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Wheeler v. Warden

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division

July 12, 2018

WARDEN, Respondent.



         Anthony Morris Wheeler, a prisoner without a lawyer, filed a habeas corpus petition to challenge his Indiana sentence for rape, criminal deviate conduct, criminal confinement, and burglary under Cause No. 49G04-8807-CF-78324. Following a jury trial, on May 12, 1989, the Marion Superior Court sentenced Wheeler to ninety years of incarceration.


         In deciding this habeas petition, I must presume the facts set forth by the State courts are correct unless they are rebutted by clear and convincing evidence. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1). Here's the evidence according to the Court of Appeals of Indiana:

[O]n June 22, 1988, the victim, S.M.A., was approached by Wheeler when she stopped to use the phone on her way home from work. Wheeler asked her for a cigarette. She gave him one and lit it for him and then went home.
S.M.A. had intended to lay out in the sun in her backyard when she got home. Upon arriving home, she placed some pillows in her back yard. She went back inside to change into her bathing suit but did not lock the back door. As she came out of the bathroom, she encountered Wheeler in the hallway. Wheeler had rope wrapped around both hands and was holding a knife. He grabbed S.M.A. by the neck and threw her back into the bathroom into the bathtub causing her to strike her head on the bathtub. Wheeler then forced her to commit an act of fellatio upon him. Next, he turned her around, pulled her bathing suit off, leaned her over the bathtub and raped her from behind. He ordered her to remain there for a few minutes as he was going to leave.
S.M.A. did not report the above incident to the police. She stayed away from her home for approximately three weeks. Upon S.M.A.'s request, her landlord secured her windows by placing nails into the sills.
On July 21, 1988, Wheeler broke into S.M.A.'s house late at night through a window and attacked S.M.A. as she lay there sleeping on the couch in the living room with her son. Wheeler threatened her with a knife and told her he would cut her throat if she made any noise that might wake up her boyfriend who was sleeping in the bedroom. He also threatened to kill her boyfriend if she should wake him up. Wheeler grabbed S.M.A. by the hair and forced her to commit an act of fellatio upon him. He then forced her to the floor and made her get down on all fours and raped her from behind. Wheeler then led S.M.A. by the arm into the kitchen and later had her walk him to the front door. S.M.A. did not resist because she feared further violence.
Before leaving, Wheeler asked S.M.A. if he could return. She agreed to allow Wheeler to return the following Monday night after 8:00 p.m. She called the police the morning after the second attack. The police were present and arrested Wheeler when he arrived at S.M.A.'s home the following Monday night.

Wheeler v. State, No. 49A02-8907-CR-332, slip op. at *2-3. (Ind.Ct.App. Mar. 14, 1991); see also Wheeler v. State, No. 49A02-1101-PC-22, slip op. at *1-8 (Ind.Ct.App. Sept. 2, 2011, reh'g denied, trans. denied.

         On August 1, 1988, the State charged Wheeler with two counts of burglary as class B felonies (Counts I and V); two counts of criminal deviate conduct as class A felonies (Counts II and VI); two counts of rape as Class A felonies (Counts II and VII); two counts of confinement as class B felonies. (Counts IV and VIII). Counts I through IV stemmed from the incident on July 21, 1988, and Counts V through VIII stemmed from the incident that occurred on June 22, 1988. Following a two-day jury trial that commenced on April 17, 1989, Wheeler was found guilty as charged.

         The trial court sentenced Wheeler to an aggregate term of ninety years-thirty-five years for each class A felony conviction and ten years for each class B felony conviction, with the sentences for the felony convictions resulting from each attack to run consecutively to each other and the two sets of four convictions (each set representing one attack) to run concurrently. Wheeler v. State, 60 N.E.3d 1144 (Ind.Ct.App. 2016); ECF 44-7 at 2-5.

         In the amended petition, Wheeler argues that he is entitled to habeas relief, asserting that the trial court violated his right to due process by improperly relying on inaccurate information to enhance his sentence; that the trial court violated his right to a jury trial by improperly enhancing his sentence based on a fact that had not been submitted to a jury; and that his trial counsel was ineffective for failing to investigate the inaccurate information and challenging it at the sentencing hearing. Though the respondent argues that the jury finding claim and the ineffective assistance of counsel claim are procedurally deficient, I will consider each of Wheeler's three claims.[1]


         “Federal habeas review . . . exists as a guard against extreme malfunctions in the state criminal justice systems, not a substitute for ordinary error correction through appeal.” Woods v. Donald, 135 S.Ct. 1372, 1376 (2015) (quotations and citation omitted).

         The demanding standard for federal habeas corpus relief from a state conviction is found in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d):

An application for a writ of habeas corpus on behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court shall not be granted with respect to any claim that was adjudicated on the merits in State court ...

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