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Weathersoon v. Harrington

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

September 24, 2014



JAMES F. HOLDERMAN, District Judge.

On September 6, 2006, a jury convicted petitioner Emmitt Weatherspoon ("Weatherspoon") of first-degree murder. Weatherspoon was sentenced to 45 years in prison, which he is currently serving at Menard Correctional Center in Menard, Illinois.

On December 2, 2013, Weatherspoon filed a pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. (Dkt. No. 1.) On April 7, 2014, the State of Illinois ("State"), on behalf of respondent Warden Rick Harrington, filed an answer to Weatherspoon's petition. (Dkt. No. 14.) The court allowed Weatherspoon until July 9, 2014 to file a reply, (Dkt. No. 16), and subsequently granted Weatherspoon's motion to extend the deadline until September 2, 2014 (Dkt. No. 18). On August 25, 2014, however, Weatherspoon filed a letter stating that he would not be able to draft a reply without legal assistance and wished to "move forward as is with [his] petition."[1] (Dkt. No. 19.) The court thus considers Weatherspoon's § 2254 petition ripe for ruling. For the reasons explained below, Weatherspoon's petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.


The following factual summary was set forth by the Appellate Court of Illinois for the First Judicial Circuit ("Illinois Appellate Court") in Weatherspoon's direct appeal, People v. Weatherspoon, 394 Ill.App.3d 839, 915 N.E.2d 761, 333 Ill.Dec. 690 (Ill.App.Ct. 1st Dist. 2009)[2]:

[Weatherspoon] was charged with aggravated criminal sexual assault and first-degree murder after Sylvia Chambers was found dead in a garbage can in the alley behind [Weatherspoon's] home.

A. Motion in limine

Before trial, which began August 1, 2006, [Weatherspoon] made an oral motion in limine to bar the State from presenting his theft conviction from 1997. The trial court found the motion premature and ruled that it would determine the relevancy of [Weatherspoon's] conviction if and when [Weatherspoon] testified.
[Weatherspoon] testified on his own behalf at the trial. Afterward, the State sought to admit [Weatherspoon's] convictions for robbery and theft. [Weatherspoon] was convicted of robbery on July 21, 1995, and his probation was terminated in April 1997. He was convicted of theft on April 17, 1997. [Weatherspoon] requested that both convictions be barred because they were more prejudicial than probative, especially given the remoteness of the robbery conviction.
The trial court determined that both cases affected [Weatherspoon's] credibility. Although both convictions "tend not to be recent, " the court noted that [Weatherspoon] was outside the jurisdiction from 2001 through 2004. Furthermore, where [Weatherspoon] was being tried for crimes of violence, the theft and robbery convictions "lack any similarity to what is before this jury." After balancing the probative value of the convictions against the danger of unfair prejudice, the trial court permitted the State to present evidence of the convictions.

B. Evidence Presented at Trial

Chambers was last seen alive on July 21, 1999, at 12:30 a.m., when she sat in a car, drinking with her friend. The next morning, her body was discovered in a garbage can in the alley behind 1145 West 112th Place in Chicago. While the police were investigating and processing the scene, neighbors saw [Weatherspoon] in the alley, sitting on the back of a paddy wagon.
Brian Smith, a forensic investigator for the Chicago police, testified that the body was wrapped in black sheeting. He also discovered a purple towel, which was in the alley, and a pair of pliers and a blue plastic bag, which were in the front yard of 11257 South Racine.
Detective Steven Brownfield testified that on July 22, 1999, after speaking to a witness, he went to 11254 South May looking for [Weatherspoon], but no one was there. The next day, the police executed a search warrant on the house. In the rear bedroom, they found several knives lying around and a belt that had blood on its buckle. The bedsheets were "quite soiled" and appeared to be stained. They put a "stop order" on [Weatherspoon] but were unsuccessful in locating him.
Five years later, in November 2004, Chicago police officer Ted Przepiora was working on the Chambers case with the cold case squad. He testified that on November 3, 2004, he talked to Tanis Wildhaber of the State Police crime lab concerning the work up of evidence recovered during the investigation. Przepiora testified that Wildhaber gave him "some information about some positive findings on some DNA analysis." Based on that information, he "further investigate[d] a possible location of a suspect, " i.e., [Weatherspoon], in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He contacted the Michigan Federal Bureau of Investigation task force, and on November 8, 2004, he, an assistant State's Attorney, and other detectives traveled to Grand Rapids.
Grand Rapids police officer Daniel Lubbers testified that on November 9, 2004, he went to [Weatherspoon's] place of employment and arrested him. He transported [Weatherspoon] to the police station and contacted the Chicago police detectives to inform them that [Weatherspoon] was in custody. The detectives arrived at the police station at 9:30 or 9:45 a.m.
Przepiora and another detective spoke to [Weatherspoon] in an interview room almost immediately after arriving. They read [Weatherspoon] his Miranda rights, which he said he understood. Przepiora told him that they were investigating the murder of Sylvia Chambers, which occurred on July 21, 1999. At first, [Weatherspoon] denied involvement and claimed that he had left the Chicago area in 1998. However, after officers confronted him with crime scene photos, which showed that he was there, and witness statements that placed him at the scene the day of the murder, [Weatherspoon] said that his and the victim's DNA would be found in his bedroom. [Weatherspoon] told Przepiora that he and Chambers agreed to smoke crack cocaine in exchange for sex. He purchased two bags of rocks from the dealer down the alley, returned to his bedroom, and smoked the cocaine with Chambers. He then had sex with Chambers, during which time he ejaculated on her chest. Afterward, Chambers, dressed only from the waist up, demanded more cocaine, but he refused and asked her to leave. She became enraged, and a struggle ensued.
As Chambers struggled with [Weatherspoon], he removed his belt, put it around her neck, and twisted it. Chambers continued to struggle; he released the belt and put his hands around her neck. He then reached for a Swiss Army knife and stabbed her in the neck. After he stabbed her, she began gasping for air and died a short time later. [Weatherspoon] got black landscaping plastic from the kitchen and wrapped Chambers's body in it. He placed her body in a garbage can in the alley behind his house. When he returned to the house, he wrapped the knife he used to stab Chambers in her pants and then put the pants in a television cabinet in the basement of the house.
When the police arrived, he went outside and watched them process the scene. After the police left the area, he approached his sister Shalonda and told her he had been involved in a murder. He asked her to drive him to Altgeld Gardens, where he stayed for one or two days. He then drove to his sister Nicole's house in Grand Rapids. Nicole confronted him with the fact that he showed up at her door with only the clothes on his back, and he confided that he had been involved in a murder in Chicago and could not return.
During Przepiora's conversation with [Weatherspoon], he showed him pictures of the scene. [Weatherspoon] identified the belt he used on Chambers.
After his discussion with [Weatherspoon], Przepiora left the room and informed Assistant State's Attorney Rob Robertson of [Weatherspoon's] statement. Robertson, the detectives, and [Weatherspoon] moved to a larger conference room, where Robertson also advised [Weatherspoon] of his rights.
Robertson testified that after the detectives interviewed [Weatherspoon], they informed him that [Weatherspoon] agreed to talk to him. Robertson advised [Weatherspoon] of his constitutional rights, which [Weatherspoon] said he understood. After [Weatherspoon] talked to Robertson about the murder of Sylvia Chambers, Robertson explained the ways that [Weatherspoon] could memorialize his statement. [Weatherspoon] chose to give a videotaped statement, so [Weatherspoon], Robertson, and the detectives signed the consent form.
In the videotaped statement, [Weatherspoon] said that the murder had been weighing on his mind for five years. He stated that on July 21, 1999, he smoked crack in his bedroom, which was at the back of the house, located at 11254 South May. Afterward, he sat on the front porch, where he saw Chambers, whom he knew as "Baby Girl" walking down the street. The two talked about exchanging crack for sex, so [Weatherspoon] went down the street and purchased two dime bags of crack. The two smoked crack in his bedroom and then had sex. Afterward, Chambers asked for some of [Weatherspoon's] crack, but when he said no, she became angry and began yelling.

[Weatherspoon] told Chambers to leave; he was concerned that his sister would come home and discover that he was smoking crack, as he had promised her he would not smoke crack anymore. He tried to push Chambers, who was only wearing a shirt, out the door, but she began "fighting me, swinging me." He pushed her, and she hit the wall and told him he was going to get "f____ked up" if he did not let her go. As she came at him in a "raging force, " [Weatherspoon] pulled the belt out of his pants and "wrapped the belt around her neck to try to calm her down." He told her to get "the f____k out of my house" as she scratched his face and neck. He let the belt go and grabbed her, but she was slippery and still refused to leave.

Chambers said that she was going to get paid one way or the other, even if she had to get people to jump him. [Weatherspoon] then grabbed her around the neck and squeezed to "try to put some fear inside of her." Tired and frustrated, he let her go, but she continued to fight, so he grabbed his Swiss Army knife. She seemed to be reaching for her pants before she came at him again. Although she had nothing in her hands, [Weatherspoon] stabbed her in the neck. Chambers started choking and appeared to be dying. [Weatherspoon] "freaked out" and got a heavy duty black plastic bag from the kitchen. When he returned to his bedroom, Chambers was dead, so he wrapped her body in the bag and cleaned as much blood off the floor as he could. He got a neighbor's garbage can from the alley, rolled it to the side of his house, dumped her body in it, and put the garbage can back in the alley.
The next morning, he heard that her body had been discovered and went outside to watch the police investigation because he needed confirmation that the murder was not just a "crack dream." A neighborhood drug dealer who was related to Chambers found out that he had something to do with her murder, so he left the neighborhood. He stayed at Altgeld Gardens and then visited his son in Riverdale. While he was in Riverdale, his son's mother called the police, so when they came, he waited in a tree until they left. Trying to "forget everything [he] did in Chicago and start another life, " [Weatherspoon] went to Grand Rapids.
During the videotaped statement, [Weatherspoon] said that the police and Robertson had treated him ...

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