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Williams v. State

Supreme Court of Arkansas

April 25, 2019

RODERICK R. WILLIAMS APPELLANT
v.
STATE OF ARKANSAS APPELLEE

          PRO SE APPEAL FROM THE DESHA COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT [NO. 21ACR-07-50] HONORABLE STEVEN PORCH, JUDGE

          Roderick R. Williams, pro se appellant.

          Leslie Rutledge, Att'y Gen., by: Kent Holt, Ass't Att'y Gen., for appellee.

          COURTNEY HUDSON GOODSON, ASSOCIATE JUSTICE

         Roderick R. Williams appeals from the denial of his request for postconviction relief on a judgment convicting him of capital murder and other charges and imposing a life sentence without parole for the murder charge plus a consecutive term of years to be served on the other charges. Williams filed in the trial court a pro se petition under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.1 (2017) that the court denied without a hearing. Because we determine from the record before us that the trial court correctly found that the Rule 37.1 petition was wholly without merit, we affirm the denial of postconviction relief.

         This court affirmed the judgment convicting Williams after his second trial on the charges. Williams v. State, 2011 Ark. 432, 385 S.W.3d 157 (Williams II). In the initial proceedings, this court reversed the convictions and remanded for a new trial, holding that the denial of a motion for mistrial was an abuse of discretion. Williams v. State, 2010 Ark. 89, 377 S.W.3d 168 (Williams I).

         The murder in this case occurred when Williams, in violation of an order of protection, had gone to Kerman Harris's home, where she lived with her parents and Williams's child. Harris's mother, Clara Cobb, was talking to Williams on the porch when Harris finished a phone conversation and walked toward the porch while holding the baby. Harris saw Williams load a shotgun and shoot Cobb in the stomach.

         In Williams I, this court reviewed the denial of a motion for mistrial that was made following Harris's unsupported statement that Williams had been convicted of terroristic threatening for an incident involving her mother, and we reversed and remanded for a new trial. Williams I, 2010 Ark. 89, 377 S.W.3d 168. Prior to Williams's second trial, the State and the defense agreed that officers of the court and witnesses would refrain from using the word "trial" to prevent the jurors from learning that the case had already been tried. Despite the agreement, on cross-examination Harris alluded to "the last trial" during her testimony at the second trial. The trial court denied the defense motion for a mistrial that followed the remark. In Williams II, this court held that because the brief and unsolicited remark was not repeated, it was not so patently inflammatory that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant the motion for mistrial. Williams II, 2011 Ark. 432, 385 S.W.3d 157. We noted that, after the trial court denied the defense motion for mistrial, there was a discussion in which defense counsel agreed that no admonition should be given because it would only draw additional attention to the remark. Id.

         In his Rule 37.1 petition, Williams alleged ineffective assistance of counsel on three bases. He asserted that trial counsel was ineffective for failing to request the admonition about Harris's remark referencing Williams's previous trial and for failing to question Harris about the statement that had warranted granting a mistrial in Williams I. Williams characterized Harris's statement in the first trial as perjury and contended that challenging Harris's incorrect statement that Williams was convicted of the charges was essential to discredit her testimony. Williams further alleged that appellate counsel was ineffective for failing to raise issues concerning adverse evidentiary rulings that limited trial counsel's cross-examination of Harris about her "personal issues" concerning another woman with whom Williams also has a child.

         In its order denying postconviction relief, the trial court found that Williams's Rule 37.1 petition was wholly without merit, that defense counsel had made reasonable tactical decisions, and that Williams had effective assistance of counsel during his trial. The court additionally found that Williams was afforded due process.

         On appeal, Williams reasserts his ineffective-assistance claims. He also raises an additional issue alleging a due-process violation because the evidence at trial was not sufficient to show premeditation and deliberation, and he alleges error in the trial court's failure to hold a hearing on the Rule 37.1 petition or to appoint counsel for the Rule 37 proceedings.

         This court reviews the trial court's decision on Rule 37.1 petitions for clear error. Gordon v. State, 2018 Ark. 73, 539 S.W.3d 586. 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. Lacy v. State, 2018 Ark. 174, 545 S.W.3d 746, petition for cert. filed (U.S. Oct. 16, 2018) (No. 18-6344).

         The trial court did not clearly err in denying the petition without a hearing and without appointing counsel. Rule 37.3(a) of the Arkansas Rules of Criminal Procedure (2017) delineates the procedure for summary disposition of a Rule 37.1 petition. Under Rule 37.3, the trial court has the discretion to deny relief without a hearing when it is conclusively shown on the record, or the face of the petition itself, that the allegations have no merit. Mancia v. State, 2015 Ark. 115, 459 S.W.3d 259. If it is conclusive on the face of the petition that no relief was warranted, then the trial court did not err in declining to hold an evidentiary hearing on a claim for relief. Beverage v. State, 2015 Ark. 112, 458 S.W.3d 243. Because, as explained below, all of Williams's claims in the petition were clearly without merit, the trial court was not required to conduct a hearing in order to deny relief.

         Likewise, the trial court had discretion to appoint counsel under Arkansas Rule of Criminal Procedure 37.3(b) (2017), and in order to demonstrate an abuse of discretion by the trial court in declining to appoint counsel, an appellant must have made a substantial showing that his petition included a meritorious claim. Evans v. State, 2014 Ark. 6. This court has rejected the argument that the cases Williams cites require appointment of counsel, and ...


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