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Sparks v. Butler

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

October 31, 2014

MICHAEL L. SPARKS, # K-98355 Petitioner,
v.
KIMBERLY BUTLER, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

MICHAEL J. REAGAN, Chief District Judge.

Petitioner Michael L. Sparks, who is currently incarcerated in Menard Correctional Center ("Menard"), brings this habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (Doc. 1). Sparks is serving a thirty-five year prison sentence for first degree murder. He seeks reversal of his conviction and sentence on twelve grounds (Doc. 1, pp. 8-36). Prior to commencing this action, Sparks allegedly exhausted his state court remedies on only five of these grounds. However, state court proceedings are on-going on the remaining seven grounds, which are allegedly based on newly discovered evidence. In order to avoid running afoul of the statute of limitations that is applicable to this federal habeas action, Sparks filed the instant Section 2254 petition (Doc. 1) along with a motion for a stay and abeyance (Doc. 2). He now asks the Court to stay this action and hold in abeyance any ruling on the Section 2254 petition until he exhausts his state court remedies on the seven unexhausted claims.

This matter is now before the Court for a preliminary review of the petition pursuant to Rule 4 of the Rules Governing § 2254 Cases in United States District Courts. Rule 4 provides that upon preliminary consideration by the district court judge, "[i]f it plainly appears from the petition and any attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the petition and direct the clerk to notify the petitioner." After carefully reviewing the pleadings filed to date in this matter, the Court concludes that the motion for a stay and abeyance (Doc. 2) shall be denied. Sparks shall be allowed to proceed with his exhausted claims (i.e., Grounds (1)-(5)) in this action, and his unexhausted claims (i.e., Grounds (6)-(12)) shall be dismissed without prejudice.

I. Background

In connection with the shooting death of his wife, Sparks was convicted of first-degree murder following a jury trial on October 30, 2002 (Doc. 1, p. 1). He was sentenced to thirty-five years of imprisonment on February 28, 2003. Id. His conviction and sentence were affirmed on direct appeal (Doc. 1, p. 2). People v. Sparks, No. 5-03-0297 (Ill.App. April 11, 2006) (Table) (Doc. 1, p. 2). The Illinois Supreme Court denied his petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") on September 27, 2006. People v. Sparks, 857 N.E.2d 682 (Ill. Sept. 27, 2006) (Doc. 1, p. 3).

Sparks challenged his conviction and sentence by filing two petitions for post-conviction relief. The first petition[1] was filed in the Circuit Court for Madison County, Illinois, on May 24, 2007 ("2007 petition") (Doc. 1, p. 4). Following several rounds of amendments and hearings, the trial court denied the 2007 petition on January 13, 2013 (Doc. 1, p. 5). The trial court's decision was affirmed on appeal on October 24, 2013. People v. Sparks, No. 5-13-0059 (Ill.App. Oct. 24, 2013) (Table). The Illinois Supreme Court denied a petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") on March 26, 2014. People v. Sparks, 5 N.E.3d 1128 (Ill. March 26, 2014).

Sparks filed a second petition for post-conviction relief in Madison County, Illinois Circuit Court on March 24, 2014 ("2014 petition") (Doc. 1, p. 5). In his 2014 petition, Sparks raised new challenges[2] to his conviction and sentence, based on what he describes as newly-discovered evidence (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). He alleges that the 2014 petition is pending, and counsel has been appointed to represent him in the state court proceedings (Doc. 1, p. 6).

II. Habeas Petition

In his Section 2254 petition, Sparks seeks reversal of his conviction and sentence on twelve grounds. The first five of these grounds have allegedly been addressed exhaustively in state court and are as follows:

(1) Sparks was denied his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and a fair trial when he was forced to appear in court while strapped into an electronic stun belt shackling device without a showing of manifest need;
(2) Sparks was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of counsel when the State's attorney engaged Tomerlin[3] to obtain incriminating statements from Sparks outside the presence of Sparks' defense counsel;
(3) Spark's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and a fair trial was violated when the State's attorney introduced testimony (of Tomerlin) that he knew or should have known was perjured;
(4) Sparks was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of trial counsel where counsel failed to investigate and call witnesses to impeach Tomerlin's testimony about the jailhouse confession; and
(5) Sparks was denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of direct appeals counsel because appellate counsel failed to ...

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