Attorney General Baker Announces Execution of James Willie Brown
Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker offers the following information on the execution of James Willie Brown, whose execution was carried out on November 4, 2003:
A previous stay of execution was granted on November 20, 2002 by the Superior Court of Butts County, from an October 30, 2002 order of the Superior Court of Gwinnett County, setting the seven-day window in which the execution of James Willie Brown would occur at noon, November 19, 2002 and ending seven days later at noon on November 26, 2002. On October 22, 2003, the Superior Court of Gwinnett County filed an order setting the seven-day window in which the execution of James Willie Brown may occur to begin at noon, November 4, 2003 and ending seven days later at noon on November 11, 2003. The Commissioner of the Department of Corrections set the date and time for the execution as 7:00p.m., November 4, 2003, pursuant to the discretion given the Commissioner under state law. Brown had previously concluded his direct appeal, his state and federal habeas corpus proceedings, and a successive state habeas corpus proceeding. The sentence of execution was carried out at 8:32pm on November 4, 2003.
The Georgia Supreme Court, in its review of Brown's case following Brown's first trial, summarized the evidence presented at trial as follows:
At approximately 8:30 p.m. of May 12, 1975, appellant and Brenda Watson arrived at the Mark Inn Lounge in Gwinnett County. They ate a carryout steak and potato dinner that they had brought with them and spent several hours drinking and dancing. They left together at approximately 11:00 p.m.
Brenda Watson's body was found the next day near a trash pile close to an old logging road in a heavily wooded area some 500 feet off Deshon Road in Gwinnett County. A cord was tied around her left ankle, and she had indentations on her wrists and her right ankle which could indicate she had been tied there also. She was nude except for a blue terrycloth blouse which was pulled up over her breasts. A pair of panties had been forced so far down her throat that they were not discovered until the autopsy.
Warren Tillman of the State Crime Lab testified that Brenda Watson's death was caused by suffocation from the panties in her throat. He discovered seminal fluid and sperm in the victim's throat and vagina. From abrasions and contusions around the victim's vagina, Tillman concluded that the victim had been raped and that this had occurred before her death.
An undigested meal of steak and potatoes was found in the victim's stomach. Since a meal is usually digested within 4 hours, Tillman estimated that Watson died no later than 4:00 a.m.
Appellant was arrested May 15. Nylon cord found in his car was identical to that tied around the victim's left ankle. A hairbrush found in Appellant's car contained hair similar in color and modulation to the victim's hair.
Appellant was questioned May 16. He initially denied knowing Brenda Watson. Upon being informed that he had been seen with her the night before her body had been discovered, he admitted that he and Ms. Watson had gone to the Mark Inn for drinks, but claimed that afterwards they went to a lounge off Covington Highway, where he left her. Later he stated that when they left the Mark Inn, Watson suggested they go to a quiet place in the country. Appellant took her to a secluded spot off Deshon Road. When he did, she told him that if he didn't pay her $200 she was going to call the police and claim he had tried to rape her. Appellant's response was to tie her up and gag her. Then he decided he might as well have sexual intercourse with her. So he did. On his way home he discovered that her pocketbook was still in his car. He stopped at a bridge on Killian Hill Road and threw the pocketbook into the Yellow River.
Brown v. State, 250 Ga. 66, 67, 295 S.E.2d 727 (1982).
The Original Trial
The Gwinnett County Grand Jury indicted Brown for the murder of Brenda Sue Watson during the September Tem, 1975. Brown was found incompetent to stand trial on January 6, 1976. However, on April 8, 1980, Brown was found competent to stand trial. Brown was tried by jury on June 29 through July 2, 1981, was found guilty and sentenced to death.
First Direct Appeal Proceeding
The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed Brown's conviction and sentence on October 5, 1982 in Brown v. State, 250 Ga. 66, 296 S.E.2d 727 (1982). The Georgia Supreme Court denied Brown's motion for rehearing on October 27, 1982.
Granting of Federal Habeas Corpus Relief and Remanding for New Trial
During federal post-conviction proceedings, the federal habeas corpus court granted Brown habeas corpus relief on September 20, 1988 and remanded the case to the Superior Court of Gwinnett County for a determination of Brown's competency and if appropriate, a new trial. The federal habeas corpus court found that Brown failed to receive an adequate hearing to determine his competency to stand trial and that the State withheld evidence favorable to Brown.
The Second Trial
On February 9, 1990, Brown was retried and convicted for the murder of Brenda Watson in the Superior Court of Gwinnett County, and on February 10, 1990, Brown was once again sentenced to death. On February 21, 1991, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously affirmed Brown's conviction and death sentence in Brown v. State, 261 Ga. 66, 401 S.E.2d 492 (1991). On March 27, 1991, Brown's motion for rehearing was denied by the Georgia Supreme Court.
State Habeas Corpus Petition
Brown, represented by counsel, filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County on May 6, 1993. After an evidentiary hearing conducted on November 28 and 29, 1994, the state habeas corpus court denied Brown state habeas corpus relief on August 30, 1995. Brown's application for a certificate of probable cause filed in the Supreme Court of Georgia was denied on May 24, 1996.
Federal Habeas Corpus Petition
Brown filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on April 23, 1997. The federal district court denied Brown federal habeas corpus relief on February 8, 2000.
Appeal to the Eleventh Circuit
On appeal to the Eleventh Circuit, the Court affirmed the denial of federal habeas corpus relief to Brown on November 15, 2001, in Brown v. Head, 272 F.3d 1308 (11th Cir. 2001). On March 19, 2002, the Eleventh Circuit denied rehearing in Brown's case. Brown v. Head, 285 F.3d 1325 (11th Cir. 2002). The United States Supreme Court denied Brown's petition for a writ of certiorari on October 21, 2002.
Successive State Habeas Corpus Petition
During the week of his pending execution in November 2002, Brown filed a successive petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County alleging: 1) the State knowingly presented false testimony of Anita Tucker during the original trial and sentencing phase of Brown's retrial and failed to reveal such factor to Brown; 2) executing the mentally ill is a violation of the Eighth Amendment; and 3) State misconduct barred Brown's retrial and thwarted a finding of innocence. On November 19, 2002, the habeas corpus court issued a 48 hour stay of execution in order to review the three claims presented as well as briefs and exhibits filed in this second habeas action. On November, 20, 2202, The Habeas Court granted a stay of execution and found that Claim 3 was not properly before the Court unless Brown was successful on Claim 1 and reserved ruling. As to Claim 2, the Court granted the State's motion to dismiss. The Court ordered that a hearing be scheduled as to Claim 1 of the successive petition and directed that a conference call be conducted on November 22, 2002, in order to schedule this hearing. On November 22, 2002, Respondent filed a motion to expedite the hearing on Claim I of the successive petition. Petitioner replied to this motion and the Habeas Court denied this motion to expedite in its order signed December 4, 2002, scheduling a hearing on Claim I for February 3-5, 2003. Following pre-hearing briefing by the parties, a hearing on February 3-5, 2003, and post-hearing briefing, the Superior Court of Butts County issued an order on May 27, 2003 denying relief and finding that Brown had failed to establish the knowing use of perjured testimony by the prosecution at Brown's trial (Claim 1). As to remaining claims presented, the Court found that the first order of the habeas court properly found that Petitioner’s Claim 2 relating to Petitioner’s “mental status” was successive and may not be relitigated. (Order of 11/20/02, pp. 4-5). The Court also found that Claim 3 of “state misconduct,” was not a separate claim, but merely contains “contentions as to the legal ramifications and remedy if he is successful on Claim 1.” Petitioner filed a notice of appeal from this order of the habeas corpus court on June 6, 2003. Having been granted an extension of time for filing his application, Brown filed his Application for a Certificate of Probable Cause to appeal on August 1, 2003 and a corrected application on August 15, 2003. Respondent filed a brief in opposition to this application on August 29, 2003. Petitioner’s application was denied on September 22, 2003. Brown filed a Motion for Reconsideration which was denied on October 16, 2003. The remittitur was issued to the trial court on October 17, 2003.