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Henry v. Butler

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois

April 23, 2018

ERIC HENRY, Petitioner,
KIM BUTLER, Warden, Respondent.



         Now before the Court are Petitioner Henry's Petition (Doc. 1) and Supplemental Petition (Doc. 5) for Writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons set forth below, Henry's Petitions (Docs. 1, 5) are DENIED and the Court declines to issue a Certificate of Appealability.


         (1) The Murder and Henry's Trial

         The State of Illinois charged Eric Henry with first degree murder in the Rock Island County Circuit Court for the death of Katherine Pedigo in 2008. People v. Henry, 2011 WL 10468068, at *1 (Ill.App.3d Dist. 2011). The case proceeded to a jury trial where Henry was convicted and later sentenced to natural life in prison. The facts of the investigation and trial are more fully recounted in the appellate court's opinion, but the Court will briefly summarize the facts relevant to the issues raised in Henry's Petition.

         In April of 2008, Eric Henry lived with his girlfriend, Becky Yaggie, in apartment 3 of a 4-unit apartment building at the corner of 4th Street and 16th Avenue in Moline, Illinois. Henry's codefendant, Gustavo Dominguez, lived in apartment 3, directly above Katherine Pedigo's residence in apartment 1. On the morning of April 20, 2008, Henry made three calls to 911 from a landline phone in his apartment. Henry first reported smoke in the apartment building and later reported that he found a dead female in a bathtub. When Moline police officers and firefighters arrived at the scene, they observed smoke coming from the building. Officer Eduardo Alaniz testified that he first talked to a female who lived on the first floor, then proceeded up the stairway where he encountered Henry and Gustavo Dominguez. Henry alerted the officer of a fire in the basement; Dominguez informed him of a female tied up in a bathtub. Dominguez then led the officer to the downstairs apartment where the deceased woman was located. Meanwhile, firefighters quickly extinguished two small, intentionally set fires in the basement. Id. at *1.

         Pedigo was found dead in her bath tub. At trial, evidence was presented that Pedigo had abrasions on her forehead and bridge of her nose. She had multiple stab wounds, including 12 to her chest, 4 to her upper thigh, 20 on her back, and 13 to the back of her head and neck. She also had incised wounds to her thumb, neck, and vaginal area, and both of her lungs were punctured. It was impossible to identify which wound caused her death. Id. Amanda Coulter, Pedigo's sister, testified that she lived with Pedigo in apartment 1 for a short time and she was familiar with her sister's possessions, including a laptop, two gaming consoles, a cellphone, and several video games. After the murder, police allowed Coulter into her sister's apartment, where she recovered a set of keys that she recognized as her sister's. However, the keys would not unlock either of the apartment's doors and she was never informed that her sister changed the locks. Id. at *2.

         Officer Greg Couch testified that he observed blood in the common foyer area of the building and on the steps leading to the apartments upstairs. Jasbir Hullon, the landlord of the building, testified that Henry and Yaggie originally rented apartment 3, but moved into apartment 4 earlier in April of 2008. The basement door was locked with a padlock that only Henry and Hullon had the keys to unlock (Henry had previously done some painting and repair work, including changing the locks, in apartment 1 prior to Pedigo's arrival, as he and Yaggie originally planned to move into that apartment.). Id. at *1-2.

         Detective Brian Johnson also testified at Henry's trial. Johnson interviewed Dominguez at the police station. Officers found blood in the bathroom of the police station after Dominguez used the facilities, leading Johnson to obtain search warrants for Dominguez's person and his apartment. DNA testing of the blood samples taken from the bathroom floor and Dominguez's shoes matched Pedigo's DNA. Johnson also obtained Pedigo's cell phone number and pinged it to reveal its location. While searching for and calling the phone, Johnson heard vibrations emanating from a closet outside Henry's apartment. A search of the closet revealed a trash bag containing Pedigo's possessions. Henry admitted to handling Pedigos phone, which was also found inside the trash bag. Forensic testing of an iPod found in the trash bag revealed a mixture of DNA from which Henry could not be excluded. Id. at *3.

         Detectives used luminol at the crime scene to locate blood traces not visible to the naked eye. The luminol revealed a blood trail left by two different pairs of shoes that went from Pedigo's apartment, out her kitchen door, and up the stairs of the complex to Dominguez's apartment. From there, the trail proceeded out the other door of Dominguez's apartment to Henry's apartment. When detectives sprayed luminol on the kitchen floor of Henry's apartment, the entire floor glowed, indicating that the floor may have been cleaned with bleach recently. Id.

         Yaggie testified that Henry put the lock on the closet outside their apartment and she did not have a key to the closet. On Friday, April 18, 2008, she picked up Henry's paycheck and cashed it so she could pay bills. Henry called her anxious about when she would get home because she had his paycheck. When she arrived home, he asked her about the check and how much she had left. Ya g g i e gave him $30 and he left indicating he was going to purchase marijuana. Upon his return, he asked for more money to purchase more marijuana. Ya g g i e gave him $50 more, and when he arrived home the second time, he told her that Pedigo wanted him to put some weather stripping or a lock on her door. Henry went downstairs to Pedigo's apartment to see what she needed and returned 30 to 45 minutes later. Id.

         Yaggie further testified that when Henry returned from Pedigo's apartment, he remarked that she had “a nice place, a lot of nice things.” Yaggie recounted Henry's comment that “if he had that kind of stuff, he could pay off his bills, what he owed me and whatever, ” to which Yaggie responded by warning him to “[not] even think about doing something like that.” Instead, Yaggie suggested that he quit buying dope and borrowing money. However, on April 19, Henry asked for more money to buy drugs, which she gave to him. Yaggie attempted to call Henry five or six times on April 19, but was not able to reach him until around 11 p.m. when he told her he was finishing off his dope and going to bed. Id. at *4.

         On the morning of April 20, Henry called Yaggie and told her to call the landlord because there was a fire in the basement, but did not mention Pedigo's death. That night, Yaggie drove Henry to East Moline and dropped him off at a gas station. Henry said he was staying with a friend but did not indicate where. He later called Yaggie and told her it would not be a good idea for them to stay together. On April 21, Henry drove Yaggie and her client to Iowa. During the drive, the police called Yaggie and asked for her permission to search her apartment and the closet outside. Henry told her not to tell the police he was with her. When the two returned to the apartment and the police asked again about searching the closet, Henry told Yaggie he did not know where the key was. Id.

         Tisha Hare testified she dated Henry in October of 2007 and she still talked with him occasionally. Before his arrest, Henry called Hare and told her a murder and fire occurred at his apartment, that the police had a suspect, and that he was afraid he too would be a suspect. Hare also testified that a knife found in the victim's bedroom was similar to one Henry had shown her previously. Id. at *3.

         Anna Shockley testified about her relationship with Henry in April of 2008, apparently at the same time he was dating Yaggie. Henry called Shockley multiple times on April 19 and at one point he stated “that he had done something stupid” and that he had broken into another apartment in the building and taken a laptop, iPod and cell phone. Henry told Shockley he had done a sloppy job at breaking into the apartment and he needed to go make it look like an outside job. He later went to Shockley's house, where she asked him if he was the one who murdered Pedigo. After Henry refused to answer, Shockley asked him to look her in the eyes and tell her he did not commit the murder, but he would not do so. According to Shockley, Henry “didn't say that he did do it, but the way that he was acting, the way he was looking at me, I could tell that he was lying to me.” When she told Henry that he was guilty of the murder if he could not look her in the eyes and deny doing it, he did not respond. Id. at *4.

         At the close of evidence for the prosecution, Henry moved for directed verdict, and his motion was denied. The defense called three witnesses to the stand. Detective Scott Williams testified that he searched a trash can at Henry's residence and found a paycheck stub for $180 inscribed with “Eric Henry roofing” in the note section of the check. Robert Slay testified that he knew Dominguez to carry a pocket knife. He further testified that despite being friends with Dominguez, he did not trust him because he “caught him trying to steal a couple CD's” on occasion and he would not leave Dominguez alone with his belongings. William Reschley testified that he was a friend of Dominguez and gave him about $30 a week for four years. Finally, Henry recalled two police officers that testified in the prosecution's case-in-chief before resting.[2] Id. at *5.

         The jury unanimously found Henry guilty of first degree murder and further found unanimously that the murder had been committed by exceptionally brutal and heinous behavior indicative of wanton cruelty. Henry's counsel filed a post-trial motion raising arguments including: (1) Henry was not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, (2) the trial court erred in allowing his criminal history in as impeachment evidence, and (3) the trial court erred in ruling that the defense could not present evidence that Dominguez tried to access another person's home after Pedigo's murder. Doc. 21-4, at 14. Henry also filed five pro se motions for new trial, but the trial court decided that it would only address the issues that were also raised in counsel's motion. The trial court denied counsel's motion and sentenced Henry to natural life in prison. Meanwhile, Dominguez was found not guilty by reason of insanity in a separate bench trial. Henry appealed. Id. (2) Henry's Direct Appeal to the Third District Appellate Court of Illinois Henry, with the assistance of (different) counsel, filed a direct appeal to the Third District Appellate Court of Illinois. In his appeal, Henry argued that the prosecutor's remarks during closing arguments regarding the reasonable doubt burden of proof and the law of accountability entitled him to a new trial. The Illinois appellate court found no error in the prosecutor's remarks and affirmed the judgment of the trial court. People v. Henry, 2011 WL 10468068, at *5 (Ill.App.3d Dist. 2011).

         (3) Henry's Petition for Leave to Appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court

         Henry filed a pro se petition for leave to appeal in the Illinois Supreme Court. Doc. 21-2. Therein, he raised a host of issues, including trial counsel's failure to seek a psychological evaluation for Henry. Id. at 4. The Illinois Supreme Court denied Henry's petition on March 28, 2012. Doc. 21-3; People v. Henry, No. 113736, 968 N.E.2d 85 (Ill. 2012).

         (4) Henry's Postconviction Petition

         On November 13, 2012, Henry filed a pro se postconviction petition arguing, inter alia, that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a fitness hearing, and appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise the issues contained in trial counsel's motion for new trial. Doc. 21-4, at 15. The trial court issued a written order summarily dismissing Henry's petition on the basis that he failed to state a constitutional claim. Henry appealed.

         (5) Henry's Appeal of the Denial of his Postconviction Petition

         Henry was appointed counsel to represent him on appeal from the trial court's denial of his postconviction petition. Counsel raised two issues on appeal: (1) whether Henry stated an arguable basis of a constitutional claim that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request a fitness hearing; and (2) whether Henry stated an arguable basis of a constitutional claim that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue on direct appeal that the trial court erred ...

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