Fifth District upholds Cook in denying convicted murderer second post-conviction petition

By Ann Maher | Aug 14, 2014

The Fifth District Appellate Court has upheld former St. Clair County circuit judge Michael Cook in his decision to deny a man convicted of first degree murder leave to file a post conviction petition.

Justice Gene Schwarm delivered judgment in a Rule 23 decision posted Aug. 4. Justices Melissa Chapman and Bruce Stewart concurred.

They held that Jasmon Stallings, who was convicted by a jury in 2003 of shooting and killing taxicab driver John Redmond while attempting to rob him, failed to satisfy the cause-and-prejudice test. Cook properly denied Stallings leave to file petition, the justices ruled.

Stallings is serving a 35 year sentence.

Cook left the bench in disgrace in May 2013 after being charged with heroin possession and weapons charges. He is serving a two year sentence in federal prison.

On direct appeal of his murder conviction, Stallings argued only that the sentence represented an abuse of discretion, but the Fifth District disagreed with his argument and affirmed the judgment of conviction.

Then in 2005, Stallings filed pro se a petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act where he claimed that his attorney on direct appeal provided constitutionally ineffective assistance by failing to raise all of the claims that his trial attorney had included in a posttrial motion.

"The posttrial motion included several disparate claims, including a claim that the defendant was deprived of a fair trial when a juror improperly contacted and spoke with a potential witness for the state, and a claim concerning the trial prosecutor's use of certain prior inconsistent statements by witness Alfred Garner," the decision states. "The circuit court summarily dismissed the postconviction petition as frivolous and patently without merit."

Stallings again appealed. His appointed defender later filed a motion to withdraw on the ground that the appeal lacked merit.

The Fifth District concluded that the direct appeal counsel was not ineffective for choosing not to raise any of the posttrial claims. The appellate court granted the motion to withdraw and affirmed the judgment of the circuit court.

On April 17, 2012, Stallings filed pro se a motion for leave to file a successive petition for postconviction relief.

On Aug. 2, 2012, Cook denied Stalling's motion for leave to file a successive postconviction petition.

Again, a defender was assigned to Stallings and again the defender filed a motion to withdraw on the ground that the appeal lacked merit.

In December 2013, the Fifth District granted the defender's motion to withdraw and allowed Stallings to proceed pro se.

"In his motion for leave to file a successive petition, the defendant attempted to establish cause by stating that at the time he prepared his first postconviction petition, he was unaware that he could include in a post conviction petition claims of ineffective assistance by trial counsel," the decision states. "However, the defendant's ignorance of the law cannot amount to cause for failure to bring a claim in an initial postconviction proceeding. The defendant also attempted to establish cause by referring to his being struck by a car in 1994, when he was 11 years old, but that incident is far too remote to explain the defendant's failure to raise his claims in the initial postconviction proceeding in 2005."

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