TUPELO • A special judge said the courts should not suspend the rules for a Mooreville man who waited too long to appeal.
“I do not believe good cause exists here,” special appointed judge Larry Roberts said following a five-hour hearing in Lee County Circuit Court Monday. “There is no evidence that he ever asked his attorney to appeal. The decision was made tactically not to pursue an appeal.”
William Matthew Wilson pleaded guilty to capital murder in the 2005 death of his girlfriend’s 2-year-old daughter and was sentenced to death in May 2007 by Circuit Court Judge Thomas Gardner. The death sentence was thrown out in January 2018 as part of a post-conviction relief appeal, but the guilty plea was allowed to stand.
By statute, Wilson had 30 days from the time of that ruling to appeal. Instead, he waited 14 months before he filed a motion for an out of time appeal. Roberts, who heard the PCR, was appointed to hear the motion.
Wilson’s argument was that his former attorney was ineffective because he did not advise him that he had the right to appeal the guilty plea. But when Roberts compelled him to take the stand, Wilson stated otherwise.
‘I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” Wilson said. “There is always an appeal. I assumed so.”
Wilson’s new attorneys said that when the death sentence was vacated, the case reverted back to circuit court, so his appeal lawyer stepped down, to be replaced by a public defender.
“In his mind, there was no one to reach out to until he got a new public defender,” said attorney Katie Poor.
Assistant Attorney General Cameron Benton said the decision to appeal was solely Wilson’s and he “decided to do nothing.”
“By his own admission, he never said, ‘I want to appeal,’”Benton said. “He was a prolific letter writer during the trial. He had the means to appeal. (This motion) is disingenuous.”
With the ruling, the case will return to the Lee County Circuit Court docket for District Attorney John Weddle to schedule a sentencing hearing. At that time, testimony will be presented and a jury will have to decide whether Wilson is sentenced to death again. If the jury cannot agree, he will be sentenced to life without parole.
Wilson admitted to authorities that Malorie Conlee, 2, would not stop crying on the night of April 28, 2005. He punched the child in the head with his fist three times. Even though the child was unresponsive and “didn’t look right,” Wilson did not seek medical attention for the child for more than 8 hours. He also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of felony child abuse for placing Conlee in a tub of scalding water about three months before, burning the child’s feet
The guilty plea and death sentence were upheld by the state supreme court on direct appeal in 2009.
In his PCR petition in circuit court, Wilson argued that his two public defenders rarely talked with him about his case. In his ruling, the judge said the attorneys also failed to prepare for the penalty phase and had no experts to testify as to mitigating factors to keep Wilson from being sentenced to death.
“Most telling, however, is the trial counsel’s failure to have researched the sentencing history of Judge Gardner in similar situations where a jury had been waived in the penalty phase of a capital case,” Roberts wrote.
Gardner presided over two similar cases and sentenced both to death. One of Wilson’s attorneys was on the legal team of one of the previous cases but never explained Gardner’s history to Wilson.