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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Clifton Williams
Death Watch: Intellectually Disabled or Mentally Ill?
Death Watch: Intellectually Disabled or Mentally Ill?
Three cases raise the question

Sarah Marloff, June 15, 2018

More by Chase Hoffberger
Revisiting the Railroad Killer
Revisiting the Railroad Killer
Local journo Alex Hannaford’s Dead Man Talking podcast investigates the case against a man on death row

Nov. 16, 2018

EMS Union Set for Leadership Contest
EMS Union Set for Leadership Contest
Association to cast ballot between incumbent Tony Marquardt or challenger Selena Xie

Nov. 16, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Cecelia Schneider, Jamarist Paxton, U.S. Supreme Court, Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, Death Watch, Death Row, Clifton Williams, Eric Williams, Texas execution

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle