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Johnson v. Jaimet

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

March 30, 2017

Ivan Johnson, Petitioner-Appellant,
Karen Jaimet, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued December 6, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division. No. 14 C 50172 - Frederick J. Kapala, Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and ROVNER and Sykes, Circuit Judges.

          WOOD, CHIEF JUDGE.

         Douglas 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.

         Johnson's 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.

         After 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.


         At 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.

         Because 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.

         But if 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.

         Johnson 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.

         One way 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.

         A Rock 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 ...

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