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The People of the State of Illinois v. Walter Edwards

April 19, 2012

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS,
APPELLEE,
v.
WALTER EDWARDS,
APPELLANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Freeman

JUSTICE FREEMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.

Chief Justice Kilbride and Justices Thomas, Garman, Karmeier, Burke, and Theis concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 Petitioner, Walter Edwards, appeals from orders of the circuit court of Cook County denying him leave to file his third and fourth successive petitions for relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (Act) (725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. (West 2006)). The pro se petitions alleged actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence. The two cases were consolidated on appeal, and a divided panel of our appellate court affirmed. Nos. 1-07-0714, 1-08-1089 cons. (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm the judgment of the appellate court.

¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND

¶ 3 In January 1999 the State charged petitioner and six other individuals*fn1 with the first degree murder of Jacqueline Bernaugh.

Petitioner was tried separately by jury and was found guilty under a theory of accountability. He was sentenced to 28 years' imprisonment.

¶ 4 Petitioner admitted his involvement in the murder in a transcribed statement to police. He was 15 years old at the time. Prior to trial, petitioner moved unsuccessfully to suppress the statement, alleging it was not voluntary.

¶ 5 In the statement, which was published at trial, petitioner acknowledged he was a member of a street gang, the Renegade Vice Lords (Renegades), which was at war with a rival gang, the Mafia Insane Vice Lords (Mafias). Petitioner stated two of the Mafias killed his friend and fellow gang member, Elijah McLachlan. According to petitioner's statement, on November 29, 1998, following McLachlan's funeral, petitioner and other gang members went to the home of fellow gang member Lawrence Coleman and discussed a plan to avenge McLachlan by killing some of the Mafias. Petitioner stated he and a group of fellow Renegades went to a building on South Exchange Avenue in Chicago where one of the Mafias lived. Petitioner and other Renegades, including Eddie Coleman, who was armed with a shotgun, positioned themselves around the building and waited for one of the Mafias to emerge. As petitioner waited across the street, his companions, who were closer to the building, began shooting at a woman who was standing at a window inside the building. Petitioner stated he fired his gun in the air so his companions would know he fired his weapon.

¶ 6 An autopsy indicated Bernaugh died of a shotgun wound to the face.

¶ 7 Petitioner's statement was the only evidence at trial placing him at the scene of the crime. None of the State's eyewitnesses identified him as being there, and the State introduced no physical evidence linking him to the crime. Petitioner did not testify, and the defense rested without presenting evidence.

¶ 8 Petitioner's conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal. People v. Edwards, No. 1-00-2332 (2001) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). This court denied leave to appeal. People v. Edwards, 197 Ill. 2d 569 (2001) (table).

¶ 9 In July 2002 petitioner filed an initial pro se post-conviction petition alleging his constitutional rights were violated when he was questioned outside the presence of his legal guardian or a youth officer. Petitioner also alleged the circuit court violated his right to due process when it denied his motion to suppress his statement. The circuit court dismissed the petition as frivolous and without merit, and the appellate court affirmed (People v. Edwards, No. 1-02-2563 (2003) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23)). This court denied leave to appeal. People v. Edwards, 209 Ill. 2d 588 (2004) (table). In January 2006 petitioner sought leave to file a successive pro se post-conviction petition alleging, inter alia, actual innocence. Petitioner claimed he had newly discovered evidence, including an affidavit from co-defendant Sam Taylor, showing petitioner was actually innocent of the murder. In that affidavit, Taylor named people who were present with him at Lawrence Coleman's home on November 29, 1998, after McLachlan's funeral. Petitioner's name was not mentioned. The circuit court denied leave to file the successive petition, finding petitioner failed to meet the cause-and-prejudice test set forth in section 122-1(f) of the Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1(f) (West 2006)). The court also found the issues raised in the petition were frivolous and patently without merit. On appeal, the appellate court affirmed (People v. Edwards, No. 1-06-1986 (2008) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23)). This court denied leave to appeal. People v. Edwards, 229 Ill. 2d 638 (2008) (table).

¶ 10 In September 2006 petitioner sought leave to file his third post-conviction petition. In this petition, as in the second, petitioner alleged actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence. Attached to the petition was an affidavit from fellow Renegade Eddie Coleman, who stated that he, Willie Richards and "Little Mikey" were the shooters, and that petitioner, Lawrence Coleman, Kentrell Culbreath and Octavius Sims "had nothing to do with this shooting." Eddie explained he did not come forward earlier because "all I cared about was my freedom."*fn2 Also attached to the petition was an affidavit from Lawrence Coleman, who stated he received ...


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