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Hughes v. Pfister

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

August 15, 2019

JOHNNY HUGHES, Petitioner,
v.
RANDY PFISTER, Warden, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Matthew F. Kennelly United States District Judge.

         Following a jury trial in Illinois state court, Johnny Hughes was convicted of murder and attempted armed robbery. The trial court sentenced Hughes to concurrent prison terms of fifty-five years for first-degree murder and ten years for attempted armed robbery. Hughes has petitioned this Court for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254. For the reasons stated below, the Court denies Hughes's petition in part and orders further briefing on one of his claims.

         Background

         Alex Bradley was shot and killed on the morning of June 12, 2001. Bradley's ex-wife, Ruth Bradley, lived in a house separated by an alley from Bradley's home. (The Court uses Ruth Bradley's full name to distinguish her from Alex Bradley, to whom the Court refers as "Bradley.") She testified that Bradley was a "scavenger" who bought and sold items from his backyard. One morning, Ruth Bradley heard a gunshot, so she looked out her window and saw a white car quickly driving away as Bradley stumbled in his yard. She testified that Bradley shouted "Ruth, Ruth, I've been shot." Ex. P at 170 (Ruth Bradley testimony).[1] At trial, a forensic pathologist testified that Bradley had been shot in the torso, near his armpit, and died from his wounds. The government also introduced the testimony of Tawana Smith. She lived nearby and described hearing a gunshot and seeing a white Ford Tempo with a handicapped license plate quickly drive out of the alley. She was able to see and recall all or part of the license plate number.

         Relying upon Smith's description of the automobile, police connected Bradley's death first to Arnold Elliott, who was related to the owner of the white Ford Tempo. They also learned Johnny Hughes might be involved in the murder. When they located and pulled over Hughes's car, they found Leon Tanna driving. Tanna was then arrested on an unrelated outstanding warrant. He told the officers that Hughes was being detained in Jasper, Indiana. On June 27, 2001, assistant state's attorney Iris Ferosie and two detectives traveled to Jasper to interview Hughes about Bradley's murder. Hughes did not testify at his trial, and his statements were not recorded, so the description of the conversation that occurred at the jail is based upon the testimony that Ferosie offered at trial.

         The detectives spoke with Hughes for approximately twenty minutes before Ferosie entered the interview room. Ferosie testified that, upon joining the detectives, she advised Hughes of his Miranda rights and asked if he was willing to speak with her. He agreed. Ferosie testified that Hughes stated that Arnold Elliott had picked him up in a white Ford. Hughes said that he and Elliott snorted heroin and smoked crack cocaine while driving around and, as a result, he did not recall the events of the night well. He recounted possessing a bag of small consumer items-what he described as merchandise-that they attempted to sell to Bradley.

         Ferosie testified that Hughes told her that both he and Elliott left the car and approached Bradley. Hughes carried the merchandise and noticed Elliott was carrying a gun. After they unsuccessfully tried to sell the merchandise to Bradley, Hughes walked back towards the car and left the bag of merchandise atop a trash can. Hughes told Ferosie that he then heard a gunshot. He could not provide more specific details, telling Ferosie: "Listen, I was high, you know, I don't really remember exactly." Ex. R at 34 (Ferosie testimony). After Ferosie pressed him further, Hughes asked her if she had ever smoked crack cocaine. She stated she had not, and he responded: "You know what? That's my story. I'm done talking." Id. at 35.

         Ferosie and the detectives left the interview room and returned to a waiting room. Soon after this, a Jasper police officer told them Hughes wanted to speak to them again. Ferosie testified that, when she returned to the room in which Hughes was held, he told her, "I'm going to tell you the truth now." Id. at 36.

         According to Ferosie's testimony, she re-advised him of his Miranda rights. Hughes told her he understood the rights, and he then provided a different account of Bradley's murder from the one he had given earlier. Hughes affirmed that he and Elliott initially spent the night using drugs. Yet Hughes also told Ferosie that, upon entering Elliott's car, Elliott gave him a gun and told him they were going to "do a lick," meaning they would rob someone. Id. at 37. Hughes told Ferosie that he and Elliott drove around all night but were unable to find anyone to rob, so they decided to drive to Bradley's residence to sell the merchandise for more gas money. During this account, Hughes told Ferosie that he, not Elliott, was holding the gun when they approached Bradley. Bradley did not want to buy the items they had to offer, which made Hughes angry. He told Ferosie that he pulled out the gun, pointed it at Bradley, and began to search Bradley's pockets for money. While his hand was in Bradley's front shirt pocket, Bradley pushed him away, which according to Hughes caused the gun to fire. Ferosie testified that Hughes told her that he and Elliott then fled without ever obtaining any money. Hughes said that, after the murder, he told Leon Tanna-who called Hughes his uncle, though they were not related-about the murder.

         Three years after his conviction for murder-as part of a state post-conviction petition-Hughes filed an affidavit stating that he never waived his rights and refused to answer Ferosie's questions but that nonetheless he was "continuously interrogated." Ex. S at 19 (Hughes affidavit).

         At the end of the conversation, Ferosie provided Hughes with several options to memorialize his statement. She testified that Hughes said he did not trust video recording or a court reporter and did not want to write his own statement. Also, Hughes was unwilling to provide any further statement unless Ferosie could promise him a deal. Ferosie stated she was unable to offer a deal on her own, so Hughes refused to speak with her any further. Ferosie then returned to Chicago.

         On July 3, Ferosie met with Tanna, who was detained at the Cook County Jail after being arrested while driving Hughes's car. Ferosie testified that Tanna told her about a conversation in which Hughes described shooting Bradley. Tanna told Ferosie that Hughes said he had shot Bradley as the result of a "reflex," Ex. R at 49-50 (Ferosie testimony), and did not know whether he had killed Bradley. Ferosie also testified that there were no noticeable signs of injury on Tanna and that Tanna said he was treated "fine" by the police. Id. at 50. After their discussion, Ferosie documented Tanna's statement, which she then read to him aloud as he signed the bottom of each page to indicate his acceptance of the statement. Tanna later testified to similar effect before a grand jury.

         At trial, however, Tanna testified that he had been coerced by the police into making a statement to Ferosie while in custody and again before the grand jury. During his trial testimony, Tanna said he did not recall any conversation in which Hughes told him he shot Bradley.

         At Hughes's trial, Elliott-the driver on the night Bradley was killed-also testified. Elliott testified that he and Hughes consumed drugs and eventually decided to sell Hughes's bag of merchandise to Bradley. Elliott said he remained in the car while Hughes walked with the merchandise to Bradley's backyard. Elliott claimed Hughes left his line of sight, and he then heard a gunshot and saw Hughes return to the car. They left, and Hughes later told him that ...


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