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Collins v. Donaldgaetz

July 13, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 08 CV 02153-Charles R. Norgle, Sr., Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hamilton, Circuit Judge.


Before FLAUM, ROVNER, and HAMILTON, Circuit Judges.

James Collins stayed up late the night of April 30 to May 1, 2001, getting high on crack cocaine in his Chicago apartment with his girlfriend, Flora Lanier. Sometime after 6:00 a.m., Collins and Lanier began fighting, a fight that ended when Lanier went through the window of Collins' apartment, causing fatal wounds to both her arms. Collins, who has an IQ in the 60s and organic brain damage from an aneurysm in 1994, spent the next day at a police station before waiving his Miranda rights and giving a self-incriminating statement. The statement was admitted over his objection at trial, contributing to his conviction for first-degree murder. The Illinois courts have affirmed on direct appeal and post-conviction review, and the federal district court has denied Collins' petition for a writ of habeas corpus. We now consider Collins' appeal using the deferential standard that applies under the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Because the state courts reasonably applied the correct legal standards and reasonably determined that Collins intelligently waived his Miranda rights, we affirm the denial of his petition.

I. Background

A. Procedural History

Following his statement to police, James Collins was indicted in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois for first-degree murder. He filed two pre-trial motions, a motion to quash his arrest and a motion to suppress his statement. The trial court denied both of these motions.

Following a bench trial in late 2003, the state trial court convicted Collins of first-degree murder. The court found Collins not guilty of "intentional murder" but guilty of knowing acts that "created a strong probability of death or great bodily harm," which also constitutes first-degree murder under Illinois law. See 720 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/9-1(a). The trial court sentenced Collins to 25 years in prison. He appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court, claiming, among other things, that the trial court had erred in denying his motion to suppress. The Appellate Court affirmed the conviction on June 19, 2006, and the Illinois Supreme Court denied leave to appeal on November 29, 2006.

On March 22, 2007, Collins petitioned for state post-conviction relief based on other, unrelated issues. The trial court dismissed that petition as frivolous and Collins took no appeal.

Finally, on April 15, 2008, Collins filed his federal habeas petition, which the district court denied on March 26, 2009. The district court granted a certificate of appealability limited to the claim that Collins did not knowingly waive his Miranda rights.

B. The Night of April 30 to May 1, 2001

On the night Flora Lanier died, James Collins was 44 years old. Collins has long suffered from severe mental impairments. A brain aneurysm that he suffered in 1994 exacerbated those impairments, leaving him often unable to speak, understand, or think clearly. Defense experts calculated his current IQ in the low to mid-60s, well below the average score. A neurologist testifying for the defense estimated that Collins' aneurysm had reduced his score by 10 to 15 points.

Collins began the night of April 30th in the company of his friend, Benny Price, who was homeless but had accepted Collins' invitation to spend the night in his apart ment. Between about 11:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., the two men ate dinner and talked in the apartment. Lanier showed up between 2:30 and 3:00 a.m. Price testified that he thought Lanier had been using PCP; she smelled of ammonia and seemed only periodically aware of her surroundings. Price had reason to know what a drug user looks like: the government impeached his testimony with a prior conviction for delivery of a controlled substance (and two for burglary).

Lanier had also brought rocks of crack cocaine for herself and Collins to smoke. Collins made clear to Price that the drugs were not for him, so Price went to sleep on the floor. Collins and Lanier shared a bed in the same room where Price was sleeping, with a make-shift barrier to give them some privacy. After going to bed, Price overheard Collins telling Lanier to stop taking people's money to buy drugs for them and then keeping the money for herself. At that point Collins was calm, speaking in a "normal" tone and calling Lanier "baby."

What happened next was the subject of dispute at trial. Price testified that he awoke around 6:00 a.m. to the sound of Collins and Lanier arguing and physically fighting. According to Price's testimony, the combat was mutual, with both Collins and Lanier "wrestling." Price testified that both Collins and Lanier were yelling; he heard Lanier yell, "I'm going to die anyway." Not wanting to be around for this fight, Price immediately left the apartment. On the ground floor, he heard glass break and saw Lanier go through the third-floor window, then come back inside "real suddenly." Lanier then "got on the kitchen table in front of the big window, and she hit it with her fist and leg," then "stepped outside the window." She remained "halfway out" for a moment before Collins "snatched her back inside." As Collins pulled Lanier back in, "all the blood went down the window like that."

From her apartment window one floor up, Ethel Patterson saw a different scene. Patterson testified at trial that Collins and Lanier were "tussling," but Collins was the aggressor, "hitting her in the head with his fist," while Lanier was in a purely defensive posture, with "her hands up over her head . . . trying to block it." Eventually Patterson saw Lanier "coming through*fn1 the window . . . with both hands forward." Patterson denied at trial that Lanier "ran through the window" herself (though a police detective testified that this was contrary to what he had taken down from Patterson at the scene). After calling the police, Patterson saw Lanier bleeding profusely in the window and saying, "I am dying," before Collins "jerked her back in." Patterson went down to the third floor and found Lanier bleeding to death in the hallway; according to her testimony, all the doors were closed and no one was helping Lanier.

C. Police Investigation and Collins' Statement

Chicago Police Officer Christopher Dobek and his partner were among the first law enforcement officers to arrive on the scene. Dobek testified that they received a dispatch call at about 6:45 a.m. and responded to Collins' apartment. They found Lanier covered in blood but still alive in the hallway outside, and they called for an ambulance. Their knocking on Collins' apartment door pushed the door partly open. The apartment was "in total disarray," with "broken glass, blood all over the place." Collins was inside, approaching the doorway, wearing only a pair of black pants, with blood on his hand and torso.

Paramedics took Lanier to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead. The medical examiner found evidence of injury to Lanier's face, neck, chest, back, and extremities. Her most serious injuries were two "gaping" wounds, each three inches long, at the creases of Lanier's right and left elbows, and another two-inch-long wound on her left inner forearm. The medical examiner's opinion was that Lanier had died "as a result of multiple sharp force trauma due to an assault" and the "manner of death was homicide." Blood testing revealed the presence of a cocaine degradation product, benzoylecgonine, in Lanier's system.

Detective John O'Shea and his partner, Detective Joseph Laskero, arrived on the scene shortly after Lanier was taken away. O'Shea interviewed several witnesses, including Patterson and Price. Around the same time, two other uniformed officers spoke with Collins and asked him to come to the station with them for questioning. Collins agreed, and the officers brought him to a police station a few blocks away, arriving between 7:30 and 8:00 a.m. Collins waited there until 10:30 a.m., when O'Shea returned to the station. At that point, O'Shea read Collins a standard set of Miranda warnings and Collins agreed that he understood and wanted to speak. During this brief initial interview, Collins told O'Shea that Lanier had tried to jump through the window. O'Shea testified that, because this was inconsistent with what some of the witnesses had told him, he asked Collins to submit to a polygraph examination. Collins agreed, but an examiner was not available until 8:00 p.m. O'Shea left Collins in an interview room without Collins asking or O'Shea offering permission to leave.

The police left Collins alone during the nine hours that they waited for the examiner. He was allowed to leave the room to go to the bathroom. He was given food. He may have slept; O'Shea testified that he occasionally checked on Collins and saw him either on the floor or with his head down and arms folded on the table as if sleeping.

Eventually the polygraph examiner, Officer Robert Bartik, became free as scheduled, and officers took Collins from the local station to another police facility for the exam. From 8:00 to approximately 10:00 p.m., Bartik administered the polygraph. He first gave Collins fresh Miranda warnings and obtained Collins' consent to submit to the exam. He then hooked Collins up and asked him nine questions, including whether Collins had pushed Lanier through the window and whether Collins had purposefully caused her injuries. Collins answered "no" to those questions, but the polygraph indicated that he was lying, and Bartik told him so.

Collins was then taken back to the local station, where he waited another hour or so until O'Shea returned. After once again advising Collins of his Miranda rights, O'Shea confronted him with the results of the poly-graph. At 11:59 p.m., Collins gave an oral statement implicating himself in Lanier's injury.*fn2

The detectives left Collins in the interview room and called Assistant State's Attorney Art Heil, who was on call for the State's Attorney's office that night. Heil arrived at the police station around 2:00 a.m. on May 2nd and learned the basics of the case from O'Shea and Laskero. The three of them then went back to Collins' apartment building to view the scene and to speak again with Ethel Patterson, who was apparently willing to ...

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