Miss. death row inmate seeks new trial

By Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press

JACKSON — A Mississippi prisoner who was sentenced to death after pleading guilty in the 2005 slaying of a 2-year-old girl is asking for a new trial, saying that a trial judge’s failure to dismiss his lawyers barred a plea deal that might have spared his life.

The state Supreme Court will take a look at death row inmate William Wilson’s post-conviction petition, which is among dozens of cases before the court during its September-October term.

Inmates use a post-conviction petition to argue they have found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.

Wilson pleaded guilty in the death of Mallory Conlee and was sentenced to death in 2007 in Lee County. He also received 20 years for felonious child abuse.

At the time of the girl’s death, authorities said they had received a report that a motorcycle fell on the child’s head. An autopsy showed bruises all over her body and third-degree burns to her feet.

Authorities said the bruises were in several stages of healing, indicating they had occurred over a time.

Court records show Wilson agreed to plead guilty in March 2007 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

However, when questioned by Circuit Judge Thomas J. Gardner III, Wilson said he thought his attorneys could have done a better job. Wilson claimed he hadn’t communicated or seen much of his court-appointed attorneys between his arrest and his plea hearing.

Gardner halted the hearing.

According to the court record, prosecutors withdrew the plea deal and the case continued with Wilson and the same attorneys. Wilson again pleaded guilty and, with no plea bargain, Gardner sentenced Wilson to death.

In an earlier appeal, Wilson argued that allowing the case to go on with the same defense team led to the death sentence when prosecutors declined to reach another plea deal.

Wilson’s petition for a new trial was rejected by a Lee County judge in 2009, and the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2009 upheld Wilson’s capital murder conviction and death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition to review Wilson’s case in 2010.

Prosecutors contended Wilson’s lawyers worked with the prosecution on the plea agreement and Wilson’s exchange with the judge showed they had explained it fully to him. They said the ineffectiveness issue only came up when the judge asked Wilson if he was satisfied with what had been done for him.

Among other cases, the Mississippi Supreme Court will hear:

— Brian Holliman’s appeal of his murder conviction in Lowndes County in the death of his wife. Holliman, of Caledonia, was sentenced to life in prison in 2009. Prosecutors said the body of Laura-Lee Godfrey Holliman was found in the bedroom of the Holliman residence on Oct. 25, 2008. She died from a shotgun wound. Prosecutors said Holliman was enraged that his wife wanted to leave him. The defense argued Laura Holliman was suicidal and the 12-gauge shotgun went off accidentally as the couple argued.

— Deric Bailey’s appeal of his conviction in the shooting death of 16-year-old Brandon High School football player Ryan Evans. Bailey was sentenced to life in prison in Hinds County in 2009. He was found guilty of shooting Evans in 2001 at a Jackson convenience store.

The defense contended Evans, who was white, acted irresponsibly by coming from Brandon to a high-crime area in Jackson to buy cigars. Bailey is black. Prosecutors said Evans was getting the best of Bailey in a fight and Bailey didn’t want to be shown up in front of his friends.