Federal Appeals Court Denies Review of 1980 Double-Murder
By org jforward wisbar Joe Forward, Legal Writer,
State Bar of Wisconsin
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
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.