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United States ex rel. Thomas v. Hodge

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 31, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. MICHAEL THOMAS, Petitioner,
v.
MARC HODGE, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, District Judge.

In 1999, an Illinois jury convicted Michael Thomas of first-degree murder in connection with the stabbing death of Keith Stalker on a Chicago street in 1996, and the trial judge imposed a prison sentence of forty years. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed Thomas's conviction on direct appeal. After Thomas filed an unsuccessful petition for leave to appeal with the Illinois Supreme Court, he filed a petition for post-conviction relief. The Circuit Court of Cook County dismissed the petition, but the Illinois Appellate Court reversed that decision, concluding that Thomas had stated the gist of a constitutional claim. On remand, the circuit court again rejected Thomas's petition, a decision the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed, followed by the Illinois Supreme Court's denial of Thomas's petition for leave to appeal.

Thomas then filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 2254 in October 2011, and he also filed a motion for appointment of counsel. Respondent Marc Hodge, the warden of the prison where Thomas is incarcerated, argued that five of Thomas's seven claims are procedurally defaulted, that six of the claims are otherwise meritless, and that a seventh provides no basis for federal habeas relief. After Thomas replied, the Court dismissed one of Thomas's claims but otherwise declined to dismiss the other claims on procedural and state law grounds. United States ex rel. Thomas v. Gaetz, No. 11 C 7743, 2013 WL 53988 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 2, 2013) The Court also appointed counsel to represent Thomas. Thomas then filed, via counsel, a supplemental memorandum of law, to which respondent replied. Thomas filed a motion asking the Court to terminate his appointed attorney. The Court denied that motion in February 2014. Thomas has also filed a pro se motion seeking transcripts of certain purported state court proceedings. The Court addresses that motion in this decision, along with the remaining claims in Thomas's habeas corpus petition. For the following reasons, the Court denies Thomas's petition and his motion.

Background

The Court incorporates the following background from its prior opinion in this case. See United States ex rel. Thomas, 2013 WL 53988, at *1-5.

A. State court proceedings

1. The stabbing and Thomas's trial

Thomas admits that he stabbed Stalker near the corner of Magnolia and Wilson Avenues on November 23, 1996. He contends that he acted in self-defense and in defense of others or, in the alternative, that he should have been convicted of second-degree murder on a theory that he unreasonably believed that he was acting in self-defense and defense of others.

Thomas-then a member of the Black P-Stone Nation street gang-was selling crack cocaine on the street outside of 4541 North Magnolia Avenue on November 23 with Tory Jackson, Tyrone Curry, and Solomon Monroe, all fellow gang members. Stalker-who belonged to the Gaylord Nation street gang-was also in the neighborhood that day. Stalker frequently bought cocaine from the group, and he would occasionally bring other drug users to buy from them, in exchange for which the sellers would give Stalker free cocaine.

Around 2 a.m. on November 23, two other members of the Gaylord Nation gang drove into the area in a red GMC Blazer. It is undisputed that at some point between 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., the two men stole approximately $150 worth of cocaine from Black P-Stone Nation gang members. Jackson testified at Thomas's trial that he was the one responsible for selling the drugs that day. Jackson stated that sometime before 3 a.m., the two unidentified men pulled up outside of the porch where he was sitting with Stalker. One of the men got out of the car and talked with Stalker about buying an "eight-ball" (1/8 of an ounce) of cocaine, which Jackson agreed to sell for $150. Jackson instructed the men to drive around the block while he prepared the drugs for sale. Jackson testified that Monroe gave him the cocaine as the men drove around the block. The men returned a few minutes later and stopped the Blazer in the middle of the street. As Jackson reached through the passenger window to show them the cocaine, the passenger yelled to the driver to drive away. Jackson stated that he hung onto the car, trying to recover the drugs, until the men ran him into a pole approximately two blocks away. According to Jackson, Stalker was not involved in the theft.

Jackson testified that after he regained consciousness, he walked back to 4541 North Magnolia, where he met up with Thomas. Jackson stated that Thomas punched him in the eye as punishment for losing the drugs, and was "stabbing the dirt with his knife." Resp.'s Ex. Q at F-40. Thomas and Jackson walked out into the street, where they saw Curry and Monroe with Stalker. Curry and Monroe then began punching Stalker and beating him with a wooden 2x4 they had taken out of a dumpster. According to Jackson, Thomas walked toward the group, took out a knife, and stabbed Stalker. Jackson testified that during the entire incident, Stalker never fought back and never had a weapon in his hands.

At his trial, Thomas testified on his own behalf, recounting a different version of events. Thomas did not dispute that around 2 a.m., the two unknown Gaylord Nation gang members drove up to 4541 North Magnolia. According to Thomas, however, Stalker then got into the car with the two men, and they drove away. They returned about thirty minutes later, got out of the car, and asked Jackson if they could "buy some drugs." Resp.'s Ex. S at F-270. Thomas testified that he and Curry advised Jackson not to sell to the men because they did not know them very well. Thomas contends that when Jackson refused to sell them cocaine, Stalker and the two other men left the area.

According to Thomas, the Blazer returned approximately fifteen minutes later. The three men again got out of the Blazer and asked if they could purchase an eight-ball of cocaine. Thomas and Curry again advised Jackson not to sell to them, but Jackson disagreed, packaged the cocaine, and gave it to one of the men for inspection. Instead of paying, the man with the cocaine "swung on" Jackson, and the three men ran for the car. Id. at F-273. Jackson ran after the man with the drugs and tackled him to the ground. According to Thomas, Stalker joined the fight against Jackson, and Monroe jumped in to help defend his fellow gang member. Thomas contends that it was Stalker who grabbed the wooden 2x4 from the dumpster and hit Monroe with it several times. Thomas then joined the fight, running toward Stalker and punching him in the stomach. Stalker turned and swung the board at Thomas's head but missed. Thomas grabbed Stalker by the waist, and Stalker began choking him. In response, Thomas grabbed the knife he had stored in the front pocket of his sweatshirt and stabbed Stalker in the stomach.

Thomas testified that while he and Monroe were fighting with Stalker, the man with the cocaine freed himself from Jackson and ran toward the Blazer. Jackson gave chase, but the man successfully reached the car (the driver was already inside), and the two sped away in the Blazer, with Jackson hanging onto the passenger side door. After the stabbing, Thomas and Monroe jumped into Monroe's car, drove to the alley to pick up Jackson and Curry, and drove south to the house of Thomas's girlfriend, Sonia McKinstry, on Aberdeen Street between 52nd and 53rd Streets. Jackson and Monroe left the area soon afterward, but Thomas and Curry stayed at McKinstry's apartment until they were arrested three days later.

On November 26, 1996, Jackson returned to the corner of Wilson and Magnolia, where police arrested him in connection with Stalker's death. After questioning him about his participation in the incident, Jackson led police to McKinstry's house, where they arrested both Thomas and Curry. After his arrest, Thomas was interviewed multiple times by the police and an assistant state's attorney. At 2 a.m. the next day, Thomas signed a statement admitting that he stabbed Stalker after seeing Curry and Monroe beating Stalker up because he was getting "angrier about what the guys in the Blazer had done and thought Keith [Stalker] shared the blame for it." Resp.'s Ex. R at F-237. Thomas also stated that Stalker did not have anything in his hands when Thomas stabbed him. Thomas was charged with first-degree murder. Curry, Monroe, and Jackson were also charged in connection with Stalker's death.

The trial judge appointed a public defender to represent Thomas. Thomas moved to quash his arrest and suppress his statement to the authorities. On January 8, 1998, the trial judge held a pretrial hearing on the motions. Resp.'s Ex. P at A-1-93. Thomas and Curry both testified, as did two of the officers involved in Thomas's arrest- Detectives Philip Mannion and Dennis Gray. Because McKinstry, who had been subpoenaed to testify, was not available that day, the court continued the matter. McKinstry testified on May 12, 1998, and the court denied Thomas's motions on July 15, 1998.

Thomas's jury trial began on January 20, 1999. In its case-in-chief, the prosecution called Jackson to testify. Jackson had recently been acquitted of the murder in a separate trial. Detective Mannion and Assistant States' Attorney Karen O'Malley also testified, recounting the circumstances surrounding Thomas's signed statement. The parties stipulated to the autopsy report, which the prosecution read into evidence. In it, Dr. Aldon Fusaro, a deputy medical examiner at the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, concluded that Stalker died of a stab wound to the abdomen and that blunt force to his head was a contributing factor. Dr. Fusaro also noted in the report that Stalker had "[c]ontusions over the knuckles of the right thumb and index finger." Resp.'s Ex. R at F-203.

After the prosecution rested, Thomas took the stand in his own defense, giving his account of the circumstances that led him to stab Stalker. Thomas denied ever reading the statement that O'Malley wrote for him to sign, and he contended that the written statement inaccurately reflected what he told Mannion and O'Malley in his post-arrest interviews. In rebuttal, O'Malley challenged Thomas's testimony that the statement was inaccurate, and she testified that Thomas never told her that Stalker attacked him that evening. Thomas's attorney conceded in closing argument that Thomas stabbed Stalker but argued that he did so only in defense of himself and Monroe, or alternatively, that Thomas unreasonably believed he was doing so in defense of himself and Monroe and was therefore guilty of second-degree murder rather than first-degree murder. On January 21, the jury found Thomas guilty of first-degree murder.

Thomas appealed his conviction to the Illinois Appellate Court on four grounds, none of which he has included in his habeas corpus petition before this Court. The court affirmed his conviction on November 15, 2000, and the Illinois Supreme Court ...


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