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Jessie Derrell WILLIAMS





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Sexual mutilation
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: January 11, 1983
Date of birth: May 3, 1951
Victim profile: Karon Ann Pierce (female, 18)
Method of murder: Stabbing with knife
Location: Jackson County, Mississippi, USA
Status: Executed by lethal injection in Mississippi on December 11, 2002


Karon Ann Pierce had come to the bar with her boyfriend after going out to dinner. While at the bar, witnesses testified that Karen was drinking and taking drugs and had became involved in fights with other women at the bar. She also may have been taken into a bathroom and raped by several men. The man who had brought Karen to the bar had left.

Thomas Evans, a cousin of Jesse Williams, later left the bar with Karon to go to an area near a river to continue to party. They were joined by Norwood and Williams and continued to drink and take drugs. Norwood and Williams, in fact, did have sex with Karon, the court said, before the murder occurred.

Pierce's body was discovered about ten days later by a hunter in Jackson County. Pierce's throat had been slashed and she had been stabbed in the heart. Her vagina and anus had been excised with a small, sharp knife, and a pathologist testified that Karen was alive while she was mutilated.

Norwood and Evans were originally charged with capital murder, but testified in return for receiving less than three years in prison on lesser charges. Williams has claimed others were responsible for the murder.


Williams v. State, 544 So. 2d 782 (Miss. 1987) (Direct Appeal).

Final Meal:

Williams ate nothing on his final day, forgoing even a last meal of his choice.

Final Words:



Mississippi Department of Corrections

MDOC# 0000061530
Date of Birth 05/03/1951
Height 5FT 11IN
Weight 212
Complexion LIGHT/FAIR
Eye Color BROWN
Hair Color
Entry Date 01/17/1984
Location MSP
Total Length DEATH
County of Conviction 1 JACKSON
Sentence Date 1 01/20/1990


Jessie Derrell Williams

WLBT Channel 3

Jessie Derrell Williams spent his final hours here at Parchment State Penitentiary visiting with family. He did not eat his breakfast or lunch and there was no request for a special dinner as the hours counted down to his execution. as the sun set on Parchment prison a penitentiary wide lock down remained in effect up until the execution.

Guards stationed outside Williams's cell say he appeared to be in a good mood and chatty. A three hour long meeting with his immediate family ended in a waterfall of emotion.

"Williams was described as being very subdued he was concerned about his family. Officials report that the mother was taking the situation very hard, his brother john Williams was emotionally upset." " His daughter has told us that while he was in prison he has really tried to turn his life over to God."

Just after five a small group of protesters gathered outside the prison to pray. "And to pray for the man who is being execute and to pray for the family who was injured" At 6:42 PM Williams was pronounced dead.

"This is one of the first death penalty cases that I tried as a young district attorney. Almost twenty years ago. actually this crime occurred month it will be twenty years. Mr. Williams certainly passed away in a very humane fashion it was certainly not the way that Karon Ann Pierce was murdered and tortured." "He died peacefully, very peacefully. My sister bled to death. I don't have hatred in my heart toward him, I don't have nothing towards him. Its just I have a pain where my sister was."

Williams becomes the second death row inmate to be executed here at Parchment since Mississippi's capital punishment laws were amended in 1998. He says he will give all of the money in his inmate account to his mother, his body and organs will be donated to university medical center.


Williams, 51, Dies Quietly for Torture Killing of Teen

By Clay Harden - Jackson

December 12, 2002

PARCHMAN - Jessie Derrell Williams, 51, condemned to die almost 20 years ago for the torture slaying of an 18-year-old woman, died quietly here by lethal injection Wednesday. His victim, Escatawpa native Karon Ann Pierce, was sexually mutilated and her throat cut. She bled to death in 15 pain-ravaged minutes on Jan. 12, 1983.

"I wish to God Karon had that opportunity" to die as peacefully as Williams, said Waldine Riley, Pierce's mother, as she watched Williams dying on the gurney in Unit 17 at the State Penitentiary. When officials pronounced Williams dead at 6:42 p.m., Riley shoved her arm into the air in triumph. "Whoopee!" Riley said. "Karon, you got it, Baby. We are even."

Williams, dressed in a red jump suit and brown sandals, said, "No, sir," when Parchman Superintendent E.l. Sparkman asked for any final words. After Leonard Vincent, general counsel for the Mississippi Department of Corrections, said, "No stay," the chemicals began to flow into Williams' heavily tattooed arms at 6:29 p.m.

Williams, his gray hair swept back on his head, appeared to puff his lips between his moustache and beard as the chemicals began to flow. He tilted his head to the right and shut his eyes before his breathing became labored and he drifted into death. Sunflower County Coroner Doug Card pronounced Williams dead after putting a stethoscope to his chest. Williams' body will go to University of Mississippi Medical Center.

The Jackson County man became the second person in Mississippi to be executed this year after the state went 13 years without putting someone to death. Tracy Alan Hansen died in July for the 1987 slaying of state trooper David Bruce Ladner.

Williams' execution, set for 6 p.m., was delayed almost 30 minutes because the execution team could not find a vein in Williams' arms due to dehydration. Williams declined to eat all day and refused to take a shower. MDOC spokesman Ken Jones said Williams also declined to take a sedative, telling officials, "I say 'no' to drugs." He instead took two ibuprofen pills. Williams' family opted not to watch him die. He had a low key and relaxed visit with family members between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. according to MDOC officials.

He was "very subdued" and concerned about his family, Jones said. His mother, Josephine Hunter, was taking the situation "very hard," and his brother, John Williams, was "emotionally upset," Jones said. Williams signed a waiver to turn over his inmate funds to his mother. It is unclear how much money he has.

At 3:50 p.m., Williams returned to his cell to start preparations for the execution. He met with his spiritual adviser, Ruby Walters between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. Williams feels he is "finally at release" said Walters, who witnessed the execution. Chris Epps, interim MDOC commissioner, said the procedures for Williams' execution were nearly identical to those for Hansen, executed July 17. The only change, he said, was a five-minute limit on Williams' last words. Hansen made a rambling final statement that lasted almost an hour.

Williams was one of 16 people initially arrested in Pierce's death, but only Williams, his cousin, Thomas Terrell Evans, and roommate Michael Anthony Norwood were prosecuted. Both Evans and Norwood testified against Williams. They spent less than three years in prison on charges of accessory after the fact of murder. Norwood is now deceased.

Pierce was killed after making a fatal decision not to leave the Scoreboard Lounge with her date after he was threatened by bar patrons. Instead, witnesses at Williams' trials said, Pierce smoked marijuana and ingested hallucinogens and tranquilizers along with whiskey. Pierce, they say, got into a fight with a woman at the bar, then was taken to a restroom and raped by several men. Law enforcement authorities say Pierce left the bar to go to a party on the Escatawpa River in Jackson County, where she was killed.

"This is the end of a long journey," said Attorney General Mike Moore, who prosecuted the case as a young district attorney in Jackson County. "This was one of the most brutal crimes I have prosecuted. I prosecuted the case, and I know he is guilty and he knew it." Other witnesses to the execution were Jackson County Deputy Sheriff Bryan White; Joey Alford, Pierce's brother-in law; and Tony Fairley, Pierce's half brother . Fairley of Lucedale, the only family member to address the news media after the execution, said, "I am missing a piece of my life where my sister was. We just want to put it behind us and move on."

Jesse D. Williams has twice been sentenced to death for murdering 18-year-old Karen Ann Pierce of Escatawpa in January 1983. His sentence was overturned once, but has stood since the second sentencing in 1990.

Almost twenty years since Karen's murder, Williams is now 51. The seeds of the murder had started at a rowdy bar in Gautier where Karen had been celebrating her recent 18th birthday. Karen had come to the bar with her boyfriend after going out to dinner.

While at the bar, witnesses testified that Karen was drinking and taking drugs and had became involved in fights with other women at the bar. She also may have been taken into a bathroom and raped by several men. The man who had brought Karen to the bar had left.

Thomas Evans, a cousin of Jesse Williams, later left the bar with Karen to go to an area near a river to continue to party. They were joined by Norwood and Williams and continued to drink and take drugs. Norwood and Williams, in fact, did have sex with Karen, the court said, before the murder occurred.

Originally, five men were charged with capital murder in the slaying of Karen Ann Pierce, and numerous others arrested. At least one investigator believes that more than one person should have been sentenced to death for the murder.

However, murder charges against two of the men were dropped and two others pleaded to lesser charges after agreeing to testify against Williams.

Williams grabbed Karen and tackled her, according to testimony at the trial given by Thomas Evans. Evans testified he saw Williams standing over the top of the victim, holding a knife. Williams lifted her head to show Evans where he had cut her throat, Evans testified.

Evans also testified that Williams told him that when he stabbed Pierce in he chest, she "jumped straight up." Another man involved, Michael Norwood, Williams' roommate, later testified that several days after the murder Williams told him that he had cut Pierce’s throat.

The murder occurred on Jan 11, 1983. Pierce's body was discovered about ten days later by a hunter in Jackson County. Pierce's throat had been slashed and she had been stabbed in the heart. Her vagina and anus had been excised with a small, sharp knife, and a pathologist testified that Karen was alive while she was mutilated.

Norwood and Evans were originally charged with capital murder, but testified in return for receiving less than three years in prison on lesser charges. Williams has claimed others were responsible for the murder of Pierce and that Norwood and Evans lied.

Mississippi law calls for the death penalty in cases of kidnap and murder. Prosecutors convinced a jury that by grabbing and tackling Pierce as she tried to run away, Williams had actually kidnapped her.

Another aggravating factor leading to Williams’ death sentence was the fact that he had been previously convicted of armed robbery in 1973. Prosecutors said Williams had used a knife in that robbery. Besides the testimony of Norwood and Evans, police also found a serrated knife on Williams that prosecutors said was the murder weapon.


Williams Executed for Mutilation Murder


AP - December 12, 2002

PARCHMAN — Jessie Derrell Williams was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday for the 1983 rape and mutilation murder of an 18-year-old Jackson County woman. Williams met with his spiritual adviser and changed into a red jumpsuit before being led into the death chamber at the Mississippi penitentiary. He was pronounced dead at 6:42 p.m.

Williams, 51, was convicted and sentenced to death for slashing the throat of Karon Ann Pierce, then mutilating her body.

Williams' execution was the second in Mississippi this year. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected Williams' last-minute appeal two hours before his execution.

Prison spokesman Ken Jones said Williams declined to take a sedative, telling officials, "I say 'no' to drugs." A dozen people protested outside the prison gates, while about 60 people protested outside the governor's mansion in Jackson. Williams visited with six family members, including his mother and sister, in the hours before his execution. He had been allowed to make collect calls since Tuesday but chose not to make any. He did not request a final meal and refused to eat breakfast or lunch.


Clemency Denied for Condemned Killer

By Riva Brown - Jackson

December 11, 2002

Before being executed by lethal injection today for the grisly death of Karon Ann Pierce, Jessie Derrell Williams will say goodbye to his family through a Plexiglas window via telephone. On Jan. 12, 1983, Williams, 51, slashed the Escatawpa native's throat, sexually mutilated her and left her in the woods to die 15 minutes later. She was 18.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans denied Williams' request for a stay of execution Monday. Williams' attorney, Tom Sumrall of Gulfport, then filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday. Also, Gov. Ronnie Musgrove denied Williams' clemency petition. "This was a brutal, heinous crime," Musgrove said during a news conference Tuesday. "The case has been tried, it has been reviewed numerous times. The punishment here certainly fits the crime."

Williams must request to visit his family before he is put to death, but family members cannot touch him for security reasons, said Claire Papizan, a communications specialist with the Mississippi Department of Corrections. Williams' daughter, Tina Ragon of Picayune, said last week she wishes MDOC would be more understanding and compassionate. She plans to witness her father's execution and talk with him beforehand. "I talked to his chaplain, and I just lost it and started crying on the phone because I'd been thinking all this time well, at least it will be comforting to know that maybe I can give him a hug," Ragon said. "It's not like we're going to have anything on us. It's not like we're going to hurt him or he's going to hurt us. Why couldn't they just let us give him, just for a second, a hug to say, 'I love you and bye'?"

Ken Jones, MDOC's public information officer, said the no-touch visitation policy is firm on death row. "It's just because of the nature of the crime itself and the seriousness of the crime," Jones said. State law allows two family members from each side to view the execution. However, Musgrove has granted a request for two more Pierce family members to view the execution. Pierce's and Williams' families will view it from different rooms. "We keep them separate at all times," Papizan said. "They will not even be at the same place before the execution takes place."

Tina Frazier, director of MDOC's Division of Victim Services, said she has met with Pierce's family to explain what to expect and how to deal with their feelings before and after Williams' execution. Although Williams' execution may bring some closure, the family still must deal with the pain associated with dates such as Pierce's birthday, Christmas and the day she died, Frazier said. "Those dates still come around, and I just want them to be aware of their own emotions," Frazier said.

Frazier worked with the Mississippi Crime Victims Compensation Program Division of Victim Assistance and the Gulf Coast Women's Center for Nonviolence in Biloxi to arrange transportation to Parchman for Pierce's family. The center provided a van, she said. "They did not have a good vehicle to get them there, we all collaborated for the good of the victim's family," Frazier said. "That's what it's all about — putting victims first. Karon can't speak for herself, she has no voice anymore, but at a minimum what we can do is help her family."

On Monday, Williams was transported to a 6-by-9-foot holding cell adjacent to the death chamber. An officer guards him at all times. In his cell, he is allowed only a red jumpsuit, standard attire for death row inmates; one set of underwear; and legal and writing material, Papizan said. As a security measure, the penitentiary was placed on emergency/lockdown status Tuesday. "It cuts down on unnecessary movement," Papizan said. "(The other inmates) don't even get their hour of exercise. They don't get to leave their cells at all. Nobody moves."

At 6 p.m. today, six MDOC officers will escort Williams, whose hands and feet will be shackled, to the death chamber and strap him to a gurney. "If the inmate tries to resist, you have to have six people to take him down," Papizan said. The penitentiary superintendent, a medical pathologist and a coroner also will be present. A microphone will be lowered over Williams' head in case he has final words. A timekeeper and the executioner will be in a separate room. The IV runs from that room to the death chamber. Williams has asked that his body be donated to the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

Pierce's twin sister, Sharon Ann Alford of Carriere, said last week that Williams has done his suffering in prison and "it's time for him to go to sleep." But other siblings believe Williams is getting the easy way out. "I know the Bible says 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,' but I don't want him to die," said Tony Fairley, 25, of Lucedale, said last week. "I don't feel like it's right. Let him sit there. Let him suffer for what he's done." In contrast, Alford, who will witness the execution, said: "I don't believe in vengeance and all that, and I don't even believe in the death penalty because I know that he has served his time. Going to bed at night and dreaming about this, he had to."


Family Hopes it Can Rest Again Now that Williams' Life is Over

By Brad Crocker - Pascagoula Mississippi Press

December 12, 2002

PARCHMAN -- The family of Karon Ann Pierce said the execution Wednesday of Jessie Derrell Williams didn't bring their loved one back, but they felt some grief leave after watching her accused killer die in front of them. It's been a long way. Now that it's through, maybe we can rest in peace, and Karon, too," Pierce's mother, Waldine Riley, said in a statement read to the media by Mississippi Department of Corrections spokeswoman Tara Frazier.

Pierce's brother Tony Fairley said, "He died peacefully. My sister bled to death. I have a pain where my sister was and all I can say is I'm glad it's over." Members of the media who witnessed the execution gave detailed accounts of what they saw. Many said Williams died a humane death. "I found it uneventful. I think you could show this to schoolchildren and they wouldn't be affected by it. They would probably be bored," said Keith Hill with Mississippi News Network.

Clay Harden with The Clarion-Ledger sat in the same room as Pierce's family. He said Williams died peacefully, adding that he heard Riley exclaim following the 6:42 p.m. announcement that Williams was dead, "I wished to God that Karon had had that opportunity." Hill said Williams moved very little and looked in one direction or at the ceiling waiting to die, unlike Tracy Hansen "who was moving all the time" when he was executed in July. Jason Straziuso with The Associated Press said Riley was focused on Williams, and Sgt. Bryan White with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department consoled Pierce's brother, Tony Fairley.

Several reporters said he also made the comment that "my sister bled to death" during the execution. Christine Nelson with WABG-TV in Greenville said the building in which the execution was held "had a smell. It was a weird smell to me." She said she was disappointed that Williams did not make any statements before he died. "I would have hoped he would have said something," she said. She also reiterated many other witnesses' comments that Williams' death was "very ironic compared to how the victim died."

Randy Bell with Clear Channel Radio said he felt the Christmas decorations on the houses near the execution building "seemed a little odd considering the circumstances of the evening." He agreed that Williams' execution was humane, despite a delay due to not being able to find a vein to insert the IV and the poison. "It appeared he just went to sleep," Bell said.


Mississippi Inmate's Lawyers Make Final Appeal Before Execution

Eyewitness News Channel 24

December 12, 2002

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Jessie Derrell Williams, the condemned killer scheduled to die by lethal injection at 6 p.m. Wednesday, was "chatty" and in a good mood in the hours before his execution, prison officials said. Attorneys for Williams made a last-minute appeal Tuesday to the U.S. Supreme Court, the only body likely to stop the execution after Gov. Ronnie Musgrove refused to grant clemency. Williams, 51, was convicted and sentenced to death in 1983 for slashing the throat of Karon Ann Pierce, 18, then mutilating the body.

On Wednesday, Williams refused to eat breakfast and lunch. He hadn't requested a final meal as of midday, officials said. Williams met with his mother, sister, daughter, brother and the penitentiary chaplain Wednesday afternoon. Although he was allowed, he hadn't made any collect phone calls Tuesday or Wednesday, officials said. Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps said prison officials had practiced the lethal injection procedure several times in the last week. As a precaution, penitentiary officials kept inmates in their cells.

Wednesday's execution was to be the state's second in 13 years. Tracy Alan Hansen was executed in July by lethal injection. Before that the state had used a gas chamber for executions. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday denied a stay of execution request by Williams.

Attorney Tom Sumrall, who represents Williams, said Tuesday's U.S. Supreme Court appeal was basically the same as the one denied by the appeals court in New Orleans. "This is our last shot and so we're going to submit it to them and hope we prevail this time," Sumrall said.

Assistant Attorney General Marvin "Sonny" White said he expected the execution to take place as scheduled. Williams' body will be donated to the University Medical Center in Jackson. The Green Party of Mississippi protested Williams' execution, calling on Musgrove to commute his sentence and not participate in what it called "state-sponsored killing."


Williams Executed; Victim's Mother Cheers his Death

By Margaret Baker - South Mississippi Sun-Herald

December 12, 2002

PARCHMAN - Jesse Derrell Williams refused to say a word before he was executed Wednesday night for the 1983 rape, beating and mutilation murder of 18-year-old Karon Ann Pierce. But his death after nearly 20 years in prison led to cheers from the victim's mother, Waldine Riley, who witnessed the execution along with her son, Tony Fairley, and her son-in-law, Joseph Alford.

Media witnesses said Riley shouted "Whoopee, Karon, you got it baby," shortly after Sunflower County Coroner Douglas Card declared Williams dead at 6:42 p.m. Wednesday. The execution, Mississippi's second this year, was carried out about two hours after the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Williams' last-minute appeal.

Sharon Pierce Alford, the victim's identical twin sister, had planned to attend the execution, but changed her mind when she was overcome by grief. She remained on the prison grounds until the execution was completed. The execution was delayed for about 30 minutes because Williams was dehydrated and the medical staff could not find a vein. Once the poisons had been injected, his eyes appeared glazed and his breathing became labored. Twelve minutes later, he was dead.

Witnesses said the 51-year-old Williams appeared to be calm and at peace when he was asked if he had any final statements. "No sir," he said, "I do not." Williams ate nothing on his final day, forgoing even a last meal of his choice, and he declined to make phone calls. He also decided against taking a sedative, telling officials, "I say 'no' to drugs." He instead took two ibuprofen.

Law enforcement officials said Williams' death was much less painful than Pierce's death, which has been described as one of the most savage ever committed in the state. Pierce was 18 when she went out on a date the night of Jan. 11, 1983. Sometime during the night, she was raped, beaten and tortured until she bled to death on the banks of the Escatawpa River in East Jackson County.

Police at first arrested 16 people in connection with Pierce's death, but later named Williams, his roommate, Michael Anthony Norwood, and his cousin Thomas Terrell Evans as the killers. Evans and Norwood cut a deal with the state and testified against Williams in exchange for a lesser charge. Both men served less than three years. Williams continued to say he was innocent until the end.

On Wednesday, he appeared to be in a good mood, spending the morning talking to a prison guard about trucks before visiting with relatives. His mood turned somewhat somber after his mother, Josephine Hunter, and his brother, Tony Williams, left the prison visibly upset. "If I'm executed (murdered)," Williams wrote in a letter to The Sun Herald, "I feel like all efforts to find out who actually killed Karon will die right along with me. As long as I'm alive, the search will continue."

But that search has ended, Attorney General Mike Moore said Wednesday: "Justice has been served." After the execution, Fairley said, "I have a pain where my sister was, and all I can say is I'm glad it's over." Williams' body will be donated to the University Medical Center in Jackson.

Wednesday's execution was the state's second in 13 years. Tracy Alan Hansen was executed in July by lethal injection. Before that the state had used the gas chamber.


Jessie Derrell Williams v. State of Mississippi (1996)

Supreme Court of Mississippi



Jessie Derrell Williams was indicted by a Jackson County Grand Jury for the capital murder of Karen Ann Pierce, committed while he was engaged in the commission of the crime of kidnaping. Venue was transferred to Lauderdale County for trial. In December 1983, Williams was found guilty of the capital murder of Pierce and sentenced to death by virtue of the jury verdict. On January 25, 1984, Williams filed a motion for a new trial which raised inter alia this very issue we now consider. The court held an evidentiary hearing on February 2, 1984, and overruled Williams' post trial motions. On direct appeal, this Court affirmed the guilt-finding phase of Williams' bifurcated trial, but on petition for rehearing, reversed the sentence-determining phase and remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing. See Williams v. State, 544 So. 2d 782 (Miss. 1987).

Williams appealed under the Post-Conviction Collateral Relief Act, seeking to vacate his conviction of capital murder on the ground that the State violated discovery rules by withholding a leniency agreement consummated between co-indictee Thomas Terrell Evans and the prosecution, whereby Evans would plead guilty to accessory after the fact and receive five years imprisonment in exchange for turning State's evidence and testifying against Williams. Williams argues that this alleged plea bargain undermines the credibility of Evans to the extent that a new trial is required. Thus aggrieved, Williams presents as his sole issue for review.


A thorough review of this issue leads this Court to conclude that the issue of the plea bargain raised in Williams' motion for a new trial was capable of determination at that point. In fact, the issue was litigated and adjudicated to be without merit, thus Williams is procedurally barred. Foster v. State, 639 So. 2d 1263 (Miss. 1994). Williams is not entitled to another evidentiary hearing on this issue. Alternatively, procedural bar notwithstanding, considering Williams' issue on its merit, we find no merit exists. There was no evidence of any "deal." This Court denies Williams' motion for post-conviction relief.


This Court, in Williams v. State, 544 So. 2d 782 (Miss. 1987), stated "The facts of this case are so bizarre and the methods used to bring about the death of Miss Pierce are so relentlessly savage that no purpose will be served by repeating them here, except where they are essential to the ends of justice in dealing with the issues raised by the appeal." Id. at 784.

Again we note that because of the limited nature of the sole issue presented by this appeal, a brief synopsis of the procedural history of the case and limited facts will suffice.

Williams was convicted of capital murder and sentenced to death on December 15, 1983. Thomas Terrell Evans is Williams' first cousin and co-indictee, and testified against Williams in the original trial in December 1983. During the trial, Evans denied the existence of any plea bargain agreement he had with the State. The prosecution also denied the same. Evans also stated, "I've told the truth all the time, yes sir." At the trial in 1983, Evans was represented by attorneys Fielding Wright and Richard Hamilton.

Following the trial, Williams soon filed a motion for a new trial on January 25, 1984, in the Lauderdale County Circuit Court. In this motion, Williams raised the thorny issue of whether the prosecution withheld the existence of an alleged plea bargain agreement it had struck with the co-defendant Evans. The Lauderdale County Circuit Court held an evidentiary hearing on February 2, 1984, and Williams called the Honorable Michael C. Moore, then the District Attorney for the 19th Circuit Court District, the Honorable Kathy H. King, then assistant district attorney, the Honorable Louis Guirola, Jr., then an assistant district attorney, and his co-indictee, Thomas Terrell Evans, to testify as to whether there had been a deal for Evans' testimony against petitioner. The testimony from all four parties was a resounding "no" to the existence of any deal. Thus, the motion for a new trial was overruled on February 2, 1984, and petitioner perfected an appeal to this Court on February 10, 1984. It is important to note the testimony which occurred during the evidentiary hearing on the motion for a new trial:

(A) District Attorney Michael C. Moore:

District Attorney Mike Moore testified that Fielding Wright, Evans' attorney, first approached the two assistant district attorneys and told them that they had the wrong man in regard to the crime against Karen Ann Pierce. He stated that Mr. Wright informed them that his client's culpability would be equal to one guilty of accessory after the fact only. Moore testified that he knew that Evans was already on probation, and that his probation would most certainly be revoked; however, he also stated that "I can say with certainty that nothing was ever said to Mr. Evans in that regard, or at least with my consent, that he would serve a certain period of time in the penitentiary, because we can't-- there is no way we can tell." Moore further stated, "I've never discussed what we would recommend in return for his testimony with Mr. Evans. As a matter of fact, the only thing I've ever told Mr. Evans is that I don't have any recommendation." Prior to trial, there were no tentative agreements as to recommendations from the State if Evans were to plead guilty to a crime.

(B) Assistant District Attorney Kathy King:

Assistant District Attorney Kathy King's testimony echoed that of Moore's. She also stated that Fielding Wright approached them and stated that Evans could tell them who was the real killer of Pierce. Wright told her that based on what Evans had already told him, Evans was not guilty of anything more than accessory after the fact. King stated that she and Wright then discussed what kind of offer might be made for Evans since he was already on probation. However, she never promised Wright anything since the prosecution team had not yet spoken to Evans himself. She said that she made it clear to both Evans and Wright that there would be no deal if Evans' version of the story did not match up with all of the other evidence and testimony of the other co-indictees. Because there were many discrepancies between Evans' testimony and that of Williams and the other co-indictee, Norwood, King stated that a deal was "up in the air," and in her mind, "there was no deal," in light of the indictments handed down by the grand jury. The only discussion she had with Fielding Wright post-indictment was when Wright inquired as to what happened, and she responded, "'Fielding, obviously the grand jury didn't believe all the facts as your man told them after they heard all the evidence, and they saw fit to indict him.' And that's all I ever said to Fielding after that. " She further stated that "[t]he only other time I kn[e]w anything about any deals even being discussed was some time before the trial was set. . . . Terrell Evans was in our office and . . . when Mike [Moore] told him there were no deals, there were not going to be any deals." "I don't remember Mike's exact words, but Mike said as far as he was concerned, he would go with the death penalty for him [Evans] too."

(C) Assistant District Attorney Louis Guirola, Jr.:

Mr. Louis Guirola, Jr. also corroborated his fellow prosecutors' testimonies, stating that "[t]he only thing [he] ever heard prior to the trial date and extending back was that Mr. Moore told Mr. Evans specifically that he did not have a deal, he did not have any recommendation and that as far as he was concerned, . . . he [wa]s facing the death penalty too." He testified that Moore asked Evans' at least twice whether he understood that he had no deals, and both times, Evans responded, "Yes, I understand." He further noted that this "happened on more than one occasion, because it would go on at each individual interview so that he would understand at each interview that he did not have a plea negotiation."

Mr. Guirola gave the most detailed account of the exchanges between the district attorney's office and Fielding Wright, as follows:

[L]et me . . . start[ ] at the beginning. When this investigation first took place, there were bits and pieces of information that would come into the Sheriff's Office and then they would make arrests based on these bits and pieces of information. During their investigation, they arrested two individuals, one I believe was John Paul Adams and the other one, . . . Mitchell Byrd. . . . Sometime later during the investigation, Thomas Terrell Evans was arrested but he was not charged with capital murder at that time and we weren't even sure of what his involvement was . . . . I think it might have been the next day or next afternoon, Mr. Fielding Wright came into our office and announced that he was representing Thomas Terrell Evans. And, at that time, he made the statement-- and I remember this vividly, because it shocked me-- he said, 'You've got the wrong people charged with capital murder, and I know who did it.' Well, of course, at that point Miss King was present too and we were very interested . . . . And, Mr. Wright said, 'Well, of course, I can't tell you what my source of information [is]. I can only tell you that I know who did it and you've got the wrong people in jail for capital murder.' Well, it didn't take a genius to understand that if he's representing Thomas Terrell Evans and he comes in and makes that kind of a statement that, obviously, Mr. Wright's source of information was Thomas Terrell Evans. At that point, Mr. Wright said 'Well, if I am able to bring some information forward that will get you the right man, what would this office be willing to do?' At which point myself and Miss King both told him, 'We can't make any recommendation. We can't say anything at this point because we don't even know who it is or what he will say.' . . . [Wright] gave us an outline of what the person knew and who he knew to be the actual killer of the victim . . . and that [his source] could be guilty of nothing more than accessory after the fact to capital murder, which if you took the facts as Mr. Wright perceived them and he was told them, arguably that would have been the charge. So, at that point, I believe Miss King and I both told Mr. Wright, 'Well, if this is true, if these facts are right down the line as you have told us, there is no way that you could convict that man of anything more than accessory after the fact to capital murder, which carries a maximum penalty of five years in the penitentiary.' Now, at that point-- let me make it clear-- that was not a recommendation that was made, that was an observation that that would be the maximum penalty for that particular crime.

At that point, Evans was brought in for an interview. After the interview, there was some discussion about what Evans would get if his story was true. Guirola told Wright again,

'If what your man is saying is true, then the maximum penalty would be five years in the penitentiary, and since he is in fact on probation now, that probation would be revoked and he would get five years consecutive with five addition years for accessory after the fact.' I still did not perceive that as a recommendation, because all of the facts were not in, all of the testimony was not in. But, I thought that in my opinion that's what would happen if all these facts were true. . . . I didn't think we were in the position to . . . make any firm recommendation.

After the case went before the grand jury, they indicted Evans for capital murder, too.

Now since the time of the indictment, and I would say sometime before, at no time has Terrell Evans been told 'you've got a deal with the District Attorney' or 'we're going to reduce something,' because there was nothing to reduce at that point. . . . As a matter of fact, that has been to the contrary. Mr. Moore has always told Mr. Evans, 'Be sure that you understand you do not have any kind of recommendation, you do not have any kind of deal. You are charged with capital murder and as far as I'm concerned you are facing the death penalty too.' At which point Mr. Evans would always indicate that he understood.

The above detailed account by Guirola indicates that there was no plea bargain agreement between the State and Evans.

(D) Co-indictee Thomas Terrell Evans:

Evans was the final witness to testify. His attorney, Fielding Wright, was in the courtroom on that date, but has since passed away. Evans testified that he did not feel like he ever had any kind of tentative agreement with the district attorney. He also stated that there was no discussion between him and the district attorney's office regarding a possible sentencing recommendation. He testified that there was some discussion about the revocation of his probation.

* * * *


Williams claims he is entitled to an evidentiary hearing because the credibility of Evans has been so undermined that a new trial is required. Bear in mind the following: There are deficiencies in the affidavits of Hamilton and Evans. Hamilton executed an affidavit six years after the fact. Fielding Wright never executed an accompanying affidavit to buttress co-counsel Hamilton's affidavit. Wright and Hamilton could have been called to give evidence at the evidentiary hearing, but they did not testify. That there could be a plea bargain for a five year sentence, when the maximum sentence that a person guilty of accessory after the fact could serve is five years, is indeed suspect. Evans recanted his 1985 recanting affidavit during Williams' 1990 sentencing hearing, stating that he had no deal and that he had told the truth at all times.

Besides, in the 1985 affidavit, Evans did not say he lied or changed his testimony during the 1983 trial because of any "deal." He only said his testimony was "colored." Plea bargains generally should be reduced to writing yet, there is absolutely no written plea bargain agreement. Because of these deficiencies, this Court denies Williams' motion for post-conviction relief. Williams has failed to establish that there existed material perjury, and therefore, he cannot shake this Court's confidence in the outcome of his case.



283 F.3d 272

United States Court of Appeals
For the Fifth Circuit

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.


E. GRADY JOLLY, Circuit Judge:

On January 11, 1983, Jessie Derrell Williams murdered Karen Ann Pierce. The killing was gruesome. Pierce likely was alive when Williams cut out her genitals. He then stabbed her in the chest and slit her throat. Williams does not dispute that he murdered Pierce nor does he dispute the manner in which he committed the murder.

After a trial and conviction for capital murder, a jury sentenced Williams to death. After exhausting his state remedies, Williams sought habeas relief in federal district court. The district court denied his petition. Williams now seeks a certificate of appealability ("COA").

Williams argues that his constitutional rights were violated because (1) there was insufficient evidence presented to support a kidnaping conviction; (2) the prosecutor failed to turn over potentially exculpatory information; and (3) the jury that re-sentenced Williams (after his first sentence — but not his conviction — had been reversed) was not instructed on the elements of kidnaping. To obtain a COA, the defendant must make a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c)(2). Williams has not made such a showing with respect to any of his claims. We therefore deny his application for a COA.


* On the night of January 11, 1983, Pierce went with a date to the Scoreboard Lounge in Gautier, Mississippi. Throughout the night, Pierce consumed beer and drugs. Her date left the Scoreboard early in the evening after she refused to go home with him.

Sometime after her date left and before Williams arrived, Pierce was gang-raped. After the rape, Pierce and the rapists remained at the bar. Toward the end of the evening, Williams, Michael Norwood, and Terrell Evans arrived.

Evans and Pierce began talking, and Evans convinced her to go for a ride with Williams, Norwood, and himself. On the way out of town, they stopped at a convenience store, bought some beer, and continued on to a secluded spot off Interstate 10. They smoked marijuana and drank beer.

Norwood and Williams proceeded to have sex with Pierce a number of times in the bed of the truck. During one of the times with Williams, Pierce asked him to stop. He did not. Pierce then asked to go back to the Scoreboard to pick up some of her things. The men refused to take her back to the bar.

At some point during the night, Pierce and Williams exited the truck. Pierce started to run away from Williams. Williams then tackled her and dragged her into the woods. After waiting awhile, Evans went searching for Williams and Pierce.

Evans saw Williams with a knife standing over Pierce's mangled and cut body. As Evans began to walk away, Williams said "I am not leaving until I'm sure she is dead." Fifteen minutes later, Williams returned to the truck. The three men left the scene.

Ten days later, Pierce's body was found. Her blood contained .07 percent alcohol and traces of drugs. The cause of death was a knife wound. The location of the wound was the area between Pierce's vagina and her rectum, a wound inflicted while Pierce apparently was still alive.


In December 1983, a Mississippi jury found Williams guilty of committing murder during the course of a kidnaping, a capital murder offense in Mississippi. MISS. CODE ANN. § 97-3-19(2)(e). The jury sentenced Williams to death. Williams appealed his conviction and sentence. In this first of several appeals, Williams asserted numerous claims before the Mississippi Supreme Court. On rehearing, the court affirmed his conviction but found reversible error at sentencing when the trial court allowed the prosecutor to comment on the possibility of parole and the lengthy appellate review process. The court remanded the case for a new sentencing hearing. Williams v. State, 544 So.2d 782, 794-802 (Miss.1987).

At this hearing, a second jury specifically found three aggravating circumstances that weighed in favor of the death penalty: (1) that Williams was previously convicted of a felony involving the threat of violence to a person; (2) that the capital offense was committed while Williams was engaged in the commission of a kidnaping; and (3) that the capital murder of Pierce was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel.

The jury also found that there were no mitigating circumstances to outweigh the aggravating circumstances. Accordingly, the second jury, like the first jury, sentenced Williams to death. Williams directly appealed this sentence. The Mississippi Supreme Court rejected all of Williams' claims and affirmed the sentence of death. Williams then sought relief from the United States Supreme Court. The Court denied Williams's petition for writ of certiorari. Williams v. Mississippi, 520 U.S. 1145, 117 S.Ct. 1317, 137 L.Ed.2d 479 (1997).

While Williams was pursuing these extensive direct appeals, he was also attacking his conviction collaterally in the state courts. In January 1990, Williams filed an application with the Mississippi Supreme Court under the Post-Conviction Collateral Relief Act ("PCCRA"). The application sought to set aside his conviction and sentence. Williams argued that the state had violated certain state discovery rules when it withheld information regarding a plea agreement between the state and Evans, the key witness in this case.

The Mississippi Supreme Court denied the application and held that Williams was procedurally barred from making this claim collaterally. Williams v. State, 669 So.2d 44, 52 (Miss.1996). In November 1997, Williams filed an application seeking leave to apply for post-conviction relief a second time, claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. The Mississippi Supreme Court denied the application. Williams v. State, 722 So.2d 447 (Miss.1998).

Williams next turned to the federal courts. In January 1999, Williams filed a petition for relief in the Southern District of Mississippi, in which he raised four claims related to the guilt phase of the trial, six claims related to the sentencing phase of the trial, and an overarching claim of ineffective assistance of counsel. The district court denied relief, and Williams sought a certificate of appealability. The district court denied this request.

Finally, almost eighteen years after the night Williams killed and mutilated Pierce, this case comes before us.


Before turning to the three claims upon which Williams bases his request for a COA, we will first address the relevant standard of review. Williams filed his federal petition on January 8, 1999. The Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) became effective on April 24, 1996. AEDPA therefore governs this case. As we have previously noted, under AEDPA a petitioner is entitled to a COA if he makes a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right. 28 U.S.C. § 2253(c).

To make such a showing the petitioner must demonstrate that "reasonable jurists could debate (or for that matter, agree that) the [habeas] petition should have been resolved in a different manner or that the issues presented were adequate to deserve encouragement to proceed further." Barrientes v. Johnson, 221 F.3d 741, 772 (5th Cir.2000) (quoting Slack v. McDaniel, 529 U.S. 473, 482, 120 S.Ct. 1595, 146 L.Ed.2d 542 (2000)), cert dismissed, 531 U.S. 1134, 121 S.Ct. 902, 148 L.Ed.2d 948 (2001).

Our task in this case is to decide whether the district court's assessment of Williams's constitutional claims is either debatable or wrong. See Slack, 529 U.S. at 485, 120 S.Ct. 1595. The district court's assessment of the constitutional claims of state prisoners in a habeas petition is restricted. Under AEDPA, federal courts must first decide the contours of clearly established federal law as determined by the United States Supreme Court, and second, decide whether the state court's decision was contrary to — or involved an unreasonable application of — that law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1).

Just as Section 2254(d)(1) restricts the district court's assessment of Williams's constitutional claims, it also limits our review in this COA request. We engage in the following "double barreled" reasonableness inquiry with respect to each constitutional claim: Is the district court's determination that the state court did not unreasonably apply clearly established federal law debatable among reasonable jurists? See Barrientes, 221 F.3d at 772 ("[T]he determination of whether a COA should issue must be made by viewing [Williams]'s arguments through the lens of the deferential scheme laid out in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d).").

With this standard of review in mind we will assess, in turn, Williams's claims that his constitutional rights were violated because (1) there was insufficient evidence to support a conviction for kidnaping; (2) the prosecutor failed to turn over potentially exculpatory evidence; and (3) the sentencing jury was not instructed on the elements of kidnaping.

* Both the state trial court and the Mississippi Supreme Court found that there was sufficient evidence to support Williams's conviction of kidnaping. The district court concluded that this determination was not contrary to — and did not involve an unreasonable application of — clearly established federal law. For the following reasons, this holding by the district court is not debatable among reasonable jurists.

Williams's argument to the district court — which he re-asserts in his COA request — was that the only basis for the kidnaping conviction is Evans's testimony that Williams dragged Pierce into the woods. Williams contends that this testimony is unreliable because of Evans's subsequent admission that he was influenced by threats and promises of the district attorney.1 The Supreme Court has clearly established the law with respect to a challenge to the sufficiency of the evidence. In Jackson v. Virginia, the Court stated:

[T]he critical inquiry on a review of the sufficiency of the evidence to support a criminal conviction must be not simply to determine whether the jury was properly instructed, but to determine whether the record evidence could reasonably support a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.... [T]he relevant question is whether, after viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, any rational trier of fact could have found the essential elements beyond a reasonable doubt.

443 U.S. 307, 319, 99 S.Ct. 2781, 61 L.Ed.2d 560 (1979) (citations omitted). The Mississippi Supreme Court correctly identified this federal law as the applicable standard when it evaluated Williams's sufficiency of the evidence claim. Williams v. State, 544 So.2d at 789.

Under Mississippi law, to prove kidnaping the state must show that the defendant (1) forcibly seized and confined or (2) inveigled or kidnaped another, with the intent to cause such a person either (a) to be secretly confined, or (b) to be deprived of liberty or in any way held to service against her will. MISS. CODE ANN. § 97-3-53; Hughes v. State, 401 So.2d 1100, 1105 (Miss.1981).

In this case, the evidence supporting the kidnaping conviction is substantial: First, there is Evans's testimony that he saw Williams drag Pierce into the woods; second, there is the undisputed fact that Pierce was high on drugs and drunk on alcohol on the night in question, which suggests that she might not have knowingly gone along with the men, that is, she was inveigled; third, there is the men's refusal of Pierce's request to go back to the bar and retrieve her things; and finally, there is the abused and mangled condition of Pierce's body, suggesting a struggle.

It may well be true, as Williams argues, that some evidence suggests a finding against kidnaping, including Pierce's voluntary sexual activities with Williams and Norwood and the testimony that Pierce smoked, laughed, and drank with the men prior to her murder. The jury, however, weighed the evidence — as indeed was its prerogative and duty — and found that Williams kidnaped Pierce.

The Mississippi Supreme Court held that, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution, a rational trier of fact could have found all the elements of kidnaping. The district court found that this holding was not an unreasonable application of the Jackson standard. We think that, given the magnitude of the evidence pointing toward kidnaping, this holding by the district court is not debatable among reasonable jurists. We therefore deny Williams's request for a COA on this claim.


The Mississippi Supreme Court found that Williams's due process rights were not violated when the prosecutor and trial judge failed to grant him access to potentially exculpatory information. The district court held that this finding was not contrary to, and did not involve an unreasonable application of, clearly established federal law. We will therefore determine whether this holding of the district court is debatable among reasonable jurists.

It is well-settled law that "suppression by the prosecutor of evidence favorable to an accused ... violates due process where the evidence is material, either to guilt or punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecutor." Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83, 87, 83 S.Ct. 1194, 10 L.Ed.2d 215 (1963). Evidence is material for the purpose of a Brady violation if "there is a reasonable probability that, had the evidence been disclosed to the defense, the result of the proceeding would have been different." United States v. Bagley, 473 U.S. 667, 678, 105 S.Ct. 3375, 87 L.Ed.2d 481 (1985).

Williams contends that Pierce's bruised and beaten body was the result of the gang-rape she endured earlier in the evening. Based on this contention, Williams argues that because the prosecutor and the trial court denied him access to the rapists' statements, he could not develop a defense that showed that the gang-rape — as opposed to a struggle with Williams — caused the horrific condition of Pierce's body.

A majority of the Mississippi Supreme Court failed to see how the jury could have reached a different result, even if Williams had offered this defense. Williams v. State, 544 So.2d at 792 ("[T]here is no probability, much less a reasonable probability as required by law, that this material would have altered the outcome of the trial.").

In his federal habeas petition, Williams requested an evidentiary hearing on the issue of the "materiality" of the gang rape evidence. The district court denied Williams's request, holding that the Mississippi Supreme Court had not unreasonably applied the Brady/Bagley standard.

In evaluating "materiality" under the Brady/Bagley standard, the question is whether there is a reasonable probability that the jury would have determined that the murder did not occur in the course of a kidnaping, if the prosecutor had not suppressed the gang-rape evidence. Aside from the condition of Pierce's body, there is still ample evidence of kidnaping: the evidence showed that Williams tackled Pierce and dragged her into the woods, that Pierce asked to go back to the bar but Williams refused; and that Pierce was high and drunk on the night of her murder.

Thus, we are in full agreement with the trial court, the Mississippi Supreme Court, and the district court that the statements relating to the gang rape are not material under the Brady/Bagley standard; that is, even if the prosecutor had revealed these statements to Williams and Williams had used these statements in his defense, the jury nevertheless would have found him guilty of murder during the course of a kidnaping. Accordingly, we find that the district court's holding that the Mississippi Supreme Court reasonably applied federal law with respect to Williams's Brady claim is not debatable among reasonable jurists.


Finally, we evaluate Williams's claim that his constitutional rights were violated because the jury that re-sentenced him was not instructed on the elements of kidnaping. The Mississippi Supreme Court first found this claim procedurally barred because Williams had failed to make a contemporaneous objection to the jury charge. Williams v. State, 684 So.2d 1179, 1189 (Miss.1996); see also Cole v. State, 525 So.2d 365, 369 (Miss. 1987)(holding that the contemporaneous objection rule applies fully in death penalty cases).

In the alternative, the Mississippi Supreme Court addressed the merits of the claim. It held that Williams was "not entitled to attempt to prove to the [sentencing] jury that he did not commit kidnaping [and to allow Williams to do so], would fly in the face of this Court's prior affirmance of [his] conviction." Id. at 1190.

In denying Williams's federal habeas petition, the district court addressed the Mississippi Supreme Court's ruling on the merits; it did not resolve the claim on the basis of the procedural bar. The district court found that the failure to give a kidnaping instruction during a re-sentencing proceeding involving a new sentencing jury does not amount to a denial of due process.

Consequently, it found that the Mississippi Supreme Court's analogous holding was not an unreasonable application of federal law. We need not address the substance of the claim because it is clear that the Mississippi Supreme Court correctly applied the procedural bar. The district court's decision to deny habeas relief on this claim is therefore not debatable among reasonable jurists.2

A state court may deny relief on procedural grounds and then reach the merits of the claim in the alternative. "[A] state court need not fear reaching the merits of a federal claim in an alternative holding. By its very definition, the adequate and independent state-ground doctrine requires the federal courts to honor a state holding that is a sufficient basis for the state court judgment, even when the state court also relied on federal law." Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 264 n. 10, 109 S.Ct. 1038, 103 L.Ed.2d 308 (1989). In sum, the Mississippi Supreme Court's ruling on the merits need not be addressed if its invocation of the procedural bar was constitutionally appropriate.

The Supreme Court has held that procedural bars are cognizable in habeas cases where (1) there is an independent and adequate state procedural rule and (2) the petitioner does not demonstrate both cause for the default and actual prejudice as a result of the violation of federal law, or demonstrate that a failure to consider the claims will result in a "miscarriage of justice." Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991); Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 86, 97 S.Ct. 2497, 53 L.Ed.2d 594 (1977).

Williams argues that the state procedural bar in this case is inadequate because the Mississippi Supreme Court has applied the bar in death penalty cases in an inconsistent, almost random, fashion. In making this argument, Williams bears the "burden of showing that the state did not strictly or regularly follow a procedural bar around the time of his direct appeal." Stokes v. Anderson, 123 F.3d 858, 860 (5th Cir.1997) (citations omitted); see also Johnson v. Mississippi, 486 U.S. 578, 587, 108 S.Ct. 1981, 100 L.Ed.2d 575 (1988)("A state procedural rule is not adequate unless it is strictly and regularly followed."). Williams must demonstrate that "the state has failed to apply the procedural bar to claims identical or similar to those raised by [Williams] himself." Id. Williams points to one case only to satisfy this burden — Hunter v. State, 684 So.2d 625 (Miss.1996).

In Hunter, the defendant was convicted of murder during the course of a robbery. At the guilt phase of the trial, the trial court failed to instruct the jury on the elements of robbery. The Mississippi Supreme Court found this failure to be a reversible error — despite the fact that the defendant had not contemporaneously objected to the jury charge. Id. at 635.

The defendant's claim in Hunter substantially differs from the claim made here. In Hunter, the failure to instruct occurred at the guilt phase of the trial. It was Hunter's actual conviction for capital murder that was at issue. Here, Williams had already been convicted of murder during the course of a kidnaping — neither the fact of his conviction nor his guilt was in question.

On the other hand, the sentencing jury's charge was to find — and then weigh — statutorily defined aggravating and mitigating circumstances. See MISS. CODE ANN. § 99-19-101. In Mississippi, one of the aggravating circumstances (i.e., aggravators) is kidnaping. However, unlike a conviction determination, the sentencing jury is not required to focus on each element of kidnaping, but instead on weighing the aggravated nature of the kidnaping against the mitigators. Compare MISS. CODE ANN. § 97-3-53 (defining the elements of kidnaping for the purpose of a kidnaping conviction) with MISS. CODE ANN. § 99-19-101 (listing kidnaping in a series of possible aggravating circumstances); see also Conley v. State, 790 So.2d 773, 794 (Miss.2001)(interpreting the elements of kidnaping for a kidnaping conviction). In sum, the two cases are rationally distinguishable and the Mississippi Supreme Court's applying the procedural bar in Williams and not in Hunter is neither random nor arbitrary. Hunter is therefore inapt, and the procedural bar is adequate.

Given the procedural bar, for us to reach the merits of the claim, Williams must show either (1) that there was cause for his failure to object and prejudice from the failure to consider the alleged violation of federal law or (2) that there was a miscarriage of justice when the state court failed to consider the merits of the claim. See Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 111 S.Ct. 2546, 115 L.Ed.2d 640 (1991).

Williams does not give any reason for his failure to object to the sentencing jury charge. There is no cause. Furthermore, the failure to instruct did not prejudice Williams or result in a miscarriage of justice.

At the sentencing proceeding, the parties vigorously litigated the kidnaping aggravator. Both parties introduced evidence that went straight to the question of whether Williams dragged Pierce into the woods against her will. It is true that the prosecutor introduced the kidnaping conviction — admittedly powerful evidence for the state's case at the sentencing. The trial court nevertheless required the sentencing jury to find the kidnaping aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt.3 The evidence is more than ample to support the jury's finding. Consequently, we find no prejudice or miscarriage of justice here.

Because Williams has not shown (1) that the procedural bar was inadequate, or (2) that there is a reason for his failure to object and further that the failure to object resulted in actual prejudice, or (3) that the failure to consider these claims resulted in a miscarriage of justice, we hold that the district court's decision denying relief on this claim is not debatable among reasonable jurists. We therefore deny Williams's request for a COA on this claim.


In sum, we hold that Williams has not made a substantial showing of the denial of a constitutional right with respect to any of his claims. Williams has not substantiated his claims that (1) there was insufficient evidence to support the kidnaping conviction; (2) he was entitled to have the prosecutor turn over evidence relating to Pierce's gang-rape; and (3) he was entitled to have the sentencing jury instructed on the elements of kidnaping. Williams's request for a certificate of appealability on each of these claims is





Evans recanted the testimony he gave in Williams's first trial in a 1985 sworn affidavit. In 1990, Evans recanted this recantation. In evaluating the impact of these recantations, the Mississippi Supreme Court found that: Evans in his 1985 recantation affidavit never stated that he perjured his testimony during the 1983 trial. Nor does Evans claim to have changed his testimony due to any "deal." He merely states that his testimony was "colored." Later, in the 1990 sentencing hearing Evans returned to his 1983 trial testimony stating that he had no deal with the prosecution before December of 1983, and that he told the truth back then during the original trial.... Because of these facts, not only is the 1985 recanting testimony of Evans suspicious, it appears untruthful. We hold that it does not undermine the original verdict against Williams

Williams v. State, 669 So.2d at 54. Williams failed to challenge this determination by the Mississippi Supreme Court in his federal habeas petition. Williams has never asserted, much less proved, that Evans gave perjured testimony. The district court, therefore, did not err in considering Evans's original testimony when deciding whether the Mississippi Supreme Court unreasonably applied the relevant standard to Williams's sufficiency of the evidence claim.


With respect to each claim in a COA request, we are, in effect, evaluating the final decision of the district court denying the habeas petition — asking whether this decision itself is debatable among reasonable jurists


Williams also argues that the trial court invoked the principles of collateral estoppel at sentencing and that such a use of estoppel is unconstitutional. The courts are split on the question of whether the use of collateral estoppel against a criminal defendant comports with the right to a jury trialSee United States v. Gallardo-Mendez, 150 F.3d 1240, 1242 n. 3 (10th Cir.1998)("There is a clear split among our sister circuits that have ruled on the question of whether the government may use the doctrine of collateral estoppel to preclude a criminal defendant from raising an issue adjudicated in a prior criminal proceeding."). That being said, this case does not involve the application of collateral estoppel against Williams. The trial court did not find the kidnaping aggravator — as a matter of law — based on the kidnaping conviction.


Jessie Derrell Williams



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