Williams v. Filson

Decision Date09 November 2018
Docket NumberNo. 13-99002, No. 17-71510, No. 17-15768,13-99002
Parties Cary Wallace WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Timothy FILSON, Warden; Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Respondents-Appellees. Cary Wallace Williams, Petitioner-Appellant, v. Timothy Filson, Warden; Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Respondents-Appellees. Cary Wallace Williams, Petitioner, v. Timothy Filson, Warden; Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General of the State of Nevada, Respondents.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit

908 F.3d 546

Cary Wallace WILLIAMS, Petitioner-Appellant,
Timothy FILSON, Warden; Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Respondents-Appellees.

Cary Wallace Williams, Petitioner-Appellant,
Timothy Filson, Warden; Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General, Respondents-Appellees.

Cary Wallace Williams, Petitioner,
Timothy Filson, Warden; Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General of the State of Nevada, Respondents.

No. 13-99002
No. 17-15768
No. 17-71510

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

Argued and Submitted September 20, 2017 San Francisco, California
Filed November 9, 2018

908 F.3d 552

Michael Pescetta (argued), Randolph M. Fiedler, and Albert Sieber, Assistant Federal Public Defenders; Rene L. Valladares, Federal Public Defender; Office of the Federal Public Defender, Las Vegas, Nevada; for Petitioner-Appellant.

Victor-Hugo Schulze II (argued), Senior Attorney General; Adam Paul Laxalt, Attorney General; Office of the Attorney General, Las Vegas, Nevada; for Respondents-Appellees.

Application to File Second or Successive Petition Under 28 U.S.C. § 2254

Before: Marsha S. Berzon, Paul J. Watford, and John B. Owens, Circuit Judges.


908 F.3d 553

Cary Williams was sentenced to death for the murder of Katherine Carlson in 1983. This is the appeal from the district court's denial of his first federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus. In the main appeal, we address the three issues on which the district court granted a certificate of appealability, as well as two uncertified issues that Williams raised in his opening brief. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for an evidentiary hearing on one of Williams' penalty-phase ineffective assistance of counsel claims.

Williams has also filed a separate appeal from the district court's denial of his motion for relief under Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. We affirm the denial of Williams' Rule 60(b) motion.

I. Background

A. Conviction and Sentence

Many of the basic facts surrounding the murder of Ms. Carlson are no longer subject to reasonable dispute. Williams pleaded guilty to her murder during the guilt phase of the trial, and during the penalty phase he took the stand and described in detail how he committed the offense.

Williams grew up in the Los Angeles area but moved to Reno, Nevada, in February 1982, when he was 18 years old, both to escape the violence prevalent in his inner-city neighborhood and to pursue his interest in becoming a professional boxer. He moved in with his boxing coach, who lived in a residential community called Horizon Hills. Williams held a job as a maintenance worker in Horizon Hills, a position he used to burglarize several homes in the community while the owners were away during the day.

In June 1982, Ms. Carlson and her husband were a young couple living in Horizon Hills a few houses down the street from where Williams lived. Ms. Carlson worked as a nurse, her husband as a firefighter. Ms. Carlson was eight months pregnant at the time, expecting the couple's first child.

On the night of June 27, 1982, Williams decided to burglarize the Carlsons' home. He thought they had left town on vacation, as the camper he had seen them packing earlier in the day was no longer parked outside their home. But Ms. Carlson was home alone, asleep in her bedroom.

When Williams broke into the Carlsons' home that night, he saw a woman's purse on the kitchen counter, which led him to take a large butcher knife from a drawer in the kitchen. He then walked through the house, room to room, looking for things to steal. When he reached the master bedroom, he turned on the lights and startled

908 F.3d 554

Ms. Carlson. She recognized Williams and said, "Oh, my God, you're the kid from down the street." According to Williams, Ms. Carlson then lunged toward a bedside dresser, and a struggle between them ensued as he tried to prevent her from reaching into one of the drawers. Williams admitted stabbing Ms. Carlson to death during the course of that struggle with the butcher knife he had taken from the kitchen. An autopsy revealed that Ms. Carlson suffered 38 stab wounds in all, three of which were fatal. Her unborn child died due to lack of oxygen after Ms. Carlson's death.

After killing Ms. Carlson, Williams took money, jewelry, a camera, and a .22 caliber pistol from her home.

The next day, Williams fled to Los Angeles by bus. Within a week, police in Reno had obtained a warrant for Williams' arrest, tipped off by Williams' efforts to pawn some of the jewelry he stole from the Carlsons' home. Williams learned of the warrant, surrendered to authorities in Los Angeles, and was eventually extradited to Reno. When questioned by the police in Reno, Williams confessed to the burglary and to having murdered Ms. Carlson during the course of the burglary.

In August 1982, the State of Nevada charged Williams with one count of murder for the death of Ms. Carlson, one count of manslaughter for the death of her unborn child, and one count of burglary. The case received widespread publicity throughout Washoe County, where Reno is located. The State sought the death penalty.

Trial commenced in December 1982. On the first day of jury selection, Williams pleaded guilty to the burglary charge. A week later, after a jury had been empaneled and testimony had begun, Williams pleaded guilty to the murder and manslaughter charges as well. Under Nevada law at the time, Williams' guilty plea to capital murder meant that the penalty phase of his trial would be held before a three-judge sentencing panel rather than a jury. Williams' trial counsel believed she had a better chance of persuading judges rather than jurors to spare Williams' life, given the intense public hostility to Williams in Washoe County at the time.

The penalty-phase hearing took place over three days in January 1983. The State portrayed Williams as a depraved individual whose criminal conduct escalated from a series of home burglaries to "the most brutal, the most sadistic and most merciless murder ever in the history of Washoe County." The State also focused attention on Williams' victims, introducing a photograph of a visibly pregnant Ms. Carlson two weeks before she was killed. Mr. Carlson offered detailed and emotional testimony about discovering his wife's body after the murder. The State concluded by calling a forensic pathologist who testified that there was "no question this woman was tortured before she was murdered."

Williams' mitigation case centered on the testimony of friends and relatives who described his redeeming qualities, although several of the family members who testified seemed to be unaware of his guilty plea or the details of the crime. The maternal figures in Williams' life described him as a caring and dutiful child, and his younger sisters explained how he had always cared for them. In addition to this character evidence, Williams' trial counsel pointed to hardships in Williams' life, including the death of his mother, his being bounced around different homes and schools, and his growing up in the dangerous environment of South-Central Los Angeles. Williams also testified, recounting his version of events and expressing remorse for what had happened.

908 F.3d 555

At the conclusion of the hearing, the three-judge panel sentenced Williams to death. The panel found four statutory aggravating circumstances: (1) the murder was committed during the commission of a burglary; (2) the murder was committed during the course of a robbery with the use of a deadly weapon; (3) the murder was committed to avoid or prevent Williams' lawful arrest for the burglary; and (4) the murder involved torture and depravity of mind. The panel found one statutory mitigating circumstance: the fact that Williams was only 19 at the time of the offense. The panel concluded that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances and that death was the appropriate punishment.

B. Direct Appeal and State Post-Conviction Review

This case has a lengthy history in state court, spanning almost 25 years. In addition to pursuing a direct appeal, Williams filed a total of six petitions seeking post-conviction relief in state court, the last of which the Nevada Supreme Court denied in 2007. We provide only a brief overview of those proceedings here.

Williams filed a direct appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court shortly after he was sentenced to death in 1983. While his direct appeal was pending, he filed his first state petition for post-conviction relief, in which he alleged that his trial counsel had rendered ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth Amendment. The Nevada Supreme Court held Williams' direct appeal in abeyance while he litigated his petition for post-conviction relief. The state trial court held an evidentiary hearing on Williams' ineffective assistance of counsel claim in 1984, but ultimately denied relief. Williams appealed that ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court. In 1987, the Nevada Supreme Court affirmed Williams' convictions and sentence on direct appeal, and affirmed the...

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