September 7, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Central
District of Illinois. No. 2:15-cv-02072-CSB - Colin S. Bruce,
WOOD, Chief Judge, and BAUER and SYKES, Circuit Judges.
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
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.
The Evidence at Trial
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...