Wilson v. State, 2007-DP-01218-SCT.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Mississippi
Citation21 So.3d 572
Docket NumberNo. 2007-DP-01218-SCT.,2007-DP-01218-SCT.
PartiesWilliam Matthew WILSON a/k/a Willie v. STATE of Mississippi.
Decision Date24 September 2009
21 So.3d 572
William Matthew WILSON a/k/a Willie
STATE of Mississippi.
No. 2007-DP-01218-SCT.
Supreme Court of Mississippi.
September 24, 2009.
Rehearing Denied December 3, 2009.

[21 So.3d 574]

Mississippi Office of Capital Defense Counsel by Andre De Gruy, attorney for appellant.

Office of the Attorney General by Pat McNamara, Marvin L. White, Jr., attorneys for appellee.


CARLSON, Presiding Justice, for the Court.

¶ 1. After being indicted by a Lee County grand jury on the charges of capital murder and felonious child abuse, William Matthew Wilson pleaded guilty in Lee County Circuit Court to both counts in the indictment. Wilson also waived a sentencing hearing before a jury; thus, after a sentencing hearing before the trial judge, Wilson was sentenced to death by lethal injection for capital murder, and to serve a twenty-year sentence for felonious child abuse. Wilson has appealed, attacking the sentence of death imposed pursuant to his conviction for capital murder. Finding no error, we affirm.


¶ 2. On April 29, 2005, two-year-old Malorie Conlee was airlifted from her home and transported to North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, where she subsequently was pronounced dead due to a closed head injury. Malorie had been living in a mobile home in the Mooreville area with her mother, Augustina Conlee1 and her mother's boyfriend, William Matthew Wilson. At the hospital, Wilson first told law enforcement officials that Malorie had sustained the head injury when his motorcycle fell on her. The examining physician at North Mississippi Medical Center determined that the injuries were more consistent with child abuse.

¶ 3. Wilson subsequently gave the following account of Malorie's symptoms and behavior to law enforcement officials. Wilson stated that on the previous day, Malorie had been making irregular, convulsive movements and had exhibited a soft spot on her head that he described as "mushy." He also stated that only one of Malorie's eyes would dilate when exposed to a flashlight. Wilson admitted that he and Augustina had failed to seek medical attention for Malorie due to his fear that bruising he had inflicted on Malorie's cheeks would be discovered. He further stated that Malorie had been vomiting that evening. When asked about the burns on Malorie's feet, Wilson stated that these burns had been sustained previously when

21 So.3d 575

Malorie had been left unattended in the bathtub. Wilson gave essentially this same account to law enforcement officials when interviewed again at the Lee County Sheriff's Office. Later, in yet another interview, after being confronted with the fact that a search of the premises revealed that the motorcycle appeared to be basically untouched and covered in cobwebs, Wilson told law enforcement officials that Malorie's head injury had been sustained after he had dropped her on the kitchen floor. Prior to giving each of these statements, Wilson was given Miranda warnings.2

¶ 4. In an interview with law enforcement officials, Conlee admitted that Wilson had told her he had hit Malorie in the head and had choked her. In a subsequent interview, Wilson confessed that he had hit Malorie in the head with his fist three times. According to Wilson, Malorie was then put to bed on a pallet on the floor, where Wilson reported she had made irregular movements with her arms, and that she had cried and moaned. Wilson further stated that he had gone to sleep and, upon waking in the early morning hours of April 29, 2005, he had discovered that Malorie was unresponsive and blue in color, and that he had finally called 911.

¶ 5. On July 19, 2005, Wilson was indicted by the Lee County Grand Jury for capital murder while engaged in the commission of felonious abuse of a child committed on or about April 29, 2005 (Count I)3, and felonious child abuse of a child committed on or about January 19, 2005 (Count II).4 Prior to the trial date, Wilson entered into a plea agreement with the prosecution whereby the State, in exchange for guilty pleas from Wilson on both counts in the indictment, would recommend a life sentence without parole as to Count I, in lieu of the death penalty, and a sentence of twenty years as to Count II, with the second sentence to run consecutively with the first sentence.

¶ 6. On March 5, 2007, the Circuit Court of Lee County, Judge Thomas J. Gardner, III presiding, conducted a plea hearing. During the plea colloquy, Wilson expressed dissatisfaction with his appointed counsel. As a result, the trial judge refused to accept his pleas of guilty, and Wilson was returned to the custody of the Lee County Sheriff.

¶ 7. On May 24, 2007, Judge Gardner reconvened court to consider Wilson's renewed interest in entering guilty pleas on both counts in the indictment. The prosecution informed the trial court and Wilson (and Wilson's counsel) that the State had withdrawn its previous sentencing recommendation of life without parole plus twenty years, and that the State would once again seek the death penalty on the capital murder charge. During this second guilty plea colloquy, Wilson informed the trial court that he was satisfied with the performance of his appointed counsel. After the trial court conducted an extensive examination of Wilson regarding the voluntariness of his guilty pleas, the pleas were accepted on both counts of the indictment, and a sentencing hearing was scheduled for May 29, 2007. The sentencing phase was conducted without a jury as Wilson previously had waived his right to a jury, both orally and in writing. The prosecution and the defense presented witnesses and arguments to the court during the sentencing proceedings. At the conclusion of the sentencing hearing, Judge Gardner

21 So.3d 576

entered a sentencing order on May 30, 2007.

¶ 8. The trial judge found beyond a reasonable doubt that, pursuant to Mississippi Code Section 99-19-101(7), Wilson killed Malorie Conlee, based on the fact that Wilson confessed to having done so and based upon the testimony of the pathologist, Dr. Hayne. Moreover, the trial judge found beyond a reasonable doubt that the following aggravating circumstances existed: (1) the killing of Malorie Conlee was committed while in the commission of felonious child abuse; (2) the capital offense was especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel due to the child's age, small stature, inability to defend herself, nature of the injuries inflicted by Wilson, and the amount of time in which Malorie suffered due to the failure of Wilson and Malorie's mother to seek medical treatment for her. See Miss.Code Ann. §§ 99-19-101(5)(d), 99-19-101(5)(h) (Rev.2007). The trial judge found the following mitigating factors: (1) the defendant had no significant criminal history, and (2) the defendant was twenty-four years old at the time of the occurrence. See Miss.Code Ann. §§ 99-19-101(6)(a), 99-19-101(6)(g) (Rev.2007). The trial court found that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances; thus, the trial court imposed a sentence of death for the capital murder conviction. On June 7, 2007, Wilson filed a post-trial "Motion for Judgment of Acquittal JNOV as to Sentence or in the Alternative for a New Penalty Phase Trial." The trial court denied Wilson's motion on June 18, 2007.


¶ 9. This Court reviews capital murder cases in which the defendant has been sentenced to death with "heightened scrutiny." Loden v. State, 971 So.2d 548, 562 (Miss.2007) (citing Balfour v. State, 598 So.2d 731, 739 (Miss.1992)). "Under this method of review, all genuine doubts are to be resolved in favor of the accused because `what may be harmless error in a case with less at stake becomes reversible error when the penalty is death.'" Walker v. State, 913 So.2d 198, 216 (Miss.2005) (quoting Irving v. State, 361 So.2d 1360, 1363 (Miss.1978)). See also Fisher v. State, 481 So.2d 203, 211 (Miss.1985).

¶ 10. Wilson raises five assignments of error for this Court's review: (1) whether the trial court abused its discretion and arbitrarily refused to accept the first guilty plea on March 5, 2007, thus preventing Wilson from accepting the plea-bargain agreement for life imprisonment, or in the alternative, Wilson was denied effective assistance of counsel that resulted in his loss of the enforcement of the original plea-bargain agreement, all in violation of the state and federal constitutions; (2) whether the prosecution committed misconduct by improperly cross-examining a mitigation witness, thus depriving Wilson of a fundamentally fair sentencing hearing; (3) whether the admission of testimony by Dr. Hayne was improper and a result of ineffective assistance of counsel; (4) whether the victim impact testimony was improper and in violation of Wilson's constitutional rights; and (5) whether cumulative error requires reversal of Wilson's conviction and death sentence.

¶ 11. Wilson's Brief of Appellant and Reply Brief of Appellant make it clear that Wilson is attacking on direct appeal only the death sentence imposed upon him in Count I of the indictment. Furthermore, Wilson's counsel, at oral argument, emphasized that the twenty-year sentence imposed in Count II was not before the Court in this appeal. Thus, we focus our attention today on the sentence of death imposed upon Wilson.

21 So.3d 577


¶ 12. Wilson argues that the trial court arbitrarily rejected his guilty plea due to his having expressed dissatisfaction with his appointed counsel. In the alternative, Wilson contends that his trial counsel rendered ineffective assistance due to lack of communication between attorney and client, causing Wilson to lose the opportunity to be sentenced to life...

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