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Groell v. Simmons

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 22, 2017

HAROLD C. GROEL, Petitioner,
v.
DOUG SIMMONS, Respondent.[1]

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DAVID R. HERNDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In June, 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.

         The version of the statute in effect at that time provided that a person commits the offense of criminal sexual assault if he:

commits an act of sexual penetration with a victim who was at least 13 years of age but under 18 years of age when the act was committed and the accused was 17 years of age or over and held a position of trust, authority or supervision in relation to the victim.

         Now before the Court is Groel's petition for habeas relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §2254 (Doc. 1).

         Grounds for Habeas Relief

         Petitioner was still pursuing state remedies when the filed his habeas petition. On September 13, 2016, the Court entered an order declining to stay the petition until state remedies were exhausted. See, Doc. 50. In that Order, the Court explained that the petition set forth separate, but related, grounds for habeas relief:

1. 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).
2. The failure to specify which of the three terms allegedly applied 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).

         The Court will refer to the first ground as the “definition claim” and to the second ground as the “notice claim.”

         The petition also argued that there was not sufficient evidence that petitioner occupied a position of trust, authority or supervision in relation to the victim. See, Doc. 1, pp. 7-8. However, in his reply to the original answer, petitioner definitively stated that he is not challenging the sufficiency of the evidence. See, Doc. 21, p. 1, ¶2.

         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] State court determinations of facts “shall be presumed to be correct” and can only be rebutted by “clear and convincing evidence.” 28 U.S.C. §2254(e)(1). Petitioner has not offered any evidence to rebut the state court's determinations of fact.

         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. T.A. was twenty-one years old at the time of the trial. She testified that she entered the foster care system at the age of eight, and was placed with Judy Morris when she was thirteen years old. She 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.

         According to the state court, T.A. testified that, “in the beginning, her relationship with defendant was similar to spending time with family. She explained, ‘we were family, ' and mentioned ‘we' went out to eat and ‘watched movies as a family, ' and ‘he was [a] nice regular guy, cool.'” She spent the night at the Groels' home and sometimes babysat for the Groels' children, whom she said she loved. Ex. 2, p. 10.

         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 this type of offense.
3. Admission of his prior conviction for endangering the life or health of ...

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