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Stock v. Rednour

September 3, 2010


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 06 C 448-David H. Coar, Judge.

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


Before EASTERBROOK, Chief Judge, and BAUER and WOOD, Circuit Judges.

On June 20, 1997, Connie Wagner was found brutally murdered in her home in Palatine, Illinois. Wagner's wrist had been bound with a telephone cord and she had been stabbed more than 180 times. She appeared to have struggled with her assailant or assailants. Joseph Stock, Wagner's former boyfriend, became the prime suspect. Three months after the murder, Stock's friend Alfonso Najera told the police that four days after the murder Stock had confessed to killing Wagner. Inexplicably, the police left the ostensibly violent Stock on the streets for more than three years after learning of his purported confession, arresting him only in February 2001. Further complicating matters, none of the physical evidence found in Wagner's home pointed to Stock; the clothes he wore the day of the murder bore no traces of blood; and Stock voluntarily went to the police station to assist with the investigation on the day after the murder and, at that time, showed no indications of a struggle. It was undisputed that Wagner was involved in drugs and was in debt to drug dealers with gang affiliations, and her neighbors reported seeing a Hispanic man driving slowly down her street before the murder. Still, relying primarily on Najera's tip, Stock was charged and convicted in 2002 of first-degree murder.

Our task is not to pass judgment on the facts surrounding the crime and the investigation. We concede readily that some suggest Stock's innocence, while others seem quite consistent with his guilt. Rather, we must decide whether this is one of the cases in which a federal court may issue a writ of habeas corpus to someone convicted in state court, given the standards set forth in the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2254. AEDPA tightly constrains our review. Stock argues that his right to cross-examine the witnesses against him was unconstitutionally constrained; in particular, he believes that the trial court's evidentiary decisions prevented him from effectively challenging Najera's testimony. We conclude, however, that the Illinois court reviewing Stock's conviction did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law, because the testimony he intended to elicit was inconclusive for the purpose of impeachment. We therefore affirm the decision of the district court to dismiss his petition.


On the evening before the murder, Wagner told Stock that she was moving to Texas. This marked the end of a dating relationship that had lasted for several months. The state's theory of the case was that Stock, angry with Wagner over the break-up, used a copy of her key to enter the house, killed her, changed into her brother's clothes, and drove off in her car. The last of those steps was supported by the fact that Stock's fingerprints were found in his ex-girlfriend's car. As noted above, the physical evidence discovered in Wagner's home-hair, fingerprints, and footprints-did not inculpate Stock.

Central to the state's case was the testimony of Najera. Najera's testimony is also the subject of this appeal, and so we review it in detail here. Najera testified that four days after the murder, Stock called him and said that he murdered Wagner because he was angry. After a few months, Najera went to the police and relayed this story. He signed a statement, written by a prosecutor, outlining the conversation. He also agreed to participate in a recorded telephone call with Stock in which he would try to elicit another confession. The recorded conversation did not go as the state had anticipated. Stock made a number of unsolicited, exculpatory state-ments during the call; Najera ignored some and affirmed others. Najera also failed to mention the confession explicitly. The closest that Najera came to confronting Stock was the following exchange:

Stock: I mean shit-you still believe me, don't you?

Najera: Yeah, I believe you, dude. I believe you, man. I just want to make sure that you didn't say some-thing to anybody else and they come to court and then.

Stock: That what?

Najera: You didn't tell anybody else-you know what I'm saying? Cause they come to court and then I look like, you know.

Stock: Tell anybody what?

Najera: Anything. I mean did they subpoena ...

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