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Aujla v. Harrington

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

November 27, 2013

KEWAL S. AUJLA, Petitioner,
v.
RICK HARRINGTON, Warden, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GARY FEINERMAN, District Judge.

Petitioner Kewal S. Aujla, an Illinois inmate serving a forty-year sentence for the first degree murder of his wife, seeks a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Doc. 1. The habeas petition is denied, and the court declines to issue a certificate of appealability.

Background

A federal habeas court presumes correct the factual findings made by the last state court to adjudicate the case on the merits, unless those findings are rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Coleman v. Hardy, 690 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2012) ("We give great deference to state court factual findings. After AEDPA, we are required to presume a state court's account of the facts correct, and the petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption of correctness by clear and convincing evidence.") (internal quotation marks omitted); Rever v. Acevedo, 590 F.3d 533, 537 (7th Cir. 2010); Ward v. Sternes, 334 F.3d 696, 704 (7th Cir. 2003). The Appellate Court of Illinois is the last state court to have adjudicated Aujla's criminal case on the merits. People v. Aujla, No. 2-06-1125 ( Ill. App. May 4, 2009) (Doc. 10-1 at 1-35); People v. Aujla, 2012 IL App (2d) 100605-U, 2012 WL 6965071 ( Ill. App. Jan. 25, 2012) (Doc. 10-2 at 15-20). Aujla has not attempted to show, let alone succeeded in showing, the appellate court's factual findings to be incorrect.

A. Factual Background

In 1999, Aujla married Narinderpal Aujla ("Rani"). Doc. 10-1 at 6. In April 2003, Aujla and Rani lived in a townhouse purchased by Rani's parents, while their daughter lived with Aujla's parents in India. Ibid. Rani was being treated for anxiety, and her family usually spoke with her by phone several times per day. Ibid. Rani's brother, Jatinderpal Sangh, testified that Rani took medication to "calm her down" and could get "verbally out of control, " but added that she had been weakened from polio as a child and denied seeing her get physical when agitated. Ibid. Sangh estimated that Rani was five feet tall and weighed 100 pounds. Id. at 7.

When no one could contact Rani on April 9, 2003, her family reported her missing. Id. at 6. A lengthy search and investigation ensued. Id. at 7-8. On May 19, 2003, Aujla drove himself to the Round Lake Beach police station and agreed to speak with Sergeant Ziulek after being given his Miranda rights. Id. at 8. Ziulek described Aujla as being five feet eleven inches tall and weighing 190 pounds. Ibid.

Following questioning by Ziulek and Sergeant Chiarello, Aujla admitted to killing Rani and directed the police to her body. Ibid. Aujla gave the officers this account of the circumstances surrounding Rani's death:

Defendant told Ziulek that Rani woke at 3 a.m. on April 9, 2003, complaining that her teeth hurt and [that she] wished to go to the doctor. Rani called her mother several times until her mother took the phone off the hook around 6 a.m. Defendant spoke with Rani's mother, who told him to give Rani two Seroquel pills. Rani did not wish to take the medications, so defendant said he would stay home from work if she did so. Rani took the medication, and she and defendant lied down in their separate rooms. Rani asked defendant to take her to a family member's home in Grayslake, but defendant declined, explaining that he had to go to work. Defendant told Rani that he could take her to her parents' house in Buffalo Grove. Rani did not want to go there, so they argued. Rani was angry because defendant would not stay home from work that day, so Rani began hitting him on his back. Defendant grabbed her wrists, [and] Rani kicked him, so he let go. Rani picked up his car keys and said she would drive herself. Rani went to the garage, opened it, and started the car. Defendant became angry because Rani did not have a driver's license. Defendant closed the garage door, and led Rani inside by the arm. Defendant said the car was expensive and that he would be liable if she struck someone or wrecked the car while driving.
Defendant told Ziulek that Rani yelled at defendant after they went inside the house. Defendant admitted striking her face twice with an open hand. Looking scared, Rani ran to the kitchen and grabbed a garbage bag. According to defendant, Rani continued to fight and grab at him but she told defendant to tie her wrists together with the bag so she could not leave. Defendant became angry and wrapped the bag around her neck and squeezed it very hard for a while. Rani's mouth was open and she stopped speaking and breathing, but defendant kept squeezing. Defendant pushed Rani back, and her head struck a table as she fell, Rani breathed a couple times, but when defendant checked her pulse and listened, he could not hear any more breath sounds. A little blood dripped from her nose or mouth, so defendant covered her head with two garbage bags. Defendant sat on the couch and cried.
Defendant told Ziulek that he wrapped Rani's body in large garbage bags. Rani's mother called, and defendant said she was sleeping. Defendant said that he was scared and did not want to go to jail. He put her into the trunk of his car, and went to work as usual. During a work break, defendant took Rani's body to a storm sewer in the parking lot and put her body inside. Worried that the body might wash away in a storm, defendant secured it with rope and wire. Defendant climbed from the sewer and returned to work.
When Ziulek asked what made him choke Rani, defendant explained he was angry at her family and felt trapped by an arranged marriage. He claimed Rani's family never told him she was "retarded." Defendant was also angry that she might wreck the car or collide with someone. Ziulek testified that Rani's family had told him that Rani had been violent with defendant within the past year.

Id. at 8-10. Nancy Jones, a forensic pathologist, performed Rani's autopsy and concluded that the cause of death was strangulation and that the condition of the body was consistent with Rani's disappearance on April 9, 2003. Id. at 11.

Rani's mother testified that Rani occasionally could act in a childlike manner and would not take "no" for an answer. Id. at 12. Aujla testified that Rani used to beat him, and that he got "so angry" and upset that he strangled her out of anger. Ibid. Aujla said that Rani at times would get very upset and throw things at or kick him. Id. at 13. Aujla also said Rani's family saw her act out many times, but that the police were never summoned during their fights. Ibid. Aujla further testified that he, Rani, and their daughter moved out of Rani's family's residence because Rani constantly fought with others, including her brother's child. Ibid.

Aujla's testimony regarding the events leading up to Rani's death was largely consistent with what he told the police on the day he was arrested:

At 9 p.m. on April 8, 2003, Rani and defendant went to bed in their separate bedrooms. During the night, Rani woke defendant and said she wished to make a phone call. Rani called her mother, who hung up on her, and Rani got very upset. Rani called her mother several times, and defendant eventually reached her on the phone. Rani's mother told defendant to give Rani two Seroquel tablets to ...

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