Willis, 66, waived his appearance at a hearing held last week in Washington County Criminal Court due to his health and the toll the trip takes on him when being transported to Jonesborough. It’s not the first time he waived attending a hearing for the same reason.
His attorneys, Johnson City lawyer Mark Fulks and Nashville lawyer Paul Bruno, were there along with Assistant District Attorney General Dennis Brooks for a motion hearing. One motion in front of Judge Lisa Rice was a request from the defense to delay the upcoming post conviction hearing while the other was to allow Bruno to withdraw.
Bruno told Rice that Willis was instructed by his client to withdraw from the case because Willis claimed Bruno lied to him. Bruno said he wanted it on the record what the allegations made by Willis were and to have a chance to defend himself. Bruno said Willis asked him to give copies of some documents to lead counsel Fulks and to contact an expert about participating in the case.
Bruno denied both of Willis’ claims, and Fulks confirmed he did receive the documents from Bruno.
“If the courts wants me on the case, I’ll stay on the case,” Bruno said, but added he was concerned about Willis’ reaction if that was the judge’s decision.
Rice, however, denied the motion for now.
“Just because he wants you off the case doesn’t justify,” him being released, Rice said. She did grant the defense’s motion to delay the post conviction hearing until October.
The defense had also asked that Willis be allowed to have a thumb drive in his cell because of the large volume of documents in his appeal. The TDOC allows inmates to have a CD or DVD but not thumb drives. Inmates have access to computers in the prison law library to use, but those are not connected to any type of network or internet.
After hearing a TDOC death row supervisor testify about the agency policy, Rice denied that request.
Rice scheduled thee case for a status update in April and said she would require Willis be transported to Jonesborough for that hearing.