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United States of America Ex Rel. v. Michael P. Atchison

February 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Rebecca R. Pallmeyer


Following a 1994 jury trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Timothy Mobley (hereinafter, "Petitioner") was convicted of the first-degree murder and aggravated kidnaping of nineteen year-old Kristin Ponquinette, for which he was sentenced to consecutive terms of ninety years and five years, respectively. Having exhausted his state court remedies, Petitioner now seeks habeas corpus relief, arguing that his trial counsel was ineffective in a number of ways; that the trial court erred in allowing certain testimony; that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction; and that his sentence was an abuse of discretion. For the reasons set forth herein, the court denies relief.


The murder of Kristin Ponquinette unfolded on the evening of April 17, 1992. Carin Smith testified that on that night, she and her friend Sharon Burke went to Cassandra Butler's house at 127th and Union in Chicago, Illinois. (Direct Review Order, People v. Mobley, 1-94-4206 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. Mar. 27, 1999), Ex. A to Answer, at 4; Trial R., Ex. B to Answer, at J-34.)

Smith had never met Butler or Ponquinette and did not know why Ponquinette was at Butler's house. (Trial R. at J-35.) Smith testified that when she and Burke arrived, Ponquinette attempted to leave the house, but Burke blocked the door and told Ponquinette that she could not leave. (Id. at J-36.) Burke and Butler ordered Ponquinette down to the basement, where Burke slapped her repeatedly before she and Butler took turns cutting off Ponquinette's hair (Smith did not participate). (Id. at J-38-41.) According to Smith, Burke and Butler wanted to know "why [Ponquinette] had come around there and who she had been sleeping with." (Id. at J-39.) After cutting Ponquinette's hair, Burke and Butler bound her hands behind her back, stuffed a sock in her mouth, and forced her into a closet. (Id. at J-42-43.)

Smith and Burke then left Butler's house but returned soon afterwards when Smith realized that she had left her keys there. (Direct Review Order at 4.) Smith testified that when she returned to the Butler home, she encountered Butler, Venus Becom, Chezeray Moore, and three other men later identified as Amotto Jackson, Daniel Butler, and Terrence Mobley (Petitioner's brother) in the basement with the still-bound and gagged Ponquinette. (Id.; Trial R. at J-72-73.) Shortly after Smith and Burke arrived, the four men left the house with Ponquinette, leaving Smith, Cassandra Butler, Burke, and Becom behind. (Direct Review Order at 4.) Soon afterwards, Smith stated, Sonya Richardson and "Poopoo," later identified as Lashanda Wilson, arrived. (Id.; Trial R. at L-9.)Cassandra Butler announced that "the guys" had taken Ponquinette, prompting Becom, Richardson, and Wilson to leave and look for them, while Smith returned home. (Id.)

Venus Becom also provided key testimony against Petitioner at his trial. Becom testified that when she left the Butler home with Richardson and Wilson, they went to Chezeray Moore's garage where they found Moore, Jackson, and Ponquinette. (Trial R. at J-81-82.) According to Becom, Richardson and Ponquinette argued about Ponquinette's sexual conduct. (Id. at J-82.) Wilson, who also testified at Petitioner's trial, stated that Richardson beat Ponquinette's knees and feet with a lead pipe. (Id. at L-14.) Richardson then directed Becom to summon "the brothers" from a nearby school playground so that Ponquinette could be forced to perform a sex act on them. (Id. at J-82.) At trial, Becom explained that "the brothers" referred to male members of the Blackstones street gang, of which Becom had been a member for several years. (Id. at J-83-84.) At trial, Becom identified Henry Lovett, Terrence Mobley, Dan Butler, Mandel Butler, Chezeray Moore, Joseph Harding, and Petitioner as "brothers" in April 1992. (Id.)

Complying with Richardson's request, Becom went to the Nansen School playground, about a half a block from Moore's garage, where she spoke with Mandel Butler and "Duke," whose real name is Carl Carpenter; she could not recall who else was there. (Id. at J-95, J-165.) A short time later, Becom returned to Moore's house just as Moore's mother ordered all the youths out of the garage. (Id. at J-96.)

Richardson, Wilson, Moore, Jackson, and Becom, who pulled the limping Ponquinette along, left the Moore residence. (Id. at L-16.) The group proceeded to the Nansen School playground where, Becom testified, she and Richardson again hit and kicked Ponquinette because Becom suspected that Ponquinette was having sex with Becom's boyfriend. (Id. at J-98.) After roughly five minutes, Petitioner broke up the fight. (Id.) Jackson picked Ponquinette up from the ground and walked away with her. ( J-99-100.)Becom testified that she heard Petitioner, who was standing about five feet from her with Moore and Daniel and Mandel Butler, tell the other men: "[S]he knows too much already about one service, we have to get rid of her, kill her or something, get her away from around here." (Id. at J-100.) Becom also testified that Petitioner was referring to Ponquinette when he said "she" and "her." (Id. at J-101.) Becom then left the playground and returned to her house. (Id.)

At trial, Becom also described the structure of the gang and ranks within it. According to Becom, Petitioner, a higher-ranking member, had authority to issue orders to lower-ranking members, and he, along with his brother Terrence, had the power to "run" the neighborhood. (Id. at J-88, J-92-93.)Becom explained that gang-related meetings are called "services" and that these "services" were often held at an old railroad bridge known as "Black Bridge."*fn2 ( J-86-87.) She explained that she gained this knowledge over the three to five years of her Blackstone affiliation and that she had attended "a lot" of services. (Id. at J-84, J-103.)

Another Blackstone gang member, Carl Carpenter, was also present at the schoolyard that night, although he was uninvolved in the beating and subsequent murder of Ponquinette. On May 14, 1992, the police interviewed Carpenter at his home. (Id. at J-161.) Carpenter signed a statement saying that on the evening of April 17, 1992, he heard Petitioner say, "Kill the bitch" to a group of young men in the Nansen schoolyard. (Id. at J-166-170.) But at Petitioner's trial, Carpenter testified that he never actually heard Petitioner utter those words and that he just told the police what they wanted to hear. ( J-168-69.) Carpenter also admitted that he was still a member of the Blackstone gang. (Id. at J-171.)

Lloyd Bryant, a member of another gang aligned with the Blackstones, testified that on a Friday evening in April 1992, he was driving his car near the playground when he stopped to talk with Petitioner.*fn3 (Trial R. at J-187, J-209.) At Petitioner's request, Bryant drove Petitioner to a nearby liquor store, where Petitioner exited the car and spoke to a couple of people, including Henry Lovett. ( J-191.) Petitioner and Lovett then returned to Bryant's car and, again, at Petitioner's request, Bryant drove them to a bridge located at 129th Street and Halsted Avenue. (Id.) Lovett exited the car and walked toward the bridge, but returned a few minutes later and reported back to Petitioner that that "he" was "not there." ( J-196.) Bryant then drove the men further east on 129th Street, parking near the corner of 129th and Eggleston Place, where Petitioner and Lovett exited the car and walked toward the Black Bridge. (Id. at J-197, J-198.) At some point during the car ride, Bryant asked Petitioner, "[W]hat is up[?]" and Petitioner replied, "Nation business," which Bryant took to mean Blackstone business. (Id. at J-201.) At trial, Bryant claimed that he gave some of his statements before the grand jury at the express instruction of the prosecutor--an assertion that Assistant State's Attorney Michael Baumel denied under oath. (Id. at J-200-04, J-207-13, M-93.)

Lashanda Wilson testified that, although she initially helped Becom and Richardson beat Ponquinette, she and Richardson walked away, with brothers Daniel and Mandel Butler, when Becom began kicking Ponquinette. (Trial R. at L-16-17.) Wilson reported being on the other side of the schoolyard, walking toward Harold's Chicken Shack with Richardson and the Butler brothers, when Jackson intervened between Becom and Ponquinette.*fn4 About thirty minutes later, Wilson and Daniel Butler returned to the playground and, finding no one there, began walking in the direction of the Black Bridge. (Id. at L-20-22.) Along the way, they encountered Amotto Jackson who, according to Wilson, laughed and announced that he was going to locate a sewer cover. (Id. at L-21.) Wilson and Daniel Butler continued toward the bridge where they encountered Moore and Lovett. (Id. at L-22.) Wilson saw Ponquinette "laying [sic] on some railing" with her feet and hands still bound. ( L-23.) Wilson testified that Moore told her, "We hit the bitch in the head with a brick and she still wouldn't die." (Id.) Lovett warned Wilson and Daniel Butler that they should leave if they did not want to see what was about to happen. ( L-24.) Wilson and Butler turned back the way they had come and along the way, they passed Jackson, who was carrying a sewer cover. ( L-25.) Wilson and Daniel Butler then walked to a bus stop where they happened upon Mandel Butler and Richardson. (Id. at L-26.) A few minutes later, Wilson testified, Moore, Lovett, and Jackson walked up to the bus stop; Jackson "was laughing and jumping up and down," Lovett looked "sad," and Moore "was smiling and laughing." (Id.)

Almost ten days later, on April 26, 1992, Gary Kmetty, a petty officer in the United States Coast Guard, was called to remove a body-later identified as that of Kristin Ponquinette-from the Cal Sag Channel. (Direct Review Order at 2-3.)Kmetty testified that Ponquinette's hands were tied together and her feet were bound with green wire. (Id.) A member of the Illinois state police's underwater search and recovery team, Detective Tassos Kachiroubas, also discovered green wire tied to a sewer cover he helped fish out of the Cal Sag Channel near the Black Bridge. (Id. at L-62, L-67, L-73-75.)

After the State charged Petitioner with Ponquinette's murder, he entered into a plea agreement which required him to testify against Moore, Jackson, and Lovett, as well as in another unrelated case. (Trial R. at C000044-45.) In exchange for his cooperation, the State agreed to recommend a twenty-year sentence on his behalf. (Id. at C000044.) Pursuant to the agreement, Petitioner signed a written statement admitting: (1) that when Mandel Butler said he wanted Ponquinette killed, he responded, "'If you're going to kill her, then just kill her"; (2) that he went to the Black Bridge shortly after leaving the schoolyard to make sure the others "took care of business"; (3) that once at the bridge with Lovett, Moore, and Jackson, Jackson told him that he intended to tie Ponquinette to a sewer cover and throw her in the river; and (4) that he retrieved wire and rope from his house and told Lovett to deliver it to Moore and Jackson. (Id. at C000053-55.) While Petitioner did testify in the unrelated case, he ultimately refused to testify against his friends, thereby forfeiting any benefit of his plea agreement and compelling the State to commence prosecution.

Petitioner's trial took place in April1995. At the conclusion of the State's case, the defense rested without presenting any evidence. (Direct Review Order at 9.) The court denied Petitioner's motion for a directed verdict and submitted the matter to the jury. Id. After deliberating for two hours, the jury found Petitioner guilty of first-degree murder and aggravated kidnapping. (Trial R. at N-106.)At sentencing on July 20, 1995, the trial court described Ponquinette's murder as "exceptionally brutal and heinous," "indicative of wanton cruelty," and "shockingly evil." (Id. at O-40.) The court also stated that there was no doubt that Ponquinette was tortured "almost from the very beginning." (Id.) The court sentenced Petitioner to an extended-term sentence of ninety years for first-degree murder and to an additional five years imprisonment, to be served consecutively, for aggravated kidnaping.*fn5 (Id. at O-41-42.)


On direct appeal to the Illinois appellate court, Petitioner challenged his conviction on the following grounds:

(i) The trial court erred in allowing testimony of Ponquinette's father;

(ii) The trial court erred in allowing Becom to testify as to the meaning of "she" and "her" in Petitioner's out-of-court statement;

(iii) The trial court erred when it allowed Becom to testify regarding the structure of the gang;

(iv) The trial court erred in admitting evidence of Petitioner's gang membership; (v) Trial counsel provided ineffective assistance when he failed to object to Becom's testimony regarding the meaning of ...

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