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Murchison v. Pfister

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

December 26, 2019

RUDOLPH MURCHISON R56066, Petitioner,
RANDY PFISTER, Warden, Stateville Correctional Center, Respondent.


          Sharon Johnson Coleman United States District Judge.

         Before the Court is pro se petitioner Rudolph Murchison's petition for a writ of habeas corpus brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1). For the following reasons, the Court denies Murchison's habeas petition and further declines to certify any issues for appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2).


         When considering habeas petitions, federal courts presume that the factual findings made by the last state court to decide the case on the merits are correct unless the habeas petitioner rebuts those findings by clear and convincing evidence. See 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1); Sims v. Hyatte, 914 F.3d 1078, 1095 (7th Cir. 2019). Where Murchison has not provided clear and convincing evidence to rebut this presumption, the following factual background is based on the Illinois Appellate Court's decisions on direct and post-conviction appeal.

         In September 1999, Murchison and two other men bludgeoned and robbed eighty-eight year old Ethel Jackson at her home on South Greenwood Avenue in Chicago. After being taken to the hospital, Jackson slipped into a coma and never regained consciousness. Jackson died on March 2, 2001, after which Murchison was charged with three different counts of first degree murder.

         At his 2006 jury trial, the State introduced Murchison's video-taped confession in which he admitted that he led his accomplices to Jackson's home where one of them repeatedly hit Jackson in the head with a pipe. Murchison's confession also revealed that the men stole Jackson's money leaving her bound and gagged. The State also presented additional evidence corroborating Murchison's confession, including that before she lost consciousness, Jackson made a statement to the police implicating Murchison in the attack and robbery. In September 2006, the jury found Murchison guilty on all three first degree murder counts, including felony murder, intentional murder, and knowing murder.

         Murchison, by counsel, filed a direct appeal to the Illinois Appellate Court arguing: (1) there was insufficient evidence to establish that he or his accomplices caused Jackson's death; (2) the trial court erred by instructing the jury with a non-pattern proximate cause instruction for felony murder; (3) the trial court erred by not instructing the jury with a mandatory instruction on armed robbery as a predicate to felony murder; (4) the trial court abused its discretion by allowing an expert to testify about causation; and (5) the trial court violated his right to confrontation when it allowed the officers to testify that they could identify Murchison after speaking with Jackson before she went into a coma. The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the conviction of intentional murder, but vacated the felony murder and knowing murder convictions. Murchison then filed a counseled petition for leave to appeal (“PLA”) to the Illinois Supreme Court arguing that the non-pattern jury instruction was in error. The Illinois Supreme Court denied Murchison's PLA in March 2010.

         In September 2010, Murchison filed a post-conviction petition pursuant to the Illinois Post-Conviction Hearing Act, 725 ILCS 5/122-1, et seq., raising the same claims that he raised on direct appeal. The Circuit Court dismissed his post-conviction petition as frivolous and patently without merit at the first stage of the proceedings. On appeal, the parties agreed that the case should continue to the second stage of post-conviction review, and thus the Illinois Appellate Court remanded the matter in July 2013.

         On remand, the trial court appointed Murchison counsel, who filed a supplemental petition for post-conviction relief adding one additional claim, namely, that Murchison's appellate counsel on direct appeal was ineffective for failing to argue that the trial was defective because the expert testimony and jury instructions bypassed the question of foreseeability in relation to causation. The trial court dismissed both pro se and supplemental post-conviction petitions in March 2016.

         On post-conviction appeal, Murchison's appointed counsel filed a motion to withdraw under Pennsylvania v. Finley, 481 U.S. 551, 107 S.Ct. 1990, 95 L.Ed.2d 539 (1987). The Illinois Appellate Court granted counsel's motion and affirmed the post-conviction ruling. In his pro se PLA to the Illinois Supreme Court, Murchison made only one argument-that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to argue that the expert testimony and jury instructions bypassed the question of foreseeability in relation to the cause of Jackson's death. The Illinois Supreme Court denied Murchison's post-conviction PLA in February 2018.

         Legal Standards

         “Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), a federal court cannot issue a writ of habeas corpus on a claim rejected on the merits in state court unless the petitioner surmounts high obstacles.” Janusiak v. Cooper, 937 F.3d 880, 888 (7th Cir. 2019). Specifically, under the AEDPA, the Court cannot grant habeas relief unless the state court's decision was contrary to, or an unreasonable application of federal law clearly established by the Supreme Court. Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 402-03, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000); Felton v. Bartow, 926 F.3d 451, 464 (7th Cir. 2019). The Supreme Court has explained that a state court's decision is “contrary to” clearly established Supreme Court law “if the state court arrives at a conclusion opposite to that reached by this Court on a question of law” or “if the state court confronts facts that are materially indistinguishable from a relevant Supreme Court precedent and arrives at a result opposite to ours.” Williams, 529 U.S. at 405. Under the “unreasonable application” prong of the AEDPA standard, a habeas petitioner must demonstrate that although the state court identified the correct legal rule, it unreasonably applied the controlling law to the facts of the case. Id. at 407.

         “[A] state prisoner must exhaust his remedies in state court before seeking relief in federal court.” Snow v. Pfister, 880 F.3d 857, 864 (7th Cir. 2018). “Inherent in the habeas petitioner's obligation to exhaust his state court remedies before seeking relief in habeas corpus, is the duty to fairly present his federal claims to the state courts.” King v. Pfister,834 F.3d 808, 815 (7th Cir. 2016) (citation omitted). “A federal court will not hear a state prisoner's habeas claim unless the prisoner has first exhausted his state ...

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