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Groel v. Gurski

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

September 11, 2016

HAROLD C. GROEL, Petitioner,
v.
CAROLYN GURSKI, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DAVID R. HERNDON, District Judge

         In 2009, a jury in Tazewell County, Illinois, convicted Harold C. Groel of one count of criminal sexual assault in violation of 720 ILCS 5/12-13(a)(4). He was sentenced to fifteen years imprisonment. Now before the Court is the issue of whether the petition should be stayed and held in abeyance pending exhaustion of state remedies.

         Groel used a form to prepare his petition. In the section entitled “Grounds for Your Challenge in This Petition, ” he raised only one ground for habeas relief:

The state court erred “in finding the defendant guilty, without requiring further analysis or more definitive definition of the positions [of] authority, supervision, and trust and how it applies to the defendant.”

Doc. 1, p. 6. However, in the “Request for Relief” section of the petition, Groel asserted that the failure to have “some type of true definition” of the three terms and to specify which term allegedly applies to him resulted in “having the defendant prove that he did not fall into any of the positions and that to have all three positions relieves the State of it's [sic] burden of proof denying him due process of law.” Doc. 1, p. 10.

         On preliminary review, the Court construed petitioner's claim as “he was denied a fair trial because an element of the offense, his ‘position of trust, supervision, or authority' over the victim, was not adequately defined.” See, Doc. 8, p.1.

         Respondent's answer, Doc. 21, focused primarily on the sufficiency of the evidence, and only secondarily on petitioner's argument about the definition of position of trust, supervision or authority. In his reply, Doc. 24, petitioner definitively stated that he is not making a sufficiency of the evidence claim. See, Doc. 21, p. 1, &2. Rather, his ground for habeas relief is, as was stated in the order on preliminary review, that his positon of trust, supervision, or authority over the victim, was not adequately defined. The Court will refer to this as the “definition claim.” He also asserted in his reply a slightly different ground, that the indictment was insufficient because it did not specify which position (trust, authority or supervision) defendant held relative to the victim. The Court will refer to this as the “notice claim.”

         The Court directed respondent to file an amended response. The amended response is located at Doc. 34. Therein, respondent indicated for the first time that petitioner had filed a collateral proceeding in June 2013, i.e., a petition for relief from judgment pursuant to 735 ILCS §5/2-1401.[1] Respondent did not indicate whether petitioner appealed from the order denying that petition. Because the Court's own research suggested that petitioner did, in fact, file a notice of appeal, the Court directed respondent to advise the Court of the status of petitioner's state court proceedings. Respondent indicated that petitioner's appeal was still pending. The Office of the State Appellate Defender had been appointed to represent him, and his opening brief was due in May, 2016. See, Doc. 45.

         The Court then asked the parties to file memoranda on the question of whether the habeas petition should be stayed and held in abeyance. Respondent opposes a stay, while petitioner is in favor. See, Docs. 48 & 49.

         Relevant Facts and Procedural History

         This summary of the facts is derived from the decision of the Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, denying petitioner's direct appeal. A copy of the decision is located at Doc. 21, Ex. 2, pp. 1-11.[2]

         Groel was initially charged with five counts of criminal sexual assault against three minor female victims (T.A., S.N. and A.P.), and one count of endangering the life or health of a child (S.N.) by providing alcoholic beverages and drugs. After S.N. failed to appear at trial as scheduled, the three counts involving her were dismissed. Defendant was convicted only on one count involving T.A. Ex. 2, pp. 2, 4.

         T.A., S.N. and A.P. were foster children in the custody of petitioner's mother-in-law, Judy Morris. Petitioner's wife, Cathy Groel, sometimes “babysat” one or more of her mother's foster children. Ex. 2, pp. 4-5. T.A. testified that Judy Morris would leave her with Cathy Groel at the home Cathy Groel shared with petitioner while Judy Morris went to play bingo. T.A. testified that, when she was fourteen years old, petitioner had vaginal intercourse with her at his home. She said that petitioner had vaginal intercourse with her on other occasions as well, and that he had stopped having intercourse with her when another foster child, S.N., moved into Judy Morris' home. Ex. 2, pp. 3-4.

         On direct appeal, Groel raised the following issues:

1. He was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
2. The judge erred in allowing the state to introduce other-conduct evidence to show his propensity to commit ...

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