Parent who killed child, wife loses appeal

Relates to:
Date: 2008-12-23
Source: The State

 Williams’ execution could be set soon

By RICK BRUNDRETT
rbrundrett@thestate.com

The first parent since 1977 to be put on South Carolina’s Death Row for killing his child likely has run out of appeals.

The S.C. Supreme Court in a 4-0 vote Monday rejected the latest appeal by Luke Williams III, 56, who has been on Death Row for more than 15 years.

An Edgefield County jury in November 1993 convicted Williams of murdering his 12-year-old adopted son and 39-year-old wife in 1991.

Linda Williams was beaten to death, and son Shaun — an El Salvador native who was orphaned in 1978 during the civil war there — was strangled.

Their bodies were found June 19, 1991, in Sumter National Forest in a partially burned van. Luke Williams took out more than $584,000 in insurance on his family a short time before the killings, authorities said.

“He’s tried every appeal in the world,” said 11th Circuit Solicitor Donnie Myers, whose territory includes Lexington, Edgefield, Saluda and McCormick counties, when contacted Monday. “It’s about time to end it.”

The state Supreme Court agreed in Monday’s ruling.

“Finality must be realized at some point in order to achieve a semblance of effectiveness in dispensing justice,” Chief Justice Jean Toalwrote for the court. “We hold that (Williams’) conviction and sentence does not constitute denial of fundamental fairness shocking to the universal sense of justice.”

Of the 58 inmates on the state’s Death Row, eight have been there longer than Williams, S.C. Department of Corrections records show.

Williams in court papers contended that Myers was wrong to tell the jury three times during the sentencing phase of his 1993 trial that he “expected” the death penalty. The justices said despite Myers’ comments, the “totality” of his arguments did not “minimize the juror’s own sense of responsibility for (Williams’) fate.”

Toal was joined by justices John Waller, Costa Pleicones and John Kittredge. Justice Donald Beatty did not participate in the case.

The Supreme Court ruling noted that Williams had exhausted his appeals both at the state and federal levels.

Myers said he didn’t know how soon the state Attorney General’s Office would ask the justices to set an execution date.

Assistant Deputy Attorney General Donald Zelenka in a prepared statement Monday said if Williams doesn’t ask the Supreme Court for a rehearing or is denied a rehearing, his office will “again seek a date of execution unless the Court issues a date in the interim.”

Williams has 15 days to ask for a rehearing under court rules, Zelenka said.

David Bruck, one of Williams’ appellate lawyers, declined Monday to comment on specifics of the Supreme Court ruling, saying only, “We’re discussing right now what the alternatives are.”

Bruck, a professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law in Virginia, is best known for his defense of Susan Smith, the Union County woman convicted in 1995 of drowning her two young sons in a lake. Prosecutors unsuccessfully sought the death penalty in that case.

Myers, the 11th Circuit solicitor since 1976, is believed to be the only active prosecutor in the state to obtain death sentences for parents convicted of killing their children. The state restored the death penalty in 1977.

“When you murder a child, that’s totally out of bounds,” Myers said Monday. “That offends me.”

Besides Williams, Myers has put two Lexington County parents on Death Row. Jeffery Haselden was convicted in 2001 of fatally beating his 2-year-old son, Joshua; C. Robert Northcutt was convicted in 2003 of murdering his 4-month-old daughter, Breanna.

The S.C. Supreme Court in both cases, though, later reversed their death sentences for different reasons. Both men are still awaiting resentencing hearings.

Myers said Monday he can’t seek to resentence Haselden because Haselden is pursuing another type of appeal to reverse his conviction. A resentencing hearing for Northcutt is planned for the “middle of next year,” he said, though a date hasn’t been set.

Reach Brundrett at (803) 771-8484.

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