Number of victims: 2
Date of murders:
Date of arrest:
Date of birth: July
Victims profile: John Rease,
74, and Henrietta Rease, 59
Method of murder:
Location: Lake County, Indiana, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on March 23, 1987.
On July 2, 2004 Governor Joe Kernan issued an
Executive Order commuting the death sentence to life imprisonment
ON DEATH ROW SINCE 03-23-87
DOC#: 872037 Black Male
Lake County Superior Court
Judge James E. Letsinger
Prosecutor: Thomas W. Vanes,
Defense: Nathaniel Ruff
Date of Murder: August 12, 1986
Victim(s): John Rease B/M/74;
Henrietta Rease B/F/59 (Ex-Foster Parents of Rouster)
Method of Murder: shooting with
.32 and .22 handgun
Summary: John and Henrietta
Rease were elderly foster parents, regularly taking into their home
children who were often incorrigible and unwanted.
One such child was Gregory Rouster, who was
placed in the Rease home by the Wefare Dept. in November 1985 and
stayed through February 1986. The Rease's operated a small candy
store out of the first floor of their home in Gary.
On August 12, 1986 both were shot to death in
their home. John Rease was shot once in the shoulder area with a .32
handgun. Henrietta Rease was shot once in the back with the same .32
handgun and twice in the head at close range with a .22 handgun. .30
caliber ammunition was found on the floor.
Numerous witnesses placed Rouster and his
companion, Darnell Williams, going into the home with guns on the
day of the murder. A foster child of the Rease's, 17 year old
Derrick Bryant, testified that he was hiding in the house as Rouster
and Williams entered, heard Rouster arguing with Henrietta over
money they owed him, heard Henrietta say "Greg, why are you doing
this?," then heard two more shots as he ran out the back door.
Other witnesses testified that Rouster was
outside when the last shots were fired. Rouster had bumped into his
Welfare caseworker at the drugstore earlier the same day and asked
if the Rease's received a clothing allowance for him while he was in
foster care. When he was told that they did, Rouster declared that
they owed him money and he was going to get it.
Williams was later found in possession of the
same .30 caliber ammunition found at the scene, as well as cash and
a wristwatch that Bryant identified as the watch he had given to
Henrietta as a gift.
Conviction: Felony-Murder (John
Rease), Felony-Murder (Henrietta Rease)
(Williams was tried jointly with Rouster and his girlfriend, Teresa
Newsome. Rouster was also convicted of Murder and Felony-Murder and
sentenced to death. Newsome was acquitted.)
Joint Trial and Appeal with Gregory Rouster
Sentencing: March 23, 1987 Death
Sentence (Rouster); Death Sentence (Williams)
Aggravating Circumstances: b (1)
Robbery, b(8) 2 murders
Mitigating Circumstances: no
prior criminal conduct, aid and kindness to members of his family,
regular employment, high school graduate
Clemency: In July 2003 Governor Frank
O’Bannon granted a stay of execution for Darnell Williams in order
that DNA testing could be performed on clothing he was wearing when
arrested. However, the testing proved inconclusive at best, and the
Indiana Supreme Court set a July 9, 2004 execution date.
On July 2, 2004 Governor Joe Kernan issued an
Executive Order commuting the death sentence of Darnell Williams to
Life Imprisonment Without Parole. Noting that Gregory Rouster was
more culpable in the murders, but had been spared the death penalty
after he was declared mentally retarded, Governor Kernan said
“Because Rouster cannot be executed for the crime, it is unjust for
Williams to be executed.”
The commutation followed a recommendation
for commutation from the State Parole Board. This was the first time
since the reinstatement of the Death Penalty in Indiana in 1977 that
the Parole Board recommended commutation of a death sentence, or
that the Governor commuted a death sentence. (It is unclear whether
Life Without Parole is an appropriate sentence, since it was not
available at the time Williams committed the murders or was
convicted of the murders)
301 F.3d 625
Darnell WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellant,
Cecil DAVIS, Superintendent, Indiana State Prison, Respondent-Appellee.
United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.
Argued July 23, 2002.
Decided August 29, 2002.
Before COFFEY, KANNE, and
DIANE P. WOOD, Circuit Judges.
KANNE, Circuit Judge.
A jury convicted Petitioner
Darnell Williams of two counts of felony murder in Indiana state
court, and the trial judge sentenced him to death. After
exhausting his state remedies, Williams filed a petition for
writ of habeas corpus in the Northern District of Indiana, which
the district court denied. Williams now appeals, claiming
ineffective assistance of trial counsel. For the following
reasons, we affirm.
John and Henrietta Rease, an
elderly couple who lived in Gary, Indiana, cared for, fed, and
housed foster children at their home in exchange for $160 per
month per child. One such foster child was Gregory Rouster, who
lived with the Reases from November 1985 until his eighteenth
birthday on February 7, 1986.
Four months later, the Reases
were robbed and shot to death in their home. Police immediately
arrested Rouster and his three friends, Darnell Williams,
Theresa Newsome, and Edwin Taylor (another foster child living
with the Reases), and charged them each with two counts of
felony murder. See IND. CODE § 35-42-1-1(2).
Further, the State sought the
death penalty against Williams and Rouster pursuant to Indiana's
death penalty statute, IND. CODE § 35-50-2-9.
At Williams' joint trial with
Rouster and Newsome,
the following evidence was adduced:
On the night of August 12,
1986, Williams, Rouster, Newsome, and Kim Toney went to the
Reases' house to collect money that Rouster believed the Reases
owed to him.
Derrick Bryant, a seventeen-year-old
foster child who lived with the Reases at the time that the
crimes were committed, testified that when Williams and Rouster
got to the house, they went into a back room with Henrietta
Rease and got into an argument with her about whether the Reases
owed Rouster money.
After Henrietta Rease asked
Rouster to leave the house, Bryant heard Williams say, "I won't
let her, she's doing nothing but gypping [Rouster] out of the
money." Bryant then heard a series of gunshots and went upstairs
into the attic to hide.
While in the attic, Bryant
heard a conversation take place between Williams, Rouster, and
Taylor, whereby Williams and Rouster agreed to rob the Reases at
gunpoint. Bryant then ran downstairs to hide behind a stairway
and heard Williams and Rouster bring the Reases into the bedroom,
at which point Henrietta Rease told Williams not to hit John
Next, Bryant heard Williams
state, "it's your time" and heard Rouster reply, "waste them."
Bryant then heard a second series of gunshots coming from the
bedroom, at which point he ran out of the house and flagged down
a police car.
Several neighborhood teenagers,
such as Eugene Powell, Jamal Pope, Jimmy Gray, and Demond Ligon,
testified about the events that they witnessed that night and
corroborated Bryant's testimony regarding two series of gunshots
coming from the Reases' house shortly after Williams and Rouster
entered the house.
Moreover, the teenagers
testified about a third series of gunshots that came from the
Reases' house when Rouster and Newsome were in the Reases' front
yard, but while Williams presumably was still inside of the
The teenagers' testimony was
corroborated by Lelia Gray, Jimmy Gray's mother, who explained
that she saw Williams and Rouster enter the Reases' house, heard
two series of gunshots, and also heard a third series of
gunshots coming from the Reases' house while Rouster and Newsome
Lake County crime technician
Ronald Lach searched the Reases' house for evidence later that
night and discovered the Reases' bodies lying on the bedroom
floor. Lach also found several live .30 caliber cartridges in
the Reases' bedroom as well as several fired .22 caliber and .32
caliber shells. Finally, he found a .22 caliber pistol in the
bedroom and a .32 caliber pistol in the Reases' backyard that
were later determined to have fired the gunshots that killed the
Lake County Police Officer
Timothy Lukasik arrested Williams that same night. At that time,
Williams had a black leather pouch with him that contained,
among other things, $232.00 in cash, a wallet with no money in
it, and a .30 caliber live round of ammunition.
Williams was then taken to the
Gary Police Department, where crime technician Lach testified
that he "observed" Williams' clothing but did not find any blood
on it. Williams was detained at the Gary City Jail for two days,
after which he was transferred to the Lake County Jail.
On August 15, 1986, Williams'
clothing was confiscated at the Lake County Jail and stored in
an evidence lab, and he was issued a jail uniform. Lake County
Police Officer Bill Wegman testified that approximately one week
later, he gathered Williams' clothing from the evidence lab,
placed it in a plastic bag, and brought it to the Prosecutor's
Eventually, Williams' clothing
was given to Kimberly Epperson, a forensic serologist employed
by the Indiana State Police. Epperson testified that she
examined the shorts that Williams wore on the night of the
murders and that they had three small spots of dried human blood
on them. She explained that the blood she found on Williams'
shorts was consistent with the blood type of John and Henrietta
Rease and of Rouster, but not consistent with Williams' blood
type nor that of Newsome or Taylor.
She further explained that the
blood found on Williams' shorts was consistent with the blood
type of 45% of the population. On cross-examination by Williams'
counsel, Epperson admitted that she did not find any blood on
During closing arguments, the
State argued to the jury that in addition to the witnesses'
testimony, the blood found on Williams' shorts also established
that Williams participated in the Reases' murders.
During his closing argument,
Williams' counsel attacked the weight of the blood evidence,
stating that the State did not present a "splatter" expert to
testify about how the blood got on Williams' shorts. Williams'
counsel also argued that the State's evidence concerning the
blood found on Williams' shorts showed that the blood could have
come from "millions of people" other than the Reases.
Thus, Williams' counsel
attempted to show that the blood found on Williams' shorts may
have come from somewhere other than the crime scene and thus did
not establish Williams' participation in the crimes.
The jury found Williams and
Rouster guilty of two counts of felony murder and acquitted
Newsome on both counts. At the joint penalty phase, the State
sought the death penalty against both defendants pursuant to
IND. CODE § 35-50-2-9. That statute provided that the State
could seek the death penalty against a defendant convicted of
murder if the State proved beyond a reasonable doubt one of the
following aggravating factors: that the "defendant committed
murder by intentionally killing the victim while committing or
attempting to commit" robbery or that the "defendant has been
convicted of another murder." Id. §§ 35-50-2-9(b)(1)(G) &
For the penalty phase of this
case, the State alleged that at least one of the aggravating
factors was present: 1) Williams intentionally killed John Rease
while committing or attempting to commit a robbery, 2) Williams
intentionally killed Henrietta Rease while committing or
attempting to commit a robbery, or 3) Williams had been
convicted of the murders of both John and Henrietta Rease.
The Indiana death penalty
statute also provided that Williams could present evidence
pertaining to any potential mitigating circumstances. See id.
§ 35-50-2-9(c). The statute further provided that the jury could
recommend the death penalty, see id. § 35-50-2-9(e), only
after it had found that the state had proved beyond a reasonable
doubt that at least one of the aggravating circumstances existed
and that any mitigating circumstances that existed were
outweighed by the aggravating circumstance(s). See id. §
The court instructed the jury
accordingly. The trial judge then had the responsibility of
making the final sentencing determination after considering the
jury's recommendation and the standards described in §
35-50-2-9(k). See id. § 35-50-2-9(e).
During the sentencing hearing,
Taylor testified about the following events that took place at
the Reases' house on August 12, 1986: Henrietta Rease asked
Williams and Rouster to leave after they accused her of keeping
money purportedly owed to Rouster. Williams then pointed a gun
at Taylor and asked him where the Reases kept their money.
Taylor answered that the Reases kept their money on the bedroom
dresser, to which Williams replied, "you better not be lying."
Taylor then ran to his friend's house to call the police and
heard several gunshots coming from the Reases' house. Taylor
also testified that Williams was the last person he saw with a
The State also introduced
evidence that Williams had previously participated in a robbery
similar to the one committed against the Reases. Williams
presented testimony that he was employed, had graduated high
school, and had lived with his mother for most of his life.
Further, friends and family members testified about Williams'
character, claiming that he was a kind and responsible young man.
The jury ultimately
recommended the death penalty for both Williams and Rouster.
Thereafter, the trial judge indicated that the State had proved
three aggravating factors under IND. CODE § 35-50-2-9(b): 1)
Williams intentionally killed John Rease while committing the
crime of robbery; 2) Williams intentionally killed Henrietta
Rease while committing the crime of robbery; and 3) Williams had
been convicted of multiple murders — that of both John and
Henrietta Rease. He also addressed the potential mitigating
circumstances and held that none applied. The judge then
sentenced both Williams and Rouster to death.
C. Procedural History
After the Indiana Supreme
Court rejected Williams' claims on direct appeal, he filed a
petition for post-conviction relief, alleging, inter alia,
that his two trial attorneys were ineffective for failing to
fully review discovery materials given to them by the State.
Counsel's entire defense at trial was based on their belief that
no blood was found on Williams' clothing.
However, serologist Epperson's
report was given to Williams' attorneys before trial, and that
report indicated that Epperson had, in fact, tested blood that
she had found on Williams' shorts. At the postconviction hearing,
trial counsel admitted that they had received and read
Epperson's pre-trial report, but testified that they had simply
overlooked the fact that Epperson had indicated that she had
found blood on Williams' shorts.
Trial counsel claimed that
they did not know that Epperson had found blood on Williams'
shorts until Epperson was called to testify towards the end of
the trial. As a result, the trial record contained few facts
concerning the police officer's examination of Williams'
clothing on the night of his arrest and concerning Epperson's
testing of Williams' clothing. Therefore, at the post-conviction
hearing, many more facts concerning Williams' clothing were
For example, crime technician
Lach testified that he examined Williams' clothing at the Gary
Police Department on the night that Williams was arrested and
that he did not find any blood on his shorts at that time.
Lach's examination of Williams' clothing consisted of having
Williams stand about two feet away from him, raise his arms in
the air, and turn around slowly. Lach also told Williams to lift
his feet up so that Lach could observe the bottom of Williams'
Further, Lach testified that
at least two other police officers were present during this
examination and that they also did not see any blood on Williams'
shorts. Finally, Lach explained that due to the color and
pattern of the shorts Williams wore that night, it would have
been difficult to see whether there was any blood on them at
In addition, Epperson
testified at the post-conviction hearing that Indiana State
Police Laboratory policy required clothing to be stored
individually and in sealed paper bags so that testable
biological material would not degrade and so that the
serologists would be able to perform additional tests in order
to narrow down the source of the blood. She testified that the
manner in which Williams' clothing was sent to the lab violated
this policy because all of Williams' clothing items arrived in a
single plastic bag. However, Epperson testified that despite the
improper storage in this case, she was able to obtain results
from the tests she conducted on Williams' shorts.
In support of his petition for
post-conviction relief, Williams asserted that had his trial
attorneys adequately reviewed Epperson's report before trial,
they would have known about the blood found on Williams' shorts
and their defense strategy at trial would have been more
effective. Based on their misconception that no blood had been
found on Williams' clothing, trial counsel believed that there
was little evidence placing Williams in the Reases' bedroom on
the night of the murders.
Further, before the post-conviction
court, Williams contended that because trial counsel were so
surprised by the fact that blood had been found on Williams'
shorts, they were unable to attack the weight of the blood
evidence in an effective manner. Specifically, Williams asserted
that he was prejudiced because competent counsel would have been
able to weaken the inference that the blood found on Williams'
clothing meant that he was in the Reases' bedroom when the
murders took place.
According to Williams,
competent trial counsel could have persuaded the judge and jury
that the blood found on Williams' shorts did not come from the
crime scene. Therefore, Williams asserted that his trial counsel
were unconstitutionally ineffective for their inactions.
The post-conviction court
denied Williams' claim, and the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed,
stating as follows:
Even if Williams' counsel had
more thoroughly investigated the blood evidence, as his counsel
was able to do for postconviction, they would have been unable
to provide the jury with any information significantly different
from that actually provided by the State's witness. Because the
evidence Williams argues should have been presented would not
have significantly changed the facts available to the judge and
jurors, Williams was not prejudiced during either the guilt or
sentencing phase of his trial.
Williams v. State, 706
N.E.2d 149, 156 (Ind.1999). In his petition for writ of habeas
corpus, Williams raised, inter alia, the same ineffective
assistance of counsel claim. The district court denied the
petition, agreeing with the Indiana Supreme Court that Williams
was not prejudiced by trial counsel's performance. Williams
appeals the denial of his habeas petition, arguing that trial
counsel's deficient performance prejudiced him during the
sentencing phase of his trial.
A. Standard of Review
Williams filed his habeas
petition on May 12, 2000, which was after the effective date of
the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 ("AEDPA"),
Pub.L. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214 (1996) (codified at 28 U.S.C. §
2254). Therefore, the provisions of AEDPA govern our review.
See, e.g., Lindh v. Murphy, 521 U.S. 320, 336, 117 S.Ct.
2059, 138 L.Ed.2d 481 (1997). AEDPA provides that if a
constitutional claim was adjudicated on the merits by the state
courts, a federal court may only grant habeas relief based on
that claim if the state court's decision was "contrary to" or an
"unreasonable application of" federal law as determined by the
Supreme Court of the United States, 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1), or
if the state court's determination of the facts was unreasonable
in light of the evidence presented. See id. at §
Williams argues that the
Indiana Supreme Court's determination that he was not prejudiced
by his trial counsel's performance was an "unreasonable
application of" Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668,
104 S.Ct. 2052, 80 L.Ed.2d 674. See 28 U.S.C. §
2254(d)(1); see also Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362,
411, 120 S.Ct. 1495, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000). In addressing
Williams' claim, we must keep in mind that we do not issue a
writ of habeas corpus "simply because [we] conclude ... that
the relevant state-court decision applied [Strickland]
erroneously or incorrectly. Rather, that application must also
Taylor, 529 U.S. at 411.
B. Ineffective Assistance of
In order to prevail on his
ineffective assistance of counsel claim, Williams must establish
that trial counsel's performance fell below an objective
standard of reasonableness and that he was prejudiced by the
deficient performance. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at
687-88. A failure to establish either prong results in a denial
of the ineffective assistance of counsel claim. See Rastafari,
278 F.3d at 688. Prejudice occurs when there is a "reasonable
probability" that but for counsel's deficient performance, the
result of the proceeding would have been different.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 694.
A "reasonable probability is a
probability sufficient to undermine the confidence in the
outcome." Id. Further, "[w]hen a defendant challenges a
death sentence ... the question is whether there is a reasonable
probability that, absent the errors, the sentencer ... would
have concluded that the balance of aggravating and mitigating
circumstances did not warrant death." Id. at 695.
Before trial in this case,
trial counsel were furnished with a serologist report indicating
that blood had been found on Williams' shorts. However, trial
counsel did not become aware of that fact until the middle of
trial, a fact that undermined their entire defense strategy.
Their strategy, as indicated earlier, was based on the
assumption that no blood was found on Williams' clothing.
Consequently, at trial, trial counsel did not cross-examine
Epperson about the blood on Williams' shorts, did not
cross-examine Lach about the fact that he did not see any blood
on Williams' shorts on the night that Williams was arrested, and
did not present expert testimony about how the blood may have
gotten onto Williams' shorts. We agree with both parties that
trial counsel's performance in this aspect of the case was
Williams contends that the
blood on his shorts was the key piece of evidence that lead to
the imposition of the death penalty. He argues that competent
counsel would have challenged the weight of the blood evidence
by presenting "evidence to show that the blood Epperson
described did not necessarily come from the crime scene."
Nevertheless, the Indiana
Supreme Court found that Williams was not prejudiced because the
evidence that Williams argues should have been presented at
trial was not substantially different than the evidence that was
actually presented at trial and therefore would not have
significantly changed the facts that were available to the judge
and jury. See Williams, 706 N.E.2d at 156.
We hold that the Indiana
Supreme Court's decision was not an unreasonable application of
Strickland for two reasons. First, the trial judge and
jury were well-informed of the fact that the blood found on
Williams' shorts could have come from somewhere other than the
crime scene. For example, Epperson testified that the blood was
consistent with the blood of 45% of the population, and thus her
testimony showed that there were millions of potential sources
of the blood other than the Reases or Williams. Indeed, Williams'
counsel seized on this point during closing arguments to note
that the blood found on Williams' shorts could have come from "millions
Further, Williams' counsel
also stated during closing arguments that the State did not
present a "splatter" expert, and therefore, the State failed to
show that the blood came from the crime scene. Finally, Lach
conceded at trial that he observed Williams' clothing on the
night that he was arrested, but did not see any blood on it,
thus creating a potential inference that the blood got onto
Williams' shorts sometime after Lach observed them but before
his clothing was confiscated three days later.
Therefore, we agree with the
Indiana Supreme Court that the facts about which Williams argues
competent counsel would have presented at trial were in fact
known by the jury when it recommended the death penalty — and by
the trial judge when he sentenced Williams to death.
More importantly, however,
Williams was not prejudiced because even without the blood
evidence, he still would have been sentenced to death. Bryant
testified that Williams and Rouster agreed to rob the Reases at
gunpoint, that Williams encouraged Rouster by telling him not to
let the Reases "gyp" him out of the money, and that Williams
also threatened the Reases physically. Bryant also heard
Williams say "it's your time" followed by Rouster saying "waste
them," and then heard several gunshots.
Further, Taylor testified
during the sentencing hearing that Williams threatened the
Reases, pointed a gun at Taylor and asked him where the Reases
kept their money, and was the last person he saw with a gun. In
addition, the police found .30 caliber cartridges on Williams
and in the Reases' bedroom on the night of the murders as well
as $232.00 in cash in Williams' pouch.
Finally, the neighborhood
teenagers testified that they heard a third series of gunshots
when Williams was still inside of the Reases' house, but while
Rouster was in the Reases' front yard talking to Newsome. The
fact that witnesses heard gunshots coming from inside of the
house when Rouster and Newsome were outside is strong
circumstantial evidence that Williams fired a gun that night.
The cumulative effect of the
above-described evidence is that Williams planned the robbery
with Rouster, actively participated in the robbery and the
murders, and that either Williams or Rouster (or both) fired the
gunshots that killed the Reases. Thus, the evidence — excluding
the blood evidence — was sufficient to support the presence of
the three aggravating circumstances found by the trial judge.
See IND. CODE §§ 35-50-2-9(b)(1)(G) & (b)(7); see also
Saylor v. State, 765 N.E.2d 535, 556 (Ind.2002) (stating
that "major participation in the killing" plus the requisite
mental state are needed to establish § 35-50-2-9(b)(1)(G) — the
aggravating factor of intentionally killing while committing a
Likewise, this evidence was
sufficient to show that the aggravating factors outweighed the
mitigating factors. The only mitigating factor that Williams
addresses on appeal is his contention that he was a minor
accomplice. See IND. CODE § 30-50-2-9(c)(4). However, the
evidence shows that he planned the robbery with Rouster and was
a major participant in the robbery and murders and thus supports
the trial judge's finding that this factor did not apply to
Williams' case. See, e.g., Wisehart v. State, 693 N.E.2d
23, 37 (Ind. 1998) (finding § 30-50-2-9(c)(4) inapplicable even
though defendant did not strike the fatal blow).
Therefore, the Indiana Supreme
Court's conclusion that Williams was not prejudiced by trial
counsel's deficient performance was not an unreasonable
application of Strickland.
Williams' other claims on
appeal are without merit and warrant no discussion.
For the foregoing reasons, we
AFFIRM the district court's denial of Williams' petition for
writ of habeas corpus.