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United States ex rel. Pitts v. Butler

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

February 18, 2015

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel., JOHN R. PITTS, JR., M13166, Plaintiff,



Petitioner John R. Pitts, Jr. was convicted of three counts of aggravated sexual assault in Illinois state court on February 4, 2009. He is currently confined at the Menard Correctional Facility in Menard, Illinois, serving a 75-year prison sentence for those crimes. On May 16, 2013, Pitts filed this habeas petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, seeking relief on three grounds:

(1) the state trial court did not provide a "full and fair hearing" on Pitts's claim that his arrest was unlawful and that certain evidence against him should be suppressed; (2) trial counsel was ineffective for various reasons; and (3) state prosecutors relied on inadmissible hearsay at a hearing on the motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence.[2]

Respondent Kim Butler, warden at Menard, argues that Petitioner's claims are either not cognizable or meritless and that no certificate of appealability should issue. As explained below, the court agrees with Respondent, dismisses the habeas petition [6] on the merits, and declines to grant a certificate of appealability.


I. Arrest and Conviction

On habeas review, federal courts presume a state court's factual findings are correct absent clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Coleman v. Hardy, 690 F.3d 811, 815 (7th Cir. 2012). The following facts are taken from the Illinois Appellate Court's decision affirming the trial court's judgment of conviction, as well as the trial court's ruling to grant in part and deny in part Pitts's motion to suppress statements he made to law enforcement after his arrest. (Rule 23 Order, People v. Pitts, No. 3-09-0439 (Ill.App.Ct. 3rd Dist. April 21, 2011) Ex. A [17-1] to Gov't Resp. [16] to Pet.'s Habeas Pet., hereinafter "Gov't Resp.")

On December 5, 2002, Pitts approached a woman (referred to as "A.S.") walking to work, forced her into his car, drove to a wooded area, and sexually assaulted her. A.S. looked at Pitts' face for several minutes during the attack. The victim was taken to a local hospital where a physician treated her and recovered DNA evidence from her body.

Nearly four years later, a different woman ("C.M.") spoke with Moises Avila, a detective in the Joliet, Illinois police department and told him she had been sexually assaulted. C.M.'s friend-identified in Petitioner's pro se filings as C.M.'s pimp-saw C.M. leave in the vehicle immediately before she was attacked and noted the license plate number; the plate was registered to Pitts and his wife. C.M. and the friend were shown photo spreads that included Pitts, and both identified Pitts as the attacker. A third woman ("J.R.") went to police in 2006, claiming she had been sexually assaulted in 2002. Scott Cammack, also a Joliet police detective, showed her a photographic lineup that included Pitts, and J.R. identified Pitts as her assailant. Based on the identifications made by C.M., her friend, and J.R., Avila applied for an arrest warrant for Pitts as well as a search warrant for Pitts's DNA. A state court issued the arrest and search warrants, and police took Pitts into custody on December 5, 2006.

Around 5:45 p.m. that day, Pitts signed a form advising him of his Miranda rights. Avila and Cammack then began to ask him about several unsolved sexual assault cases in the area. Pitts admitted that having sexual contact with C.M. and J.R., but asserted that it was consensual. At 6:00 p.m., Pitts agreed to provide a videotaped statement and a DNA sample to the detectives. The videotape interview began at 7:00 p.m. Around 8:20 p.m., another detective, Lieutenant Stein, entered the interview room and immediately spoke to Pitts in a loud voice, calling him a "fucking predator" and a "monster." Stein told Pitts that Pitts's family was going to learn "what he had done." Stein remained in the room with Pitts for three to five minutes. After the lieutenant left, Pitts admitted that he "had taken sex from women who were not willing participants." ( People v. Pitts, No. 3-09-0439 (Ill.App.Ct. 3rd Dist. April 21, 2011), 3.) Pitts claimed he felt threatened by Stein and later explained that he provided incriminating statements because he thought the detectives would help him get counseling for his drug problem.

Pitts and Avila and Cammack took a short break before beginning a second videotaped interview. Five minutes into this second interview, Pitts complained of chest pains. The interview terminated, and Pitts was taken to a local hospital, arriving there, accompanied by law enforcement, at 9:35 p.m. Pitts was treated for "atypical chest pain, " meaning it was not a heart attack or angina. Further testing later revealed that Pitts had cocaine in his system. At the hospital, Pitts told a law enforcement officer he wanted to speak with Avila and Cammack again when he returned to the police station.

Pitts was brought back to the station around 2:00 a.m. on December 6, 2006. The detectives gave him something to eat and allowed him to use the restroom. Pitts was once again reminded of his Miranda rights, said he understood them, and agreed to be videotaped a third time. In that interview, Pitts admitted that he had grabbed A.S., took her to a wooded area, and forced her to have sex with him.

Prior to his criminal trial for the assault of A.S., Pitts filed a motion to suppress incriminating statements he gave to police both before and after he went to the hospital, arguing that the statements were the product of police coercion and misconduct. After a hearing, the trial court granted his motion in part and denied it in part. The court stated that "no court would condone what [Stein] did, " and acknowledged that Pitts's chest pain might have been partially induced by Stein's actions, though she concluded that the pain was "probably cocaine related." Ultimately, the court suppressed statements Pitts made before he went to the hospital (including the first and second videotaped interviews), but not the statements he made when he returned to the police station and confessed to the attack on A.S. In concluding that those later statements were admissible, the trial court noted that they were given after Pitts had been away from the police station for five hours and that Pitts had never complained to the doctors or nurses that he was mistreated by the police; instead, Pitts told a police officer at the hospital he wanted to talk to the detectives again. When Pitts returned to the police station in the morning of December 6, he was shown the Miranda rights form he had signed earlier, confirmed that he understood his rights, and agreed to another interview. Based on such findings, the trial court concluded that the statements Pitts made after he returned from the hospital were made without "any unlawful inducements" and were therefore admissible.

Pitts also filed a pretrial motion to quash his arrest and suppress evidence against him. ( See St. Ct. Docket, Ex. O to St. Ct. Rec. [17-16], C96-100.) He alleged that the arrest warrant was not supported by probable cause because (a) the police did not disclose to the issuing judge the fact that J.R. had previously identified someone else as resembling her attacker, and (b) immediately after the alleged attack some three years prior, she provided a license plate number that was registered to a different person. ( Id. ) The trial judge denied ...

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