01/13/12 — Inmate fighting death penalty

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Inmate fighting death penalty

By From staff reports
Published in News on January 13, 2012 1:46 PM

A Goldsboro man on death row for the 1989 murder of a co-worker during a robbery will be in Wayne County Superior Court Jan. 30 seeking reprieve under a 2001 state law that prohibits anyone who is mentally retarded from being sentenced to death.

It is the second time that Marvin Earl Williams, 50, has sought to avoid his sentence. In September 1993, the state Supreme Court first granted a new trial for Williams based on "reasonable doubt" instruction, only to rescind that order after finding there was no error.

Even without the law, which sets the procedures for the hearing, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a mentally retarded offender cannot be sentenced to death.

Williams also has filed under the state's Racial Justice Act. However, that filing would be dismissed should the judge presiding over the Jan. 30 hearing throw out the death sentence, said Ken Rose, an attorney with the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

The filing under the Racial Justice Act is not part of this month's hearing, he said.

Williams was sentenced for the murder of Theron Price, a security guard at Dewey Bros., where both men worked. The murder occurred during a 1989 robbery.

Rose said Williams' case is the only one he knows of in which a previous judge used an independent expert who determined that Williams is mentally retarded.

If the death sentence is voided, it is possible that Williams would never be released from prison, Rose said. Even if the judge does not rule out parole, it could still be a long time before Williams would be eligible for release because of a 30-year robbery sentence that is running concurrently with the murder sentence, he said.

The hearing is before a judge who will asked three questions, Rose said: Did Williams have significant deficit of general intelligence; did he have significant limitations in adaptive functioning at that time; and did those issue manifest before Williams was 18 years old.

Williams has the burden of proof.

Whatever the outcome, Rose said he is hopeful it will provide a sense of finality.

"I saw a relative of the victim on television and felt sorry for him," Rose said. "They want finality, and I hope this is it for them."