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Harris v. Polley

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

October 7, 2014

JAMES C. HARRIS, Petitioner,
CECIL POLLEY, Warden, Respondent.


SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, District Judge.

In January 2014, Petitioner James C. Harris filed a Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 for Writ of Habeas Corpus by a Person in State Custody (d/e 1). On May 1, 2014, Respondent Cecil Polley, the warden of Graham Correctional Center, filed a Motion to Dismiss Petitioner's Petition for a Writ of Habeas Corpus as Untimely (d/e 8). Also pending are Petitioner's Motions for a Stay (d/e 11, d/e 15). The Petition, filed nearly 15 years after Petitioner's conviction, is untimely. Therefore, the Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED and the Motions for a Stay are DENIED.


On January 22, 1999, Petitioner pleaded guilty to one count of first degree murder. In exchange for his plea, the State moved to dismiss the remaining counts and agreed to a maximum prison term of 30 years. The State provided the following factual basis for Petitioner's plea. See Transcript, Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit P (d/e 8-4, pp. 28, 34-37); see also People v. Harris, Nos. 4-10-0784 , 4-11-0530 2012 WL 7009682 (Ill.App.Ct. Aug. 13, 2012) (Exhibit L (d/e 8-3, p. 28)).

On August 6, 1998 at around 5:15 a.m., a woman noticed a body in the roadway on Perkins Court and flagged down Detective Tim Cunningham of the Springfield Police Department. The body was identified as that of Cory Miller. Detective Cunningham and Detective Pat Ross interviewed witnesses, including Petitioner and Robert Davis. Petitioner and Davis initially told the detectives that they were riding around with Miller when they noticed two armed men wearing masks walking toward the vehicle.[1] Petitioner and Davis attempted to wake up Miller, but Miller would not awaken. Petitioner and Davis fled. Later, Davis changed his story to one consistent with the statements given by Jerrod Hammond and Ronald McClain. Each of them said that in the early evening hours of August 6, 1998, Petitioner, who was armed, went looking for Cory Miller. He went to the home of Lukisha McClain and the home of Laquana[2] Miller. Laquana allowed Petitioner and Davis into the home. They woke up Miller, who left with them willingly. The five men drove around for a short while. Petitioner, who was seated in the front passenger seat, turned and, without provocation, shot Miller multiple times. Petitioner and McClain dragged the body out of the vehicle and left the body in the roadway where Miller was found. Petitioner instructed Davis and McClain to burn the vehicle, which they did. Petitioner disposed of the gun in a sewer at the intersection of Normandy and Stevenson.

When asked if the factual basis was correct and whether that is what happened, Petitioner stated, "No, sir, that ain't right." Transcript, Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit P (d/e 804, pp. 10). However, Petitioner agreed that that was what the State's evidence would be. Id. at 11. The trial court accepted Petitioner's plea.

On April 12, 1999, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to 27 years' imprisonment. At sentencing, Petitioner apologized to the families and stated, "I know what I did. I accepted my fate. I mean I accept the consequences for what I did." Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit H (d/e 8-2, p. 74); see also d/e 8-2, p. 75 (wherein Petitioner states that he knows what he did was wrong and that he "pled guilty to accept the fact that what I did was wrong"). Petitioner did not file a direct appeal.

A. Trial Court Denied Petitioner's First Post-Conviction Petition

On April 3, 2002[3], Petitioner filed a Pro Se Post-Conviction Petition pursuant to the Post-Conviction Hearing Act (725 ILCS 5/122-1 to 122-8 (West 2002)). See Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit B (d/e 8-1). Petitioner raised issues regarding his competency to plead, the sufficiency of the indictments, and whether counsel provided ineffective assistance by failing to conduct any meaningful adversarial testing of the sufficiency of the indictment.

On June 27, 2002, the trial court found the issues waived because Petitioner could have raised them on direct appeal but did not do so. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit C (d/e 8-1). Petitioner did not appeal the dismissal of his post-conviction petition.

B. Trial Court Denied Petitioner's Second Post-Conviction Petition as a Successive Petition for Which Petitioner Did Not Seek Leave To File

On May 2, 2006, Petitioner filed his second Petition for Post-Conviction Relief in Sangamon County circuit court. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit D (d/e 8-1). Petitioner asserted that the detectives falsified documents, committed perjury, and subjected Petitioner to false arrest by fabricating Hammonds' statement.

Petitioner also argued that counsel was ineffective for: failing to talk to Hammonds, despite Petitioner instructing counsel to do so; failing to construct a viable defense; failing to investigate Davis's inconsistent statements; failing to discover that the detectives embellished Laquana Miller's accounts of what occurred; giving false advice about Petitioner's amended indictment; failing to present a defense to the "illegal arrest warrant complaint"; and failing to investigate misconduct involving McClain where McClain was threatened, coerced, and given false information. Finally, Petitioner argued the trial court failed to comply with Supreme Court Rule 402 (c) and (d). Ill. S.Ct. R. 402(c) (requiring the court to determine there is a factual basis for the plea); Ill. S.Ct. R. 402(d) (addressing plea discussions and agreements).

Petitioner supported these claims with, among other documents, a letter from McClain and an affidavit. See Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit D (d/e 8-1, pp. 82, 105), In the affidavit, dated March 24, 2004, McClain stated that the detectives told him he would be charged with murder if he did not cooperate and that McClain's sister's life was in danger. McClain stated that he made up the story about how Petitioner murdered Miller but that he never witnessed any murder. McClain asserted that he was riding around with Petitioner, Robert McClain[4], and Hammonds until he and Hammonds were dropped off. McClain stated he lied because he did not want his sister to get hurt by Petitioner's brother and so he (McClain) would not go to prison.

On August 25, 2008, the trial court dismissed the petition. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit E (d/e 8-2, p. 1). The court found that the petition was a successive post-conviction petition for which Petitioner had not sought leave to file. See 725 ILCS 5/122-1(f) (enacted with an effective date of January 1, 2004 and providing that only one post-conviction petition may be filed without leave of court); P.A. 93-493, § 5, eff. Jan. 1, 2004. Petitioner appealed the dismissal of his second post-conviction petition. However, in August 2009, the appellate court granted Petitioner's motion to dismiss the appeal. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit F (d/e 8-2, p. 2).

C. Trial Court Denied Petitioner's Motion for Leave To File Successive (Third) Post-Conviction Petition

On May 29, 2008, while the second post-conviction petition was pending, Petitioner filed a Motion for Leave of Court to File a Successive Post-Conviction Petition for Post-Conviction Relief. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit G (d/e 8-2, p. 3). In support of his assertion that leave should be granted, Petitioner argued that the ruling on his initial post-conviction petition was fundamentally unfair and that newly discovered evidence showed he was actually innocent.

In support of his actual innocence claim, Petitioner pointed to several documents, including McClain's October 22, 2002 affidavit stating that he, McClain, was coerced into identifying Petitioner as the individual who murdered Miller. See Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit G (d/e 8-2, p. 8). Petitioner also attached McClain's March 24, 2004 affidavit, described above, asserting that detectives coerced McClain into identifying Petitioner as the shooter.

In the Motion, Petitioner stated that he wrote to Hammonds in 2004. Petitioner asserted Hammonds "echoed the following excerpt: What they told you fam. [sic] was some bullsh*t. I never went in front of no judge and gave no statements.'" Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit G (d/e 8-2, p. 5). However, Petitioner did not attach any documents from Hammonds to the Motion.

On May 18, 2009, Petitioner filed a Supplement to his motion for leave. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit H (d/e 8-2, p. 18). In the Supplement, Petitioner stated that he had heard rumors in the Sangamon County Jail (where Petitioner was held prior to pleading guilty) that McClain was lied to and threatened. Petitioner instructed his counsel to meet with McClain, but counsel did not do so. Id. at p. 21.

Petitioner attached to the Supplement an April 23, 2009 affidavit from Ronald McClain in which McClain stated that he rode around with Davis, Petitioner, and Hammond until he and Hammond were dropped off. See McClain April 23, 2009 Affidavit, Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit H (d/e 8-2, p. 48). McClain denied witnessing the murder and stated he told the detective that Petitioner committed the murder because the detective told McClain he could be charged with murder and that McClain's sister's life was in danger.

Petitioner also argued that his counsel failed to investigate the prosecutor's failure to disclose exculpatory evidence. The exculpatory evidence included the Laquana Miller statement to police in which she stated she could not identify the individuals who retrieved Cory Miller on the night of his murder, contrary to a detective's later report indicating that Laquana identified Harris. The purported exculpatory evidence also included the fact that no written statement from Hammonds existed. Petitioner stated that Hammonds' recent affidavit, which he attached to the Supplement, indicated Hammonds never told the detective that he witnessed Petitioner kill Miller. See Hammonds' April 18, 2009 Affidavit, Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit H (d/e 8-2, p. 52) (asserting he had been dropped off by Davis and Petitioner earlier in the evening).

Petitioner further argued that counsel failed to investigate Robert Davis's inconsistent statements. Davis's initial statement was consistent with Petitioner's story about two masked men as compared to his second statement identifying Petitioner as the shooter.

Finally, Petitioner complained that counsel was ineffective for failing to present independent testing and forensic analysis of the alleged murder weapon and investigate the bullet projectiles. The State's forensic scientist found no latent prints on the gun. The forensic scientist also determined that while the four bullets suitable for further comparison were of the same caliber as the gun and were fired from the same gun, the bullets could not be identified or eliminated as having been fired from the gun recovered. See Forensic Reports, Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit H (d/e 8-2, pp. 59-60).

On September 22, 2010, the trial court found that Petitioner failed to establish cause for Petitioner's failure to bring the claims and had not shown the necessary prejudice to allow a successive petition to be filed. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit I (d/e 8-3, p. 1). Petitioner appealed, and the appeal was docketed as People v. Harris , No. 4-10-0784.

D. Trial Court Denied Petitioner's Section 2-1401 Petition for Relief from Judgment as Untimely

On April 5, 2011, while the appeal of the denial of Petitioner's motion for leave to file his third post-conviction petition was pending, Petitioner filed a Petition for Relief From Judgment pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/2-1401. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit J (d/e 8-3, p. 2). Petitioner asserted that his motion should be granted because the State fraudulently concealed evidence that could have demonstrated Petitioner's actual innocence. Petitioner argued that the detectives concealed the fact that Arthur McClain, the guardian of Jarrod Hammonds, was present when 17-year-old Hammonds made his statement to the detectives on August 6, 1998. Arthur McClain submitted an affidavit indicating that Hammonds did not identify Petitioner as the shooter. See Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit J (d/e 8-3, p. 8). Petitioner attached both Arthur McClain's affidavit, dated May 17, 2010, and Hammonds' affidavit, dated April 18, 2009 (discussed above). Petitioner also argued that the State concealed the fact that the detectives extracted a coerced statement from Ronald McClain.

On June 8, 2011, the trial court dismissed the motion. Mot. to Dismiss, Exhibit K (d/e 8-3, p. 27). The court found that the motion was not timely filed and that the Petitioner alleged no grounds that would be a basis for relief. Id . Petitioner ...

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