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United States of America Ex Rel. v. Dave Rednour

April 11, 2012

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA EX REL. CHARLES CAREY BLAIR, PETITIONER,
v.
DAVE REDNOUR, WARDEN, MENARD CORRECTIONAL CENTER, RESPONDENT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert W. Gettleman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Pro se petitioner Charles Carey Blair*fn1 has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons discussed below, the habeas petition is denied, and the court declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

BACKGROUND

After a jury trial, petitioner was convicted of the first-degree murder of his wife, Teresa Blair. He was sentenced to 38 years' imprisonment.

As described by the Illinois Appellate Court on direct review, Rule 23 Order, People v. Blair, No. 2-03-0101 (Ill. App. Ct. Aug. 6, 2004), the State's evidence at trial showed that in January 2001, petitioner traveled with his wife from their home in Missouri to Vernon Hills, Illinois, so petitioner could attend a training seminar. While in Vernon Hills, petitioner and his wife stayed at the AmeriSuites Hotel. At 10:00 a.m. on January 24, petitioner asked a hotel clerk to call 911, claiming that his wife had fallen and was having trouble breathing. Paramedics arrived at the Blairs' hotel room and found Teresa lying unconscious on the floor, her head propped up by a pillow and her body wrapped in a blanket. She was transported to Condell Medical Center and never regained consciousness. She died the following day as a result of a subdural hematoma (a blood clot on the outer surface of the brain).

Occupants of hotel rooms near the Blairs' told police that shortly before the incident, they heard screaming and thumping sounds; one hotel guest, Michael Newby, testified that at 10:30 p.m. on January 23, he heard petitioner yelling at his wife for smoking in the room. Newby then opened his door and stood in the hallway, listening to the sounds of fists hitting skin for five minutes. He heard screaming and banging again at 1:00 a.m., and more banging at 3:00 a.m.

Petitioner related substantially different accounts of the events of January 23 and 24 to various witnesses who testified at trial: a paramedic who responded to the 911 call; a nurse at the Condell Medical Center; an emergency room doctor who examined petitioner's wife and spoke to him on January 24; a police officer who spoke to defendant at the hospital on January 24 in response to a call about Teresa's suspicious injuries; and the officers who interviewed petitioner from 10:15 to 10:45 that evening, after petitioner had been read his Miranda rights and signed a waiver at the police station. All of these divergent stories also differed from the confession petitioner eventually gave early in the morning of January 25.

After petitioner's first interview at the police station, the officers asked petitioner to complete a written statement, which he did. After a half-hour break, the officers brought petitioner back to the interview room, and another 75 minutes later (around 1:30 a.m.), they told defendant that there were inconsistencies in his account and asked if he and his wife had been arguing on the night of January 23. During the ensuing interview and written statement, which petitioner completed around 4:00 a.m., petitioner confessed that after beginning to argue with his wife at around 10:00 p.m. on January 23, he "snapped in a fit of rage," during which he punched her between ten and twenty times, kicked her five times, and pushed her, causing her to hit her head on a table and lose consciousness. He also stated that some of her bruising was caused by previous physical altercations. Petitioner explained that after his "fit of rage," his wife never regained consciousness. Unsure what to do after his "fit of rage" subsided, petitioner "put her in the bed and thought it would be okay in the morning." When Teresa had not regained consciousness in the morning, petitioner dragged her to the bathroom and cleaned her up. Then he dragged her back to the bedroom, covered her, put a pillow beneath her head, and wiped her mouth. Petitioner called his father-in-law, who told him to call an ambulance.

Dr. Nancy Jones, the doctor who performed the autopsy, testified as an expert witness in forensic pathology. She testified that the victim had 46 blunt trauma injuries of various ages, that she suffered from cirrhosis of the liver and Hepatitis C, and that her brain was swollen and had a subdural hematoma as well as multiple hemorrhages. Dr. Jones further testified that she had conducted the autopsies of around one hundred individuals who died by falling, and that those individuals typically exhibited injuries ("gliding contusions" and bruising on the under surface of the scalp) that Teresa did not. Dr. Jones also stated that many of the injuries Teresa did have were inconsistent with a fall. Finally, Dr. Jones opined that Teresa had died from a subdural hematoma caused by blunt head trauma, which could have occurred without direct impact to her head, and that her injuries were consistent with being hit by hands and feet.

Represented by the office of the state appellate defender, petitioner appealed his conviction, claiming that his trial counsel was ineffective because he had not requested the Illinois pattern jury instruction on "other crimes" evidence. Rule 23 Order, People v. Blair, No. 2-03-0101, at 12-13 (Ill. App. Ct. Aug. 6, 2004) (referring to Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions, Criminal, No. 3.14 (4th ed. 2000)). The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. Id. at 14. The Illinois Supreme Court denied petitioner's counseled petition for leave to appeal ("PLA"), which raised the same ineffective assistance claim. People v. Blair, 824 N.E.2d 285 (unpublished table decision) (Ill. 2004).

In 2005, petitioner filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, which he supplemented in 2008 with the assistance of counsel. This petition again alleged that petitioner's trial counsel provided ineffective assistance, but for entirely different reasons than the one petitioner advanced on direct appeal. Petitioner now cited his counsel's failure to call nine witnesses petitioner believed would have offered testimony in support of his defense theory. Petitioner relatedly argued that because his attorney had failed to present a medical expert to counter the State's expert, it was critical that he effectively cross-examine the State's medical expert, which he allegedly did not do. The trial court granted the State's motion to dismiss the petition, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed. See Rule 23 Order, People v. Blair, No. 2-09-0605 (Ill. App. Ct. Jan. 28, 2011). Petitioner filed a PLA, but his PLA did not raise any of the issues in the post-conviction petition; instead, it raised a new argument that the medical opinions offered by two of the State's witnesses were "in error." PLA, People v. Blair, No. 112011, at 2 (filed Mar. 8, 2011). The Illinois Supreme Court denied this PLA. People v. Blair, 949 N.E.2d 1099 (unpublished table decision) (Ill. 2011).

While his first post-conviction petition was on appeal, petitioner filed a second petition for post-conviction relief, raising a "'free-standing claim of innocence' based on 'newly discovered evidence.'" The trial court dismissed the petition, noting that petitioner had not requested leave to file it. See People v. Blair, No. 2-10-0059, at 2 (Ill. App. Ct. Mar. 23, 2011). Petitioner appealed, and his appointed counsel moved to withdraw pursuant to Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551 (1987). The Illinois Appellate Court granted counsel's motion and affirmed the trial court's judgment, finding that the post-conviction petition was properly dismissed "because it was conclusory and otherwise meritless." Id. Respondent states, and petitioner does not contest, that no PLA was filed from that second post-conviction petition.

On June 16, 2011, petitioner filed the instant petition for a writ of habeas corpus, raising six claims:

(1) his conviction was "based on an incorrect autopsy conclusion," which was a result of his ...


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