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Vernard Crockett v. Harrington

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

June 5, 2014

VERNARD CROCKETT (R55945), Petitioner,
v.
RICK HARRINGTON, Warden, Menard Correctional Center, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

AMY J. ST. EVE, District Judge.

Before the Court is pro se Petitioner Vernard Crockett's petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). For the following reasons, the Court denies Crockett's habeas petition and declines to certify any issues for appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).

BACKGROUND

Crockett does not present clear and convincing evidence challenging the statement of facts in the last state court decisions addressing his arguments on the merits, and thus the Court presumes those facts are correct for purposes of its habeas review. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Ford v. Wilson, 747 F.3d 944, 947 (7th Cir. 2014). The Court therefore adopts the underlying facts as set forth by the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, in People v. Crockett, No. 1-10-3685 (1st Dist. Sept. 28, 2012) (unpublished), and People v. Crockett, No. 1-10-3685 (1st Dist. July 17, 2009) (unpublished).

I. Factual Background

On January 20, 2004, Jazmine Robinson's mother found her shot to death in their basement. On January 22, 2004, an anonymous caller notified police about the Robinson murder after which the police interviewed Ronald Lamar leading to first-degree murder charges against Crockett and Lamar. The evidence at Crockett's September 2006 jury trial established that Crockett and Lamar were involved in the shooting death of Robinson, who was Crockett's girlfriend. Lamar pleaded guilty, but refused to testify against Crockett at the September 2006 jury trial.

Prior to his jury trial, Crockett offered two inconsistent alibis to police. Thereafter, Crockett provided three substantially consistent police statements in which he admitted to arranging the robbery of Robinson because Lamar wanted to "hit a lick, " namely, rob someone. In his statements, Crockett said he was aware that Lamar carried a handgun and believed that Robinson would not release the $650 that he knew she had unless they threatened her with a weapon. Further, Crockett offered to set up the robbery - they would go to Robinson's home to look at results of her pregnancy test. According to Crockett's statements, Lamar and he had agreed upon a signal to begin the armed robbery. More specifically, they would proceed to Robinson's basement and Crockett would wink at Lamar.

In one of his statements, Crockett said he told Lamar to bring the gun as a threat, but not to use it to hurt Robinson. Crockett further stated that he examined Lamar's gun, a black.380 semi-automatic, on the Sunday prior to the arranged robbery. In addition, Crockett stated that he accompanied Lamar to Lamar's house to pick up the gun, after which they proceeded to Robinson's home on Tuesday, January 20, 2004.

While at Robinson's home, Crockett requested something to drink and Robinson poured him a glass of Bacardi. When the group went into the basement, Crockett put the glass on a freezer and asked Robinson to retrieve a compact disk. Robinson complied and, upon her return, she turned music, "up real loud." Crockett then gave Lamar the signal to begin the robbery. Lamar asked Robinson where the money was, after which Robinson turned toward Crockett and looked at him. Lamar continued to demand money and then shot Robinson in the back. At that point, Crockett fled from Robinson's home. While fleeing, Crockett heard three or four more shots. Crockett, however, did not report the shooting to the police.

Crockett testified at his jury trial denying that he arranged the robbery. Specifically, he testified that his girlfriend called him asking him to come over to her house to look at the results of a pregnancy test. He further testified that he encountered Lamar while on the way to Robinson's house and invited Lamar to walk with him. Upon their arrival, Lamar and Crockett entered Robinson's home and Crockett requested something to drink. The group settled into the basement and Robinson gave Crockett a glass of Bacardi, which he set down on top of a freezer. Crockett asked Robinson to retrieve a compact disk, which she did. Then, Lamar produced a handgun. Crockett testified that - up until that point - he was unaware that Lamar had a gun. According to Crockett's trial testimony, Robinson was uncomfortable with the presence of the handgun and told Lamar to leave while threatening to call the police. Further, Crockett testified that when Lamar failed to comply, they engaged in a heated verbal exchange. Crockett stated that at some point Robinson approached Lamar and pushed him from behind. In response, Lamar pushed Robinson to the ground and shot her once. Crockett immediately fled the home and heard three or four gunshots while running away. At trial, Crockett admitted that he did not report the shooting incident, but claimed that it was out of fear for his and his family's safety.

At trial, forensic testimony revealed that.380 caliber cartridge cases from fired bullets were recovered around Robinson's body. The cartridge cases were fired from the same semi-automatic weapon although the police never recovered the gun. Investigators also recovered a bottle of Bacardi in the kitchen refrigerator and a glass on the freezer chest in the basement. They also found a positive home pregnancy test in a dresser drawer in Robinson's bedroom.

II. Procedural Background

On September 27, 2006, following a trial in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, the jury found Crockett guilty of first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery. The Circuit Court judge sentenced Crockett to a term of 42 years imprisonment for the first-degree murder conviction to run consecutively to a 10 year-term for the attempted robbery.

Crockett then filed an appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, arguing that: (1) the State failed to establish the corpus delicti of attempted armed robbery where his statement was the only evidence presented; (2) the trial court's admission of a detective's testimony violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation denying him a fair trial; and (3) the trial court considered improper factors at sentencing. The Illinois Appellate Court agreed to the first argument and reversed Crockett's attempted armed robbery charge. Further, the Illinois Appellate Court held that the detective's testimony was properly admitted as non-hearsay evidence because it concerned a police investigatory procedure. The Illinois Appellate Court also affirmed Crockett's murder conviction, but remanded for resentencing because the court was unsure whether the improper attempted armed robbery conviction influenced the murder ...


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