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Halligan v. Burke

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

February 12, 2018

Sherry Halligan, (R89433), Petitioner,
v.
Margaret Burke, Warden, Logan Correctional Center, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          RUBEN CASTILLO CHIEF JUDGE.

         Petitioner Sherry Halligan, a prisoner confined at the Logan Correctional Center, brings this counseled habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254 challenging her 2003 murder conviction from the Circuit Court of Cook County. The Court denies the petition on the merits, and declines to issue a certificate of appealability.[1]

         I. Background

         The Court draws the following factual history from the state court record. (Diet. 12.) State court factual findings have a presumption of correctness, and Petitioner has the burden of rebutting the presumption by clear and convincing evidence. Brumfield v. Cain, 135 S.Ct. 2269, 2282 n.8 (2015) (citing 28 U.S.C. 2254(e)(1)). Petitioner has not made such as showing.

         Petitioner shot and killed Dennis Campbell at her home in LaGrange, Illinois, on January 31, 2003. Illinois v. Halligan, 2014IL App (1st) 131466, 2014 WL 4402830, at *1 (111. App. Ct. Sept. 5, 2014) ''Halligan Direct Appeal"). She confessed to the police the next day. Id.

         Petitioner was indicted for murder in February 2003, and was placed on bond. Id. She was examined by Dr. Jonathan Kelly, a staff forensic psychologist employed by Cook County's Forensic Clinical division. Id. Dr. Kelly concluded that Petitioner was fit to stand trial, and legally sane at the time of the killing. Id.

         Petitioner fled prior to a pretrial hearing in April 2004. Id. She was a fugitive until her arrest in July 2010. Id. She was found in Palos Hills, Illinois living under the assumed name of "Katherine White." Id. She had a different hair color and various forms of identification for her alias. Id.

         Petitioner claimed at her bench trial that she killed Campbell in self-defense. (Dkt. 12-11, pg. 12.) She explained that she began dating Campbell in 1999. (Dkt. 12-12, pgs. 46-47.) Campbell was six feet tall, 180 pounds, while Petitioner was five feet two inches tall, and weighed 110 pounds. Id. at 47. Petitioner described Campbell as "Jekyll and Hyde, " with their relationship alternating between sweet and romantic, and abusive. Id. at 57.

         Petitioner said that Campbell abused her "many, many times." Id. at 50. Campbell allegedly attempted to control Petitioner by telling her what to do, where she could go, and whom she could see. Id. at 48, 51-52. Additionally, Campbell, who owned multiple guns, would point them at her. Id. at 51.

         In one incident, according to Petitioner, Campbell banged her head on a wooden floor when she refused to have sex with him. Id. at 49. Another time, when Campbell suspected that Petitioner was cheating on him, he put her in the back of his car trunk and drove her to the woods. Id. at 53-54. Campbell took her out of the trunk, and showed her a hole he had dug. Id. at 54. According to Petitioner, Campbell put her face in the hole, and told her this would be her grave if she ever cheated on him again. Id.

         The relationship ended in December 2000, but Campbell allegedly began stalking Petitioner. Id. at 5 5. The stalking stopped in March 2001 when Campbell moved to Florida for a job transfer. Id. at 56. Petitioner had no contact with Campbell until the fall of 2002 when he wrote her love letters. Id. at 57. Petitioner resumed contact with Campbell in the fall of 2002, communicating with him by telephone and email. Id.

         Petitioner and Campbell spent a day together in Illinois around Christmas 2002. Id. at 58. She described the day as "wonderful, " saying that Campbell was loving and very apologetic. Id., at 59. She and Campbell had consensual sex during this visit. Id. at 60. Petitioner and Campbell continued communicating by emails and phone calls between the Christmas 2002 visit until Campbell's death on January 30, 2003. Id.

         Campbell was in Illinois on January 30th for a work matter. Halligan Direct Appeal, 2014 IL App (1st) 131466, 2014 WL 4402830, at *2. Petitioner met Campbell and his boss, Mickey Kovacs, for dinner. (Diet. 12-12, pg. 61.) Campbell allegedly asked Petitioner during dinner to have sex with Kovacs, but she refused. Id. After dinner, Petitioner and Campbell went back to Petitioner's hotel room where they argued over Campbell's demand. Id. at 64. Petitioner claims their argument was loud enough that security kicked them out of the hotel. Id. at 65.

         Petitioner and Campbell drove to Petitioner's nearby home. Id. Petitioner's car was not at her house because she had switched her car with her brother earlier that day or a day before. Id. at 66.

         Petitioner claimed Campbell was "livid, " and "very, very, angry with me, " and was red in the face as they entered her home. Id. at 67. Petitioner testified that Campbell attempted to attack her by her picking her up by the shoulders, calling her a "rotten bitch, " and threating to kill her. Id. at 69. Petitioner grabbed a gun from a nearby shelf, and shot Petitioner five times, Id. at 69-70.

         Petitioner did not call 911 after the shooting, instead staying in the house for a period of time. Id. at 71. She explained that she went upstairs, packed and then unpacked clothes, and washed her hands. Id. She drove Campbell's car back to the close-by hotel and walked home. Id. Once back home, Petitioner covered Campbell's body with a sheet, changed clothes, and placed her old clothes and the gun in a white plastic bag. Halligan Direct Appeal, 2014 IL App (1st) 131466, 2014 WL 4402830, at *2. She drove her brother's car two hours south on Interstate 55 before throwing the bag out onto the interstate median. Id. The LaGrange police would later retrace Petitioner's trip down 1-55, but were unable to locate the white plastic bag with Petitioner's gun and clothes. (Dkt. 12-11, pgs. 113-14.)

         Petitioner contacted her brother during her trip, and he hired an attorney for Petitioner. Halligan Direct Appeal, 2014 IL App (1st) 131466, 2014 WL 4402830, at *2. Petitioner returned the next day, and met police officers at the LaGrange police station with her attorney. Id. She gave both verbal and videotaped statements confessing to the shooting. Id. at 1. The police went to Petitioner's home and discovered Campbell shot dead in the living room. (Dkt. 12-11, pg. 57.) The officers also found that Petitioner's computer was missing. Id. at 101. Blood was recovered from Petitioner's brother's car. (Dkt. 12-12, pg. 17). DNA testing matched the blood in the brother's car to Campbell. Id. at 20.

         The police also went to Campbell's hotel room where they discovered that the room telephone's voice mail message light was on. (Dkt. 12-11, pg. 102-03). The officers recorded the phone messages, which were played at trial. Id. at 111.[2]

         Psychologists Drs. Karla Fisher and Steven Rothke testified on Petitioner's behalf. Halligan Direct Appeal, 2014 IL App (1st) 131466, 2014 WL 4402830, at *3. Dr. Fisher was qualified as an expert in the psychological effects of domestic violence, Dr. Rothke was qualified as an expert in clinical psychology and neuropsychology. Id. Though both experts evaluated Petitioner independently, they relied on her self-reporting and did not review any of her prior medical history or other reports when forming their opinions. Id.

         Dr. Fisher opined that Petitioner suffered from Battered Woman Syndrome (BWS). Id. at * 1. She explained that Petitioner had been subjected to a number of abusive relationships in her life. Id. at *3. Dr. Fisher concluded that, as a battered woman, Petitioner was "terrified" that Campbell was about to kill her when she shot him. (Dkt. 12-12, pg. 163.) Dr. Fisher explained that, in her opinion, Petitioner shot Campbell as a manifestation of her "fight or flight" reflex in light of her fear for her own life. Id. at 163-64.

         Dr. Rothke administered a number of neuropsychological tests on Petitioner. (Dkt. 12-13, pg, 14.) He explained that Petitioner reported multiple symptoms suggesting the presence of a brain injury or neurological disorder including: headaches, tinnitus, noise and light sensitivity, dizziness, forgetfulness, difficulty with attention and concentration, and poor sleep. Id. Dr. Rothke's identified several cognitive deficits in Petitioner including limitations on mental flexibility, self-monitoring during task performance, spatial reasoning and recall, forgetfulness, attention and concentration, word finding, and visuomotor speed and sequencing. Id. at 27. These results led Dr. Rothke to opine that Petitioner suffered from a cognitive disorder due to a traumatic brain injury. Id. at 28. She also showed post-concussion syndrome and residual features of post-traumatic stress disorder. Id. Dr. Rothke opined that Petitioner's condition was the result of multiple blows to her head over multiple years. Id.

         The prosecution's theory of the case was that Petitioner killed Campbell because she was a scorned woman. (Dkt. 12-13, pg. 136.) To rebut Petitioner's self-defense argument, the prosecution called Jessie McQueen. She testified that she had been in an eight-and-half year relationship with Campbell at the time of killing. (Dkt. 12-11, pg. 169.) She and Campbell had lived in the same building in Willowbrook, Illinois when they began dating. Id. at 170-71. She moved with him to Florida in 2001, and the two of them shared a home together in Florida, Id. at 170. McQueen testified that Campbell had a peaceful reputation, and never abused or assaulted her. Mat 174-75.

         The prosecution also called two expert witnesses to rebut Petitioner's experts. Halligan Direct Appeal 2014IL App (1st) 131466, 2014 WL 4402830, at *3. The experts both worked for the Cook County Forensic Clinical Services division. Id. .One expert was qualified in forensic psychology, and the other in clinical psychiatry. Id. The state's experts both evaluated Petitioner, and reviewed her medical records. Id. The prosecution's experts opined that Petitioner did not suffer from battered woman syndrome or post-traumatic stress disorder. Id. Of note, the prosecutions' experts pointed out that there was no objective source of data such as medical records showing physical abuse or head trauma to support the claims by Petitioner and her experts' opinions. (Dkt. 12-13, pgs. 77, 120.)

         At the conclusion of the bench trial, the trial judge, as the finder of fact, found Petitioner guilty of murder. Id. The judge explained that there was no dispute that Petitioner killed Campbell. (Dkt. 12-13, pg. 164.) Instead, the only issue was whether she intended to murder Campbell, acted in self-defense, or based upon an unreasonable belief that her life was in danger. Id. The judge found that Petitioner was not credible and rejected her self-defense claim. Id. at 168-70.

         The judge found inconsistencies between Petitioner's in-court testimony regarding the shooting, and her videotape confession given to the police. Id. at 167-68. He questioned Petitioner clam of self-defense in light of the fact that she disposed of evidence immediately after the killing, and was a fugitive for many years. Id. at 168, 170. The judge further found that Jessie McQueen's testimony that Campbell did not abuse her during their multiple year relationship rebutted Petitioner's allegations of abuse. Id. at 168-69.

         The trial judge pointed out that Petitioner voluntarily joined Campbell at his hotel room after dinner the night of the killing. Id. at 168. The judge wondered why Petitioner did not part company with Campbell at dinner if he had propositioned her to have sex with his boss, which led to the argument, as she claimed. Id.

         The trial judge also pointed out Petitioner's ability to access the gun in her home. Id. The judge found it "inconceivable" that Petitioner would have arms-length access to a gun in the exact location where Petitioner allegedly chose to attack her in her home. Id.

         Finally, the court chose to credit the state's expert witnesses over Petitioner's. Id. at 166. The judge found the prosecution's experts more credible because they examined Petitioner's medical records, while Petitioner's experts relied solely on Petitioner's self-reporting. Id. The trial judge stated that he would have expected to see evidence of physical injuries from the alleged abuse, and the lack of medical record undermined Petitioner's experts' opinions. Id.

         The trial court found Petitioner guilty and sentenced her to 45 years of imprisonment. Petitioner's conviction was affirmed by the Appellate Court of Illinois on direct appeal, Halligan Direct Appeal, 2014 IL App (1st) 131466, 2014 WL 4402830, at *1, and the Supreme Court of Illinois denied her petition for leave to appeal (PLA). Illinois v. Halligan, No. 118415, 23 N.E.3d 1204 (111. Jan. 28, 2015) (Table).

         Petitioner then brought a post-conviction petition under Illinois's Post-Conviction Hearing Act, 725 ILCS 5/122-1 et seq. Illinois v. Halligan, 2016 IL App (1st) 153566-U, 2016 WL 6603301, *4 (111. App. Ct. Nov. 4, 2016) ''Halligan Post Conviction Appeal"). The state trial court denied the petition, and the denial was affirmed on appeal by the Appellate Court of Illinois. Id. at *9. The Supreme Court of Illinois denied her PLA request in her post-conviction case. Illinois v. Halligan, No. 121741, 80 N.E.3d 4 (111. Mar. 29, 2017) (Table). Petitioner now brings the present habeas corpus petition.

         II. Analysis

         A. Governing Standard

         A writ of habeas corpus cannot issue unless Petitioner demonstrates that she is in custody in violation of the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). As the state courts adjudicated Petitioner's claims on the merits, the Court's review of the present habeas corpus petition is governed by the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA). The Court may not grant habeas relief unless the state court's decision on the merits was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States, or the state court decision is based on an unreasonable determination of facts. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).

         "'A federal habeas court may issue the writ under the 'contrary to' clause if the state court applies a rule different from the governing law set forth in [the Supreme Court's] cases, or if it decides a case differently than [the Supreme Court has] done on a set of materially indistinguishable facts.'" Premo v. Moore,562 U.S. 115, 128 (2011) (quoting Bell v. Cone,535 U.S. 685, 694 (2002)). "An 'unreasonable application' occurs when a state court 'identifies the correct legal principle from [the Supreme Court's] decisions but unreasonably applies that principle to the facts of Petitioner's case.'" Rompilla v. ...


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