Court upholds Lee death penalty case

JACKSON – William Matthew “Willie” Wilson’s death sentence was affirmed Thursday in the capital murder of 2-year-old Malorie Conlee.
In a 7-2 vote, the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld Judge Thomas Gardner III’s actions in the case, which stemmed from the child’s death from a head injury on April 29, 2005.
Wilson first told investigators his motorcycle fell on her at the Mooreville area mobile home he shared with Malorie’s mother, Augustina Conlee.
Later, he admitted he hit her in the head with his fist three times. The child also had burns on her feet, which Wilson said occurred when she was left unattended in the bathtub.
Wilson, 24 at the time, was indicted by a Lee County Grand Jury. Before his trial, he agreed to plead guilty and prosecutors agreed to recommend a life sentence without possibility of parole.
When Wilson objected to his appointed counsel, the plea hearing was halted.
Writing a dissenting opinion for the Supreme Court, Justice Jim Kitchens, a former district attorney, criticized what happened next – Wilson complained his attorneys had little communication with him and Gardner did not act immediately to ensure Wilson’s right to counsel.
Wilson was represented by attorneys Will Bristow of Tupelo and James Johnstone of Pontotoc. Records show Bristow had a 30-minute conversation with Wilson on Sept. 7, 2005, then never again. Johnstone never met with Wilson before his March 5, 2007, plea hearing.
Kitchens, joined by Presiding Justice James Graves, said he would reverse the conviction and send it back to Lee County for trial. And he criticized his colleagues for not dealing with the ineffective counsel complaint.
However, the majority opinion supported Gardner’s actions after the plea agreement was withdrawn and Wilson told Gardner he was satisified with counsel.
Wilson eventually was sentenced to death by lethal injection and 20 years on the child abuse charge.
Wilson’s direct appeal to the state Supreme Court attacked only the death sentence.
He has three years to ask the state Supreme Court to re-examine the facts of his case.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or

Patsy R. Brumfied/NEMS Daily Journal

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