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United States ex rel. Garrett v. Gaetz

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

January 20, 2015

DONALD GAETZ, Warden, Pinckneyville Correctional Center, Respondent.


RUBÉN CASTILLO, Chief District Judge.

Johnnie Garrett ("Petitioner") filed a petition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 (the "Petition") challenging his 2007 arson conviction in Cook County, Illinois. (R. 7, Pet.) This Court previously concluded that the Petition was not timely filed in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 2244(d). (R. 18, Min. Entry.) Petitioner now requests that the Court deem the Petition timely by applying the doctrine of equitable tolling. (R. 32, Pet'r's Mot. to Allow Equitable Tolling.) For the reasons stated below, the motion is denied.


Petitioner was arrested on November 14, 2004, and charged with aggravated arson. (R. 16-2, Ill.App. Ct. Order at 1.) In February 2005, Petitioner's public defender requested that Petitioner undergo a mental examination to determine whether he was competent to stand trial. ( Id. at 2; R. 16-3, State Ct. Dkt. at 2.) Dr. Susan Messina, a licensed clinical psychologist, was appointed by the court to examine him, and she found him fit to stand trial. (R. 16-2, Ill.App. Ct. Order at 2.) Petitioner's attorney then requested a second opinion. ( Id. ) In July 2005, the court ordered a second examination. (R. 16-3, State Ct. Dkt. at 3.) Dr. Carol Flippen, a forensic psychiatrist, examined Petitioner; she too concluded that he understood the nature of the charges against him and the court proceedings, and that he was fit to stand trial. (R. 16-2, Ill.App. Ct. Order at 2.) Dr. Flippen noted that Petitioner was having difficulties getting along with his attorney, but she did not attribute them to a mental illness. ( Id. ) Rather, in her view the conflict was caused by a difference of opinion Petitioner was having with counsel over the proper defense strategy. (R. 38-1, Dr. Flippen's Report at 110.) In January 2006, the results of the two competency examinations were discussed in court. (R. 16-2, Ill.App. Ct. Order at 2-3.) The following exchange occurred between the court and Petitioner's trial attorney:

The Court: The Defendant has not ever been anything according to the doctors but fit for trial, legally sane and able to understand Miranda at the time of questioning.
[Counsel]: That's fine, because I have been to visit him, [and] he does appear to understand the nature of the charges and cooperates with counsel.
The Court: I don't believe there's any genuine issue of fitness before the Court or with Counsel is that correct, Counsel?
[Counsel]: Yes.

( Id. at 3.)

At a court hearing in March 2006, Petitioner asked the court to appoint a different attorney to represent him, stating that he was dissatisfied with counsel's performance, in part because counsel had requested the two mental examinations. ( Id. ) The court denied his request, stating that the court agreed with counsel's decision to request the mental examinations. ( Id. ) Later that same month, Petitioner's counsel filed a motion to suppress statements Petitioner had made following his arrest. ( Id. ) Following a hearing, the motion was denied. ( Id. ) After the motion was denied, Petitioner complained to the court that his counsel had not permitted him to testify in support of the motion. ( Id. ) The court then reopened the motion and permitted Petitioner to testify. ( Id. ) After hearing the additional evidence, the court denied the motion a second time. ( Id. )

At a subsequent court hearing, Petitioner requested to see a psychiatrist because "he thought the Assistant State's Attorney assigned to the case was crazy." ( Id. at 4.) The court construed this as a request for another competency examination. ( Id. ) In June 2006, the trial court ordered a third mental examination. (R. 16-3, State Ct. Dkt. at 6.) At the next status date, before the examination had been conducted, the court stated that it had learned that Petitioner did not cooperate with Dr. Flippen at the prior examination; the judge instructed Petitioner to fully cooperate during the third examination. (R. 16-2, Ill.App. Ct. Order at 4.) Petitioner responded that he "wanted to take Haldol and Cogentin" because he was "all messed up in the head." ( Id. ) Petitioner was later evaluated by Dr. Flippen. ( Id. ) Her subsequent report found that Petitioner was fit to stand trial, that he understood the nature of the charges and the court proceedings, and that he was able to assist his attorney "should he choose" to do so. ( Id. at 5.)

In August 2007, a bench trial was held. ( Id. ) The state presented testimony from a witness who saw Petitioner leaving an apartment building shortly before it caught on fire, as well as testimony from a resident of the building who described waking up to find flames in the hallway. ( Id. ) A police officer and an assistant state's attorney testified regarding incriminating statements Petitioner made after his arrest, specifically, that he "had been assaulted by residents of the building the previous week and was trying to get back at them by starting the fire." ( Id. at 6.) Petitioner testified in his own defense, claiming that the arresting officers had tricked him into confessing by falsely promising that he would only be charged with a misdemeanor if he admitted to starting the fire. ( Id. ) At the close of the evidence, the trial court found Petitioner guilty of aggravated arson and sentenced him to 25 years in prison. ( Id. )

Petitioner filed a direct appeal. ( Id. at 6.) Through appointed counsel, he raised the following arguments: (1) his trial attorney was ineffective in failing to request a mental fitness hearing; (2) the trial court erred in failing to sua sponte order a mental fitness hearing; and (3) the trial court abused its discretion in imposing a 25-year sentence. ( Id. at 6-13.) The Illinois Court of Appeals rejected the first two arguments based on the fact that two independent doctors had evaluated Petitioner a total of three times and found him to be competent. ( Id. at 6-10.) As to the third argument, the appellate court found Petitioner's sentence proper in light of his "lengthy criminal history, " and the fact that he had engaged in "vigilante behavior." ( Id. at 12-13.) Accordingly, on July 20, 2009, the court affirmed Petitioner's conviction and sentence in all respects. ( Id. at 1, 13.) Petitioner did not seek further review in the Illinois Supreme Court. (R. 7, Pet. at 2; ...

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