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Spears v. Lawrence

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

August 5, 2019

JOHNNY SPEARS, Petitioner,
FRANK LAWRENCE, Acting Warden, Menard Correctional Center, Respondent.



         Johnny Spears 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”). Frank Lawrence, [1] Acting Warden of Menard Correctional Center (“Respondent”), contends that Spears's claims are procedurally defaulted, meritless, or noncognizable. For the following reasons, the petition [1] is denied.

         Factual Background [2]

         Spears was charged and convicted of the murder of Octavious Dandridge, which occurred at the intersection of Chicago and St. Louis Avenues in Chicago, Illinois, on April 22, 2008. Resp't Ex. A at 2. On that day, Spears, Charles Munyi, Owen Turner, and Rodney Turner[3] walked Spears's stepbrother Jerrell Dillard to a nearby bus stop. Id. at 2, 9. As they walked back, they encountered Dandridge and his friend Deon Richard. Id. at 2. Spears and Dandridge got into a verbal altercation, and Dandridge was shot. Id.

         At trial, the State's case rested on four witnesses who identified Spears as the shooter-Munyi, Richard, Owen, and DeAngelo Jones. Id. at 3-9. Munyi, however, was the only witness who gave a positive identification at trial; Richard, Owen, and Jones all recanted their prior statements accusing Spears of the murder. Id. Accordingly, the State called as witnesses several police officers and prosecutors to prove up the prior inconsistent statements identifying Spears. Id. The defense, by contrast, theorized that Munyi was the shooter, and attempted to prove that fact through cross-examination of the State's witnesses. Id. at 2. The defense also called Dillard to support its theory. Id. at 9-10.

         I. Richard's Testimony and Prior Inconsistent Statements

         Richard testified that he met with police and an Assistant State's Attorney (“ASA”) on April 24, 2008. Id. at 3. At that time, Richard made a statement, which the ASA recorded and Richard signed. Id. According to that statement, Richard and Dandridge were standing near the intersection of Chicago and St. Louis Avenues when Richard saw two men pass by. Id. One, whom Richard referred to as “Shorty, ” asked Dandridge “what did he say, ” and when Dandridge responded that he was not looking for trouble, an argument ensued. Id. Shorty then grabbed a black gun from his waistband and shot at Dandridge. Id. Dandridge ran, but Shorty pursued him and shot seven or eight more times, hitting Dandridge in the back and neck. Id. At the time he gave the statement, Richard identified Spears as the shooter from a photo array, and identified Dillard as Spears's companion. Id. at 3-4. Richard was familiar with Spears and knew that Spears lived in the area. Id. at 4.

         At trial, Richard acknowledged that he had made these statements and identifications, but recanted them. Id. at 4. He testified that, although he was at the scene, he heard only gunshots and did not see the shooter. Id. He stated that police had forced his statement, and that he had made the statement based on neighborhood gossip. Id. He also stated that he was angry about his friend's murder and wanted to see someone convicted. Id.

         The State presented three witnesses to prove up Richard's prior inconsistent statements-Chicago police sergeant Daniel Gallagher, ASA Joy Tolbert Nelson, and ASA Patrick Keane. Id. at 4-5. Gallagher and Nelson were present for Richard's police-station interview, and verified that he had made the statement. Id. Keane testified that Richard had given the same story to the grand jury. Id. at 5. All three witnesses testified that Richard's prior statements had not been coerced. Id. Richard's statement to police and grand-jury testimony were then admitted as substantive evidence pursuant to 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/115-10.1. Id. at 11.

         II. Owen Turner's Testimony and Prior Inconsistent Statements

         Owen testified that he had spoken to the police several days after the shooting and had given a signed statement on June 20, 2008. Id. at 5. In that statement, he identified himself, Rodney, Munyi, and Spears from a photo taken by a pod camera and stated that they were coming back from dropping off Dillard at the bus stop. Id. Owen also stated that Spears had exchanged words with Dandridge, whom Owen similarly identified in a photo. Id.

         Owen acknowledged at trial that he had given this statement, but recanted and offered a different story suggesting that Munyi had been responsible for the shooting. Id. He testified that, when he and the others walked Dillard to the bus stop, he saw Dillard take something from his waistband and hand it to Munyi. Id. Owen, Rodney, Munyi, and Spears then walked near the intersection of Chicago and St. Louis Avenues, but Munyi and Spears lagged a few feet behind. Id. at 6. According to Owen, Rodney then said that “Ghost”-referring to Munyi-was arguing with someone. Id. The group continued to walk, when Owen heard gunshots. Id. On cross-examination, Owen said that he saw Munyi with the gun, which was black with a pearl handle. Id. Later, Owen saw Munyi and Jones in the alley with a shovel, burying the gun. Id.

         The State presented two witnesses to prove up Owen's prior inconsistent statements-Chicago police detective Donald Hill and ASA Jose Villareal. Id. Hill had interviewed Turner at the police station on June 20, and Villareal took Turner's statement in the presence of Hill the next day. Id. Both testified to Owen's prior statement and said Owen had made no mention of seeing Dillard pass something to Munyi, of Munyi and Dandridge arguing, or of seeing Munyi with the gun after the shooting. Id. Owen's prior statements were admitted as substantive evidence pursuant to 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/115-10.1. Id. at 11.

         III. Jones's Testimony and Prior Inconsistent Statements

         Jones testified at trial that he previously had given testimony to the grand jury. Id. at 6. Before the grand jury, Jones had testified that Spears had telephoned him shortly after the murder, asking him to retrieve a gun. Id. Jones agreed, and he, Munyi, and Owen retrieved the gun and buried it. Id. at 7. A few days later, Jones asked Spears, “[w]hat would make you do something stupid like [that]?” and Spears responded, “[i]f the shoe was on the other feet he would have did me in.” Id.

         But Jones recanted his grand jury testimony at trial, revising certain details and adding new ones. Id. at 6-7. He testified that after Spears had called him, Munyi also called him and asked him to help “get rid” of a gun. Id. at 7. Furthermore, he testified that his conversation with Spears actually referred to Munyi. Id.

         The State called two witnesses to prove up Jones's prior statement-Detective Hill and ASA Keane, both of whom had interviewed Jones before his grand-jury appearance. Id. Jones's prior statement was admitted as substantive evidence pursuant to 725 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/115-10.1. Id. at 11.

         IV. Munyi's Testimony and Cross-Examination

         Most important to the State's case was Munyi, who testified at trial that he saw Spears shoot Dandridge. Id. at 8. According to Munyi, he had been at Spears's house with Rodney, Owen, and Spears, and the group decided to walk three blocks with Dillard to the bus stop because Dillard did not feel safe going alone. Id. After Dillard boarded the bus, the group walked back. Id. Rodney and Owen cut across a vacant lot, but Munyi and Spears remained on the sidewalk, where they ran into Dandridge and his friends. Id. Munyi said that Dandridge began threatening Spears, labeling him a “snitch.” Id. Spears then pulled out a “long-nosed black revolver with a white handle” from his waist, and shot Dandridge in the head. Id. Dandridge tried to run, but Spears shot him several more times. Id.

         Munyi stated that, days later, he saw the same gun being passed around at the residence of Rodney and Jones. Id. He testified that the last time he saw the gun was in that house and that he did not know what happened to it afterwards. Id. He denied having anything to do with getting rid of the gun. Id.

         Before Munyi's cross-examination, the trial court held a meeting in chambers, and defense counsel sought permission to inquire into an armed robbery with which Munyi had been charged. Id. at 8-9. Counsel claimed that, in the robbery, Munyi and Jones had used the same gun that was used in Dandridge's shooting. Id. at 9. Counsel argued that this line of inquiry was relevant to impeach Munyi's testimony that he saw the gun only once a few days after the shooting, and to corroborate testimony that Munyi had helped to bury the gun. Id. The court asked whether counsel could specifically “link” the gun used in the murder to the gun used in the robbery, to which counsel responded that Jones had told him the guns were the same. Id. The court denied permission to conduct cross-examination to that effect, concluding that if counsel could not “prove it up with certainty, ” the court would not “get into this other case.” Id.

         V. Dillard's Testimony

         Dillard testified on Spears's behalf and stated that he had asked Spears to walk with him to the bus stop for his safety. Id. Dillard did not want to travel alone because there had been a confrontation with Dandridge earlier, and Dandridge was “patrolling” the area. Id. Dillard asked Munyi for a gun, and Munyi handed him a black revolver with a long barrel and white handle. Id. The group, which ...

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