United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Robert Lee Williford, who is on supervised release after
serving more than a decade in state prison for armed robbery
and aggravated battery, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus
under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Doc. 6. Williford seeks habeas
relief on the grounds that his trial, appellate, and
post-conviction attorneys were constitutionally ineffective,
that he was not provided with a preliminary hearing, that he
is actually innocent, that the prosecutor relied on excluded
evidence during closing arguments, and that his sentence is
excessive. Williford's petition is denied, and the court
will not issue a certificate of appealability.
federal habeas court presumes that the state courts'
factual findings are correct unless they are rebutted by
clear and convincing evidence. See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(e)(1); Jean-Paul v. Douma, 809 F.3d 354, 360
(7th Cir. 2015) (“A state court's factual finding
is unreasonable only if it ignores the clear and convincing
weight of the evidence.”) (internal quotation marks
omitted); Coleman v. Hardy, 690 F.3d 811, 815 (7th
Cir. 2012) (“We give great deference to state court
factual findings. After AEDPA, we are required to presume a
state court's account of the facts correct, and the
petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption of
correctness by clear and convincing evidence.”)
(internal quotation marks omitted). The Appellate Court of
Illinois is the last state court to have adjudicated
Williford's case on the merits. People v.
Williford, 2014 IL App (1st) 133737-U (Ill.App. Sept.
15, 2014) (reproduced at Doc. 13-10); People v.
Williford, 2011 WL 9686255 (Ill.App. Jan. 4, 2011)
(reproduced at Doc. 13-14); People v. Williford, No.
1-05-2071 (Ill.App. Jan. 21, 2009) (reproduced at Doc. 13-1);
People v. Williford, No. 1-05-2071 (Ill.App. May 14,
2008) (reproduced at Doc. 13-5 at 11-22). The following sets
forth the facts as that court described them, as well as the
procedural background of the state criminal and
15, 2003, four men attacked Jacquelynn Popp and Michael Hurst
while they were walking home from dinner. Doc. 13-1 at 2. Two
of the men choked Popp and threw her to the ground before
taking her phone and wallet from her pockets. Id. at
2-3. The other two men focused on Hurst; they hit him in the
neck with a three-foot-long lead pipe, knocking him down, and
then stole his keys, cigarettes, and watch. Id. at
2; Doc. 13-22 at 56, 61-62. The men then ran to a dark SUV
parked nearby. Doc. 13-1 at 3.
flagged down a police car and pointed to the SUV as it began
to drive away. Ibid. The police took off after the
SUV and the SUV fled, setting in motion a chase that reached
speeds of up to 80 miles per hour and drew in several other
police cars. Id. at 3, 9. In the middle of the
chase, a man jumped out of the SUV and ran away. Id.
at 3. A few minutes later, the SUV crashed into a pole.
Ibid. Williford stepped out of the driver's
seat, and two other men- Rico Ardister and Anthony
Brochs-stepped out of the passenger seats. Doc. 13-22 at
120-23. (The record contains inconsistent spellings of
Brochs's name. E.g., Doc. 13-22
(“Brocks”). This court will use the state
appellate court's spelling: “Brochs.”) All
three men were detained. Doc. 13-1 at 3. A police officer
retrieved a set of keys from Williford's pocket, and
Hurst later identified them as his. Doc. 13-22 at 74-75, 127,
and Hurst waited out the chase at a grocery store near where
they were attacked. Doc. 13-1 at 3. The police brought
Williford, Ardister, and Brochs to the store, and Popp and
Hurst identified them as their attackers. Ibid.
Ardister, and Brochs were each charged with two counts of
armed robbery under 720 ILCS 5/18-2(A)(1) and one count of
aggravated battery under 720 ILCS 5/12-4(B)(1). Doc. 13-20 at
16-18. Ardister and Brochs pled guilty and received ten-year
sentences. Doc. 13-1 at 8-9. The prosecutors offered
Williford the same deal-a ten-year sentence in exchange for a
guilty plea-but he went to trial instead. Doc. 13-23 at 7-8.
trial, Popp testified that four men attacked her and Hurst
and that Williford was one of the attackers. Doc. 13-22 at
18-19. Williford's lawyer did not object to the
testimony. Ibid. Popp admitted on cross-examination
that she had drunk two beers at dinner and that the street
where she was robbed was dimly lit. Id. at 39-40.
After Popp's testimony and outside the presence of the
jury, Williford's attorney told the judge that Popp and
Hurst had spoken in the hallway outside the courtroom.
Id. at 50. Williford's lawyer noted that it
would “[o]bviously … be a violation” of
the court's exclusion order if Popp and Hurst had
discussed Popp's testimony, and said, “I don't
know how the Court handles that.” Ibid. The
Real simple. If she violated the motion to exclude and
discussed her testimony with the next witness, then I'll
order the jury to strike her testimony, just completely
disregard it as if she never existed, in violation of that
Id. at 50-51.
testimony came next. Id. at 52. Like Popp, Hurst
testified that he was attacked by four men and that Williford
was one of them, and that they stole his keys, cigarettes,
and watch. Doc. 13-22 at 55, 60-61. Hurst also testified that
he went to the hospital after the police chase and then went
to the police station to give a statement; when he was done,
the police gave him his keys and cigarettes. Id. at
74-75. On cross-examination, he admitted to drinking
“one or two” beers at dinner. Id. at 77.
Williford's lawyer asked Hurst whether he had a
“specific, independent recollection of seeing
[Williford] during the course of the attack, ” and
Hurst refused to answer, even after the judge ordered him to.
Id. at 78-79. Williford's lawyer also questioned
Hurst about his conversation with Popp outside the courtroom.
Id. at 79. Hurst admitted to speaking with Popp but
denied discussing her testimony. Id. at 79-80.
Williford did not move to strike Popp's testimony, and
the judge did not order her testimony stricken. Id.
police officer, Brian Costanzo, testified after Hurst.
Ibid. Costanzo testified that he was in the car that
Popp flagged down after the robbery. Doc. 13-22 at 84. He
further testified that he heard Popp screaming and saw four
men running to a dark SUV, and he identified Williford as one
of the men. Id. at 84-85. Costanzo and his partner
chased after the SUV, and other police cars joined the chase
in response to Costanzo's call for help over the radio.
Id. at 89. Costanzo testified that the SUV was
traveling at least 50 miles per hour and that it did not stop
for any stop signs or red lights. Id. at 91. He also
testified that a man jumped out of the car during the chase.
Id. at 92.
second police officer, Vidas Nemickas, testified next.
Id. at 106. Nemickas, a member of the 14th District
gang team, joined the chase of the SUV. Id. at 107,
113. He testified that “about fifteen” police
cars eventually joined the chase as well, id. at
114, that the SUV reached speeds of eighty miles an hour,
id. at 116, that a man jumped out of the car as it
turned into a housing complex, id. at 117, and that
the chase came to an end when the SUV ran into a light pole,
id. at 118. Three men, including Williford, got out
of the car; Williford had been in the driver's seat.
Id. at 122-23. Nemickas detained the men and
searched them. Id. at 125. He found a cell phone in
Brochs's pocket, a wallet in Ardister's pocket, and a
set of keys in Williford's pocket. Id. at
125-27. Popp later identified the wallet and cell phone as
hers, and Hurst identified the keys as his. Id. at
Nemickas came Craig Turton, an employee of the Illinois
Secretary of State, who testified that the SUV that Williford
drove into a light pole was registered to Williford.
Id. at 137-38, 143. The State's last witness was
Assistant State's Attorney Barbara Dawkins. Id.
at 144. She testified that when she interviewed Williford
after his arrest, he told her that a friend of his named
“Mookie” had asked him if he wanted to commit a
“lick”-slang for a robbery-and that he had
agreed, but that he never got out of the car while the
robbery was happening. Id. at 151-52.
jury found Williford guilty of all three counts. Id.
at 242. At the sentencing hearing, the prosecutor argued for
a long sentence on several grounds: Williford (or one of his
accomplices) had hit Hurst around the head with a lead pipe,
which could have killed him, Doc. 13-23 at 6; Williford had
two prior felony convictions for possession of a controlled
substance and for selling a firearm without observing the
required 72-hour waiting period, id. at 5; he was on
conditional discharge for another offense when he committed
the robbery, ibid.; he had a stable childhood and
family life, id. at 5-6; and he fled from the
police, triggering a dangerous high-speed chase, id.
at 7. The prosecutor also noted that Williford “was
given an opportunity to take responsibility for this instance
and was offered by this court ten years … on a plea of
guilty and he did not take responsibility during that
[settlement] conference.” Id. at 7-8.
Williford's lawyer objected, and the court responded,
“I'm not considering that at all. … I
don't even want a reference to that.” Id.
at 8. The prosecutor apologized and withdrew the remark.
lawyer argued for a more lenient sentence on the grounds that
Williford was a veteran of the U.S. Army, id. at 11;
that he was married and had three children, including one
under the age of 18, and that he would not be able to support
his family from prison, id. at 11-12; and that there
was no evidence that he was the person who hit Hurst with the
pipe, id. at 12. Then Williford, addressing the
court personally, argued that he was innocent. Id.
trial judge spoke next. He first noted that the jury found
Williford accountable for the acts of his co-defendants,
including choking Popp and bludgeoning Hurst, and remarked
that it was “[m]iraculous” that Hurst's
“head wasn't crushed in when he was hit over the
back of the head with a pipe.” Id. at 14-15.
Then the judge discussed Williford's decision to flee the
And then engaging in something out of the Bullet or the
French Connection. High speed chase over I don't know,
20, 30 blocks of the City of Chicago with police cars in
pursuit. People flying out of your vehicle, diving out of the
vehicle as it's moving through the streets resulting in
you ultimately crashing the vehicle. I can't remember
what the speed estimate was, but I think it was 80 miles an
hour or something like that down Western Avenue. Causing near
danger to countless people during that high speed chase.
Ibid. The judge then listed various statutory
aggravating and mitigating factors, and explained why they
did or did not apply. Id. at 16-20. He found that
only one mitigating factor applied: that Williford's
imprisonment “would entail excessive hardship to his
dependents.” Id. at 16-19. He found that five
statutory aggravating factors applied: Williford's
“conduct … cause[d] or threaten[ed] serious
harm”; he “received compensation for committing
the offense”; he “ha[d] a history of prior
delinquency, criminal activity”; he “was on a
period of conditional discharge when this [crime] was
committed”; and his “sentence [was] necessary to
de[t]er others from committing the same crime.”
Id. at 19-20. The judge then sentenced Williford to
25 years' imprisonment for each of the armed robbery
counts and 5 years' imprisonment for the aggravated
battery count, all to run concurrently. Id. at 20.
He gave Williford credit for 695 days of pretrial detention,
and imposed $499 in costs, which included a $20 assessment
for the Violent Crime Victim Assistance Fund
(“VCVA”). Id. at 21; Doc. 13-1 at 2 n.1.
later moved for the court to reconsider the sentence. Doc.
13-25 at 5. The judge denied the motion, stating:
[T]he defendant and three other individuals basically drive
up from their neighborhood into Wicker Park looking for
opportunities to rob, set up some kind of ambush which they
do. These two people that are coming back from dinner get
ambushed by Williford and the other three individual[s], one
of the victims gets cracked over the head with a pipe, struck
by one of the co-offenders and after being relieved of their
personal property, Williford then engages in a high speed
chase trying to outrun the police down Western Avenue at
speeds up to 80 miles per hour, I believe was the testimony,
causing one of the most dangerous types of situations that
you could ever imagine. The sentence was appropriate. Motion
to reconsider sentence denied.
Id. at 6-7.
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