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Ornelas v. Lemke

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

July 2, 2014

MICHAEL LEMKE, Respondent.


EDMOND E. CHANG, District Judge.

Petitioner Robert Ornelas has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, [1] challenging his 1996 conviction for first-degree murder. R. 11, Am. Habeas Pet. For the reasons that follow, his petition is denied, and no certificate of appealability will issue.

I. Background

A federal habeas court presumes that the factual findings made by the last state court to decide the case on the merits are correct, 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). Ornelas has not rebutted this presumption, so the following sets forth the facts underlying Ornelas's state criminal conviction.[2]

At around midnight on November 11, 1990, Chicago Police Officer John Boitch received a dispatch that two potential gunshot victims had been found in a car. The victims were later identified as Jay Mosqueda and Robert Cheeks. Chicago Police Detective James Boylan was assigned to investigate the double homicide. As part of his investigation, Detective Boylan interviewed Dion Castillo, who had attended a nearby party on the night in question. Castillo informed Detective Boyland that the night of the shooting, Robert Ornelas had attempted to gain entry to the party and, upon being refused, discharged a gun.

A. Arrest & Pre-Trial

Four days later, Ornelas and three other men were arrested in Frankfort, Illinois, when an Illinois State Trooper responded to a call regarding a fight in progress at a local White Hen. Two of the men were found to be in possession of narcotics, and all appeared to be under the influence of drugs. Ornelas was not found with contraband on his person, but he was arrested along with the other men.

Once in police custody, one of the men arrested with Ornelas, William Luedtke, informed Illinois State Police investigating agent Peter Hwang that Ornelas had committed a double homicide on the south side of Chicago two nights earlier. Luedtke stated that on November 11, 1990, at around 11:30 p.m., Ornelas stopped by his house and appeared nervous and edgy. The following day, Ornelas told Luedtke that he had committed a double homicide the previous night. Ornelas said that he had ingested LSD and went to a party. When Ornelas was denied access to the party, he "blew off a round" in the backyard and began walking home. Ornelas said that, on his walk, he encountered "two guys in a car" who "were looking for trouble" and that he shot both of the men with a shotgun.

After speaking with Luedtke, Illinois State Police Agent Hwang called the Chicago Police Department, Area 2 Violent Crimes. During the call, Hwang was informed that Chicago Police had been looking for Ornelas as a suspect in the double homicide. At around 3:00 p.m., Chicago Police Detectives Yucaitis and Brownfield arrived at the Illinois State Police District 5 Headquarters to talk to Ornelas and then to Luedtke, who provided them with a written statement. After speaking with Luedtke, the police returned to speak to Ornelas. They orally informed Ornelas of his Miranda rights, and Ornelas then confessed to the murder of Cheeks and Mosqueda. Ornelas explained that he was a member of the Vice Lords street gang and that the victims were members of the King Cobra street gang and that he fired two shots at the automobile in which the victims were sitting. Ornelas stated that he fired the shotgun in self-defense.

Public defender Phil Mullane was then appointed to represent Ornelas. At the time, Mullane was employed by the Cook County Public Defender's Office and was the supervisor of the Murder Task Force. Because Mullane and Ornelas had grown up together, Mullane volunteered to represent Ornelas and recruited several other public defenders to assist him with Ornelas's case.

With Mullane's assistance, Ornelas filed pre-trial motions to quash his arrest and suppress his inculpatory statements, arguing that he had been under the influence of narcotics at the time he made his statements and did not have the capacity to waive his Miranda rights or give a voluntary statement. Ornelas also alleged that his statements were involuntary because they were obtained as a result of physical, psychological, and mental coercion. The State requested clarification on Ornelas's claim of physical coercion, and Mullane orally amended the motion to include the allegation that Ornelas had been slapped and punched.

The trial court denied Ornelas's motion to quash his arrest as well as his motion to suppress his statement. With respect to the motion to suppress, the court ruled that suppression was not warranted because Ornelas was coherent at the time he made the statement and his statement was voluntary. After the trial court denied Ornelas's pre-trial motions, he elected to waive his right to a jury trial and proceeded by way of a bench trial.

B. Trial

At trial, the State elicited testimony from a witness who had attended the party the night of the shooting and heard what sounded like a gunshot between 11:00 and 11:30 p.m.; Castillo, who had also attended the party and told Detective James Boylan that Ornelas had attempted to gain entry to the party and fired his gun before leaving the area; William Luedtke, who recounted Ornelas's confession to him regarding the double homicide; and Illinois State Police Agent Hwang, who provided testimony that was consistent with the testimony he had provided at the prior hearing on Ornelas's pre-trial motions. With respect to Ornelas's statement, Hwang stated that the first time that he and Detectives Brownfield and Yucaitis spoke to Ornelas together on November 15, 1990, Ornelas initially claimed that he had been with a woman named Dawn somewhere in Chicago Heights on the night of the double homicide. Ornelas could not recall the exact address. When Agent Hwang and the detectives returned to speak to Ornelas after conversing with Luedtke, Ornelas admitted to the offense.

Detective Mike Gerhardstein testified that in November 1990, he was working as an Assistant State's Attorney. On November 15, 1990, ASA Gerhardstein spoke with, and took a statement from, Ornelas. In the statement, Ornelas admitted that he was denied entrance to a party and that he fired his 12-gage shotgun in the backyard as he began walking away from the party. Ornelas continued walking and observed Jay Mosqueda and a "black guy" sitting in an automobile. Ornelas stated that he knew Mosqueda because he used to beat Ornelas when they were both younger. Ornelas was also aware that Mosqueda was a member of the King Cobra street gang, whereas Ornelas was a Vice Lord. Ornelas and Mosqueda began yelling at each other, but Ornelas could not remember what either of them said. Ornelas told Gerhardstein that he thought Mosqueda and Cheeks were going to run him over with their automobile and that he fired his shotgun through the car's passenger side window and hit Mosqueda in the face. Ornelas then fired at Cheeks and ran away, destroyed the shotgun, and went to hide with friends in Whiting, Indiana.

At the bench trial, the court found Ornelas guilty of the first-degree murder of Mosqueda and Cheeks and sentenced him to natural life imprisonment.

C. Direct Appeal

Ornelas appealed his conviction and sentence. On appeal, Ornelas argued that the trial court erred in denying his motion to quash his arrest because police lacked probable cause to arrest him. Ornelas further argued that the trial court also erred in failing to suppress his statements because his statements were not sufficiently attenuated from his illegal arrest. In a written opinion, the Appellate Court of Illinois affirmed Ornelas's conviction. People v. Ornelas, 693 N.E.2d 1247 (Ill.App.Ct. 1998). It held that even if Ornelas's arrest was illegal, his statement was sufficiently attenuated from the arrest because it occurred hours later and only after Ornelas learned of Luedtke's statement. Ornelas subsequently filed a petition for leave to appeal, which the Illinois Supreme Court denied. People v. Ornelas, 705 N.E.2d 446 (Ill. 1998).

D. Post-Conviction Proceedings

In April 1999, Ornelas, with the assistance of post-conviction counsel, filed a petition for post-conviction relief. Ornelas alleged that he was denied his right to effective assistance of trial counsel when counsel failed to call him as a witness to testify at his pre-trial suppression hearing. Had he been called, Ornelas alleged, he would have testified that his statement was the result of the physical abuse that was inflicted on him by Detectives Yucaitis and Brownfield. Ornelas argued that trial counsel further erred in failing to interview and call as witnesses other individuals who experienced the systematic abuse known to occur at Area 2. Finally, Ornelas maintained that appellate counsel had also rendered ineffective assistance when he failed to raise these issues on appeal.

Ornelas later filed an amended post-conviction petition in August 2003. In it, Ornelas advanced the same allegations regarding ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel. Attached to the petition were a number of exhibits including an affidavit completed by Ornelas detailing the alleged physical abuse he suffered as well as different reports and proceedings regarding investigations into the Area 2 torture allegations that occurred under the tenure of Chicago Police Lieutenant Jon Burge.[3]

In his affidavit, Ornelas indicated that Detectives Yucaitis and Brownfield "choked, " "slapped and punched [him] about the head and body" and demanded that Ornelas admit to the murders of Mosqueda and Cheeks. Ornelas also alleged that the detectives pulled his hair, "repeatedly slapped [his] ears with their open hands, " and threatened to inflict additional and more severe abuse if he did not provide them with a confession. Although he acknowledged that he made incriminating statements, Ornelas alleged that the "statements were involuntary and solely the product of the physical abuse and verbal threats [he] was subjected to by Yucaitis and Brownfield." Ornelas indicated that he informed Mullane of the circumstances that led to his confession and ...

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