United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Z. LEE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Lucrecious Towers 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. Towers advances several grounds for
habeas relief: actual innocence based on newly
discovered evidence; ineffective assistance of trial counsel;
and improper rulings by the trial court regarding evidence of
his prior criminal convictions. Frank Lawrence, Acting Warden
of Menard Correctional Center (“Respondent”),
argues that Petitioner's claims are meritless,
non-cognizable, or procedurally defaulted.
reasons set forth herein, the Court denies the petition in
part and reserves ruling as to Petitioner's
ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim until an evidentiary
hearing can be held. The Court will recruit counsel to
represent Petitioner for the limited purpose of the
evidentiary hearing as to Petitioner's
ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim. Petitioner's
counsel is granted leave to subpoena trial counsel for
records and to conduct any necessary depositions. A status
hearing is scheduled for November 5, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. to set
a discovery schedule and a date for the evidentiary hearing.
convicted Towers of the first-degree murder of John Falls.
See People v. Towers, No. 1-14-1474, 2016 WL
7434788, at *4 (Ill.App.Ct. Dec. 23, 2016). The facts
underlying the conviction are as follows.
early morning of January 14, 2006, Falls was driving a Jeep
Trailblazer near Emerald Street and 56th Street in Chicago,
Illinois. Id. at *1. Three others were also in the
car: Christopher Doss, James Harper, and April McFulson.
drove north on Emerald Street and pulled up behind a gray
Ford Focus that was stopped in the street, blocking the
northbound lane. Id. The Focus was parked next to a
white Pontiac Bonneville. Id. Falls honked his horn,
drove around the Focus, and proceeded north on Emerald
Street. Id. He then pulled into an alley nearby,
exited his vehicle, and confronted the driver of the Focus. A
physical altercation ensued. Id.
point, the driver of the Bonneville pulled up to the alley
and got out of his car. Id. Doss and Harper then
also exited the Trailblazer; McFulson remained in the SUV.
began fighting with the Bonneville driver, while Harper
joined Falls in fighting the Focus driver. Id.
Harper hit the Focus driver with an empty vodka bottle,
causing him to fall to the ground, at which point the
Bonneville driver fled. Id. Harper then got into the
Focus and crashed it into a tree. Id. Falls, Harper,
and Doss got back into the Trailblazer and drove away.
the Bonneville driver returned to his car and began pursuing
the Trailblazer, ultimately rear-ending the SUV and causing
it to collide with a parked vehicle. Id. at *2. The
Bonneville driver then sped away. Id.
drove the damaged Trailblazer to 69th Street and Wentworth
Avenue and parked it in front of Harper's house.
Id. The group got into Harper's truck, drove to
a police station to file a report, then proceeded to a party
where they stayed until 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning.
the party, McFulson and Falls went to Falls's
sister's house, where they slept until noon. Id.
Falls then borrowed his sister's white Volkswagen
Touareg, and he and McFulson drove to Popeye's Louisiana
Kitchen (“Popeye's”), a fast-food restaurant
located at 75th Street and Lafayette Avenue. Id.
waited in the drive-through lane of the Popeye's, a man
walked up to the driver's side of the Touareg and fired a
gun six or seven times through the car's window.
Id. The shooter pulled a hood over his face and ran
around the corner of the restaurant. Id. McFulson
eventually ran into the restaurant and told someone to call
the police. Id. Falls died after suffering five
gunshot wounds to his left side. Id. at *3.
Paul Spagnola and Rick Harrison were assigned to investigate
the shooting. Id. at *2. They interviewed witnesses
who described the shooter as a black male, between 26 and 27
years old, approximately 5'8” tall, weighing
approximately 160 pounds, and wearing a dark leather jacket,
dark clothes, and a hooded sweater, with the hood down.
Id. McFulson stated that she saw the man walk up to
the Touareg's window before lowering her head to avoid
falling glass from the shooting. Another witness, Edwina
Ross, said that she had been sitting in a car in front of the
Touareg in the drive-through lane and saw the entire scene
Spagnola and Harrison also went to 5639 South Emerald Street
to look at a dark blue 1992 Chevrolet Lumina, which matched
the description of a car that witnesses described as the
getaway car for the murder. The car was registered to a Marco
McNeal. Id. at *2.
January 16, 2006, Detective Spagnola composed a
black-and-white photo array to show to Doss, Harper, and
McFulson. The array included photographs of McNeal and
another individual, Arian Bonds. But the array did not
include a picture of Towers, presumably because Towers was
not a suspect at that time. Id. at *3.
reviewing the photo array, Doss said that McNeal looked like
the Focus driver from the altercation and that Bonds
resembled the Bonneville driver. Id. Harper also
identified McNeal as the Focus driver. Id. McFulson
was unable to make any identifications from the array.
this, Detective Spagnola turned his attention to McNeal and
Bonds. He was unable to locate McNeal, but was able to
interview Arian Bonds and his brother Carlos Bonds.
Id. at *3. Based upon these interviews, Detective
Spagnola then shifted the focus of his investigation to
Spagnola created a second photo array that included color
photographs of Towers and a person named Terrence Cobb and
showed it to Doss, Harper, and McFulson. Id. This
time, Doss and Harper identified Cobb as the driver of the
Focus, and Towers as the driver of the white Bonneville.
Id. Furthermore, McFulson identified Towers as the
person whom she saw walk in front of the Touareg immediately
before the shooting started. Id. Ross also
identified Towers as the shooter. Id.
was arrested in March 2006 and placed in a lineup.
Id. Doss, Harper, McFulson, and Ross each identified
Towers in the lineup consistent with their identifications
from the second photo array. Id.
Tower's trial, Doss, Harper, McFulson, Ross, and
Detective Spagnola each testified to the facts described
above. Id. at *1-3. Doss and Harper identified
Towers as the Bonneville driver with whom they had fought,
id. at *1, and McFulson identified Towers as the
person whom she saw walk in front of the Touareg before she
heard the gunshots and lowered her head. Id. at *2.
Ross also identified Towers as the person who fired multiple
shots at the Touareg. Id.
at the trial, Harper testified that, prior to the
altercation, the four were driving in the area because Falls
was looking for his ex-girlfriend, Ebony Ester, who was
staying at a friend's house. Id. at *2.
the prosecution rested, the defense called Carlos Bonds, who
testified that, in January 2006, he had been living with his
brother, Arian Bonds, at 5638 South Emerald Street.
Id. at *3. He explained that both Arian and Towers
drove white Bonnevilles, and both men wore their hair in
braids. Id. He also testified that Arian was dating
Ebony Ester at the time of the incident. Id. When
asked on cross-examination whether he had told the police on
January 14, 2006, and the state's attorney on March 14,
2006, that he had seen Towers driving a dark-colored Lumina,
Carlos stated that he had not. Id.
testified on his own behalf. Id. He acknowledged
that, in January 2006, he drove a white Bonneville and wore
his hair in braids. Id. He also stated that he lived
at 5630 South Emerald Street for about a month, and that he
was frequently in the area. Id. But he denied any
involvement in the traffic altercation or shooting of January
14, 2006. Id. He testified that he knew Arian Bonds
and that Arian also drove a white Bonneville. Id.
to the trial, Towers had moved in limine to exclude
evidence of his felony convictions in 1998 and 2000 for
controlled-substances offenses. See State Court
Record, Ex. D, People v. Towers, No. 1-08-1875, slip
op. at 2-3 (Ill.App.Ct. Mar. 9, 2010), ECF No. 17. The trial
court reserved ruling on this testimony until after Towers
his cross-examination, Towers testified without objection
that he had previously used the names “Demetrius
Hicks” and “Demetrius Coleman.”
Id. at 9. Then, in response to the prosecutor's
questions and over defense counsel's objection, Towers
admitted that he had given those names to police to obscure
his identity and avoid going to jail. Id. After
hearing this testimony, the trial court ruled that evidence
of Towers's prior convictions would be admissible, noting
that Towers had already admitted to “prior interaction
with the law enforcement, ” and thus “the
probative value [of his prior convictions] outweigh[ed] the
prejudicial effect.” Id. at 9-10. The court
ruled, however, that the prosecution would be limited to
introducing only the mere fact that Towers had been
previously convicted of felonies. Id. at 10. Defense
counsel responded that this approach was “fine.”
Id. On rebuttal, the prosecution presented three
certified statements reflecting Towers's prior
convictions. Id. at 10-11.
prosecution also used its rebuttal to impeach Carlos
Bonds's testimony. Assistant State's Attorney Mary
Anna Planey testified that, in March 2006, she had
interviewed Carlos Bonds, who had told her that he had seen
Towers driving a dark-colored Lumina on January 14, 2006.
See People v. Towers, 2016 WL 7434788, at *4.
closing arguments, defense counsel argued that Arian Bonds,
not Towers, had committed the crime. Id. He noted
that Arian Bonds lived near 56th and Emerald Streets, drove a
white Bonneville, and wore his hair in braids, just like
Towers. Id. Counsel also pointed out that Arian
Bonds was dating Falls's ex-girlfriend who, according to
Harper, Falls had been trying to catch with her new boyfriend
(which we now know was Bonds) in the early morning hours of
January 14, 2006. Id. Counsel attacked the
prosecution's witnesses' credibility, highlighted
discrepancies in their testimony, and argued that
McFulson's and Ross's identifications were
jury convicted Towers of first-degree murder, and the trial
court sentenced him to a 100-year term of imprisonment.
direct appeal, Towers contended that the trial court
improperly admitted evidence of his prior convictions and
interactions with police. See State Court Record,
Ex. A, Pet'r's Opening Br., People v.
Towers, No. 1-08-1875, at 15-24 (Ill.App.Ct. 2010). In
particular, Towers argued that the trial court erred by: (1)
reserving ruling on his pretrial motion to exclude evidence
of his prior convictions until after he testified; (2)
permitting the prosecution to cross-examine him about his
previous encounters with police; (3) relying on his testimony
from that cross-examination to find his prior convictions
admissible; and (4) requiring the prosecution to use ...