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Willie WATSON Jr.





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Kidnapping - Robbery
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: April 5, 1981
Date of birth: 1951
Victim profile: Kathy Newman, 25 (Tulane University medical student)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, USA
Status: Executed by electrocution in Louisiana on July 24, 1987

Willie Watson was executed on July 24, 1987.  Watson was convicted of the kidnapping, rape, and murder of Kathy Newman, a Tulane University medical student, in St. Charles Parish on April 5, 1981. 

When asked if he had any last words, Watson calmly shook his head no.


Killer of Medical Student Dies In Electric Chair in Louisiana

The New York Times

July 25, 1987

Willie Watson went calmly and silently to his death in the electric chair early today for the rape, robbery and murder of a Tulane University medical student.

He was the sixth murderer executed in Louisiana since early June and the second this week.

The student, Kathy Newman, 25 years old, was abducted, raped and shot to death in 1981. Mr. Watson, 30, confessed that he killed her, attributing the crime to his drug addiction while an adolescent growing up in New Orleans housing projects.

The execution, which had been scheduled for midnight, was delayed two hours after the United States Supreme Court rejected Mr. Watson's appeal on a 4-to-4 tie vote and Mr. Watson's lawyers made a last-minute plea to Gov. Edwin W. Edwards in Baton Rouge. Refused Final Statement

At 1:58 A.M. Mr. Watson walked into the death chamber. His head had been shaved of the shoulder-wide Afro hairstyle he had the day before when he appeared at the state Pardon Board in a futile appeal.

Asked if he wanted to make a final statement, Mr. Watson shook his head no. He was then strapped into the wooden electric chair.

Before his face was masked, he looked at his spiritual adviser, Sister Lee Scardina, and mouthed ''I love you, Sister Lee.''

Then he received the first of four jolts of electricity at 2:02 A.M. He was pronounced dead at 2:09. After it was over, the spiritual adviser went to Jed Stone, Mr. Watson's lawyer, who was outside the death chamber, and cried on his shoulder.

Outside the prison, six advocates of the death penalty marched in the darkness.

Appeals Question Law

Mr. Watson spent his last day visiting with his girlfriend, his mother, three sisters, and the adviser. Hilton Butler, the warden, said Mr. Watson had spurned a final meal before the execution.

In the days before the execution, Mr. Watson lost all his appeals, which were based in part on the argument that Louisiana's death penalty law is unconstitutional.

Willie Celestine, 30, of Lafayette, was put to death Monday for raping, beating and strangling an 81-year-old woman in 1981. Mr. Celestine was the 12th person to die in Louisiana's electric chair since executions resumed.


Supreme Court Blocks Execution in Louisiana

The New York Times

September 5, 1986

The Supreme Court today blocked the scheduled execution of Willie Watson Jr., the convicted killer of a Tulane University medical student.

The Justices ordered the Louisiana authorities to spare Mr. Watson's life until the Court, in a separate case, studied an issue Mr. Watson has raised in his appeal.

Mr. Watson's lawyers contend that Louisiana's death penalty law is racially discriminatory. They argue that the killers of whites are more likely to receive a death sentence than the killers of blacks.

Mr. Watson was sentenced to death for the 1981 kidnapping, rape and murder of 25-year-old Kathy Newman in New Orleans. Ms. Newman was white.


United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

756 F.2d 1055

Watson v. Blackburn

March 18, 1985

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before GEE, JOHNSON, and DAVIS Circuit Judges.


Willie Watson, Jr., was convicted in Louisiana of capital murder and sentenced to death. After appealing his conviction and seeking collateral relief in the Louisiana state courts, Watson filed the instant petition in federal district court seeking habeas corpus relief, 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254, from his execution scheduled for the early morning hours of Tuesday, March 19, 1985. On March 18, 1985, the district court entered judgment denying all relief.

There is presently before this Court Watson's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, his application for certificate of probable cause and his application for stay of execution. Concluding that Watson has not made a "substantial showing of the denial of [a] federal right," Barefoot v. Estelle, 463 U.S. 880, 103 S.Ct. 3383, 3394, 77 L.Ed.2d 1090 (1983), we grant the motion for pauper status but deny the application for stay of execution and for certificate of probable cause.


On the evening of April 5, 1981, Willie Watson abducted Kathy Newman, a third-year Tulane University medical student, at gunpoint as she arrived at her apartment building in the Carrollton section of New Orleans.

Watson forced Newman to drive to an isolated area in St. Charles Parish where he robbed her of her jewelry and raped and sodomized her.

Watson then instructed Newman to dress herself; and as she did so, he shot her in the back of the head, mortally wounding her. Watson later confessed to the murder, stating that he shot Newman because he feared that she could identify him.

On June 5, 1981, Watson was found guilty of first degree murder, La.Rev.Stat.Ann. Sec. 14:30, by a St. Charles Parish jury. After finding three aggravating circumstances: (1) the offender was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated rape; (2) the offender was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of armed robbery; and (3) the offender had a significant prior history of criminal activity, the jury recommended the death sentence. See La.Code Crim.Proc.Ann. art. 905.4.

On Watson's direct appeal of his conviction and sentence, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed the conviction, but reversed the sentence of death because of an erroneous jury instruction given by the trial court. State v. Watson, 423 So.2d 1130 (La.1982).

After remand to the trial court for a new sentencing hearing, a jury again recommended the death sentence. In Watson's second appeal of his death sentence, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed, rejecting Watson's fourteen assignments of error. State v. Watson, 449 So.2d 1321 (La.1984). Certiorari was denied by the Supreme Court. Watson v. Louisiana, --- U.S. ----, 105 S.Ct. 939, 83 L.Ed.2d 952 (1985). Watson then unsuccessfully sought state habeas corpus relief. Those applications were denied summarily by the state trial court without an evidentiary hearing, and by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Having exhausted state court remedies, Watson filed the instant petition in federal district court on March 16, 1985, alleging principally that certain jurors were improperly disqualified for cause and that his sentence was determined in accordance with an unconstitutionally vague statute. The district judge carefully considered each of Watson's contentions and rejected them. Watson's petition for writ of habeas corpus was dismissed by the district court, and this appeal followed.


A. Exclusion of Death Qualified Jurors

Watson maintains that the exclusion of jurors from the guilt-innocence phase of his trial denied him his sixth amendment right to trial by a fair cross section of the community. In support of his contention, Watson refers this Court to Grigsby v. Mabry, 758 F.2d 226 (8th Cir.1985). Grigsby is directly contrary to the law of this circuit. See, e.g., Knighton v. Maggio, 740 F.2d 1344 (5th Cir.1984), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 105 S.Ct. 306, 83 L.Ed.2d 241 (1984); Smith v. Balkcom, 660 F.2d 573 (5th Cir.1981), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 882, 103 S.Ct. 181, 74 L.Ed.2d 148 (1982); Spinkellink v. Wainwright, 578 F.2d 582 (5th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 440 U.S. 976, 99 S.Ct. 1548, 59 L.Ed.2d 796 (1979); Sonnier v. Maggio, 720 F.2d 401 (5th Cir.1983), cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 104 S.Ct. 1331, 79 L.Ed.2d 726 (1984). See also Williams v. Maggio, 679 F.2d 381 (5th Cir.1982) (en banc), aff'd, 464 U.S. 46, 104 S.Ct. 311, 78 L.Ed.2d 43 (1983). Moreover, Watson is not entitled to an evidentiary hearing on this claim. Williams v. Maggio, 464 U.S. 46, 104 S.Ct. 311, 78 L.Ed.2d 43 (1983). For the reasons stated in these opinions, Watson's claim of error must fail.

B. La.Code Crim.Proc.Ann. art. 905.4

Watson also contends that he was sentenced pursuant to an unconstitutional statute in that La.Code Crim.Proc.Ann. art. 905.4(c) is void for vagueness. Under Louisiana law, the death penalty may not be imposed unless an aggravating circumstance is found to exist beyond a reasonable doubt. La.Code Crim.Proc.Ann. art. 905.3.

Among the three aggravating circumstances found by the jury in reaching its decision to recommend imposition of the death sentence in the instant case was the fact that Watson had "a significant prior history of criminal activity." See La.Code Crim.Proc.Ann. art. 905.4(c).

Recently, in State v. David, No. 82-KA-0150 (La.S.Ct. Nov. 26, 1984), the Louisiana Supreme Court held that the portion of article 905.4(c) which permits imposition of the death penalty when the accused has a significant prior history of criminal activity is unconstitutionally vague. In so holding, the court reversed David's death sentence.

David, however, is readily distinguishable from the instant case. In David, "a significant prior history of criminal activity" was the sole aggravating circumstance found by the jury. Here, the jury found two other aggravating circumstances supporting their recommendation of the death sentence. It is now settled law that "a death sentence supported by at least one valid aggravating circumstance need not be set aside ... simply because another aggravating circumstance is 'invalid' in the sense that it is insufficient by itself to support the death penalty." Zant v. Stephens, 462 U.S. 862, 103 S.Ct. 2733, 2746, 77 L.Ed.2d 235 (1983); accord Knighton v. Maggio, 740 F.2d at 1351-52; Moore v. Maggio, 740 F.2d 308, 321 (5th Cir.1984). Williams v. Maggio, 679 F.2d at 388-90. Watson does not contend that the other aggravating circumstances found by the jury are not supported by the facts. We must therefore reject his contentions.

We have reviewed each of the defendant's remaining contentions and we find each to be without merit.1

Accordingly, the motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED. Application for stay of execution is DENIED. Application for a certificate of probable cause is DENIED. The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.



Watson also contends: (1) that he has been denied a full and fair hearing in his previous state court proceedings; (2) that the comparative appellate review of his sentence undertaken by the Louisiana state courts is constitutionally inadequate; (3) that his sentence is excessive and disproportionate; (4) that his sentence is arbitrary and capricious; (5) that electrocution is a cruel and unusual punishment; (6) that the death penalty as it is applied in the state of Louisiana invidiously discriminates against blacks, the poor, and males; (7) that capital punishment is an excessive penalty; and (8) that the cumulative effect of violations of Watson's rights in the trial and review of his case is itself a violation of his constitutional rights. We have reviewed each of petitioner's contentions and, for the reasons stated by the district judge in his opinion, find them to be without merit


798 F.2d 872

Willie WATSON, Jr., Petitioner-Appellant,
Frank BLACKBURN, Warden, and the State of Louisiana,

No. 86-3620.

United States Court of Appeals,
Fifth Circuit.

Sept. 2, 1986.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

Before GEE, JOHNSON and W. EUGENE DAVIS, Circuit Judges.

GEE, Circuit Judge:

Watson's appeal raises one issue only, a claim of discrimination in the imposition of the death penalty on blacks who murder whites. We agree with the district court that Wicker v. McCotter, 798 F.2d 155 (5th Cir.1986) represents the law of our Circuit and forecloses his claim. As a panel of our Court, we are bound to follow that law until the Supreme Court or our Court, sitting en banc, changes it.

The motion of Mr. Jed Stone to participate as co-counsel in this appeal is GRANTED.

The judgment of the district court denying habeas relief is AFFIRMED.

The applications for a certificate of probable cause and for a stay of execution are DENIED.


JOHNSON, Circuit Judge, dissenting:

Being of the view that Willie Watson's application for a stay of execution should be granted, I respectfully dissent.1 The legal standards applicable to Mr. Watson's application are presently uncertain, the Supreme Court having granted certiorari in McCleskey v. Kemp, 753 F.2d 877 (11th Cir.), cert. granted, 92 U.S. 737, 106 S.Ct. 3331, 91 L.Ed.2d ---- (1986), and Hitchcock v. Wainwright, cert. granted, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 2888, 90 L.Ed.2d 976 (1986). That the Supreme Court may in the very near, if not the immediate, future alter the standards governing Mr. Watson's claim that the death penalty is imposed in Louisiana in a racially discriminatory manner is without question.

Of even greater importance, the Supreme Court's standard for granting stays in cases raising the McCleskey issue is at best unclear, at worst random. In Berry v. Phelps, 795 F.2d 504 (5th Cir.1986), the petitioner raised a single issue, the same precise issue as presented here by Mr. Watson: whether the State of Louisiana discriminatorily administers its death penalty against defendants accused of killing Caucasians. Citing our decision in Prejean v. Maggio, 765 F.2d 482 (5th Cir.1985), a panel of this Court concluded that "[o]ur precedents clearly establish that a state prisoner is not entitled to habeas relief on this ground." The panel further concluded that the Supreme Court's grant of certiorari in McCleskey and Hitchcock did not require granting Mr. Berry's application for a stay of execution. On Wednesday, August 6, 1986, however, the Supreme Court of the United States, in a one paragraph order, granted Mr. Berry's application for a stay of execution. Once again, the sole issue presented by Mr. Berry's application was the McCleskey issue.

Despite its action in Berry, the Supreme Court less than three weeks later refused to grant a stay of execution in a case also raising the McCleskey issue. In Wicker v. McCotter, 798 F.2d 155 (5th Cir.1986), the petitioner, Chester Lee Wicker, argued that the State of Texas discriminatorily administers its death penalty against defendants accused of killing Caucasians. A panel of this Court, without mentioning the Supreme Court's action in Berry, concluded that the grant of certiorari in McCleskey and Hitchcock did not require granting Mr. Wicker's application for a stay of execution. On Monday, August 25, 1986, the Supreme Court, in a one sentence order and with four members dissenting, denied Mr. Wicker's application for a stay of execution. Chester Lee Wicker was executed the following morning. To my mind the conflict between Berry and Wicker is positive, certain and inescapable.

What is clear, however, is that this Court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, has attached precedential weight to Supreme Court orders granting stays in cases raising issues pending before that Court. In Rault v. Louisiana, 774 F.2d 675, 677 (5th Cir.1985), the petitioner raised the Grigsby issue that was, at that time, pending before the Supreme Court in Lockhart v. McCree, --- U.S. ----, 106 S.Ct. 1758, 90 L.Ed.2d 137 (1986). This Court first noted that our prior decisions had rejected the Grigsby claim. We nevertheless granted Rault's application for stay of execution, noting that the Supreme Court had recently granted stays in two cases raising only the Grigsby issue.

Our reasons for doing so are apparent. Unlike other applications, errors in rejecting applications for stay of execution cannot be corrected. "There can be no writs of habeas corpus from a casket." Bass v. Estelle, 696 F.2d 1154, 1161 (5th Cir.1983) (J. Goldberg, concurring). Where the Supreme Court has indicated that stays of execution will be granted in cases raising a particular issue, lower courts have a solemn responsibility to ensure that no petitioner raising such an issue is erroneously executed. Granting stays at this level, or at the district court level, helps make certain that no case "slips through the cracks" in its progress to the Supreme Court. Can it be disputed that such caution is justified, no matter how slight the risk, when a human life is at stake?

In Berry, the Supreme Court granted a stay of execution in a Louisiana case which clearly, directly and unambiguously presented only the McCleskey issue. The Supreme Court's action in Berry is direct authority requiring, under Fifth Circuit case law, that we grant Mr. Watson's application for a stay of execution. See Rault v. Louisiana, 774 F.2d 675 (5th Cir.1985). Mr. Watson's case cannot be distinguished; it also is an application for stay of execution; it too comes from Louisiana; it likewise raises only the McCleskey issue. The majority does not explain, because it cannot, how the Berry case is different.

It is the Supreme Court's action in Wicker that has muddied the waters.2 Wicker may indicate that the Supreme Court will no longer grant stays in cases raising the McCleskey issue.3 Neither the majority nor the dissent from the United States Supreme Court's order of August 25, 1986, denying Mr. Wicker's request for a stay of execution provides any guidance to this Court or to the district courts of this Circuit. Rather, the Supreme Court's actions in Wicker and Berry have given two diametrically opposed signals; one or the other simply cannot stand. Given the utter confusion surrounding the Supreme Court's action, which defies explanation by the limited wisdom of this Court, Mr. Watson's application for a stay presents an issue clearly debatable among jurists of reason.

To remove all uncertainty and avoid an unnecessary risk to the life of Mr. Watson, I would grant the application for a stay of execution and let the Supreme Court vacate the stay if indeed we are to be guided by Wicker rather than Berry.



The temporary nature of the stay at issue requires emphasis. That stay would be in effect pending only the filing and disposition of Mr. Watson's petition for a writ of certiorari


The muddy waters prompted a majority of the members of this Court on August 28, 1986, to attempt some clarification. The result was that all Fifth Circuit Chief District Judges were advised as follows:

The attached opinion of the panel in Wicker v. McCotter, 798 F.2d 155 expresses the law of this Circuit on the subject of stays of execution in death penalty cases. Please advise the judges of your court accordingly.


It is specifically noted, however, that the Supreme Court has not vacated the stays it previously granted in Berry and in other cases also raising the McCleskey issue, including Wingo v. Blackburn, --- U.S. ---, 107 S.Ct. 9, 92 L.Ed.2d --- and Messer v. Kemp, --- U.S. ---, 106 S.Ct. 3342, 92 L.Ed.2d ---


483 U.S. 1037

Willie WATSON, Jr.
Hilton BUTLER, Warden.

No. A-78 (87-5161)

Supreme Court of the United States

July 23, 1987

The application for stay of execution of the sentence of death, presented to Justice WHITE and by him referred to the Court is denied.

Justice BRENNAN and Justice MARSHALL, with whom Justice BLACKMUN joins in Parts II and III, dissenting.


Adhering to our views that the death penalty is in all circumstances cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U.S. 153, 227 , 2971, 49 L. Ed.2d 859 (1976) (BRENNAN, J., dissenting), we would grant the stay application and the petition for writ of certiorari.

II [ Watson v. Butler 483 U.S. 1037 (1987) ][1037-Continued.]

Even if we did not hold these views, we would nonetheless grant the stay application in order to hold the case for Lowenfield v. Phelps, No. 86-6867. At issue in Lowenfield is the constitutionality of a death- sentencing procedure where the aggravating factor found by the jury duplicates the jury's findings in the guilt phase and thus fails to narrow the class of defendants eligible for the death penalty.

In this case, Watson was found guilty of first-degree murder because he killed while "engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of aggravated kidnapping, aggravated escape, aggravated arson, aggravated rape, aggravated burglary, armed robbery, or simple robbery." La.Rev.Stat. Ann. 14.30(A)(1) (West 1986). Louisiana law requires that the sentencing jury find beyond a reasonable doubt that at least one statutory aggravating factor exists before a death sentence may be imposed. La.Code Crim.Proc.Ann., Art. 905.3 (West Supp.1987). Article 905.4 of the Louisiana Code of Criminal Procedure (West 1984 and Supp.1987) provides that "[t]he following shall be considered aggravating circumstances," and lists 10 circumstances, which are labelled as subsections (a) through (j). The jury in Watson's case found that Watson had committed the acts described in subsection (a): he "was engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration [483 U.S. 1037 , 1038]   of aggravated rape, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated burglary, aggravated arson, aggravated escape, armed robbery, or simple robbery." 1 Specifically, the jury determined that Watson committed armed robbery and aggravated rape.

If the commission of armed robbery and aggravated rape constitutes only a single aggravating circumstance, then Watson presents exactly the same claim as Lowenfield. 2 In the majority of cases that have required a tally of aggravating circumstances, the Louisiana Supreme Court has considered the presence of more than one felony under Article 905.4(a) to count as only a single aggravating factor. See, e.g., State v. Carmouche, 508 So.2d 792 (1987); State v. Bates, 495 So.2d 1262 (1986); State v. Andrews, 452 So.2d 687 (1984); State v. Jordan, 420 So.2d 420 (1982); State v. Myles, 389 So.2d 12 (1979). In some other cases, including this one, State v. Watson, 449 So.2d 1321 (1984), the Louisiana Supreme Court appears to have viewed each felony as a separate aggravating factor. That court, however, has not had the opportunity to address this issue explicitly. In our view, until the Louisiana Supreme Court gives the statute a definitive interpretation, this Court should grant the application for stay, in order to hold for Lowenfield.


Four Members of this Court consider the above view sufficiently compelling to have voted to hold this case until Lowenfield is decided. Three votes suffice to hold a case, but it takes five votes to stay an execution. The Court today thus permits Mr. Watson's legal claim to stay alive while condemning Watson himself to die under a sentencing scheme that within a matter of months the Court may conclude is unconstitutional. Half the Members of this Court believe that Watson's claim might be indistinguishable from [483 U.S. 1037 , 1039]   Lowenfield's, yet tonight Watson will be executed while Lowenfield may prevail and be spared. This prospect is the ultimate derogation of the Court's duty to provide equal justice under law.

We dissent.

Justice STEVENS would grant the application for stay of execution of sentence of death.



[ Footnote 1 ] The jury also found a second aggravating circumstance that Watson had "a significant prior history of criminal activity." This aggravating circumstance has since been invalidated by the Louisiana Supreme Court as unconstitutionally vague under the Eighth Amendment. State v. David, 468 So.2d 1126 (1984).

[ Footnote 2 ] The District Court denied Watson's claim and stated only: " Suffice it to say that the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, whose ruling binds this court has decided this claim adversely to petitioner. Lowenfield v. Phelps, 817 F.2d 285 (1987)." No. 87-3391 (ED La. July 21, 1987). The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, agreeing with the " reasons stated succinctly and correctly" by the District Court. 823 F.2d 842, 843 (CA5 1987).



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