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Spears v. Lawrence

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

August 23, 2019

DION SPEARS, R21654, Petitioner,
FRANK LAWRENCE, Warden, Menard Correctional Center, [*] Respondent.



         In 2009, an Illinois jury convicted Dion Spears of first-degree murder and other firearms and narcotics charges. The state court sentenced Spears to a total of 73 years in prison. For the last decade, Spears has fought to overturn those convictions and sentences. On direct appeal, the court vacated Spears's narcotics conviction, but other than that, everything has stayed the same. In 2015, Spears petitioned this Court pro se for a writ of habeas corpus raising a variety of claims. The Court stayed the case while Spears's postconviction petition was pending in the Illinois courts. After the state Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal for a second time, the Warden with custody over Spears answered his petition. Because the state court reasonably applied federal law in rejecting Spears's only cognizable claim, the Court denies his petition (Dkt. 1).


         In February 2008, Spears fatally shot Derrick Bey outside a banquet hall in Elgin, Illinois. See People v. Spears, 2018 IL App (2d) 151162-U, ¶ 4, appeal denied, 111 N.E.3d 968 (Ill. 2018). After a security guard confiscated Spears's revolver, he fled the scene, only to have a car hit him as he was attempting to run across a road. Id. When responding paramedics loaded Spears into an ambulance, they discovered a second gun in his pocket. Id. At the hospital, Spears regurgitated a baggie of cocaine. Id.

         I. Facts

         On February 13, the State of Illinois charged Spears by felony complaint with: (1) armed violence; (2) aggravated unlawful use of a weapon by a felon; (3) possession of a defaced firearm; (4) unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon; and (5) unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Id. ¶ 5. Although a warrant immediately issued for Spears's arrest, the police did not serve that warrant for more than a year because of his extended recovery from his severe injuries in multiple different medical facilities. Id.

         On January 21, 2009, the State served the Kane County Public Defender's Office with a copy of the charging documents, criminal history, and police reports relating to Spears's case. Id. ¶ 6. On February 9, an assistant public defender appeared in court and requested that the court appoint her office to represent Spears and authorize a medical evaluation. Id. The assistant public defender indicated that she did not object to the outstanding warrant because the medical facility was not going to release Spears anytime soon. Id.

         On March 24, law enforcement arrested Spears when the medical facility released him from its custody. Id. ¶ 7. On April 22, a grand jury indicted Spears for two counts of first-degree murder in addition to the charges previously alleged in the felony complaint (except the defaced firearm charge). Id. ¶ 8.

         Spears moved to dismiss the murder charges arguing that the State violated Illinois's speedy trial statute because more than 120 days had lapsed between February 3, 2008 (the date he went to the hospital, his claimed custody date) and April 22, 2009 (the indictment date). Id. ¶ 9. Spears also contended that the pre-indictment delay of 14 months infringed his due process rights. Id. ¶ 10.

         At the hearing on Spears's motion to dismiss, the detective who investigated the shooting-Brian Gorcowski-testified that a car hit Spears seconds after he fatally shot Bey. Id. ¶ 11. The medical professionals did not initially expect Spears to live. Id. ¶ 12. When Gorcowski visited Spears at the hospital, he was unconscious and on a ventilator. Id. The hospital sent Spears to a nursing home where his condition deteriorated. Id. When Gorcowski checked on Spears a few months later, he learned that the nursing home transferred Spears back to a hospital, where he was nonresponsive and in critical condition. Id. ¶ 13.

         Shortly thereafter, the hospital moved Spears to a rehabilitation facility. Id. ¶ 13. When Gorcowski visited Spears at that facility in August or September 2008, he was “propped up in a chair, drooling, and staring blankly at a television set.” Id. Although this was an improvement from Spears's previous condition, he remained nonresponsive. Id. Spears continued to get better, and in late 2008 or early 2009, he underwent a fitness evaluation. Id. ¶ 15. That evaluation revealed that Spears was physically fit to stand trial, so law enforcement executed the arrest warrant and took him into custody. Id.

         The trial court denied Spears's motion to dismiss the murder charges, determining that the speedy trial “clock” started to run on March 24, 2009, when police officers served Spears with the arrest warrant because he was not in custody up until that point. Id. ¶ 17. Seeing that the grand jury indicted Spears less than 30 days later, the trial court decided no speedy trial violation occurred. Id.

         II. Procedural History

         Spears's case eventually proceeded to trial on the charges of first-degree murder, armed violence, and unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Id. ¶ 18. The jury found Spears guilty on all charges. Id. The trial court sentenced Spears to consecutive prison terms of 57 years for murder and 16 years for armed violence. Id. The court also sentenced Spears to a concurrent prison term of 3 years for unlawful possession of a controlled substance. Id. Spears appealed.

         Direct ...

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