MOUNT VERNON – The Fifth District Appellate Court affirmed St. Clair County Circuit Judge Zina R. Cruse's ruling denying a petition for post-conviction relief field by a man who was sentenced to 23 years in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree murder.
Justice James R. Moore delivered the May 31 opinion with justices Melissa A. Chapman and John B. Barberis concurring.
Defendant W. D. Hollingsworth filed the appeal after Cruse denied his petition for post-conviction relief following a third-stage evidentiary hearing.
In his petition, Hollingsworth blamed his counsel as the reason his petition was not granted.
However, the appellate court pointed out that Hollingsworth never made the argument that a different attorney would have made a difference. The court also held that Hollingsworth did not argue that he should have been allowed to represent himself.
"The defendant also does not put forward an argument in support of the actual innocence claim he raised in the trial court, or cite any authority to support such an argument, and accordingly has forfeited consideration of that claim as well," Moore wrote.
The appellate court further held that Hollingsworth failed to prove that his counsel was ineffective.
The ruling states that when Hollingsworth pled guilty, he was about to go to trial on charges of murder and home invasion. If found guilty, he could have been sentenced to nearly 30 years in prison.
Even though testimony from a physician could have helped a judge fill in the blanks on the murder charge, that might not have been the case for the home invasion.
Hollingsworth asked the court for post-conviction relief on May 18, 2012. part of his argument was whether there was proof that he caused the victim's death.
Hollingsworth had been sentenced to 23 years in prison in 2006 after pleading guilty to first-degree murder. His counsel later requested fees to conduct a report, arguing that Hollingsworth only pled guilty because of the "ineffective assistance of appointed trial counsel, Karen Craig, whose 'failure to properly prepare for trial' included a failure to 'pursue an independent medical opinion as to cause of death' and 'resulted into a coerced plea' entered by the defendant."
Forensic pathologist Dr. Raj Nanduri did an autopsy and determined the cause of the victim’s death was blunt force trauma that occurred during a home invasion, the appellate ruling states. However, the report allegedly didn’t line up with reports from the hospital where the victim was taken and died 10 days later. The hospital's report allegedly stated that the victim suffered several irrelevant health issues and often failed to take his diabetes medicine.
After Hollingsworth asked the court for post-conviction relief, the state filed a motion to dismiss Hollingsworth’s petition in August 2015, the opinion states. Hollingsworth responded with an updated petition stating “a claim of actual innocence predicated upon the position that (the victim’s) death was not a homicide."
Cruse denied the petition.
She concluded that “the defendant failed to prove that there was a substantial denial of federal or state constitutional rights” and “the defendant’s claim of actual innocence fails.”