JACKSON – David Williams’ attorney urged the Mississippi Court of Appeals on Tuesday to throw out the guilty verdict against his client in the 2005 death of his girlfriend, Demetria Bracey.
The two University of Mississippi students were involved in a suicide pact, Oxford attorney David Hill told the three judges hearing oral arguments, and Williams couldn’t follow through with his part of the deal.
Williams, of Olive Branch, is serving a life sentence after a Lafayette County circuit court jury in 2007 found him guilty of the Jackson woman’s death. She was found stabbed to death in an Oxford apartment in November 2005.
Appeals differ from trials by basing issues on points of law, not evidence. Presiding Judge L. Joseph Lee, Judge Larry E. Roberts and Judge T. Kenneth Griffis heard both sides and may take months to render a decision.
“David Williams did not receive a fair trial,” Hill told the judicial panel.
“He was charged with murdering Demetria Bracey, but he didn’t kill her – she killed herself,” Hill said. “He participated in helping her.”
Among the dozen persons in the audience was Bracey’s father, Jerome.
“I knew I would be here today,” he said, noting he thought Assistant Attorney General John Henry did a good job presenting the state’s objections to Williams’ appeal.
Henry insisted no evidence at trial showed Williams aided a suicide, although he admitted during questioning that Williams may have given Bracey a knife.
Williams’ appeal to have his conviction reversed comes with at least one issue commonly heard by the judges: incompetent counsel.
But the issues within that contention include that Williams’ lawyer at the time, who was not Hill, failed in several areas, including allowing testimony from controversial pathologist Dr. Steven Hayne, never asking to move the trial because of extensive media coverage and failing to present other witnesses and medical records that could have supported Williams’ case.
Two of Hill’s key points related to decisions by the trial judge, Andrew Howorth, who Hill was quick to say is a fine judge and a friend.
– Howorth denied a defense instruction that would have allowed jurors to find that Williams helped Bracey commit suicide, as an alternative action to murder or manslaughter.
– Howorth was too quick to bar testimony as priestly confidences between Bracey and the Rev. Ollie Rencher, who was an assistant priest at Howorth’s church in Oxford.
The judges had numerous questions for Hill and Henry, who argued that Hill’s issues were irrelevant.
Williams was “entitled to advance his defense” of aiding Bracey’s death, Hill told them. “There was substantial evidence.”
During the investigation into Bracey’s death, Rencher gave police a lengthy statement about his conversations with her about suicidal thoughts.
Judges sought to weigh whether those conversations were admissible at trial or protected by priest-penitent confidentiality.
Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read Patsy’s blog, From the Front Row, on NEMS360.com.
Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal