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7th Circuit denies habeas relief in 2005 Gary murder

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A man convicted of murder for the 2005 shooting death of a 15-year-old on a Gary street wasn’t prejudiced by his attorney’s refusal to object to a prosecutor’s comments about the defendant’s failure to testify, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday.

The panel affirmed U.S. District Judge James Moody’s dismissal of a habeas petition in the District Court, Northern District of Indiana, South Bend. Tommy D. Ford was convicted in Lake Superior Court of the murder of Christian Hodge in a second trial after the first ended in a hung jury. Ford was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

“Ford contends that an objection would have been sustained because the prosecutor’s comments violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against compulsory self-incrimination,” Circuit Judge John Tinder wrote for the panel in Tommy D. Ford v. Bill Wilson, Superintendent, 12-3844. “However, even assuming that to be true, Ford has failed to show prejudice resulting from his attorney’s failure to object.”

Ford’s petition under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 fails, Tinder wrote, because “the strength of … evidence negates any reasonable probability that the outcome of Ford’s trial would have been different absent the prosecutor’s comments.”

The panel did find, though, that the Indiana Court of Appeals applied the wrong standard in denying Ford’s petition for post-conviction relief. But citing Ruhl v. Hardy, 743 F.3d 1083, 1091 (7th Cir. 2014), the panel found misapplication of the standard doesn’t in itself permit relief because “the court’s application must have been more than incorrect; it must have been objectively unreasonable.”

Writing for the panel, Tinder concluded, “Although the Indiana Court of Appeals applied the wrong legal standard to Ford’s claim, when we apply the correct standard, we get the same result. Even assuming the performance of Ford’s trial counsel was deficient, there is no reasonable probability that adequate performance would have changed the outcome of Ford’s trial.”

 

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