United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA ex rel. PARIS THOMAS, Petitioner,
RANDY PFISTER, Warden, Stateville Correctional Center, Respondent.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
R. Wood Judge
2004, Petitioner Paris Thomas was convicted of first degree
murder and home invasion and was sentenced to consecutive
prison terms of 40 years and 10 years, respectively. Thomas
is now serving his sentence at Stateville Correctional Center
in Joliet, Illinois. Before the Court is Thomas's pro
se petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254, in which he claims that (1) his trial counsel
was ineffective in a number of ways, (2) his counsel on
direct appeal was ineffective for failing to raise the
various failings of his trial counsel, (3) the postconviction
trial court violated state law by making findings of fact
before summarily dismissing his petition as frivolous and
patently without merit, and (4) his postconviction appellate
counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the purported
error by the postconviction trial court and instead raising
only two other claims in his postconviction petition for
leave to appeal (“PLA”). For the reasons stated
below, Thomas's petition for a writ of habeas corpus is
federal court considering a petition for a writ of habeas
corpus presumes correct the factual findings made by the last
state court to adjudicate the case on the merits, unless
those findings are rebutted by clear and convincing evidence.
See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Rever v.
Acevedo, 590 F.3d 533, 537 (7th Cir. 2010); Ward v.
Sternes, 334 F.3d 696, 704 (7th Cir. 2003). The last
state court to make factual findings regarding Thomas's
case was the Illinois Appellate Court, in its opinion on
direct appeal affirming Thomas's conviction.
(See Ans. Ex. A, Order, People v. Thomas,
No. 1-04-2741 (Ill.App.Ct. Dec. 13, 2007), Dkt. No. 19-1;
see also Mendiola v. Schomig, 224 F.3d 589, 592-93
(7th Cir. 2000) (stating that a state appellate court's
factual findings are entitled to the same deference afforded
to a state trial court's findings)). Thomas argues in
conclusory fashion that he has presented “clear and
convincing factual representations that [are] contrary to
lower courts['] findings.” (Reply at 4, Dkt. No.
28.) But the Court, after reviewing all of the materials
submitted by Thomas, fails to discern any evidence that
contradicts the state court findings, and therefore those
findings are accepted as correct.
was indicted along with Bishara Thomas
(“Bishara”), Steven Jackson, and Terrell Sims for
the April l, 2002 home invasion and murder of Tonette Waters.
The cases of the four defendants were severed prior to trial.
Because Thomas opted for a jury trial and Sims opted for a
bench trial, the trials of those two defendants were held at
the same time, while Bishara and Jackson were tried later.
Thomas's Videotaped Statement
piece of evidence in the State's case against Thomas was
his videotaped statement taken during an interview by
Assistant State's Attorney Kim Ward. The statement was
made after Thomas had received Miranda warnings and
signed a consent form. Ward conducted most of Thomas's
initial interview in the presence of Chicago Police Detective
Adrian Garcia. Ward and Garcia also testified at trial.
videotaped statement, Thomas stated that he had encountered
his cousin, Steven Jackson, on the afternoon of Waters's
murder. Both Thomas and Jackson were members of the Traveling
Vice Lords street gang. Jackson asked Thomas whether he
wanted to perform a “lick”-slang for a
robbery-for $8, 000 in money or drugs. Thomas agreed, and he
and Jackson drove to the home of Terrell Sims, another
Traveling Vice Lord with whom Thomas was close. Thomas told
Sims about the planned robbery and asked Sims whether he
wanted to participate for a share of the proceeds. Thomas,
Jackson, and Sims then picked up Bishara, another Traveling
Vice Lord, and drove to Waters's apartment, where she
lived with her children and Lavarious Edwards.
they arrived at Waters's apartment, Jackson knocked on
the door. When Waters answered, Thomas told Waters he had
Edwards's keys. When Waters opened the door, Thomas
grabbed her around the waist and turned her aside to allow
his accomplices to enter. Jackson grabbed Waters by her hair
and passed her to Bishara, who held her at gunpoint. Bishara
and Jackson took Waters to the back of the apartment while
Thomas searched the front. After some time, Bishara and
Jackson returned to the front of the apartment with Waters,
and Thomas and Sims searched the back. After Thomas and Sims
found no money, they returned to the front of the apartment,
noticing Waters's two children for the first time.
Bishara and Jackson again took Waters to the back of the
apartment, and when they returned a short time later, Waters
was naked. Waters began screaming, and Jackson told Thomas
and Sims to exit through the back door. Thomas and Sims ran
to the car they had left in the alley and waited until
Jackson and Bishara joined them. Jackson then drove Thomas
and Sims to Thomas's house.
claimed in his videotaped statement that he did not know
Waters was dead until his family told him that a neighborhood
girl had been shot and killed. He stated that he went to the
apartment to commit robbery, not to kill anyone. He explained
that they brought the gun to scare Lavarious Edwards if he
trial, Thomas moved in limine to redact a portion of
the videotaped confession in which he stated that he or his
accomplices usually carried a gun during robberies “for
safety.” Thomas's counsel argued that this
statement referenced prior uncharged offenses, assumed other
crimes, and would be highly prejudicial. The State argued
that the statement was merely an admission that went to
Thomas's intent and knowledge of the presence of the gun,
and was not prejudicial. The trial court denied the motion
but offered to instruct the jury to limit its consideration
of that portion of the videotape to issues of Thomas's
intent and knowledge. Thomas's counsel declined that
offer, and the videotaped statement was entered into evidence
Testimony of James Chatman
Chatman, Bishara's cousin, testified at trial that on
April 1, 2002, Bishara and Jackson came to his house, Bishara
retrieved something from the basement, and then Bishara and
Jackson left his house. Bishara returned 20 minutes later,
entered the house, tossed the gun to Chatman, and told him,
“We just did something with this.” Chatman
further testified that Bishara then washed his hands and
face. Chatman testified that he could feel that the gun was
warm, and he wrapped it in a shirt and took it back into the
basement. Chatman later heard that Waters, his
girlfriend's best friend, had been killed. He then called
the police and arranged to turn in the gun.
Testimony of Kurt Zielinski
Zielinski, a forensic scientist with the Illinois State
Police, testified as an expert in firearms identification.
Zielinski testified that, in his expert opinion, a bullet
recovered from Waters's body had been fired from the
firearm identified by Chatman to the exclusion of all other
Testimony of Varielle Edwards
Edwards (“Varielle”), the eight-year-old daughter
of Waters, testified that she had fallen asleep and awoke
when her mother entered Varielle's room with a man
holding a gun to her ear, as three other men ransacked the
apartment. Varielle later entered the bathroom to find her
mother naked, with one of the men holding her. Three of the
men exited the apartment through the rear door, and the man
who was holding Waters shot her in the head. After watching
her mother's murder, Varielle grabbed her younger brother
and ran across the street to her grandmother's house.
Varielle initially told police that there were three
intruders but she could not identify them.
Jury Instructions and Verdict
jury was instructed that it could convict Thomas of
when he kills an individual if in performing the acts which
caused the death he intended to kill or do great bodily harm
to that individual, or he knows that such acts will cause
death to that individual, or he knows that such acts create a
strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that
individual, or he was committing the offense of home invasion
or he was attempting to commit the offense of armed robbery.
(Ans. Ex. T at 103, Dkt. No. 19-20; Ans. Ex. V at 84, Dkt.
No. 19-22.) The jury was given general verdict forms for the
offense of first-degree murder-one form stating that the jury
found Thomas guilty of first-degree murder and the other form
stating that the jury found Thomas not guilty of that
offense. (Ans. Ex. V at 90-91, 95, Dkt. No. 19-22.) The jury
found Thomas guilty of one count of first-degree murder and
one count of home invasion. Thomas was ultimately sentenced
to consecutive terms of 40 years' imprisonment for
first-degree murder and 10 years' imprisonment for home
direct appeal, Thomas argued that:
(1) the State failed to prove him guilty of murder beyond a
(2) the prosecutor's closing argument denied him a fair
(a) misstating the law regarding accountability,
(b) using a pre-arrest photograph of Thomas to rebut
Thomas's claim that his confession was coerced, and
(c) incorrectly stating that Thomas grabbed Waters by her
(3) trial counsel was ineffective for:
(a) eliciting harmful testimony on cross-examination,
(b) failing to question jurors about their potential bias
(c) declining the trial court's offer to provide a
limiting instruction regarding Thomas's admission that he
and his accomplices typically bring a gun to a ...