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  • October
    24
    2012

    Federal Appeals Court Denies Review of 1980 Double-Murder Case

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    Federal Appeals Court Denies Review of 1980 Double-Murder Case

    By org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Legal Writer, State Bar of Wisconsin

    Federal Appeals Court Upholds Rulings in 1980 
Double-Murder Case Oct. 24, 2012 – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently denied habeas corpus relief to Willie Thompkins, who confessed to killing two men in Illinois in 1980.

    Thompkins challenged his life sentence under 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d), which gives prisoners an avenue to fight detention on the grounds that a state court unreasonably applied federal law or based a decision on an “unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence.”

    In 1982, the Illinois Supreme Court upheld Thompkins’s conviction, rejecting the argument that police acquired his confession in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The state supreme court also rejected the claim that his trial counsel was ineffective.

    In Thompkins v. Pfister, No. 10-2467 (Oct. 23, 2012), a three-judge federal appeals panel ruled the state supreme court reasonably applied federal law, recounting the 1980 cocaine deal that went awry and left two men dead in the rural countryside of Cook County.

    Thompkins argued that the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits police from questioning accused individuals without counsel after adversarial proceedings are initiated, and investigators elicited his confession after a bond hearing without his counsel present. The state supreme court had upheld the finding that Thompkins confessed before the bond hearing.

    “In evidentiary conflicts like this, our standard of review requires that we defer to the state supreme court’s decision,” wrote Judge Diane Sykes, concluding that Thompson did not rebut the federal law presumption that state court fact-finding is correct.

    The appeals panel also rejected Thompkins’s argument that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate potential alibi witnesses. Thompkins was on death row until 2003, when then-Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the death sentences of nearly 200 inmates. Illinois officially abolished the death penalty in 2011.