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Saxon v. Lashbrook

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

October 18, 2017

Todd Saxon, Petitioner-Appellant,
v.
Jacqueline Lashbrook, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.

          Argued September 7, 2017

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. No. 2:15-cv-02072-CSB - Colin S. Bruce, Judge.

          Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and BAUER and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

          BAUER, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         In 2005, petitioner-appellant Todd Saxon was convicted in Illinois state court of first degree murder, arson, and concealment of homicide. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed his conviction. After his state court appeals were exhausted, Saxon filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254, raising a number of claims, including that the evidence was insufficient to support his conviction. The district court denied the petition. We affirm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On March 30, 1995, the remains of a twelve year-old girl, O.W., were found inside a garage that had been burned in Kankakee, Illinois. Over the course of a long investigation, it was determined that O.W. had been sexually assaulted and stabbed before her remains were left inside a garage that was set on fire. A grand jury returned an indictment on April 11, 2002, charging Saxon with first degree murder, arson, and concealment of homicide. Saxon elected to proceed to trial, and a jury was empaneled on February 24, 2005.

         A. The Evidence at Trial

         We need not recount the entirety of the evidence that was presented at trial. We will review the facts relevant to this appeal, and we incorporate by reference the facts set forth in the Illinois Appellate Court's opinion on Saxon's direct appeal. See People v. Saxon, 871 N.E.2d 244 (111. App. Ct. 2007).

         The State presented its case over the course of three days. The State's case included testimony from fifteen witnesses, as well as numerous stipulations and exhibits.

         O.W.'s mother, Regina Collins, testified that she last saw O.W. on the night of March 27, 1995. Collins had numerous other individuals living in her house at the time. The individuals who slept at Collins' house that night included: Collins' boyfriend and Saxon's uncle, Pierre Saxon; Pierre's mother, Elsi Saxon, who shared a room with O.W; Collins' son and O.W.'s brother, John; Collins' goddaughters Contessa Kilpatrick and Catrina Haut; Collins' brother, Webster Collins; and finally, Catrina Haut's mother, Bobbie Jackson. According to Collins, Saxon was at her house almost every day, and was there the night of March 27, 1995. Collins testified that O.W. went to bed around 9:00 p.m., and that she, Collins, went to bed shortly afterward. Collins woke up around 11:30 p.m. to an argument outside her home between Kilpatrick and Kilpatrick's boyfriend, Dwight Phagan. After telling them to keep their voices down, Collins returned upstairs to go back to bed; en route, she checked on O.W. who was still asleep. Collins told the jury that when she woke up the next morning, she instructed her son, John, to wake up O.W. since it was a school day. John could not find O.W. in her bedroom, and a search of the house made it clear that O.W. was not there. There was no sign of a break-in or forced entry.

         Contessa Kilpatrick testified that she last saw O.W. after Collins told her and Phagan to stop arguing. O.W. came out of her bedroom and briefly spoke to Kilpatrick before returning to bed. She also confirmed that Saxon was in the house that night. Pierre Saxon testified that it was not unusual for his nephew to be at Collins' home because he was always welcome. Pierre testified that he, too, checked on O.W. after the argument between Kilpatrick and Phagan. O.W.'s brother, John, testified that Saxon was a part of the family, and that Saxon would stay in his room when he spent the night. John recalled occasions when Saxon and O.W. would wrestle and the two of them would be locked in a bedroom. Haut also testified about Saxon and O.W. wrestling.

         Individuals from the fire department and law enforcement agencies testified about their investigation of the burned-down garage where O.W.'s body was found. Around 2:40 a.m. on March 30, 1995, members of the Kankakee Fire Department were summoned to a "fully involved, " or out-of-control, fire at the garage. After the fire was extinguished, O.W.'s body was located in the smoldering garage. A dog trained to detect the presence of accelerants indicated such presence in three distinct areas. Both an arson investigator and a Kankakee Police Department officer testified that they smelled gasoline within the burned garage.

         Alean Ward, Saxon's aunt, testified that she had lived at the residence with the attached garage for about two years prior to the fire, and that Saxon ...


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