Winfield v. Dorethy

Decision Date13 April 2020
Docket NumberNos. 19-1441 & 19-1547,s. 19-1441 & 19-1547
Citation956 F.3d 442
Parties Gerald WINFIELD, Petitioner-Appellee, Cross-Appellant, v. Stephanie DORETHY, Warden, Respondent-Appellant, Cross-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

John F. Murphy, William H. Theis, Attorneys, OFFICE OF THE FEDERAL DEFENDER PROGRAM, Chicago, IL, for Petitioner - Appellee.

Erin O'Connell, Attorney, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, Chicago, IL, for Respondent - Appellant.

Before Brennan, Scudder, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.

St. Eve, Circuit Judge.

Gerald Winfield confessed to police that he shot Jarlon Garrett. Based on that confession, a judge on the Circuit Court of Cook County convicted Winfield of attempted murder. Winfield was also accused of killing Dominick Stovall in the same shooting, but the trial judge acquitted him of that charge because no credible witness had placed Winfield at the scene of the crime and his confession did not mention Stovall. The judge rejected Winfield’s argument that his confession had been coerced, as well as his half-hearted alibi defense, and sentenced him to thirty years’ imprisonment. In his direct appeal, Winfield’s new counsel raised one unsuccessful argument—that the judge had abused his discretion at sentencing.

These appeals require us to consider the performance of Winfield’s trial and appellate counsel. The Illinois state courts, on post-conviction review, concluded that trial counsel’s presentation of Winfield’s alibi was not so deficient that it violated the Constitution, but they did not address the performance of appellate counsel to any meaningful degree. The district court, therefore, applied the stringent and deferential standard of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA), 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), to Winfield’s claim that he received ineffective assistance of trial counsel and denied that part of his petition for writ of habeas corpus. On the matter of appellate counsel, the district court concluded that AEDPA did not apply because the claim had not been "adjudicated on the merits in State court," id. , but had instead been overlooked. It considered the claim without any deference to the state courts’ denial of relief. Through that lens, and although it believed it to be a close case, the court found appellate counsel had rendered ineffective assistance by omitting an argument that there was insufficient evidence to convict because Winfield’s confession was uncorroborated.

Both parties have appealed. The state argues that the district court erred in granting relief on the appellate counsel claim; Winfield contends that the court erred in denying relief on the trial counsel claim. We affirm the judgment in part and reverse it in part, as we conclude that Winfield is not entitled to habeas corpus relief under either theory.

I. Background
A. Trial and Direct Appeal

On the afternoon of October 17, 1998, Garrett and Stovall were walking on West Huron Street, in Chicago, when someone shot at them. Stovall was killed and Garrett, injured, though who shot them—or even how many people shot them—was not immediately clear. Police arrested Winfield as the primary suspect. He ultimately was indicted for the murder of Stovall, the attempted murder of Garrett, and lesser included offenses. He proceeded to a bench trial.

The state’s first eyewitness—and "[t]he only real credible witness" according to the trial judge—was Lonnie Hartman. Hartman had been sitting in his car, facing north, when he saw a black SUV traveling southbound on North Central Park Avenue. The SUV stopped at the corner of Huron, and a man exited the vehicle’s passenger side. The man shot at Stovall and Garrett before reentering the car and driving off. Hartman could not identify the shooter, though he described him as at least six feet tall and about 25 years old. Winfield was only 5'7" and 19 at the time of the shooting. Consistent with that difference, Hartman denied that Winfield was the shooter he had seen, though he declined to rule out the possibility that there were other shooters he could not see.

In contrast to his assessment of Hartman, the trial judge described the testimony of the state’s second witness, Lorenzo Curry, as "worthless." Curry said he knew Winfield, Garrett, and Stovall from playing dice with the three of them about a month before the shooting. At that dice game, Winfield’s brother, Terrance, had bumped into Stovall’s arm, causing him to drop the dice into a bad roll and leading to a fight. On the day of the shooting, Curry was sitting on a porch near the intersection of Huron and Central Park. He, too, testified that he saw a black SUV stop at the corner, but he saw at least two shooters exit: Winfield and another man. Both men returned to the car after the shooting. Few details of this testimony matched what Curry had told police or the grand jury, so the trial judge noted his "extensive impeachment," among other credibility problems.

The trial judge described the testimony of the last witness, Garrett, the surviving victim, as "not much better" than Curry’s. Garrett spoke about the dice game in terms like Curry’s, and said he also saw a black SUV pull up at the corner of Huron and Central Park before Winfield emerged, began shooting, and hit Garrett twice, in the hip and arm. The trial judge did not credit Garrett’s identification largely because he had told police after the shooting that he did not know the shooter, who he said had returned to the car.

Weeks after the crime, Garrett and Curry both identified Winfield through a photo array and line-up conducted by a detective. The detective testified to these identifications, as well as a custodial statement that Winfield gave. An Assistant State’s Attorney had written down the statement, Winfield had signed it, and at trial, the detective read it into the record.

In the statement, Winfield explained that Terrance had bumped into Stovall at the dice game, leading to a fight. Winfield thought he and Stovall had mended their relationship until a few weeks later, when members of Garrett and Stovall’s gang beat Terrance. By the day of the shooting, he had started carrying a gun because Garrett had shot at him recently. When members of his gang offered him a ride in a black SUV, Winfield joined them as they drove southbound on Central Park until the car stopped at the corner of Huron. There, Winfield spotted Garrett and Stovall. He said that he then exited the vehicle and started shooting at Garrett (without mentioning Stovall) while another person fired in the same direction. Contrary to all witnesses’ testimony, though, he stated that the car drove off without him, so he had to flee on foot.

Winfield’s statement also asserted he had voluntarily given it based on no promises, and that the detective and ASA had treated him well. He testified otherwise at trial and said he had been abused and the ASA had promised that they would release him if he signed some papers (which he did without reading them). The detective and ASA denied these assertions.

When his trial counsel asked him where he was on the day of the shooting, Winfield responded, "I probably say I was at home," and denied being involved in a shooting. Counsel did not follow up on this testimony and no other evidence was introduced to support it. Winfield otherwise confirmed through his testimony that he and Terrance had argued with Stovall at the dice game.

As the trial judge summed the evidence up, "no credible witness" placed Winfield at the scene. Given this gap and the open question of how many shooters there were, the judge had doubts that Winfield was responsible for Stovall’s murder, either as the killer or on an accountability theory. So, he acquitted Winfield of all charges relating to Stovall.

Garrett’s attempted murder was different, however, and the difference was Winfield’s confession. As the judge put it, the lack of a credible witness was not a problem because he had Winfield’s "assurance he was present." The judge declined to find that law enforcement had coerced his confession, reasoning that Winfield was too intelligent to believe that police would let him go just for signing papers.

The judge framed the remaining question as whether there was enough evidence to convict based on the statement, "or stated differently, whether the State has proven the corpus delicti of any crimes that this statement confesses."

The corpus delicti of an offense is simply proof apart from a confession that a crime occurred. See United States v. Kerley , 838 F.2d 932, 939 (7th Cir. 1988). Under common law, proof of the corpus delicti was required for conviction based on a confession, but that rule no longer holds weight in federal courts or those of many states. Id. at 940. In Illinois, however, the common law rule maintains its vitality. See People v. Lara , 368 Ill.Dec. 155, 983 N.E.2d 959, 964 (Ill. 2012), as modified on denial of reh'g (2013).

The trial judge understood the corpus delicti rule to require that the elements of attempted first-degree murder—that Winfield "intended unjustifiably to take a life"—be proved with evidence "outside of the confession of the defendant or aliunde the defendant’s confession." The judge saw this proof in the mere fact that Garrett had been shot twice. The judge continued, however, and found the necessary intent also in the statement itself, which described Winfield’s conflict with Garrett that led him to carry a gun. From these admissions, the judge said, "no other conclusion can be drawn but that he intended to kill him." Accordingly, the judge convicted Winfield of attempted murder.

At sentencing a few months later, the trial judge opined at length about sentencing theories and described rehabilitation as "almost a joke." Still, he emphasized, he was "fully aware" that he had "to take into consideration the rehabilitative potential of the defendant." The judge, however, thought this potential rested "somewhere between nil and zero"...

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