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United States v. White Feather

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 29, 2014

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CLEVELAND J. WHITE FEATHER, Defendant-Appellant

Argued April 7, 2014

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 4:11CR40060-001 -- J. Phil Gilbert, Judge.

For United States of America, Plaintiff - Appellee: George A. Norwood, Attorney, Office of The United States Attorney, Benton, IL.

For Cleveland J. White Feather, Defendant - Appellant: Daniel R. Schattnik, Attorney, Unsell, Schattnik & Phillips PC, Wood River, IL.

Cleveland J. White Feather, Defendant - Appellant, Pro se, Marion, IL.

Before WOOD, Chief Judge, and KANNE and SYKES, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 736

Sykes, Circuit Judge.

Cleveland White Feather killed his cellmate, Robert Running Bear, in their cell at the federal prison in Marion, Illinois. He did this by disemboweling the victim using a disassembled Bic razor, having first choked him into unconsciousness during a late-night fight of rather opaque origins. White Feather was charged with murder by a federal prisoner, see 18 U.S.C. § 1118, and before trial the government moved to preclude him from offering a defense of self-defense. The district judge deferred ruling and permitted White Feather to present evidence in support of the defense at trial. In the end, however, the judge concluded that White Feather was not entitled to a self-defense jury instruction because the evidence did not support

Page 737

it. The jury swiftly found White Feather guilty, and he now appeals. The sole issue for our review is the judge's refusal to instruct the jury on self-defense. We affirm.

I. Background

On December 1, 2009, White Feather and Running Bear were housed together in Cell 202 of L Unit at the United States Penitentiary in Marion, Illinois (" USP-Marion" ). White Feather was serving a life sentence for murder. Running Bear was serving a 24-month sentence for failing to register as a sex offender. At six feet tall and 170 pounds, Running Bear was the larger man; White Feather is five feet seven inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. White Feather was also older (age 54 at the time of these events) and has a history of medical problems including bleeding ulcers and an unspecified foot condition. No evidence suggests that Running Bear had any physical infirmities.

Each cell in L Unit is equipped with a duress button to summon guards in the event of an emergency. This button, affixed to the wall of the cell, emits a loud sound in the guard station when pressed. The alarm cannot be silenced remotely but must be manually reset in the cell by the guard who responds to the call. Trial testimony ...


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