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United States ex rel Haslett v. Gaetz

November 18, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles P. Kocoras, District Judge


This case comes before the court on the petition of Charles Haslett for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons stated below, the petition is denied.


On June 19, 2003, after a jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Petitioner Charles Haslett ("Haslett") was convicted of the first degree murder of Dangrell Taylor ("Taylor") and the attempted first degree murder of Cleon Thomas ("Thomas"). The court imposed a sentence of 70 years imprisonment for the first degree murder conviction and a concurrent sentence of 20 years on the attempted first degree murder charge.

On December 1, 2002, a grand jury returned an indictment against Haslett charging him with the first degree murder of Taylor and the attempted murder of Thomas. At his arraignment on February 8, 2001, the trial court informed Haslett of the charges pending against him and appointed an attorney from the Cook County Public Defender's Office to defend him at the arraignment hearing. The Court noted that an assistant Public Defender had been assigned to Haslett's case but had not been appointed because Haslett indicated that he did not want any lawyer that was appointed for him. A few weeks after the arraignment, Haslett's family retained Earl Washington ("Washington") to serve as Haslett's private attorney; Washington filed his appearance on Haslett's behalf on March 29, 2001.

The prosecution tendered a discovery request to Haslett and Washington on December 18, 2001. In the request, the State asked for written notice of any defenses that Haslett intended to assert at trial. Washington submitted his response to the discovery request in April 2002 and indicated that the only defense Haslett would rely on at trial would be the State's inability to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

On October 3, 2002, roughly three months before Haslett's trial began, the State brought to the trial court's attention that Washington had a complaint pending against him before the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission ("ARDC"). Washington expressed to the court that he had already disclosed the complaint to Haslett and that, despite any outstanding issues with the ARDC, Haslett wanted Washington to continue his representation. Haslett confirmed the veracity of Washington's statements in an oral representation at the hearing and in a signed affidavit submitted to the court. In relevant part, the document stated: "[i]t is my decision, after discussing the matter with my counsel, that I want him to continue to represent me in this case."

Haslett's murder trial began on June 16, 2003. Just before jury selection began, the trial judge noted that Haslett had an additional criminal charge for possession of alcohol in a penal institution pending before the court. The judge indicated that Haslett was represented by the Cook County Public Defender in the alcohol possession case and continued the matter until June 27.

After jury selection was completed, each side presented an opening statement. Washington argued for the defense that the State's witnesses were not credible, that Haslett had no motive to commit the crime, and that the State would ultimately be unable to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. Washington made no mention of an alibi during his opening statement.

The prosecution put James Garnett ("Garnett") on the stand to serve as their first occurrence witness. Garnett testified that on November 2, 2002, he lived in the basement of an apartment building at 4042 West Potomac Avenue in Chicago, Illinois. Alberta Haslett ("Alberta"), the Petitioner's grandmother, owned the building and also lived there along with Haslett; Garnett testified that he had known Haslett for most of his life. At about 6:30 p.m. on the date in question, Garnett was on the front porch watching a number of people, including Haslett, playing dice in front of the building. During the dice game, a white automobile pulled up in front of the house and parked. Garnett testified that a few moments after the car arrived, Haslett left the dice game and went inside the house. Garnett further stated that he saw Haslett emerge from the gangway of the apartment with a rifle and that Haslett fired shots at the car. Garnett estimated he was a few feet from Haslett when the shooting occurred.

On cross-examination, Washington asked Garnett several questions about whether he had made any previous statements about the shooting. Garnett responded that he had identified Haslett as the shooter in discussions with Chicago Police officers, an Assistant State's Attorney, and in his testimony before the grand jury. Upon further cross-examination, Garnett testified that before trial, he had told Alberta and the police that another man, Nissan Little, was the shooter. Garnett claimed that he identified Little as the shooter only after Alberta had warned him not to say anything about the shooting. Washington also questioned Garnett about whether he was biased against Haslett because Haslett's brother had been involved in the murder of Garnett's nephew. Garnett denied having such bias. When Washington persisted in this line of questioning, the following exchange occurred:

Mr. Washington: Isn't it true, sir, that you are testifying before this jury today in an attempt to try to get even with this defendant and his family for his brother having killed your nephew?

A: [Garnett]: No sir.

Q: How long ago was it that this man's brother is supposed to have killed your nephew?

Mr. Goutos [Prosecutor]: Objection.

The Court: Sustained -- Overruled. Counsel, do you know?

Mr. Washington: I'm going to bias.

The Court: I'm going to ask you if you know an answer to that question. We're not having when did you stop beating your wife questions here. If you know, you can ask the question, but this is not a fishing expedition.

Mr. Washington: May we have a brief sidebar?

The Court: No, we may not have a sidebar. Do you know, yes or no?

Mr. Washington: I don't know the exact date.

The Court: Well, the objection is sustained. Move along. Washington then resumed his cross-examination of Garnett on a different topic.

After the parties completed their examination of Garnett, the trial court dismissed the jury for the day, paused in the proceedings, and addressed Washington and Haslett:

The Court: Mr. Washington, you have tried cases in my courtroom before. I have known you for years. I'm asking you right now if you are mentally and physically up to try [a] first degree and attempted first degree murder trial? I'm asking you as an officer of this court if you know what the facts are in this case to the point where you can adequately cross-examine these witnesses? You cannot speak to an assistant, the woman sitting beside you, throughout direct examination and redirect examination and then get up. You cannot speak while the jurors are being questioned or the witnesses are being questioned. You've had difficulties with the -- you have had difficulties pending, I know, with [the] Attorney Registration [and] Disciplinary Commission. Your client has signed a waiver saying that he wants you to proceed. If you have other things on your mind, this is a three-year-old murder, we're trying this, and if you're not ready, you're to step down from this case now because I am not going to have ineffective assistance of counsel thrown in my face back from the Appellate Court. As an officer of the court, I am -- implore you to make your decision now if you can go on with this case. I'm asking you to confer with Mr. Haslett.

Mr. Haslett, I want you to understand that you are not going to have that sword to fall on, your attorney could not adequately represent you. You have chosen him, you have chosen to go forward with him. If you do not feel he is up to it in terms of knowing the facts of this case, in terms of adequately being able to represent who the players are in this case, there's several names going to come out.

If you do not know who the players are, this is going to be an injustice for Mr. Haslett, for the victim in this case, the victim's family, the witnesses that are coming in here. I am not going to have questions put forth with no good faith basis for them. You cannot do that in this court ever. Confer with your client, Mr. Haslett.

Should you choose to go forward with Mr. Washington if he feels he is up to this, you do that knowing that you are not going to rely on an ineffective assistance of counsel's [sic] claim should there be a verdict of guilty of first degree murder and attempted first degree murder.

And you cannot bring two assistants in here who are not lawyers and ask them what questions to ask throughout the next week of this trial, Mr. Washington, you can't do that. That is not practicing law. That is, you know, where do I go from here, what's my next question, that is not going to happen in this courtroom when a man is looking at the rest of his life in the penitentiary.

So you decide right now if you're up to it, if you know the facts of this case.

And Mr. Haslett, you decide if you want him to go forward with your case. If he does, we are putting it on the record.

Mr. Washington: Do you want me to answer your Honor?

The Court: I want you to talk with your client and make a decision. I don't want you to -- you seem to have an answer right now for me, you know. If your answer is yes, fine. If your answer is no, fine. I just want you to make an informed decision with your client.

Mr. Washington: Well, my answer is yes, and you are correct, I do refer to my assistant, Mrs. Wheeler, who has been with me for six years, we've tried a number of murder cases in this building, and I always refer to her for her assistance because of ...

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