December 6, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Western Division. No. 14 C 50172 -
Frederick J. Kapala, Judge.
WOOD, Chief Judge, and ROVNER and Sykes, Circuit Judges.
Keefer's badly beaten body was found by police in
Keefer's own backyard in Rock Falls, Illinois, the
morning of November 27, 2006. A jury convicted Ivan Johnson
of Keefer's murder. While Johnson admits he beat Keefer
the night before, in the same backyard, he insists that he
did not kill him. Keefer's actual murderers, Johnson
says, were two men with baseball bats who attacked Keefer
later that night, in the same spot.
theory apparently came from Dustin Manon, a one-time occupant
of the Whiteside County Jail. Manon told police that his
cellmate there, Donnie Masini, told him that Masini had hired
two men to kill Keefer with bats and that they did so.
Unsurprisingly, Masini denied making the statement when
police questioned him. The trial court barred Johnson from
introducing Masini's hearsay statement, reasoning that it
was too unreliable to allow into evidence. The Illinois
Appellate Court affirmed.
exhausting other options, Johnson now seeks habeas corpus
relief. He argues, as relevant here, that the state
court's exclusion of the hearsay evidence was an
unreasonable application of Chambers v. Mississippi,
410 U.S. 284 (1973). The district court denied Johnson's
petition, but it granted him a certificate of appealability.
We agree with our colleague that the state court's
decision did not run afoul of Chambers and thus that
Johnson is not entitled to habeas corpus relief.
Johnson's jury trial, the prosecution and the defense
agreed that Johnson repeatedly punched an unarmed Keefer on
the evening of Sunday, November 26, 2006. The critical
difference between their stories lay in the degree to which
Johnson beat the victim. Johnson argued that he could not
have, and did not, cause Keefer's death, while the
prosecution maintained that he did. Johnson unsuccessfully
sought to introduce Manon's report of Masini's
confession. Without that evidence before it, the jury
resolved the factual question in the prosecution's favor.
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA)
governs this case, the findings of the state court are
entitled to substantial deference. See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d). We therefore begin by recounting the
prosecution's version of events. The state argued that
Johnson beat and killed Keefer after a dispute about drugs
and money. Marie Schlosser, a witness to the attack,
testified that the two men started arguing about money
shortly after Johnson showed up at Keefer's house on the
fateful evening. Earlier that weekend, Schlosser and a pair
of men, all from Chicago, teamed up with a man known as
"Little C" to sell drugs in the Rock Falls area, in
northwestern Illinois. Johnson and Keefer visited the dealers
in their hotel room at different times that weekend. On
Sunday, Schlosser and Little C drove to Keefer's house to
sell more drugs, but only Little C went inside. He returned
to the car where Schlosser was waiting a few minutes later,
claiming he had been robbed. He then made a phone call in
which he repeated the accusation.
there was a robber, it apparently was not Keefer, who came
outside soon after Little C returned to the car. Little C
demanded that Keefer tell him where the man who robbed him
lived or that Keefer cover the cost of the stolen drugs. At
this point, according to Schlosser, Johnson arrived and
started arguing with Keefer. Johnson reportedly told Keefer
that "we don't play about our money" and then
began punching Keefer. It was a one-way fight; Keefer did not
hit back, as Johnson acknowledged at trial. Instead,
Schlosser recalled, Keefer ran behind a parked car,
presumably to try to evade the beating. Johnson followed.
Schlosser reported that he knocked Keefer to the ground,
striking him in the face repeatedly and kicking him at least
once while he was prone. Eventually Johnson drove away,
leaving Keefer on the ground. Schlosser too left the scene.
She said that she and her friend returned that evening to see
if Keefer was still there-and "see if he was really
dead." She saw Keefer in the same spot where he had lain
when she left the yard shortly after Johnson's attack,
but she did not approach him.
recalled the evening differently. He testified that Keefer
was arguing with Little C at Keefer's place Sunday
evening when Johnson arrived. Johnson said he approached the
pair and told Keefer to cool down. Keefer did not; instead,
he started arguing with Johnson, telling him that "if
anybody gonna take a whippin' it's gonna be"
Johnson. With that, Keefer "threw up his guards."
Johnson said this was a sign to fight, and so Johnson did.
Johnson admitted that he punched Keefer when he was standing
and continued after Keefer fell to the ground. But Johnson
acknowledged Keefer did not return any blows or even swing
back. Johnson also admitted that he had lied to police
earlier when he said that Keefer also threw punches and that
Little C had also struck Keefer. Johnson explained that he
told police that Keefer struck back "to make it look
good on [his own] behalf." By Johnson's own
admission, then, he was the sole combatant in the fight with
Keefer. The only difference between his account and the
state's was the brutality of the beating he administered.
or the other, the fight must have ended by 9 p.m., because
Keefer's friend, Vern Williams, arrived at Keefer's
empty house about that time. Williams found it odd that
Keefer's house was unlocked, yet Keefer was nowhere to be
found. Williams waited inside Keefer's residence until
about 2 a.m. Monday, at which point he wrote Keefer a note
and left. Williams never looked in the back yard.
Falls police officer was dispatched to Keefer's house
around 10 a.m. Monday to investigate a report of a man lying
in the back yard. There the responding officer, Jeremy
Vondra, found Keefer dead. At trial, Schlosser testified that
a police photograph of the scene where police found