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United States ex rel. Brazziel v. Harrington

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 28, 2014

United States of America ex rel. JAMAEL BRAZZIEL, Petitioner,
RICK HARRINGTON, Warden, Menard Correctional Center, Respondent.


ROBERT M. DOW, Jr., District Judge.

Petitioner Jamael Brazziel is currently incarcerated at Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois. Rick Harrington, [1] the warden of the facility, has custody of Petitioner. Brazziel has filed a pro se writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies Brazziel's petition for a writ of habeas corpus [7 and 9].

I. Background

A. Factual Background

District court review of a habeas petition presumes all factual findings of the state court to be correct, absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Daniels v. Knight, 476 F.3d 426, 434 (7th Cir. 2007). Therefore, the Court adopts the following accounts from the Illinois Appellate Court's Order in People of the State of Illinois v. Brazziel, 939 N.E.2d 989 (Ill.App. 1st Dist. 2010).

On April 26, 2006, Petitioner shot Larry Brown in the back of the head after learning that Brown had been involved in an altercation with his cousin. Police subsequently interviewed six witnesses, including Petitioner's cousin, who had been present at the scene and identified Petitioner as the shooter. On April 9, 2008, a Cook County jury found Petitioner guilty of first degree murder, and the trial court sentenced Petitioner to a sixty-year prison term for that crime.

1. Trial

On direct appeal, the state appellate court summarized the evidence adduced at trial as follows:

The trial evidence demonstrated that a crowd of teenagers was gathered on the street around 9 P.M. on April 26, 2006. The victim had been slap boxing' with a girl named Jean McDaniel. McDaniel alerted her cousin, Anthony Red' Raper. In response, Raper began searching for the victim. When McDaniel identified the victim, Raper approached him. Raper and the victim exchanged punches, none of which made contact. The victim then ran in the opposite direction and the crowd on the street, including Raper, chased after him. Raper's cousin, [Petitioner], was at the front of that crowd with Raper. [Petitioner] then drew a handgun and pointed it at the victim. He fired one fatal shot to the back of the victim's head. The victim immediately fell to the ground.
The State called six witnesses, all of whom testified to being in or near the crowd when the shooting occurred. Yolanda Floyd, who lived on the street where the crowd was gathered, and Raper testified that they witnessed [Petitioner] shoot the victim as the victim ran away from the crowd.

The State's other four eyewitnesses claimed for the first time at trial that they had not seen (or could not remember having seen) the shooter. Those four witnesses were impeached with their earlier police and grand jury statements identifying Petitioner as the shooter. These statements were admitted as substantive evidence.

Petitioner called three witnesses in his defense: Samuel Harris, Curtis Palmer, and Eric Harris. All three testified that they were good friends of Petitioner's and were with him in the crowd at the time that Larry Brown was shot. They testified that Petitioner was within their sight at the time the shot was fired and that Petitioner did not have a handgun at that time. According to the three witnesses, after the shot was fired, the group, including Petitioner, ran away and stayed together for approximately an hour. None of Petitioner's witnesses ever reported what they observed to the police.

Each of Petitioner's witnesses was cross-examined by the prosecution. During the cross-examination of Samuel Harris, the prosecutor questioned why, if Harris had observed the shooting, had he not informed the police:

Q. So police cars in that neighborhood all the time?
A. Yes.
Q. So they're arriving?
A. Yes.
Q. And at that point, do you decide, well, I'm going to go up there and tell them what I saw?
A. No.
Q. You don't - did you care that anybody could have got shot over there?
A. Yes, I did care, but...
Q. You did care?
A. Mm-hmm.
Q. Because you're a caring person, right?
A. Yes.
Q. And you're such a caring person that if someone got shot, you would want to go tell the police what you saw, right?
THE COURT: Overruled.
A. Yeah.
Q. Okay. But you didn't?
A. No, because I was young.
Q. Even though there's police officers all over the place, right?
A. No. I was young.
Q. You were young?
A. Mm-hmm.
Q. So that stops you from talking to a police officer?
A. What was I gonna tell?
Q. So you didn't flag down any police cars, right?
A. No, because I went home after that happened after we went to the block, I went home after that.

Later in its cross-examination of Samuel Harris, the prosecutor returned to this theme, asking why Harris had not sought to exonerate his friend earlier:

Q. So a couple of weeks later, you found out that the [Petitioner] had been arrested for murder, correct?
A. Yes.
Q. For what had happened over on Cortland, right?
A. Yes.
Q. And you were out there at the time with [Petitioner], and he didn't shoot anybody according to you, right?
A. Right.
Q. That's important information, right?
A. Yes.
Q. That's real important ...

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