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United States of America Ex Rel v. Marcus Hardy

March 15, 2011


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


This case comes before the court on a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed by Petitioner Vernon Watts pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.


Petitioner Vernon Watts ("Watts") is currently serving a thirty-five year imprisonment sentence for the first-degree murder of Jessie Rice ("Rice"). People v. Watts, No. 1-02-3100 (Ill. App. Ct. Mar. 5, 2004). The conviction resulted from events that occurred on October 15, 1998. On that day, Rice and Michael Scott ("Scott") were having a conversation outside of an apartment building in Chicago, when a man carrying a handgun, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, with a t-shirt around his face, approached them. The man shot Rice five times and killed him.

At the time of Rice's shooting, Watts was living with his girlfriend Davina Ivy ("Ivy"). On January 16, 1999, Watts was arrested for domestic violence against Ivy. While Watts was in custody for this unrelated matter, Ivy informed the police that Watts had told her about his involvement in the killing of Rice. On January 17, 1999, Assistant State's Attorneys ("ASAs") Anderson and Kanter, and detectives Boone, Hamilton, and Owens, interrogated Watts about the murder. Watts first made an inculpatory statement during the interrogation conducted by the detectives. When he was later questioned by ASAs Anderson and Kanter, Watts confessed to the crime in a statement that was recorded by a court reporter. In his confession, Watts stated that he was a member of the Cut Throats gang, a rival gang of the Blackstones gang. Watts also explained that he and two other Cut Throat members had agreed to kill Rice, a Blackstone member, in retaliation for another Blackstone member's shooting at Watts' car. Watts was subsequently indicted on first-degree murder charges in the Circuit Court of Cook County.

Prior to trial, Watts moved to suppress his confession as involuntary. The circuit court denied Watts' motion and admitted the confession into evidence when the matter proceeded to trial. At trial, the prosecution's evidence relied on Scott's testimony about the shooting and on Ivy's testimony about Watts' admission of the killing. ASA Kanter also testified by reading Watts' confession to the jury. The only evidence Watts introduced was the stipulated testimony of two police officers to whom Scott had provided a description of the shooter that did not entirely fit Watts. In July 2002, the jury rendered a guilty verdict and Watts was sentenced to thirty-five years of imprisonment.

Watts appealed the conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court, claiming that the circuit court erred in denying his motion to suppress his confession. On March 5, 2004, the appellate court rejected Watts' claim and affirmed his conviction and sentence. People v. Watts, No. 1-02-3100, slip. op. at 6-7 (Ill. App. Ct. Mar. 5, 2004). Watts then submitted a petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") in the Illinois Supreme Court, presenting the same claim. The Illinois Supreme Court denied Watts' request on October 6, 2004.

On September 22, 2004, Watts filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief in the Circuit Court of Cook County. In his submission, Watts asserted several claims, including:

(a) Trial counsel was ineffective for failure to investigate witnesses and other sources of evidence that would have exonerated Watts;

(b) Trial judge displayed extreme bias by ruling in favor of the State in each of the State's objections during the hearing of Watts' motion to suppress and by refusing to allow the jury to examine detective Boone's police report during the jury deliberations.

On August 31, 2006, Watts amended his post-conviction petition, by claiming:

(c) An allegedly newly discovered police report, indicating that an unnamed witness stated to the police that the shooter was not wearing a mask at the time of the shooting, supports Watts' claims of innocence and of ineffective assistance of his trial counsel for failure to adequately investigate.

People v. Watts, No. 99-CR-4150 (Ill. Cir. July 10, 2007). On July 10, 2007, the circuit court summarily dismissed Watts' post-conviction petition. On September 20, 2007, Watts sought leave to file a successive post-conviction petition in the Circuit Court of Cook County raising the following claims:

(a) Trial counsel was ineffective for failure to investigate and for failure to present at trial the testimony of a second eyewitness who would have testified that the gunman was ...

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