drove by, she saw the man bend down over another man lying on the pavement and saw a short, stocky man standing nearby.

Dimitris Collins testified that he saw Carter walking down the street. As Collins approached Carter, he saw a man, later identified as Jackson, leave the American Legion Hall. After Carter hit Jackson with a "very powerful" punch, Collins collapsed and hit his head on the curb. While Jackson remained prostrate on the pavement, Collins asked Carter what had happened. Carter responded, "I'm hitting a lick," meaning that he was robbing Jackson. Carter then searched Jackson's pockets. Collins later observed Carter driving a car which he assumed belonged to Jackson.

In an interview with police, Carter stated that he approached Jackson's car and flicked the door handle to aggravate him. Jackson eventually emerged and approached Jackson. According to Carter, Jackson's hands were raised as if he was planning to punch Carter. Carter first implicated Eric Lindsey, but then admitted he punched Jackson in the face, causing him to fall down and hit his head on the pavement. Carter contended that he only hit Jackson after Jackson approached him with a shiny object in his hands, which turned out to be Jackson's keys. After the scuffle, Carter left with Jackson's money, car keys, and car. Jackson was taken to a hospital where he died as a result of his injuries.

The State charged Carter with robbery, vehicular hijacking, and multiple counts of first-degree murder including knowing and intentional murder and two counts of felony murder. However, it proceeded only on the felony murder charges for first-degree murder, and dropped the intentional and knowing murder charges. The trial court thus denied Carter's request to give a self-defense jury instruction, reasoning that Carter's only remaining murder charges were based on felony-murder and under Illinois law, self-defense is not a permissible defense to a felony-murder charge.

During deliberation, the jury sent a series of questions to the trial judge. First, they asked if they should consider Carter's intent at the time he struck Jackson and if the reasonable doubt standard applied to intent. The judge responded that the intent at the time of the blow was irrelevant. The jury then asked if it mattered when the intent to rob first occurred and whether sequence was relevant. The court responded ...


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