JACKSON – A Mississippi Court of Appeals 6-3 vote on Tuesday upheld the murder conviction of former University of Mississippi student David Williams.
In September 2007, a Lafayette County jury convicted Williams of the stabbing death of his girlfriend, Demetria Bracey of Jackson. They were students at the University of Mississippi.
Judge Andrew Howorth sentenced him to life in prison.
Writing for the majority, Judge Tyree Irving said he and five of his appeals court colleagues rejected Williams’ claims of trial errors.
Judge Larry Roberts disagreed strongly, saying he would reverse Williams’ conviction and send it back for a new trial, because the court has no authority to overrule or ignore the Mississippi Supreme Court’s prior decisions to require granting lesser-offense instructions under circumstances similar to this case.
Williams, of Olive Branch, appealed on five grounds, including ineffective assistance of counsel, refusal to allow an assisted-suicide instruction to the jury and refusal to allow Bracey’s priest to answer questions about conversations with her.
The 40-page decision won support from Judges Joseph Lee, William Myers, Donna Barnes, David Ishee and Virginia Carlton.
Chief Judge Leslie King dissented without a separate opinion, although Judge Larry Roberts wrote his own, joined by Judge Kenneth Griffis. Judge Jimmy Maxwell did not participate.
“Had Williams truly believed that his only crime was assisting Demetria in the taking of her own life,” Irving wrote, “he could have taken the stand and laid his theory before the jury.
“However, we find that, in this case, there was no such evidence warranting an assisted-suicide instruction.”
In his 23-page dissent, Roberts wrote: “Neither the prosecution nor defense counsel argued that the instruction was inappropriate due to any lack of evidence in the record. The evidence does not unequivocally exclude the possibility that suicide was the cause of Demetria’s death.”
He also said Williams was entitled to a jury instruction on his theory of the case.
Williams’ appeals attorney, David Hill of Oxford, expressed surprise that the court overruled its higher authority.
“We are floored by this decision in which the intermediate court of appeals apparently, in effect, overrules clearly established legal precedent set by the Mississippi Supreme Court. This appeal will continue with a motion for rehearing to the court of appeals immediately.”
If that’s not successful, they’ll take it to the Mississippi Supreme Court.
“We are already working on it.”
On other issues, the majority said:
– Howorth was entitled to decide that Father Ollie Rencher’s conversation with Bracey was confidential based on the circumstances under which it occurred – at her church, seeking advice and counsel of a priest.
“Any error in allowing Father Rencher to use the priest-penitent privilege was harmless at worst.”
– Pathologist Steven Hayne’s testimony was not found to be in error, only disputed by another pathologist.
– Williams’ claim his constitutional right to a speedy trial was not an issue because it was not raised at trial.
In claiming he received ineffective assistance of counsel at trial, he cited six reasons, including failure to obtain Bracey’s mental health and prescription records or to develop Williams’ medical history to support his defense.
The judges said, to date, none of Bracey’s medical records has been produced to show they could have been useful to Williams. They also said nothing has been introduced to show what Williams’ records might have proven.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal