September 14, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 14 C 03936 - John
J. Tharp, Jr., Judge.
Bauer, Hamilton, and Scudder, Circuit Judges.
1999, petitioner-appellant Thomas Clark was convicted of two
counts of first-degree murder and one count of robbery. The
Illinois Appellate Court affirmed his conviction. Clark filed
a petition for writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. §
2254. The district court denied the petition. We affirm.
November 1997, Thomas Clark, Amos Chairs, and Traye Booker
were charged with the robbery and murder of Kevin Martin and
Julio Meza at Johnny's Club, a bar owned by Martin. The
theory of the prosecution was that Chairs, Clark, and Booker,
all members of the Gangster Disciples street gang, agreed to
steal marijuana from Martin and Meza. With no direct evidence
of who killed Martin and Meza, the prosecution sought to
prove the murders occurred during the course of the robbery,
and presented circumstantial evidence showing Clark was in
the back room of Johnny's Club where the murders took
place and participated in the robbery.
testimony was provided by Stacy Lynn Jones, who was dating
Chairs at the time of the murders. She testified that Chairs
was a "Governor" within the Gangster Disciples and
Clark was his "Assistant Governor." In August 1997,
Jones was present when Chairs told Clark of the plan to steal
the marijuana. One week later, Jones and Clark waited in a
car while Chairs went inside a bar on 59th and San Francisco
to meet Martin. Chairs returned and said that Martin was not
there, but Meza was with a kilo of cocaine. Chairs concocted
a plan to steal the cocaine, by deceiving Meza with a
bankroll imitating thirty thousand dollars. The plan was
abandoned because they did not have enough cash to create a
convincing bankroll. Jones offered no testimony that Clark
verbally responded to either of Chairs' plans.
days later, on August 21, 1997, Chairs and Jones picked up
Clark. Chairs explained to Jones that he was going to drop
her off and that "we are going to take the bud from the
Mexican and Kevin." Shortly thereafter, Jones exited the
vehicle, and Clark took her place in the front passenger
seat. When Chairs returned to pick Jones up, he told her that
the "Mexican" had refused to give up the drugs, but
that "folks took care of it."
important to the prosecution was the testimony of Tanya
Robinson, a bartender who occasionally worked at Johnny's
Club. Robinson testified that she was drinking at the bar on
August 21, 1997, at around 7:00 p.m., when she noticed Clark,
Chairs, Booker, and Martin were talking. Robinson then exited
the bar and walked to a friend's house nearby. When she
returned to the bar, the front door was locked. She knocked
on the door and observed Clark, Chairs, and Booker sitting at
the bar. They got up and walked towards the bedroom in the
back of the bar. Martin unlocked the door and let Robinson
in, then turned the volume on the jukebox up and proceeded to
the bedroom himself. Robinson then testified that later when
she went to the restroom adjacent to the bedroom she heard
Chairs say "Where's the stuff at, where's the
shit at?" A voice with a Mexican accent, Meza, then
begged "please don't do this, please don't do
this." Robinson testified that a voice she did not
recognize said "He knows where it's at. He knows
where it's at." By eliminating the voices she
recognized, Robinson concluded the voice was likely
Clark's. Robinson stated that she saw Booker leave the
room and heard someone else leave through the back door.
threatened to kill Robinson if she told the police anything.
Nevertheless, Robinson identified Chairs and Booker in a
police lineup, and Clark in a photo array. All three were
arrested not long after.
State's Attorney Patrick Kelly also testified. Kelly
interviewed Clark to see if he was willing to cooperate with
the investigation. Clark denied that he had ever been to
Johnny's Club and claimed he was at his girlfriend
Shawna's house on the day of the murders. Later, after
being informed he would be placed in a lineup, Clark divulged
to Kelly that he had been to Johnny's Club three times,
but that he and Chairs merely drove past it the night of the
murders. Following a short break, Kelly informed Clark that
Shawna did not support his alibi. Clark replied
"Shawn[a] is lying and everyone else is lying and this
is a conspiracy."
joint trial, Chairs was convicted; Booker was acquitted on
all counts. In August 1999, Clark was tried separately, and
convicted. Clark was sentenced to seven years imprisonment
for the robbery, and life in prison without the possibility
of parole for the murders.
an unsuccessful appeal in the Illinois state court, Clark
filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the district
court arguing numerous grounds for relief. Clark has narrowed
the basis for his appeal to improper statements made by the
prosecutor during closing arguments. First, that the
prosecutor referred to Clark's failure to testify and,
second, that Clark was deprived of the ...