Death row inmate who served as own lawyer seeks retrial

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (AP) — A Tennessee man on death row who was forced to act as his own attorney is seeking a new trial, alleging multiple violations of his constitutional rights. .

Howard Willis was sentenced to death in 2010 for the murder of 17-year-old newlyweds Adam Chrismer, 17, and Samantha Lemming Chrismer, 16, in Chickamauga, Georgia. The boy’s head and hands were found by fishermen in Lake Boone in northeastern Tennessee in October 2002. The bodies of two of his teens were found days later in a warehouse rented by Willis’ mother in the city of Johnson.

Willis accused him of sowing the seeds of friction with his lawyers to avoid trial, and burned nine lawyers to the ground before ruling that the judge had to represent himself. lawyers say the characterization is unfair.

Representing himself at the trial, Willis claimed he was set up and had no evidence linking him to the murder weapon.

Willis, in his bid for the new trial, argues that the original trial was unfair. because he was forced to act as his own attorney and was given insufficient resources to defend himself, among other allegations.

Many of the lawyers abandoned the case for reasons unrelated to Willis, such as conflicts of interest and the need to care for a seriously ill relative.

As for the other attorneys, Willis had legitimate complaints about their work, his new petition claims. I spent only nine hours reading the documentary evidence for this case.

“It is inconvenient to have to replace a lawyer, but if there are valid complaints about the lawyer’s performance, citizens have the right to raise those issues, especially if they are facing the death penalty. The right to consult an attorney should be protected.” The petition reads:

In response, state attorneys said many of Willis’ claims had already been considered in other courts and were found to be baseless.

“The record clearly shows that petitioner violated the dignity of the court by attempting to manipulate it to delay or obstruct trial,” the state’s response said. the state would argue that it was the direct result of his own calculated actions.”

When the Chrismers were murdered in 2002, Willis was a truck driver in Georgia who was being held in custody after being arrested in New York for smuggling cocaine from Texas to Brooklyn.

Willis was already a suspect in the teens’ deaths when he was arrested for bail violations in Tennessee. . Law enforcement tried to get around that by working with Wills’ ex-wife to seek a confession in a taped prison conversation.

Willis’ belief that the confession was illegally obtained and should have been dismissed was a major point of contention with his lawyers. For example, I never called his New York attorney to testify.

A confrontation between Willis and his lawyer led several to drop the lawsuit. In 2008, a trial judge ruled that Willis had lost his right to counsel. Willis appealed but lost. According to his petition, he had only a few months to prepare his defense after his appeal was closed. That preparation was also seriously hampered by the fact that he was imprisoned. I had to let it come.

Willis asked the court to fund three expert witnesses he wanted to testify at his trial. He wanted to question the prosecution’s theory that the Chrismers were killed at Willis’ mother’s home, and to refute testimony from state entomologists that the flies found in the storage unit matched those found in the home. He solicited money from false confession experts, crime scene experts, and entomologists.

Ultimately, the judge only approved funding for an entomologist, who was not provided with the same raw data used by state experts. This fact was used to make him look unreliable at trial, the petition says. Meanwhile, state witnesses included a forensic anthropologist, a crime scene analyst from both the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and a coroner.

A multi-day hearing on Willis’ petition for post-conviction relief is scheduled to begin Monday at the Washington County Criminal Court in Jonesborough.