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Pablo Morales v. Guy Pierce*Fn1

April 10, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: George W. Lindberg Senior U.S. District Court Judge


Before this Court is Pablo Morales' ("Morales" or "petitioner") petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254 ("petition"). For the reasons set forth below, the petition is denied.

I. Introduction

Following a 2000 jury trial, the state of Illinois convicted Morales of the murder of Hugo Rodriguez ("Rodriguez"), under an accountability theory. The trial judge sentenced Morales to thirty-seven years imprisonment and Morales is currently serving his sentence at the Pontiac Correctional Center in Pontiac, Illinois.

In his petition, Morales asserts four claims for habeas relief. First, Morales argues that his statements to police were involuntary and coerced. Second, he argues that the evidence presented at his criminal trial was not sufficient to establish his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Finally, Morales argues that his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective. Morales claims that his trial counsel was ineffective for not seeking to suppress his statements to police, and that his appellate counsel was ineffective for not addressing the trial counsel's ineffectiveness on appeal.

II. Relevant Facts

Under 28 U.S.C. §2254(e)(1), the Court presumes that the state court's factual determinations are correct for the purposes of habeas review. The facts relevant to Morales' petition follow. In 1999, Morales was a member of the Spanish Gangster Disciples street gang ("Spanish Disciples"). The Insane Deuces ("Deuces") were a rival gang. The Spanish Disciples labeled February 11th "Deuce killer day," which Morales told detectives meant "kill a Deuce" day. Around 11:00 a.m. on February 11, 1999, Rickey Quezada ("Quezada"), a fellow member of the Spanish Disciples, contacted Morales and asked him for a ride to an Ombudsman School in Aurora, Illinois. Morales took his mother's red 1997 Pontiac Trans-Am, and prior to picking up Quezada, picked up Juan Guereca ("Guereca"), another fellow gang member.

Morales dropped Quezada off three or four blocks away from the school. Quezada told Morales and Guereca that he had to take care of some business and that he would be back in twenty minutes. After exiting the car, Quezada entered the Ombudsman school, walked into the classroom that Rodriguez was in and approached Rodriguez's desk. Quezada shot Rodriguez seven times and killed him. After the murder, Quezada got back into the Trans-Am and told Morales to drive away.

On February 16, 1999, Elgin police officers went to Morales' parents' home, where Morales lived. The officers had a warrant to search the red 1997 Trans-Am. Morales' father gave the police officers permission to enter his house and conduct a search. After talking to Morales' parents and finding and searching the Trans-Am, the police officers arrested Morales. After the arrest, officers interviewed Morales. The petitioner waved his Miranda rights and subsequently asked to have his mother present for any further questions. Thereafter, one of the officers called Morales' mother. According to trial testimony, in his mother's presence, Morales admitted to having some involvement in Rodriguez's death, and agreed to give an audio-taped statement. Several members of the Elgin Police Department and an assistant state's attorney testified at trial that they interviewed Morales concerning his statement, and that none of them made any promises to him. Further, the assistant state's attorney testified that he specifically asked Morales whether the officers made him any promises, and Morales indicated that they had not.

On or about March 11, 1999, Pablo Morales was indicted on three counts of first-degree murder, although the state subsequently dismissed two of the counts. On November 19, 1999, Morales filed a motion to suppress his statements to the police, asserting that his statements were given involuntarily, based upon promises of leniency from the police. On April 27, 2000, the trial court began a hearing on the motion. On May 30, 2000, the trial court ruled that the only promises the police made to Morales were that his cooperation would be relayed to the State's Attorney's office and that he would be protected while in jail. The trial court found those promises to be permissible, and denied the motion to suppress.

On or about October 24, 2000, the case proceeded to a jury trial. On December 15, 2000, a jury found the petitioner guilty of first-degree murder. He was later sentenced to thirty-seven years in prison. Petitioner then filed a motion for a new trial, which was denied. He then filed a direct appeal to the Illinois Court of Appeals alleging: (1) that his inculpatory statements to the Elgin Police Department were coerced by promises of favorable treatment; and (2) that the evidence presented at trial was insufficient for a reasonable person to find him guilty of murder. On July 25, 2002, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the trial court's ruling. Petitioner then filed a petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") to the Illinois Supreme Court, raising two claims: (1) the evidence presented at trial was insufficient to prove him guilty; and (2) the appellate court erred in assessing the sufficiency of the trial evidence because his custodial statements should not have been construed as a confession. The PLA was denied in December 2002.

In January 2003, petitioner filed a pro se post-conviction petition under 725 ILCS 5/122-1 that raised nine claims. When the trial court appointed counsel, petitioner amended his complaint to include only two claims: (1) that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to seek suppression of petitioner's inculpatory statements on the grounds that the police arrested him in his parents' home without a warrant; and (2) direct appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise trial counsel's ineffectiveness regarding the suppression issue. The trial court dismissed the amended petition in December 2008. Petitioner appealed again, and his appeal was denied.

Morales then filed a pro-se post-conviction PLA to the Illinois Supreme Court in 2010. The PLA purported to raise the following eight claims: (1) post-conviction trial counsel was ineffective for persuading the petitioner to withdraw claims raised in his pro se petition; (2) the trial court erred in instructing the jury that it could convict the petitioner of crimes that were not alleged in the indictment; (3) the prosecution's proffered jury instructions altered the essential elements of knowing murder; (4) the prosecution violated petitioner's procedural due process rights by submitting instructions that failed to include elements necessary to sustain a finding of knowing murder; (5) the prosecution's jury instructions were not entitled to a presumption of correctness; (6) the jury was led to an ultimate fact of guilt based on incorrect jury instructions; (7) trial counsel was ineffective for failing to ask potential jurors whether their views on ...

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