Death Watch: Mental Illness Claims Fail; Death Awaits
After a 2005 murder, Clifton Williams is set to be executed
East Texan Clifton Williams heads to the gurney next Thursday, July 16, after nine years spent on death row for the murder of Cecelia Schneider.
Williams, 31, was 21 years old at the time of Schneider's murder, July 9, 2005. Court records show that he broke into the 93-year-old's Tyler home, stabbed, strangled, and beat her, then laid her body on her bed and set her bed on fire. He left Schneider's house with her car and her purse, which contained $40. He argued at trial that his friend, Jamarist Paxton, forced him to break into the house with him, and coerced him into cutting his hand so as to leave his DNA on-scene. But police weren't able to find any evidence that would substantiate Williams' claims about accomplices, and Paxton denied involvement. In Oct. 2006, Williams was found guilty of capital murder (in addition to a number of other offenses) and sentenced to death.
Williams' attorneys have argued in state and federal petitions for relief (as well as a petition for a Certificate of Appealability) that Williams suffers from a wide range of mental illnesses, including paranoid schizophrenia, with which he was diagnosed when he was 20. They have tried to argue that his mother suffered from mental illness, and that Williams had trouble functioning from an early age. They also claim Williams was the victim of incompetent counsel, as attorneys at trial failed both to establish Williams as the victim of mental illness and to mitigate his standing as a future danger to society. Most notably, his petitions for relief note, trial counsel erred by stating their intent to establish mental illness before Williams received a court-ordered psych exam, giving prosecutors the ability to refute counsel's claims without any established medical standing.
Last September, attorneys Seth Kretzer and James Volberding presented Williams' case to the U.S. Supreme Court in hopes that the Justices would hear Williams' mental illness claims. Specifically, records note, they wanted to prove that one ruling – ex parte Briseño, which lays out three basic conditions to determine competence – blocks Williams from arguing mental retardation on the basis of Atkins v. Virginia (which placed a categorical ban on executing the mentally ill, and was previously rejected by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals). The Supreme Court denied that petition in early April, however, without comment or explanation. Williams' attorneys do not plan to file any last-minute appeals.
Williams will be the 10th Texan executed this year, and 528th since the state reinstated the death penalty in 1976. However, his execution coincides with emerging reports that indicate the number of Texans being sent to death row has now significantly decreased. In fact, jurors around the state have yet to sentence anyone to death in 2015. The last person to receive such a sentence was former Kaufman County attorney Eric Williams (no relation), who shot and killed Chief Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse on Jan. 31, 2013, before killing County D.A. Michael McLelland and his wife Cynthia two months later. He was sentenced to death last December. It's the first time in more than 20 years that the state has made it to July without issuing a new death sentence.