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Watts v. Duncan

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

February 27, 2015

LAFAYETTE WATTS, Petitioner,
v.
STEPHEN DUNCAN, Warden, Lawrence Correctional Center, [1] Respondent.

OPINION AND ORDER

SARA L. ELLIS, District Judge.

Petitioner Lafayette Watts is currently serving a ninety-year sentence for first-degree murder and a concurrent thirty-year sentence for attempted murder. Watts has petitioned this Court for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Because Watts has procedurally defaulted both of his claims by failing to present them through one complete round of state court review and no exceptions to procedural default apply, Watts' petition for a writ of habeas corpus is denied.

BACKGROUND

The Court will presume that the state court's factual determinations are correct for the purposes of habeas review, as Watts has not pointed to clear and convincing evidence to the contrary. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Todd v. Schomig, 283 F.3d 842, 846 (7th Cir. 2002). The Court thus adopts the state court's recitation of the facts and begins by summarizing the facts relevant to the petition.

I. Watts' Trial and Conviction

The incident in question took place during the evening of March 22, 1998. The victims were Shanelle Jackson and her nine-year-old son, Stephon Thompson. That night, Thompson heard screaming coming from Jackson's bedroom. When Thompson opened the door, he saw Watts stabbing his mother multiple times with a kitchen knife. Thompson attempted to leave to get help, but before he could leave the house, Watts stopped him at the front door. Watts stabbed Thompson in the chest. When Watts returned to Jackson's bedroom, Thompson ran outside where he encountered two men who proceeded to call the police.

At a bench trial in 1999, Watts was convicted of the first-degree murder of Jackson and attempted first-degree murder and aggravated battery of Thompson. He was sentenced to a ninety-year prison term for murder, which was to be served concurrently with the thirty-year term for attempted murder. The aggravated battery conviction was merged into the attempted murder conviction as a lesser-included offense.

II. Direct Appeal

On appeal, Watts argued that: (1) he was denied a fair trial when the trial court admitted prior consistent statement evidence that improperly bolstered the state's chief witness; (2) he was denied a fair trial due to improper admission of hearsay evidence; (3) he was denied a fair trial due to improper use of testimony by the victim's family; (4) he was denied a fair trial as a result prosecutorial misconduct during closing arguments; (5) his due process rights were violated because he was not proven guilty of attempted murder beyond a reasonable doubt; (6) his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to object to the evidence or statements referred to in claims 1-4; and (7) the extended-term sentencing statute, which was used in determining his sentence, was unconstitutional under Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466, 120 S.Ct. 2348, 147 L.Ed.2d 435 (2000). On August 1, 2001, the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the convictions but remanded for resentencing because his ninety-year extended-term sentence violated Apprendi.

Watts then filed a petition for leave to appeal ("PLA") with the Illinois Supreme court, arguing the same seven claims he raised in the appellate court, despite the appellate court ruling in his favor with regards to the Apprendi claim. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the PLA on February 5, 2003.

The State also filed a PLA from the appellate court's Apprendi decision. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the state's PLA on February 5, 2003, but issued a supervisory order vacating the appellate court order and directing the court to reconsider in light of People v. Swift, 781 N.E.2d 292, 202 Ill.2d 378, 269 Ill.Dec. 495 (2002). On April 10, 2003, the appellate court affirmed petitioner's convictions but remanded for resentencing under Apprendi and Swift. Again, the State filed a PLA in the Illinois Supreme Court. On October 7, 2003, the PLA was denied but the Illinois Supreme Court issued a supervisory order vacating the appellate court order and directing the court to reconsider in light of People v. Crespo, 788 N.E.2d 1117, 203 Ill.2d 335, 273 Ill.Dec. 241 (2001) and People v. Thurow, 786 N.E.2d 1019, 203 Ill.2d 352, 272 Ill.Dec. 185 (2003). On December 17, 2003, the appellate court affirmed the convictions and sentences because although the sentences violated Apprendi, they did not constitute plain error. On January 3, 2005, Watts filed a motion for leave to file a late PLA, which the Illinois Supreme Court denied on March 21, 2005.

Contemporaneous to the appellate court's second decision and the Illinois Supreme Court's second supervisory order directing the appellate court to reconsider, the trial court judge resentenced the petitioner to a non-extended term of sixty years for murder. Watts again appealed from this new sentence, but subsequently dismissed the appeal before the appellate court issued its second decision. Due to this Court's confusion regarding whether the sentence in force was sixty or ninety years, the Court directed the parties to submit a joint memorandum on the issue. Doc. 35. Because jurisdiction never reverted to the trial court for resentencing prior to the appellate court's affirmance of the ninety-year sentence on December 17, 2003, the corrected mittimus reflects a ninety-year sentence. Doc. 35-1.

III. State Post-Conviction Proceedings

Watts filed a timely petition pursuant to 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. § 5/122-1 in the Circuit Court of Cook County on September 27, 2005. He raised three claims in this petition. His first claim was that the trial court abused its discretion when it failed to consider mitigating evidence demonstrating he should have been convicted of second-degree murder. His second claim was that his extended-term sentence violated due process and Apprendi. His third claim was that his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective for failing to: (a) order a psychiatric evaluation report; (b) object to the ...


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