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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

April 13, 2017

ANTONIO WILLIAMS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

         PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE PULASKI COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT 60CR-12-653] HONORABLE HERBERT T. WRIGHT, JR., JUDGE

          Antonio Williams, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Ashley Driver Younger, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee

          PER CURIAM

         In 2013, a jury found appellant Antonio Williams guilty of capital murder for the death of Kelvin Lott Shelton, and he was sentenced to life without parole, with an additional sentence enhancement of eighty-four months' imprisonment for employing a firearm in commission of the crime. This court affirmed. Williams v. State, 2014 Ark. 253, 435 S.W.3d 483. Williams filed in the trial court a timely pro se petition under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2016). Williams retained counsel, and with the trial court's permission, counsel amended the petition. After an evidentiary hearing, the trial court denied the amended petition, and still represented by counsel, Williams lodged an appeal in this court. Counsel was relieved, and with Williams proceeding pro se, the matter has now been briefed. We affirm the trial court's order denying postconviction relief.

         This court will not reverse a trial court's decision granting or denying postconviction relief unless it is clearly erroneous. Houghton v. State, 2015 Ark. 252, 464 S.W.3d 922; Kemp v. State, 347 Ark. 52, 60 S.W.3d 404 (2001). A finding is clearly erroneous when, although there is evidence to support it, the appellate court, after reviewing the entire evidence, is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Turner v. State, 2016 Ark. 96, 486 S.W.3d 757.

         In his Rule 37.1 petition, Williams raised two claims of ineffective assistance of counsel. He first alleged that trial counsel failed to call an alibi witness, Daquasha Johnson. In his second claim, Williams alleged that counsel was ineffective for allowing the introduction of evidence concerning the identification of Williams by Torrece Graydon as an eyewitness to an incident with Shelton leading up to Shelton's murder. The identification was made prior to trial from a photo array, and the trial court had suppressed the evidence on a defense motion.

         On the first claim, the trial court found that counsel was not ineffective, that Williams's assertion that he was not present at the scene of the crime was undercut by evidence introduced at his trial, and that Williams's testimony that he had told his attorney about Johnson before his trial during the Rule 37 hearing was not credible. On the second claim, the trial court found that counsel had attempted to have both the photo array and any in-court identification by the eyewitness suppressed; that counsel had testified that, when the in-court identification was not suppressed, he was forced to use the photo-array evidence in order to provide the jury with an explanation for the eyewitness's in-court identification of Williams, and that, because this decision to introduce the photo-array evidence was reasonable trial strategy, counsel was not ineffective.

         Our standard for ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims is the two-prong analysis set forth in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984). Rasul v. State, 2015 Ark. 118, 458 S.W.3d 722. To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, the petitioner must show that (1) counsel's performance was deficient and (2) the deficient performance prejudiced his defense. Mister v. State, 2014 Ark. 446. Unless a petitioner makes both showings, the allegations do not meet the benchmark on review for granting relief on a claim of ineffective assistance. Houghton, 2015 Ark. 252, 464 S.W.3d 922.

         Counsel is presumed effective, and allegations without factual substantiation are insufficient to overcome that presumption. Henington v. State, 2012 Ark. 181, 403 S.W.3d 55. A petitioner claiming deficient performance must show that counsel's representation fell below an objective standard of reasonableness, and this court must indulge in a strong presumption that counsel's conduct falls within the wide range of reasonable professional assistance. Id. A petitioner has the burden of overcoming the presumption that counsel is effective by identifying specific acts and omissions that, when viewed from counsel's perspective at the time of trial, could not have been the result of reasonable professional judgment. Id.

         To prevail on a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel, a petitioner must also show that there is a reasonable probability that the fact-finder's decision would have been different absent counsel's alleged errors in order to meet the second prong of the test. Sales v. State, 2014 Ark. 384, 441 S.W.3d 883. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to undermine confidence in the outcome of the trial. Id. In assessing prejudice, courts "must consider the totality of the evidence before the judge or jury." Rasul, 2015 Ark. 118, at 7, 458 S.W.3d at 727 (quoting Strickland, 466 U.S. at 695).

         A brief recitation of some of the evidence at trial is helpful in understanding the issues presented.[1] Graydon testified that she and Shelton had gone to meet with someone Shelton had described to her and called "Big Mike." Shelton planned to sell him some marijuana. "Big Mike" is Williams's brother, Michael Williams. Both brothers have burn scars on their faces from a fire when they were children. Graydon testified that Shelton had parked behind a car for the meeting with Big Mike and that, initially, two men had gotten out of the car and into the backseat of the Jeep that Shelton was driving. After Shelton showed the men the marijuana, they went back to the car to get approval for the purchase. They came back with a third man, who got into the Jeep's backseat while the other two men stood outside. The third man placed a gun to Shelton's head and demanded the drugs. Graydon got out of the Jeep, and she heard gunshots as she fled. Shelton was found dead in the Jeep after Graydon had alerted the police. After the incident, Graydon told the police that the man with the gun had scars on his face.

         On appeal, Williams reiterates his claims from the petition and asserts that the trial court's interpretation of Strickland was unreasonable. Concerning his first ineffective-assistance claim, Williams contends that trial counsel failed to investigate sufficiently to discover Johnson's testimony. As to the second prong of the Strickland test, Williams alleges that Johnson would have testified that Williams was at his house with her at the time of the crime and his brother was not, that the testimony would have raised reasonable doubt and discredited Graydon's testimony, and that he was therefore prejudiced by counsel's failure to discover and present Johnson's testimony at trial.

         Despite Williams's assertions that there was deficient performance and prejudice, the trial court's factual findings support its apparent conclusion that Williams failed to satisfy either prong of the two-part Strickland test, and those findings were not clearly erroneous. The trial court specifically stated that it found not credible Williams's testimony at the Rule 37 hearing that he had told his attorney that Johnson could provide alibi testimony. In rendering its decision, the trial court was not required to accept ...


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