The Mississippi Supreme Court will allow a death row inmate to go back to Lee County Circuit Court to argue his lawyers failed to do a good job at his trial.
William Wilson cited six issues in a post-conviction petition filed with the Supreme Court. On Thursday, the Supreme Court said Wilson could present evidence that his attorneys didn’t do a good job and that he didn’t understand what he was doing when he agreed to let the judge decide his punishment at trial rather than a jury.
Inmates use a post-conviction petition to argue they have found new evidence — or a possible constitutional issue — that could persuade a court to order a new trial.
Wilson pleaded guilty in the death of 2-year-old Mallory Conlee and was sentenced to death in 2007 in Lee County. He also received 20 years for felonious child abuse.
At the time of the girl’s death, authorities said they had received a report that a motorcycle fell on the child’s head. An autopsy showed bruises all over her body and third-degree burns to her feet.
Authorities said the bruises were in several stages of healing, indicating they had occurred over a time.
Court records show Wilson agreed to plead guilty in March 2007 in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.
However, when questioned by Circuit Judge Thomas J. Gardner III, Wilson said he thought his attorneys could have done a better job. Wilson claimed he hadn’t communicated or seen much of his court-appointed attorneys between his arrest and his plea hearing.
Gardner halted the hearing.
According to the court record, prosecutors withdrew the plea deal and the case continued with Wilson and the same attorneys. Wilson again pleaded guilty and, with no plea bargain, Gardner sentenced Wilson to death.
In an earlier appeal, Wilson argued that allowing the case to go on with the same defense team led to the death sentence when prosecutors declined to reach another plea deal.
Wilson’s petition for a new trial was rejected by a Lee County judge in 2009, and the Mississippi Supreme Court in 2009 upheld Wilson’s capital murder conviction and death sentence. The U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition to review Wilson’s case in 2010.
Prosecutors contended Wilson’s lawyers worked with the prosecution on the plea agreement and Wilson’s exchange with the judge showed they had explained it fully to him. They said the ineffectiveness issue only came up when the judge asked Wilson if he was satisfied with what had been done for him.