1991 SLAYINGS 'Flip' Williams loses bid to overturn conviction
One judge dissented, saying the trial court erred.
CINCINNATI -- A federal court rejected an appeal Friday by death row inmate Willie "Flip" Williams Jr., who killed four young men on Labor Day in 1991 at a Youngstown housing project.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 against the appeal by Williams, 47, of Youngstown. The decision upheld a lower court ruling in 2002.
State courts already have upheld his conviction and sentence.
Williams claimed that his trial was unfair. He asked the appeals court to overturn his conviction and grant him a new trial.
In Summit County
Based on pretrial publicity and questions over juror prejudice, his trial took place in Summit, not Mahoning County.
Appellate judges John Rogers and Jeffrey Sutton ruled, however, that Williams failed to present evidence to support his claim.
In a dissent, Judge Gilbert Merritt said he would have thrown out the conviction because it appeared that the trial court allowed the prosecutor to load the jury with jurors who said they favored the death penalty. That violated Williams' constitutional right to an impartial jury in criminal prosecutions, Merritt wrote.
"Williams was not adequately protected from juror bias in favor of the death penalty," the judge wrote. "Those jurors who disfavor the death penalty were excused for cause, those who favor the automatic imposition of the death penalty for murder were not excused for cause."
Williams was convicted of aggravated murder, kidnapping and aggravated burglary for the abductions and execution-style killings. Police said Williams strangled or shot them Sept. 1, 1991, because he wanted to regain control of drug trafficking at the housing project.
Williams was one of six inmates who escaped from the Mahoning County jail by using a makeshift rope in October 1991. His escape put him on the FBI 10 most wanted list.
He surrendered in January 1992 as a plan failed to either rescue or kill three juveniles at the juvenile justice center who agreed to testify against him in a plea bargain.
On death row
He remains on death row at the Mansfield prison. No execution date is pending for him.
Williams' lawyers plan to ask the appeals court to set aside Friday's decision and rehear the case as a full court, said John Gibbons, one of the defense lawyers.