United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Z. Lee, United States District Judge
Meza has filed a petition for a writ of habeas
corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, as amended by
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996
(“AEDPA”), challenging his conviction for
first-degree murder. Meza alleges that a non-testifying
codefendant's statement was improperly introduced at
trial in violation of his Sixth Amendment right to confront
his accusers, and that the jury may have been infected with
anti-gang bias, in violation of his right to a fair and
impartial jury. Meza also contends that his trial counsel was
ineffective for failing to prevent both errors. Teri Kennedy,
Warden of Pontiac Correctional Center
(“Respondent”),  argues that Meza's claims are
either procedurally defaulted or meritless. For the following
reasons, the petition  is denied.
conviction arises out of the murder of Lorenzo Salazar-Cortez
on September 15, 2007. See Resp't Ex. C,
Pet'r Direct Appeal Br. at 2, ECF No. 16-3.
Salazar-Cortez was shot four times through a basement window
of an apartment building in Addison, Illinois. See
Id. Within hours of the shooting, graffiti appeared
nearby denigrating the Latin Kings street gang, suggesting
that members of a rival gang, the Imperial Gangsters, had
been responsible for the shooting. See id.;
Resp't Ex. A at 2. At the time, the Imperial Gangsters
were attempting to “move into” the area
surrounding the apartment building, which was part of Latin
Kings territory. Resp't Ex. A at 2. Salazar-Cortez did
not belong to a gang and appeared to have been an innocent
days after the shooting, police met with a paid informant,
Candido Rosales, who said he had spoken with an Imperial
Gangster named Antonio Aguilar. Id. Aguilar had told
Rosales that the Imperial Gangsters were responsible for the
shooting, and that a gang member named “Lazy” had
drawn the graffiti afterward. Id. “Lazy”
was Meza's street name. Id.
then wore a wire and met with Aguilar on several occasions.
Id. at 3. During one conversation, Aguilar showed
Rosales a 9-millimeter gun. Id. In a subsequent
recorded conversation, Aguilar said that Lazy and another
individual, Carlos “Benzino” Ruiz, were
“stashing, ” or hiding, because they were the
“main [N***as]” involved in the shooting.
Id. Aguilar stated that Benzino was the shooter, and
that Lazy's car had been used. Id. Aguilar
further explained that they had intended to shoot one of two
twin brothers-both Latin Kings-who lived in the apartment
building. Id. at 2-3.
was arrested and interrogated. Id. at 3. He
initially denied knowing anything, but later admitted that
the Imperial Gangsters were responsible for the shooting.
Id. He said that Lazy was claiming responsibility
for the shooting, and that Lazy had dropped him off the night
of the shooting saying he had a “few things to take
care of.” Id. On the basis of this
information, police arrested Meza. Id.
police station, Meza gave a videotaped statement.
Id.; see Resp't Ex. B at 3. Near the
beginning of the statement, the detectives told Meza that
Aguilar had implicated him in the offense. Resp't Ex. A
at 4. Meza asked to hear the statement, so the detectives
played him a portion of Aguilar's recorded interrogation.
Id. The audio from that portion of Aguilar's
interrogation was captured in the video recording of
Meza's statement. Id.
went on to give a confession, which was recorded. He
explained that on the night of the shooting, he drove Aguilar
into Latin Kings territory, knowing Aguilar had a gun.
Resp't Ex. B at 3. He and Aguilar tried to get into an
apartment building, but the door was locked. Id. He
followed Aguilar, who shot toward a group of people near a
window. Id. Aguilar then ran away, and Meza drove
him away from the scene. Id. Meza later returned to
the area and wrote the anti-Latin Kings graffiti, because he
was a better “tagger” than Aguilar. Id.
Aguilar kept the gun. Id.
was charged with first-degree murder on an
“accountability” theory. Resp't Ex. B at 2.
Prior to trial, Meza moved to quash his arrest based on a
lack of probable cause and to suppress his recorded
confession as a product of the illegal arrest. Resp't Ex.
A at 2. The trial court denied the motion. See Id.
voir dire, defense counsel asked prospective jurors
several questions to explore potential biases. Resp't Ex.
B at 2. He asked one prospective juror, “Just because a
person might be in a gang, which is not a healthy
organization, doesn't mean that they perhaps committed
this particular murder or this particular burglary or this
particular robbery; wouldn't that be fair?”
Id. That juror expressed an ability to be fair to
both sides, and ended up sitting on the jury. Id.
Another prospective juror stated that he had friends who were
police officers and often discussed “gang-related
stuff” with them. Id. Defense counsel did not
move to strike this juror, who also ended up on the jury.
Id. Meza's attorney did not ask gang-related
questions to any other members of the venire who
were selected for the jury. See Id. at 4.
trial, the videotape of Meza's statement was played for
the jury, including the portion in which Meza listened to
Aguilar's recorded interview. Resp't Ex. A at 4. As
described by the Illinois Appellate Court, “[o]n the
video, although Aguilar's statements are barely audible,
the detective's statements in response clearly imply that
Aguilar implicated [Meza] as the shooter.” Id.
The jury also heard evidence about the rivalry between the
Imperial Gangsters and the Latin Kings, as well as about the
graffiti that appeared after the shooting. Resp't Ex. B
jury found Meza guilty, and the trial court sentenced him to
45 years of imprisonment. Id.
direct appeal, Meza argued through counsel that there was no
probable cause for his arrest and that the introduction of
Aguilar's statement through the video of Meza violated
his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth
Amendment. See Resp't Ex. A at 4, 6. The
Illinois Appellate Court affirmed, first concluding that
there was probable cause for Meza's arrest. Id.
at 5. As to the Confrontation issue, the court found:
“Initially, we note that [Meza] did not object in the
trial court to the playing of Aguilar's statement. Thus,
the question is whether the plain-error rule applies, or
whether defendant received ineffective assistance of
counsel.” Id. at 6. The court concluded that
there was no plain error or ineffective assistance because
“it [was] virtually inconceivable that the jury would
ignore defendant's own admissions and convict him on the
basis of Aguilar's implication.” Id. at
6-7. Because the focus of the video was Meza's own
admissions and Aguilar's statements were not a central
issue, the Illinois Appellate Court determined that it was
unlikely that Aguilar's taped statements affected the
outcome of the case. Id. at 7-8.
filed a petition for leave to appeal (“PLA”) in
the Illinois Supreme Court, again challenging the
introduction of Aguilar's statements at trial.
See Resp't Ex. F, Pet'r Direct Appeal PLA at
2, ECF No. 16-6. The Illinois Supreme Court denied the PLA on
January 25, 2012. Resp't Ex. G, People v. Meza,
No. 113195 (Ill. Jan. 25, 2012), ECF No. 16-7.
filed a pro se postconviction petition in June 2012.
See Resp't Ex. H, Pet'r Postconviction
Appeal Br. at 4, ECF No. 16-8. The DuPage County Public
Defender filed an amended petition on his behalf, arguing
that trial counsel was ineffective for not adequately
examining prospective jurors about anti-gang bias and that
appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to preserve
this issue on appeal. Id. The trial court dismissed
the petition, finding that, although trial counsel's
performance was in fact deficient, Meza had failed to
demonstrate prejudice. Id.
appeal, postconviction appellate counsel raised the same
issues. Id. at 1. The Illinois Appellate Court
affirmed, agreeing with the trial court that Meza had not
been prejudiced by counsel's ineffective performance due
to the ...