Williams v. Workman

Decision Date07 March 2011
Docket NumberCase No. 02-CV-0377-JHP-FHM
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Oklahoma

This matter comes before the Court on a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. #25) filed by Oklahoma death row inmate Sterling B. Williams, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Petitioner, who appears through counsel, challenges his conviction and sentencing in Tulsa County District Court Case No. CF-97-2385. Respondent filed a response to the Petition denying its allegations (Dkt. #31), Petitioner filed an Amendment to his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. #37), Respondent filed a Response to Petitioner's Amendment to his Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus (Dkt. #41) and Petitioner filed a Reply (Dkt. #48). For the reasons discussed below, the Court finds the Petition should be denied.

The Court has reviewed: (1) the Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus, the Response to the Petition, the Amendment to the Petition, the Response to the Amendment and the Reply; (2) transcripts of the motion hearings held on August 18 and October 6, 1997, December 28, 1998, and April 15, 1999; (3) transcript of jury trial proceedings (including voir dire, and first and second stage proceedings), held April 19-23, 26-28, 1999 (eight volumes) (hereinafter referred to as "Tr. ____"); (4) all documents and exhibits (photographs of certain items of physical evidence submitted in lieu of actual items) admitted in jury trial proceedings; (5) transcript of thesentencing proceedings held on May 10, 1999; (6) Original Record (O.R.) in Tulsa County Case No. CF-97-2385; and (7) all other records before the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals which were transmitted to this Court and certified by the parties.


Petitioner was convicted of the first-degree murder of LeAnna Hand and of the assault and battery with intent to kill on her roommate Elizabeth Hill. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254(e)(1), the historical facts as found by the state court are presumed correct. In Petitioner's state court direct appeal, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals adopted the following facts:

In May of 1997, [Williams] worked as an independent contractor for Willard Enterprises Colorado Choice Meat Company. He had sold Hand meat on prior occasions. On May 14, 1997, [Williams] phoned Hand and said he had some free meat he was going to give away and that he would bring it by her home. At approximately 11:00 a.m., Hill was in her room dressing when she heard a knock at the front door. A moment later, she heard the answering machine on the telephone click on. Hill picked up the phone in her bedroom and discovered Hand's mother on the line. Hill spoke for just a moment, then she heard Hand call her name from the other room. She opened her bedroom door and saw Hand struggling with [Williams]. Hill heard Hand fall to the floor and saw [Williams] standing over her body. Hill immediately shut her bedroom door and locked it. She tried to call 9-1-1 but could not get an open phone line. [Williams] then kicked down her bedroom door and knocked the phone out of her hand. He told Hill to be quiet. Instead, she screamed and tried to run out of the room. She escaped from her room, but [Williams] tackled her in the hallway. He threw her to the ground, climbed on top of her, and put both hands around her neck. Despite [Williams]'s attempts to choke Hill, she fought back and was able to free herself and run out of the front door of the duplex.

Hill was running to a neighbor's home when the manager of a nearby apartment complex, Carol Gorman, saw her and waved her over. Gorman observed bloody hand prints on Hill's neck. Meanwhile, as soon as Hill ran out of the duplex, [Williams] also left. He walked to his car parked in the driveway of the duplex and drove away.

The police arrived at the scene to find Hand dead in her living room. She had suffered a seven inch stab wound to her chest. The knife cut through her ribs, through a portion of her left lung, completely through her heart and into her right lung. The knife was still in her body, tangled in her clothes. Near the victim the police found a box from the Colorado Choice Meat Company, a roll of duct tape, a baseball cap with the company logo, and a pair of gloves. Nothing was missing from the duplex, including cash Hill had left on her bed.

On the same day, [Williams] phoned his employer and said he had just killed a girl and had to go to Chicago to hide out. [Williams] withdrew money from his back [sic] account. [Williams] also phoned his girlfriend, Consuela Drew, and told her he was going to jail. An all points bulletin was issued containing a description of [Williams]'s car. The next day, May 15, 1997, Ms. Drew again spoke with [Williams] and told him to turn himself in to the police. That same day [Williams] was stopped by authorities in Alexandria, Louisiana. He had a serious cut to the index finger on his left hand, and scratches on his neck, face and chest. [Williams] cooperated with the officers and asked that the $121 dollars taken from him be given to his children.

A t-shirt retrieved from [Williams] later tested positive for Hand's DNA. The knife found at the murder scene was found to match a butcher block set of knives in [Williams]'s home.

At trial, the defense offered no evidence during the guilt stage. During the second stage of trial, the State presented evidence to support four aggravating circumstances. This evidence consisted of two Judgment and Commitment Orders from the State of Arkansas indicating [Williams]'s prior convictions for rape, kidnapping, burglary, and first degree battery. The State's evidence also showed that on separate occasions, [Williams] had attacked girlfriend, Yolanda Cunningham; broken into the home of Mike Applebury and attacked him with a baseball bat; and made obscene threatening phone calls to Michelle Sauser.

During the second stage, the defense argued [Williams] suffered from several mental health difficulties, including bipolar disorder and a sexual disorder. Expert witness testimony was offered to show that [Williams]'s family had a history of severe substance abuse and poor anger control. Evidence also showed [Williams] suffered from childhood physical abuse at the hands of his father. Expert witness testimony showed [Williams] went to Hand's home intending only to rape her, not kill her, and that his mental disorders caused him to panic when Hand resisted and he stabbed her only intending to silence her.

Williams v. State, 22 P.3d 702, 708-09 (Okla. Crim. App. 2001).


Petitioner, Sterling Bernard Williams, was tried by jury and convicted of First Degree Murder (Count I) and Assault and Battery with Intent to Kill, After Former Conviction of Two Felonies (Count II), in Case No. CF-97-2385, in the District Court of Tulsa County. At the conclusion of the sentencing stage, in Count I, the jury found the existence of four (4) aggravating circumstances and recommended the punishment of death. In Count II, the jury recommended as punishment ninety-nine (99) years imprisonment. On May 10, 1999, the trial court sentenced Petitioner to death on the murder conviction and to ninety-nine (99) years imprisonment on the assault and battery conviction.

Petitioner filed a direct appeal of his convictions and sentences to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ("OCCA") in Case No. D-99-654. The OCCA rejected Petitioner's alleged errors by affirming the convictions and sentences on both counts. Williams, 22 P.3d at 733. The OCCA denied rehearing on May 17, 2001.

Petitioner sought post-conviction relief from the OCCA in Case No. PCD-2000-1650, but all requested relief was denied on September 4, 2001, in a published opinion. Williams v. State, 31 P.3d 1046 (Okla. Crim. App. 2001) ("Williams (PC)"). On January 7, 2002, the United States Supreme Court rejected Petitioner's petition for writ of certiorari. Williams v. Oklahoma, 534 U.S. 1092 (2002).

Petitioner filed a second application for post-conviction relief from the OCCA in Case No. PCD-2002-1067, but all requested relief was denied on January 10, 2003 in an unpublished opinion.

Petitioner initiated the instant habeas corpus proceedings on May 13, 2002. He claims constitutional violations arising from the trial court's refusal to instruct on second-degree murder and/or first-degree manslaughter, error in the trial court's dismissal of a potential juror for cause, errors in the second stage jury instructions, ineffective assistance of trial counsel, the trial court's evidentiary, instructional and procedural errors, use of prior felony convictions to support more than one aggravator, insufficient evidence to support the "great risk of death to more than one person" aggravator, prosecutorial misconduct, improper victim impact evidence, unconstitutional application of continuing threat aggravator, ineffective assistance of appellate counsel, improper instruction on continuing threat aggravator, systematic risk of error in Oklahoma, cumulative errors, and improper weighing of aggravating and mitigating circumstances by the appellate court.


Federal habeas corpus relief is generally not available to a state prisoner unless all state court remedies have been exhausted prior to the filing of the petition. 28 U.S.C. § 2254(b). Harris v. Champion, 15 F.3d 1538, 1554 (10th Cir. 1994). See also Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S. 72, 80-81 (1977) (reviewing history of exhaustion requirement). In every habeas case, the court must first consider exhaustion. Harris, 15 F.3d at 1554. "[I]n a federal system, the States should have the first opportunity to address and correct alleged violations of state prisoner's federal rights." Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U.S. 722, 731 (1991). The Supreme Court has long held that a federal habeas petitioner's claims should be...

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