United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
J. THARP, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Bryan Estrada has filed a petition for a writ of habeas
corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 alleging a variety of
errors in connection with his trial for murder, including
ineffective assistance of counsel and sufficiency of the
evidence. None of his arguments are meritorious given the
high bar for federal habeas relief, so the petition is
Bryan Estrada was convicted in 2009 by an Illinois jury of
first degree murder, attempted murder, and personally
discharging a firearm during both offenses. People v.
Estrada, 2012 IL App (1st) 100265-U, ¶ 2
(Ill.App.Ct. 2012). He was sentenced to a total of 80 years
in prison. Id. The convictions stemmed from a March
25, 2007 incident in which Luis Villegas was shot and killed.
Id. at ¶¶ 2, 4. A second victim, Edgar
Martinez, was in a car with Villegas when the shooting
occurred but was not hit by the gunfire. Id.
was tried with codefendant Rufino Castillo (although each had
a separate jury). Estrada, 2012 IL App (1st)
100265-U, ¶¶ 2, 4. Rufino's brother, James
Castillo, was originally charged in the murder, but those
charges were dropped in favor of lesser charges. Id.
at ¶ 4. James testified against Estrada in exchange for
the reduced charges. Id. at ¶ 18. Specifically,
James testified that Estrada had been his neighbor in the
late 1990s and early 2000. Estrada, 2012 IL App
(1st) 100265-U, ¶ 19. Estrada called James on the day of
the murder and asked if he wanted to “go
cruising.” Id. Estrada, accompanied by an
individual James knew only as “Carlos, ” met up
with James and Rufino at a nearby carwash. Id. After
driving in their separate cars to the neighborhood where the
murder would later take place, Estrada and Carlos parked
their cars and got into Rufino's Ford Contour.
Id. At some point, Rufino said he was tired and
James began driving. Id. At the time of the
shooting, Estrada was seated behind James on the driver's
side while Carlos was seated on the passenger's side
behind Rufino. Id.
testified that after driving for 30 to 45 minutes, he drove
down an alley between Lawndale and Monticello in Chicago.
Estrada, 2012 IL App (1st) 100265-U, ¶ 20.
Right before he got to the intersection, a dark SUV blocked
them. Id. James testified he saw the SUV door crack
open slightly and then heard gunshots coming from behind him.
Id. He went down for cover and heard the door behind
him close, which led him to know Estrada was the shooter.
Id. Estrada then started shouting at James to get
out of there, which both vehicles did. Id. Estrada
told James repeatedly to drop him off, which James did
shortly thereafter. Id. During James' testimony,
Estrada's counsel was permitted to question James about
whether his brother Rufino had been charged in the shooting,
but was not allowed to ask whether or not James would be
testifying against Rufino. Id. at ¶ 21.
Edgar Martinez testified that on the day of the shooting, he
and Villegas had been driving a Chevy Tahoe when they saw a
red car with Rufino and James in the front seat.
Estrada, 2012 IL App (1st) 100265-U, ¶ 5.
Martinez had known them for years from living in the same
neighborhood. Id. He testified that he and Villegas
were members of the Spanish Gangster Disciples gang while
Rufino and James were members of the rival Imperial
Gangsters. Id. at ¶ 6. Martinez and Villegas
went to find and “mess with” the Castillo
brothers, stopping at an alley intersection where they saw
the red car. Id. They began “throwing gang
signs” and the people in the red car responded in kind.
Id. Martinez testified that a passenger then got out
of the back seat on the driver's side and began shooting
at Martinez and Villegas. Id. Martinez further
testified that when the shooting started, he drove off before
stopping a few blocks away to make sure Villegas was okay.
Id. ¶ 7. Villegas had been hit in the head by a
bullet, so Martinez called 911. Id. When police
arrived, Martinez went with them to the police station and
identified James and Rufino in a photo array. Id.
The next day, Martinez identified Estrada from a second photo
array as the shooter. Id. He identified Rufino in a
lineup the same day and Estrada in another lineup a few days
later. Id. Martinez also identified Estrada as the
shooter at trial. Id. ¶ 6.
witnesses confirmed that Rufino had been driving a red Ford
Contour on the day in question, and that a red car with four
young men in it had passed near the alley in question twice
just before the shooting. Id. ¶¶ 9-10.
Police officers gave further supporting evidence, including
testimony that Villegas and Martinez had been in a black SUV,
that Martinez originally described the shooter as a Hispanic
male, and that there were no weapons inside the SUV.
Id. ¶ 12-13. A spent shell casing was recovered
from the outside windshield area of the Ford Contour, which
matched shell casings found in the alley and were fired from
the same weapon. Id. ¶ 14.
investigating police officers confirmed that Martinez had
identified James, Rufino, and Estrada in photo arrays and
lineups. Id. ¶ 15-17. They stated that Carlos
Vasquez was in the lineup with Martinez, but Vasquez was not
identified. Id. ¶ 17. Officer Suvada testified
he understood that Vasquez was the fourth person in the car,
but he was never charged in the shooting. Id.
evidence linking Estrada to the murder was not without some
warts, however. One of the photos used in the array from
which Martinez identified Estrada was marked “IG
Chino” on the back. Id. ¶ 15. Both the
officers and Martinez stated that the photo, which was not of
Estrada, was not the photo selected by Martinez and that they
did not know who had marked the photo. Id. Martinez
apparently knew Estrada through his younger brothers, but did
not identify him by name in the first encounter he had with
police (as he did with James and Rufino). Id.
¶¶ 8-9. There was conflicting evidence as to what
haircut Martinez initially told police the shooter had.
Id. ¶¶ 8-9, 15, 24-27. James and
Martinez's accounts also differed on certain details,
such as whether the windows of the SUV were up or down and
whether they had flashed gang signs prior to the shooting.
Id. ¶ 33.
appealed his conviction, arguing that: the evidence was
insufficient to support the verdict; the trial court had
failed to ask the venire whether they accepted the principles
of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 431(b); and the trial court
had erred in not allowing James to be questioned about
whether he would testify against his brother. Id.
¶ 1. The appellate court rejected all of these
contentions. It found the evidence was sufficient and that
the flaws in the evidence were presented to the jury.
Id. ¶ 34. It found that although failure to
explicitly ask all of the questions in Rule 431(b) was
erroneous, trial counsel had failed to preserve the issue and
the case was not so closely balanced that the error merited
reversing the jury's verdict. Id. at ¶ 43.
Finally, the appellate court concluded that the trial court
was within its discretion to prohibit questions about whether
James would testify against his brother because “the
jury was well aware of James' bias, interest, or motive
to testify falsely.” Id. ¶ 46.
then filed a petition for leave to appeal with the Illinois
Supreme Court, raising only his Rule 431(b) and sufficiency
of the evidence claims. See Pet. for Leave to
Appeal, Ex. F at 3-4, ECF No. 11-1. The petition for leave to
appeal was summarily denied on September 26, 2012. See
Id. at 21. Through counsel, Estrada then filed a state
petition for post-conviction relief, arguing only that his
right to effective assistance of counsel had been violated