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William Richard STEVENS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide - Murder for hire
Number of victims: 3
Date of murder: 1977 / December 22, 1997
Date of birth: March 1, 1956
Victim profile: ??? / His wife Sandra Jean Stevens, 45, and her mother, Myrtle Wilson, 75
Method of murder: Strangulation - Stabbing with knife
Location: Davidson County, Tennessee, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on July 23, 1999

William Richard Stevens was convicted of first-degree murder in 1997 for the death of his wife and her mother. He offered to pay 18-year-old Corey Milliken $5,000 to murder 45-year-old Sandra Jean Stevens, who was strangled to death, and her mother, 75-year-old Myrtle Wilson, who was stabbed and strangled.



The petitioner solicited his eighteen-year-old neighbor, Corey Milliken, to kill his wife, Sandra (Sandi) Stevens, and mother-in-law, Myrtle Wilson. In imposing  the death penalty, the jury found two aggravating circumstances: prior violent felony and murder for hire. The proof, as set forth in our supreme court's decision on direct appeal, established the following:

Guilt Phase

On December 22, 1997, police were dispatched to the [petitioner's] mobile home in Nashville in response to a 911 call made by the [petitioner] and eighteen year-old Corey Milliken. When the police arrived, they found the murdered bodies of forty-five year-old Sandra (Sandi) Jean Stevens, the [petitioner]'s wife, and seventy-five year-old Myrtle Wilson, the [petitioner]'s mother-in-law. After further investigation, the police concluded that Corey Milliken was hired by the [petitioner] to kill the women and to make the murders look like they were committed in furtherance of a burglary.

The record reveals that the [petitioner] and Milliken had known each other for approximately one year. Milliken and his then fifteen year-old brother, Shawn Austin, lived with their mother and step-father three trailers down from the [petitioner]. Both boys often worked for the [petitioner], assisting him in his job of putting underskirting on mobile homes. Austin  testified at trial that his brother had a close relationship with the [petitioner] and that he and his brother spent a lot of their free time at the [petitioner]'s trailer.

Austin testified that in the fall of 1997, the [petitioner] approached both brothers and asked them if they would kill the [petitioner]'s ex-wife, Vickie Stevens. The [petitioner] instructed them to "get a rifle" and shoot her when she came out of her trailer. He told them that if she were dead, he would get full custody of his then nine year-old son, John. He would also get "her car, her trailer and her land."

However, around Thanksgiving, the [petitioner] changed his mind and offered to pay Milliken and Austin $ 2,500 apiece if they would instead kill his current wife, Sandi Stevens, and his mother-in-law, Myrtle Wilson. The [petitioner] and his wife were having marital problems, and he knew that another divorce would "wipe him out." He told the boys that he would get the money either from the proceeds of Ms. Wilson's life insurance policy or from the proceeds of a yard sale. Austin would act as a "lookout," while Milliken killed the victims in their trailer. The [petitioner] preferred that the victims be shot; however, if the boys could not find a gun with a silencer, Milliken was to kill them using a knife. Austin eventually decided that he did not want to be the "lookout," but agreed to provide an alibi for the [petitioner]. He would not be paid for this participation, and therefore the entire $ 5,000 would be paid to Milliken.

Although the [petitioner] had not yet set a date for these murders, he took great pains in planning and instructing Milliken on exactly how the murders were to take place. For instance, he told Milliken to kill his mother-in-law first because his wife would not hear anything: she kept her door shut and the fan running in her bedroom. He also told Milliken that on the eve of the murders, the trailer would be unlocked, and the burglar alarm would not be set; as an extra precaution, Milliken would be given a key to the trailer.

The [petitioner] further instructed that after Milliken killed the victims, he was to steal certain items, including some of Mrs. Stevens's jewelry, and then "destroy" the trailer to make it look like a robbery had occurred. In fact, he took Milliken on a walk-through of the trailer, and he specified which items were to be stolen, which items were to be "trashed," and which items were to remain untouched, such as "the TV and the dishes and [his] Star Trek collection."

The [petitioner] also instructed Milliken on how he was to get rid of the evidence. For instance, Milliken was to take the stolen jewelry and put it in a bag. He would then throw the murder weapon on top of a nearby school building and throw the bag of stolen items into the river. Once all the evidence was disposed of, he would go to his girlfriend's house to establish an alibi.

According to the [petitioner]'s plan, on the morning of the murders, he and Austin would leave together to go to work. Milliken would commit the crimes while they were gone. The [petitioner] told Austin that if he was questioned by the police, he was to tell them that he saw Mrs. Stevens wave to them that morning as they left for work. The [petitioner] also told the brothers that if anybody got caught, "everybody was on their own." Furthermore, he instructed them not to take lie detector tests or "snitch on the other person."

Finally, a few days before December 22, 1997, the [petitioner] told the brothers that the murders needed to be committed on the twenty-second. He explained that his ex-wife was going to have back surgery at that time, and he would have his nine year-old son, John, staying with him. John would act as another alibi. Milliken agreed to commit the murders on that date.

At approximately 4:45 on the morning of Monday, December 22, Austin went over to the [petitioner]'s trailer where the [petitioner] and his young son were waiting for him. Milliken was still asleep because he had stayed up late the night before after having had an argument with his mother and step-father. Mrs. Stevens and Ms. Wilson were also still asleep in their rooms and did not see the [petitioner] and the two boys leave for work.

The threesome drove approximately ninety miles to their jobsite at New Johnsonville, stopping for breakfast along the way. After they arrived, the [petitioner] decided that it was too muddy to work on the trailer, so they returned home, arriving back at the trailer park at around 8:30 a.m.

In a taped statement given on the day of his arrest, the [petitioner] said that when he walked up to the front door of his trailer, he observed that the door was ajar. When he stepped inside, he noticed that the Christmas tree was lying on its side and that "stuff was laying all over," and he "knew something was wrong." He looked towards his bedroom, saw his wife's leg "laying across the bed," and immediately assumed that both his wife and his mother-in-law were dead. The [petitioner] said that he never went into either bedroom to actually check on the women, nor did he ever see his mother-in-law's body. Instead, he just "ran out" with his son and Austin and went to Austin's trailer to call the police.

Officers Gary Clements and John Donnelly of the Metro Police Department were the first officers to arrive at the crime scene. After entering the trailer and finding the two bodies, the officers sealed off the crime scene and then began canvassing the area for witnesses and searching the grounds for physical evidence. Officer Clements soon met Corey Milliken in his trailer and started talking to him. During their conversation, he noticed blood spots on Milliken's t-shirt, blood under his nails, and fresh gouge marks on his cheek and wrist. Officer Clements eventually turned Milliken over to detectives for further questioning. Milliken confessed to committing the murders by himself and provided a detailed description of the murders and the crime scene.

Continuing his search for evidence, Officer Clements soon discovered that the underpinning on a nearby trailer had been pulled loose. When he looked under that trailer, he found a green canvas bag. The contents of the bag included the following: a white, blood-stained Miami Dolphins t-shirt; several pieces of jewelry; an eight-inch long butcher knife or kitchen knife; prescription medication lying loosely in the bag; a thirty-five millimeter camera; and a black camera bag.

Detectives Pat Postiglione and Al Gray, members of the Metro Police Department assigned to investigate the homicides, found no sign of forced entry. In fact, aside from the appearance of a struggle "in and about the bed area" in Ms. Wilson's room, the crime scene looked, for the most part, "staged." For instance, Detective Gray explained that dresser drawers were pulled open, but nothing in them appeared to be disturbed; clothes were taken out of the closet and dumped onto the floor while still on their hangers; and the Christmas presents were unwrapped, but nothing appeared to have been stolen. Even the Christmas tree looked as if it were "gently pushed over," because none of the glass ornaments were broken or scattered on the floor, which would most likely have happened had there been a struggle. He also testified that certain rooms, which "looked like . . . very valuable area[s] of the trailer," remained undisturbed.

Both victims were found lying in their beds. Ms. Wilson was wearing a nightgown, which had been pulled above her waist. Her underwear was on the floor. There was a substantial amount of blood on her body, on the bed, and on several items in the room. Dr. Emily Ward, a pathologist with the Davidson County Medical Examiner's Office, performed autopsies on the victims. Her examination of Ms. Wilson revealed that she died from stab wounds and manual strangulation. Although her stab wounds were relatively superficial and did not pierce any vital organs, they resulted in a considerable amount of lost blood.

Mrs. Stevens was completely nude and left in a "displayed" position, that is, lying on her back with her legs spread apart. She died as a result of ligature strangulation. However, there was blood on her knees, indicating that the murderer had killed Ms. Wilson first and then transferred some blood onto Mrs. Stevens. There were also pornographic magazines placed around her body, as well as a photo album containing nude photos of the victim, presumably taken by the [petitioner] during their marriage. There was no evidence of blood on these items.

Dr. Ward's examination of Mrs. Stevens revealed a small, superficial tear in her vagina. Dr. Ward testified that she thought it was a post-mortem change in the skin, which likely occurred while the body was being moved for examination. Although she conceded on cross-examination that the decedent could have been sexually assaulted after death, she did not believe this to be the case because there was no bruising, swelling, or hemorrhaging around the tear.

The State introduced the testimony of Chris Holman, a friend of Milliken's, as additional evidence that the [petitioner] hired Milliken to commit these crimes. Mr. Holman testified that around the end of October, Milliken approached him and asked him if he knew where Milliken could get a gun with a silencer. Mr. Holman told him that he "wasn't into that anymore." Three weeks prior to the murder, Milliken approached Mr. Holman again and asked if he would help murder the [petitioner]'s wife and mother-in-law. He told Mr. Holman that they would go into the house and "make it look like it was a burglary," and that he would "split even" the $ 5,000 he was supposed to be paid. Mr. Holman refused.

Lane Locke, an inmate at the West Tennessee State Penitentiary, testified that he was the [petitioner]'s cellmate at the Davidson County Criminal Justice Center for approximately three weeks. During that time, the [petitioner], who knew that Locke was formerly a police officer and a certified paralegal, discussed his case at great length because the [petitioner] wanted to benefit from Locke's "legal knowledge." The [petitioner] described his marital problems and told Locke that he did not want to go through another divorce because he had "his life in order and felt like . . . a divorce would wipe him out." The [petitioner] also discussed his relationship with Milliken, describing him as a "big, dumb kid" who was a source of conflict between him and his wife. Based on what the [petitioner] told him, Locke stated that it appeared that the [petitioner] "led Corey around quite a bit."

Locke also testified that the [petitioner] did not want to attend his wife's funeral and that he never showed any remorse or emotion over his wife's death. However, Locke testified that the [petitioner] was very upset when he returned from his preliminary hearing. He quoted the [petitioner] as saying, "Shawn [Austin] is just as guilty as the rest of us, and he's the only one that's gonna get away with it. I can't believe those idiots thought I was gonna pay them."

Michael Street, another inmate at the Criminal Justice Center, testified that the [petitioner] asked him if he would "intimidate Corey Milliken or have him killed in one form or fashion," because, as the [petitioner] said, "Corey was the only person that could put [him] in prison for the rest of [his] life." The [petitioner] told Street that he had hired another inmate to "try to do it," but the plan fell through. Street refused the [petitioner]'s request.

The State also introduced letters between the [petitioner] and Charles Randle, another inmate, in which the [petitioner] offered Randle money to harm or intimidate Milliken in jail. Evidence was introduced that the [petitioner] had obtained several hundred dollars in money orders made payable to Charles Randle.

The State also presented evidence indicating that the [petitioner] was taking money from his mother-in-law, Myrtle Wilson. Ms. Wilson's son, Larry Wilson, testified that for over three years before the murders were committed, he had been investing and otherwise monitoring her finances totaling $ 83,000. A month before she was killed, his mother expressed concern that she "didn't have the funds that she thought she should." Shortly after the murders, Mr. Wilson was examining his mother's financial information, and he discovered a check written on June 10, 1997, made payable to the [petitioner] for four thousand dollars. He explained that the check was questionable for several reasons: first, the check was printed rather than handwritten, and his mother never printed her checks; second, the printing was "way too clear" to be his mother's because she had grown "feeble" and her hand was "rather shaky" when she wrote; and finally, Ms. Wilson had recorded the amount for that check as forty dollars, not four thousand.

Additionally, Doris Trott, the victims' hairdresser since 1992, testified to several conversations she had with Ms. Wilson early in the fall of 1997, during which Ms. Wilson complained that the [petitioner] never repaid her any of the money that he often borrowed. Later that fall, Ms. Wilson told Ms. Trott that the [petitioner] had asked her to sign a ten-thousand dollar life insurance policy, which she refused to do.

Evidence was also presented regarding the marital problems that the [petitioner] and Mrs. Stevens were having. In Mrs. Stevens's diary, she described her unhappiness in the marriage and her increasing distrust of her husband's fidelity. Although she still loved the [petitioner], she wanted to "get out" of the marriage. William Byers, Sandi Stevens's ex-husband, testified that he talked to her shortly before she died, and she told him that the [petitioner] explicitly refused to give her a divorce. She also expressed her dislike for Corey Milliken and described him as the source of many heated arguments between the [petitioner] and herself. She wrote that he was the "wedge" driving her and the [petitioner] apart.

The defense presented evidence of Corey Milliken's sexual infatuation with Sandi Stevens. Shawn Austin testified that his brother told him that the [petitioner] had shown him pictures of his wife in lingerie and in the nude, and that the [petitioner]  told Milliken that she wanted to have sex with both of them at the same time.

The defense theory was that Milliken committed sexual murder as an act of aggression precipitated by an argument with his mother and step-father the night before the crimes. Milliken's step-father, Billy Stevens (unrelated to the [petitioner]), testified that he and Milliken did argue the night before the crimes, and that at one point he "grabbed" Milliken after Milliken "got smart with his mother." Milliken ran out of the house, but had returned home by the time Mr. Stevens left for work early the next morning. Mr. Stevens also testified that he and Milliken had argued in the past, and that on several occasions Milliken had run out of the house following an argument.

As evidence that these murders involved a sexual component, the defense introduced the testimony of crime scene expert, Gregg McCrary. Mr. McCrary testified that the display of pornographic magazines around Mrs. Stevens could "best be interpreted as an attempt to further humiliate or degrade" the victim, which "goes to the motive of a sex crime." He defined a sex crime as primarily a crime of violence in which the perpetrator uses sex to  punish, humiliate, and degrade the victim.

Penalty Phase

The State first presented evidence of the [petitioner]'s conviction in 1977 for second degree murder. The State also presented as victim impact evidence the testimonies of the victims' family members, who each discussed the devastating effect of the murders of Myrtle Wilson and Sandi Stevens on their lives.

In mitigation of the sentence, the defense presented testimony from the [petitioner]'s family members, co-workers, and neighbors. The [petitioner] was adopted into a family of five children. Chris Baumann, the [petitioner]'s sister, testified that the [petitioner] had a good childhood and was part of a "normal family." She also testified to the [petitioner]'s close relationship with his son, John. Robert Rasmus, the [petitioner]'s foster brother, also testified to the "great family upbringing" that all five children enjoyed. He further stated that the [petitioner] had done a wonderful job raising his son John, and that he was proud of how the [petitioner] had turned his life around after his first conviction in 1977. On cross-examination, Mr. Rasmus admitted that the [petitioner] had also been convicted of felony escape during his incarceration for second degree murder.

Vickie Stevens, the [petitioner]'s ex-wife, testified that the [petitioner] was a good husband and father during most of their marriage. After the divorce, he made all of his child support payments and remained a loving and supportive father. She also expressed her wish that the [petitioner] be spared the death penalty for the sake of their son.

Roger Cooper, the sales manager of a mobile home company, testified that he employed the [petitioner] in 1989 for approximately one year. During that time, he knew the [petitioner] to be a hard-working and dedicated employee, and he trusted the [petitioner] enough to give him a key to his own home.

Several of the [petitioner]'s neighbors testified to how helpful the [petitioner] was to others in the community. Specifically, the [petitioner] loaned money to his neighbors, checked in on neighbors who were elderly, sick, or alone, and voluntarily fixed their trailers without requiring payment.

At the close of the proof, the jury was instructed on the following statutory aggravating circumstances for each of the two counts of murder: (1) the [petitioner] was previously convicted of the felony of second degree murder; and (2) the [petitioner] employed another to commit the murders of his wife and mother-in-law for the promise of remuneration. The jury was also instructed to consider all mitigating evidence, including the [petitioner]'s work history, the [petitioner]'s family history and close familial relationships, his positive role in the community, any other aspect of the [petitioner]'s background, character, or record, and any aspect of the circumstances of the offense favorable to the [petitioner] and supported by the evidence.

The jury found that the State had proven the two statutory aggravating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt and that these two aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, on July 23, 1999, the [petitioner] was sentenced to death for each of the two murder convictions.


William Richard Stevens



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