Condemned Baton Rouge police-killer Shedran Williams deserves a new trial because a “perfect storm” of factors produced an unjust first-degree murder conviction and death sentence in 2006, his attorney claims.
Capital Post-Conviction Project of Louisiana Director Gary Clements alleges, among other things, that the 42-year-old Williams is mentally retarded, that the work of his trial attorneys was shoddy, and that prosecutors discriminated against blacks during the jury selection process.
Only two blacks served on the jury, he notes. Williams is black. Police Lt. Vickie Wax, the shooting victim, was white.
Clements makes those allegations in a 122-page petition filed Aug. 26 in the 19th Judicial District Court, where Williams was tried for the May 22, 2004, shooting death of Wax.
“Trial counsel failed to effectively represent Mr. Williams at every stage of his capital trial. The result was a tepid challenge to the State’s case for guilt, and an anemic, ill-conceived effort to save Mr. Williams from the death sentence in the penalty phase,” Clements contends in the petition.
State District Judge Mike Erwin, who presided over Williams’ trial, has given the East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney’s Office until mid-January to respond to the lengthy petition for post-conviction relief. It also seeks an evidentiary hearing.
Prosecutor Dylan Alge, who is now handling the case, declined comment Friday. He also said Wax’s sister, who attends every hearing in the case, did not wish to respond to the petition.
Clements contends Williams, of Baton Rouge, was incompetent to stand trial and is mentally retarded and therefore cannot be executed. Williams pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity in his case.
After Williams’ conviction, his defense lawyers attempted to get jurors to impose a life sentence by claiming Williams lacked the mental capacity to understand the severity of his actions.
A psychiatrist called by the defense, Louis Cenac, testified he considered Williams to be both mentally retarded and an extremely dangerous person. Donald Hoppe, a psychologist called by prosecutors, testified that tests measuring Williams’ mental capacity found he was not mentally retarded.
In Louisiana, it is up to the jury to decide whether a person is mentally retarded.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that death penalties cannot be imposed on mentally retarded people.
Clements argues Williams’ trial attorneys failed to properly search for and present evidence of Williams’ mental condition; failed to pursue avenues of investigation that would have uncovered a wealth of mitigating evidence; and failed to prepare Williams to testify on his own behalf.
Clements asserts Williams had a traumatic and dysfunctional childhood; had an alcohol abuse problem; suffered head trauma; and has multiple mental impairments.
“Mr. Williams was so intoxicated on the night of the crimes that he was incapable of forming the requisite intent to commit first-degree murder,” his attorney alleges.
The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed Williams’ conviction and sentence in 2009. The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the case in 2010.
Williams was found guilty of killing Wax, 51, while she was working a security detail at a now-closed Walmart near Perkins Road and Acadian Thruway.
A store detective sought Wax’s assistance after noticing Williams was leaving the business without paying for two cameras in his back pockets. Williams seized Wax’s pistol, fatally shot her, wounded the detective and another witness, then bolted from the store and hijacked a car in the parking lot, according to the state Supreme Court’s summary of the case. Williams later surrendered.
Williams testified he was detained and admitted to being in a fight when he tried to leave the store, but he denied shooting anyone.
Williams was arrested 21 times and convicted five times before the shooting. The last conviction resulted in a 10-year sentence for three counts of burglary. He served five years and was released 28 days before Wax was killed.