There's no physical evidence that a man convicted of a murder in Addison, Ill. is guilty. Instead, his conviction is mostly based on the testimony of three friends, all of whom later recant.

May a federal court vacate the murder conviction and order that he be freed from prison?

1 Answer 1


No. A federal court may not vacate the conviction which the state court declined to vacate under these circumstances.

On March 22, 2009, a jury found Luis Villavicencio‐Serna guilty of first‐degree murder of Armando Huerta Jr. Scant physical evidence linked him to the charge. The conviction instead was largely based on testimony from three of his friends, all of whom later recanted.

Villavicencio‐Serna exhausted his state‐court appeals and then sought a writ of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d). Throughout these proceedings, he consistently has challenged the sufficiency of the evidence to support his conviction. He emphasizes the lack of physical evidence connecting him to the murder, and he suggests that several factors - inconsistencies between the testimonies of his three friends, their subsequent recantations, and the interrogation tactics used by the police—reveal that the police pressured his friends to implicate him. Finally, he offers an alternative theory that links another group to the murder.

In the face of these arguments, the Illinois Appellate Court upheld his conviction. The [federal] district court, applying the double‐layered deference required by section 2254(d), concluded that the state court’s decision was not unreasonable, and so it refused to issue the writ. See Villavicencio‐Serna v. Melvin, No. 17 C 5442, 2019 WL 2548688 (N.D. Ill. June 19, 2019).

Although we sympathize with the district court’s observation that “the lack of any physical evidence in this case is troubling,” we too conclude that Villavicencio‐Serna has not shown enough to entitle him to issuance of the writ. We therefore affirm.

  • 4
    Yes. Clearly the witnesses were lying. But we’re they lying in court or were they lying when they recanted?
    – Dale M
    Jun 4, 2021 at 22:58
  • In Stickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668, 686 (1984) there was a finding that the right to counsel, in a broader term, means that a criminally accused person is entitled to a just outcome. Maybe this finding is narrow enough to be only applicable on the duties imposed on counsel, but I would expect that a fair-trial-related right should come to the same conclusion. Maybe, based on Dale M's insight, at least the right to be heard again automatically and vacating the previous ruling should result in a new trial could be achieved?
    – kisspuska
    Sep 5, 2021 at 17:19
  • @kisspuska Nope. This is an actual, recently decided case precisely on point and it doesn't recognize that right.
    – ohwilleke
    Sep 7, 2021 at 16:23

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