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Clemons v. Williams

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

December 8, 2014

RODNEY CLEMONS, Petitioner.
v.
TARRY WILLIAMS, Warden, Stateville Correctional Center, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SHARON JOHNSON COLEMAN, District Judge.

In June 2005, an Illinois jury convicted Rodney Clemons of first-degree murder. Clemons, proceeding pro se, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus, raising numerous claims.[1] The court denies Clemons' petition.

BACKGROUND

On August 26, 2001, Doris Smith was shot and killed outside her home. People v. Clemons, No. 1-05-3290, 957 N.E.2d 587 (Ill. Ct. App. Mar. 31, 2008) (table disposition); Dkt. # 20-1 at 2. The state charged Rodney Clemons with Smith's murder. At trial, multiple witnesses testified that they saw Clemons shoot Smith and saw Smith fall to the ground. The jury convicted Clemons, and the trial court sentenced Clemons to 45 years of imprisonment.

On direct appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court, Clemons, represented by counsel, argued that the trial court violated Illinois law by failing to inquire about a statement he made at allocution concerning the effectiveness of his trial counsel. Clemons did not raise a federal ineffective-assistance claim. The appellate court affirmed Clemons' conviction, Clemons, 957 N.E.2d. at 587; Dkt. # 20-1 at 9, and the Illinois Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Clemons, No. 106351, 889 N.E.2d 1118 (Ill. May 29, 2008); Dkt. # 20-6.

Clemons filed a seventy-page pro se petition for post-conviction relief, arguing that his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective in various ways and raising other evidentiary claims. Dkt. # 20-34 at 36. On December 12, 2008, the court denied Clemons's petition and subsequently denied his motion for reconsideration, which it construed as a motion for leave to file a successive post-conviction petition. People v. Clemons, No. 1-09-0737, 2011 WL 9685021, at *4 (Ill.App.Ct. May 13, 2011).

On appeal, Clemons, now represented by counsel, raised one issue: that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge a particular evidentiary claim concerning a 911 call by an eyewitness. Clemons, though still represented by counsel, moved pro se to supplement his briefs with additional filings raising new claims. The state appellate court issued orders taking Clemons' pro se motions to supplement the briefing under advisement with the case. Dkt. # 20-12, 20-17. On May 13, 2011, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the denial of Clemons's post-conviction petition in a reasoned opinion. Clemons, 2011 WL 9685021, at *9. The state appellate court closely reviewed the record in the post-conviction proceeding and determined that Clemons' initial pro se post-conviction petition raised the issue about the 911 call as a purely evidentiary claim and not as a basis for his claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. See id. That is, the appellate court determined that Clemons' petition failed to include the evidentiary issue as a basis for his ineffective-assistance claim. Accordingly, the court concluded that Clemons forfeited the claim that his appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to challenge the trial court's exclusion of the 911 call from evidence. Id.

Subsequently, the Illinois Appellate Court issued two orders regarding Clemons' still-pending motions to supplement the briefing on appeal. First, on May 27, 2011, the court denied Clemons leave to file a supplemental pro se opening brief but granted him leave to file a reply brief, noting that it had considered Clemons' reply brief when it issued its prior opinion. Dkt. # 20-18. Then, two months later, the court sua sponte vacated the latter part of its prior order and clarified that it denied Clemons leave to file a pro se supplemental reply brief. Dkt. # 20-19. The court explained that, when reaching its decision in the case, it considered Clemons's reply brief submitted by his counsel but not his pro se supplemental reply brief. The Illinois Appellate Court denied rehearing, and the Illinois Supreme Court denied leave to appeal. People v. Clemons, No. 113019, 962 N.E.2d 484 (Nov. 30, 2011) (table disposition). Because the appellate court denied Clemons leave to file the pro se supplemental briefs, it did not address the issues raised in them.[2]

Clemons' extensive pro se petition for a writ of habeas corpus, liberally construed, raises the following grounds for relief: 1) the trial court's exclusion of an eyewitness's 911 call violated Clemons' constitutional right to present a complete defense; 2) certain testimony by the victim's daughter violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause; and 3) his innocence. He further claims at trial and on appeal that counsel was ineffective for: failing to investigate and call several witnesses, failing to respond properly to a prosecution witness' incriminating testimony, failing to challenge the exclusion of the 911 call on appeal, and failing to bring an appellate challenge to certain testimony by the victim's daughter. Finally, Petitioner claims that post-conviction counsel was ineffective in various ways.

LEGAL STANDARD

A federal court may not grant a petition for a writ of habeas corpus for "any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court proceedings" unless the state proceedings:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or (2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. ยง 2254(d). The "unreasonable application" clause authorizes federal courts to grant the writ when a "state-court decision unreasonably applies the law of [the Supreme Court] to the facts of a prisoner's case." Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 409 (2000). The ...


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