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Sanchez v. Lashbrook

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 8, 2018

PEDRO SANCHEZ, Petitioner,


          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY United States District Judge.

         Pedro Sanchez, who was convicted of murder in Illinois state court, has filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Sanchez alleges his trial and appellate counsel were ineffective and that his due process rights were violated.


         In 2009, Robert Gooch and Elissa Hinton were dating. The couple shared an apartment in Joliet, Illinois. On May 21, 2009, they both went to sleep around 11 p.m. but awoke to the sound of the apartment buzzer. Gooch got out of bed and walked to the door. From bed, Hinton heard the murmur of voices and recognized the voice of Pedro Sanchez. Sanchez and Hinton knew each other, as Hinton had sexual relations with him several times while she was dating Gooch. Sanchez wanted to begin dating Hinton, but she had rebuffed his past advances. As Sanchez and Gooch spoke, Hinton testified she heard "mumbling" "about a girl." Ex. M at 19 (Hinton testimony). She then heard a gunshot. She got out of bed and found Gooch on the floor, bleeding from a gunshot wound to the head. She did not see the shooter. Gooch died from his wounds.

         Earlier in the day, Sanchez had met with several friends: Jesus Zambrano, Michael Ortiz, and Christian Lopez. They met at the home of LaToya Ortiz. (To avoid confusion, the Court uses LaToya Ortiz's full name, but uses "Ortiz" to refer to Michael Ortiz.) They spent the evening drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. Lopez testified that he had "a lot" to drink. Ex. M at 109 (Lopez testimony).

         Ortiz testified that, while partying at LaToya Ortiz's house, he overheard Sanchez talking on the telephone "[l]ike there was an argument" between "him and I guess his ex-girlfriend[.]" Ex. M at 217 (Ortiz testimony). Ortiz testified he overheard Sanchez asking the other party on the phone why she had left. Ex. M at 218. The defense called Hinton, the victim's partner, to testify. She denied speaking with Sanchez on the day of the shooting.

         LaToya Ortiz testified that they left her home between midnight and 1 a.m. Zambrano, Sanchez, Lopez, and Ortiz all left in the same car: Zambrano drove, Sanchez was in the front passenger seat, and Lopez and Ortiz were in the back seats. They first drove to a McDonald's and ordered food at the drive-through window. The prosecution later introduced video surveillance of the vehicle proceeding through the McDonald's.

         Lopez testified that they left the McDonald's but did not drive towards his house. Rather, they went to another apartment-the apartment at which Hinton and Gooch lived. Sanchez got out of the car first and walked to the door of the apartment. Zambrano got out next, walked to the front of the car, and removed a gun from under the hood of the car. Zambrano told Lopez to get out as well. Meanwhile, Ortiz had fallen asleep in the back. A video recording taken at the apartment captures the car pulling up, the three men exiting the car, and Zambrano removing an item from under the hood of the car.

         Lopez testified that, as he, Sanchez, and Zambrano walked to the apartment, "[t]hey tried to hand me the handgun and I just said no." Ex. M at 114. Someone buzzed them in. As they walked upstairs, either Sanchez or Zambrano told Lopez to wait on the second floor while they walked up to the third floor. Hinton and Gooch lived on the third floor. Lopez waited on the second floor for five to ten minutes and then heard a gunshot.

         After hearing the gunshot, Lopez saw Zambrano running down the stairs, so he began to run as well. The two of them ran back to the car together, and Sanchez followed behind. Lopez testified that, as they drove away, Sanchez repeatedly told Zambrano "I love you, Jesus. I love you." Ex. M at 116. Lopez stayed with the group until the morning and then walked home. Later that day, he voluntarily went to the Joliet Police Department and described the events of the previous night.

         At Sanchez's trial, the prosecution introduced both Lopez and Ortiz's testimony. Ortiz received use immunity in exchange for his testimony. During trial, the prosecution pursued an accountability theory of liability, which meant that both Sanchez and Zambrano could be held liable for the murder without evidence showing which one specifically shot the victim. Sanchez was convicted by a jury, and a judge sentenced him to 61 years in prison.

         On direct appeal, Sanchez argued a single issue: he had received ineffective assistance of counsel, because his attorney had failed to seek an accomplice-witness instruction. An accomplice-witness instruction warns jurors to view the testimony of an accomplice with "suspicion." Illinois Pattern Jury Instructions-Criminal, No. 3.17 (4th ed. 2000). The Illinois Appellate Court, applying Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984), held that the attorney's failure to obtain the instruction (1) was not objectively deficient and (2) did not prejudice Sanchez. People v. Sanchez, 2013 IL App (3d) 120046-U ¶¶ 17-18. Sanchez filed a petition for leave to appeal (PLA), Ex. E, which the Illinois Supreme Court denied. Ex. F at 1 (Order denying PLA).

         Sanchez filed a pro se post-conviction petition, which the trial court dismissed. Respondent has not provided this Court with either the petition or the trial court's order. Rather, it has provided only the briefs on appeal from the trial court's dismissal of the post-conviction petition. The appeal brief, however, describes the claims made in the post-conviction petition. See Ex. I at 7 (post-conviction brief). First, Sanchez contended that the trial court had erred in failing to appoint counsel to represent him regarding his claim that trial counsel had been ineffective. Second, he contended that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to question Ortiz about dismissal of a firearms charge against him before he testified at trial. Third, Sanchez contended that the prosecutor had violated his right to a fair trial by making an improper closing argument. Sanchez also contended that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to assert these points on direct appeal. The trial court dismissed the petition without explanation. On appeal, Sanchez, who at this point was again represented by counsel, made four arguments: (1) appellate counsel rendered ineffective assistance in failing to challenge the prosecution's closing argument; (2) trial counsel was ineffective in failing to cross-examine Ortiz about the dismissed charge, and (3) appellate counsel was ineffective in failing to raise trial counsel's ineffective ...

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