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Williams v. Davis

August 29, 2002

DARNELL WILLIAMS, PETITIONER-APPELLANT,
v.
CECIL DAVIS, SUPERINTENDENT, INDIANA STATE PRISON, RESPONDENT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. 99 C 570--Allen Sharp, Judge.

Before Coffey, Kanne, and Diane P. Wood, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kanne, Circuit Judge

ARGUED JULY 23, 2002

A jury convicted Petitioner Darnell Williams of two counts of felony murder in Indiana state court, and the trial judge sentenced him to death. After exhausting his state remedies, Williams filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Northern District of Indiana, which the district court denied. Williams now appeals, claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel. For the following reasons, we affirm.

I. History

John and Henrietta Rease, an elderly couple who lived in Gary, Indiana, cared for, fed, and housed foster children at their home in exchange for $160 per month per child. One such foster child was Gregory Rouster, who lived with the Reases from November 1985 until his eighteenth birthday on February 7, 1986. Four months later, the Reases were robbed and shot to death in their home. Police immediately arrested Rouster and his three friends, Darnell Williams, Theresa Newsome, and Edwin Taylor (another foster child living with the Reases), and charged them each with two counts of felony murder. See IND. CODE § 35-42-1-1(2). *fn1 Further, the State sought the death penalty against Williams and Rouster pursuant to Indiana's death penalty statute, IND. CODE § 35-50-2-9.

A. Trial

At Williams' joint trial with Rouster and Newsome, *fn2 the following evidence was adduced: On the night of August 12, 1986, Williams, Rouster, Newsome, and Kim Toney went to the Reases' house to collect money that Rouster believed the Reases owed to him. Derrick Bryant, a seventeen-year-old foster child who lived with the Reases at the time that the crimes were committed, testified that when Williams and Rouster got to the house, they went into a back room with Henrietta Rease and got into an argument with her about whether the Reases owed Rouster money. After Henrietta Rease asked Rouster to leave the house, Bryant heard Williams say, "I won't let her, she's doing nothing but gypping [Rouster] out of the money." Bryant then heard a series of gunshots and went upstairs into the attic to hide.

While in the attic, Bryant heard a conversation take place between Williams, Rouster, and Taylor, whereby Williams and Rouster agreed to rob the Reases at gunpoint. Bryant then ran downstairs to hide behind a stairway and heard Williams and Rouster bring the Reases into the bedroom, at which point Henrietta Rease told Williams not to hit John Rease. Next, Bryant heard Williams state, "it's your time" and heard Rouster reply, "waste them." Bryant then heard a second series of gunshots coming from the bedroom, at which point he ran out of the house and flagged down a police car.

Several neighborhood teenagers, such as Eugene Powell, Jamal Pope, Jimmy Gray, and Demond Ligon, testified about the events that they witnessed that night and corroborated Bryant's testimony regarding two series of gunshots coming from the Reases' house shortly after Williams and Rouster entered the house. Moreover, the teenagers testified about a third series of gunshots that came from the Reases' house when Rouster and Newsome were in the Reases' front yard, but while Williams presumably was still inside of the house. *fn3 The teenagers' testimony was corroborated by Lelia Gray, Jimmy Gray's mother, who explained that she saw Williams and Rouster enter the Reases' house, heard two series of gunshots, and also heard a third series of gunshots coming from the Reases' house while Rouster and Newsome were outside.

Lake County crime technician Ronald Lach searched the Reases' house for evidence later that night and discovered the Reases' bodies lying on the bedroom floor. Lach also found several live .30 caliber cartridges in the Reases' bedroom as well as several fired .22 caliber and .32 caliber shells. Finally, he found a .22 caliber pistol in the bedroom and a .32 caliber pistol in the Reases' backyard that were later determined to have fired the gunshots that killed the Reases.

Lake County Police Officer Timothy Lukasik arrested Williams that same night. At that time, Williams had a black leather pouch with him that contained, among other things, $232.00 in cash, a wallet with no money in it, and a .30 caliber live round of ammunition. *fn4 Williams was then taken to the Gary Police Department, where crime technician Lach testified that he "observed" Williams' clothing but did not find any blood on it. Williams was detained at the Gary City Jail for two days, after which he was transferred to the Lake County Jail. On August 15, 1986, Williams' clothing was confiscated at the Lake County Jail and stored in an evidence lab, and he was issued a jail uniform. Lake County Police Officer Bill Wegman testified that approximately one week later, he gathered Williams' clothing from the evidence lab, placed it in a plastic bag, and brought it to the Prosecutor's Office. *fn5

Eventually, Williams' clothing was given to Kimberly Epperson, a forensic serologist employed by the Indiana State Police. Epperson testified that she examined the shorts that Williams wore on the night of the murders and that they had three small spots of dried human blood on them. She explained that the blood she found on Williams' shorts was consistent with the blood type of John and Henrietta Reese and of Rouster, but not consistent with Williams' blood type nor that of Newsome or Taylor. *fn6 She further explained that the blood found on Williams' shorts was consistent with the blood type of 45% of the population. On cross-examination by Williams' counsel, Epperson admitted that she did not find any blood on Williams' shoes.

During closing arguments, the State argued to the jury that in addition to the witnesses' testimony, the blood found on Williams' shorts also established that Williams participated in the Reases' murders. During his closing argument, Williams' counsel attacked the weight of the blood evidence, stating that the State did not present a "splatter" expert to testify about how the blood got on Williams' shorts. Williams' counsel also argued that the State's evidence concerning the blood found on Williams' shorts showed that the blood could have come from "millions of people" other than the Reases. Thus, Williams' counsel attempted to show ...


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