Court-appointed attorneys for Howard Hawk Willis said Thursday that their client’s trial was full of errors and Willis should never have been forced to represent himself in the case.
Willis was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in the killing of Adam and Samantha Chrismer. The teen couple from Georgia befriended Willis there and traveled with him to Johnson City in October 2002. His appellate attorneys were in Jonesborough Thursday for a scheduled hearing, but instead were granted additional time to review the case.
“There are a number of reasons,” to ask for a new trial, said Patrick McNally, one of Willis two appellate attorneys. “But fundamentally, the idea of an individual who is not a lawyer represent himself in a death penalty case is unfair.”
McNally said the defense will put the greatest emphasis on the fact that Willis was not qualified to represent himself, but will also attack other issues from the week-long trial in 2010.
McNally and lead attorney Jim Simmons filed a lengthy motion for new trial that attacks not only pre-trial issues handled by Criminal Court Judge Lynn Brown, but also other pre-trial motions handled by the sitting judge in the case, Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood, and things prosecutors did in trial.
Even with that document, McNally and Simmons told Blackwood on Thursday they needed more time to investigate additional information associated with the trial that they recently received.
Blackwood granted that request as well as a request from District Attorney Tony Clark’s request for time to review the trial transcript and answer the defense’s motion.
Blackwood gave the defense a Feb. 8 deadline to have all motions filed and the state must have its motions filed by March 23. He will not hear arguments in the appeal, but will make his ruling in a written motion.
Willis was scheduled to appear at the hearing in Jonesborough, but filed a document waiving that appearance. He is on death row at Riverbend.