01/30/12 — Inmate in court to void death penalty

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Inmate in court to void death penalty

By From staff reports
Published in News on January 30, 2012 1:46 PM

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

This marks the second time Marvin Earl Williams, 50, has sought to avoid his death 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 throw out the death sentence, said Ken Rose, a lawyer with the Center for Death Penalty Litigation. The filing under the Racial Justice Act is not part of this month's hearing.

Williams was sentenced for the murder of Theron Price, a security guard at Dewey Bros., where both men worked, during a 1989 robbery. Even if the death sentence is voided, it is possible that Williams will never be released from prison. Even with the possibility of parole, it would likely still be years before Williams would be eligible for release because of the 30-year robbery sentence running concurrently with the murder sentence.

During the hearing held by Superior Court Judge Arnold Jones, three questions will be asked: 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, and it is Williams and his defense team who have the burden of proof.

A judge can declare a person mentally retarded if he or she scores 70 or below on an IQ test and shows poor basic life skills before the age of 18. Williams has taken multiple tests and has scored above and below 70.