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Thread: Demetrius Gosheun Willis - Georgia Death Row

  1. #1
    Senior Member CnCP Legend Mike's Avatar
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    Jun 2015

    Demetrius Gosheun Willis - Georgia Death Row


    Facts of the Crime:

    On July 15, 2008, Willis was sentenced to death for the murders of his former girlfriend, her boyfriend and their three-year-old son in Atlanta. Willis went into the home of 24-year-old Talisa Hankins on June 28, 2004, shot 31-year-old Jerry Williams three times in the head as he slept on a couch, shot Hankins as she tried to jump from a window and the boy, Jerry Williams, Jr., in the head. Willis also shot his and Hankins' ten-year-old daughter and a five-year-old who was in the house, but they both survived.
    Trying to get married before I turn 27.

  2. #2
    Senior Member CnCP Legend Mike's Avatar
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    Jun 2015
    Today the GA Supreme Court heard Willis's direct appeal.

  3. #3
    Senior Member CnCP Legend JLR's Avatar
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    Mar 2011
    October 22, 2018

    WILLIS V. THE STATE (S18P0915)

    The Supreme Court of Georgia has ruled unanimously to uphold the three death sentences given to Demetrius G. Willis for the 2004 murders of a couple and their 3-year-old son.

    In today’s opinion, “we vacate Willis’s convictions and sentences for three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, but we affirm all of Willis’s remaining convictions and sentences, including his death sentences for the murders,” Justice Robert Benham writes for the Court.

    In the early hours of June 28, 2004, five members of a family who lived on Westwood Avenue in Fulton County were shot. Three were killed, including a 3-year-old and his parents, and two more children were injured. Thirty-year-old Jerry D. Williams was shot at close distance three times in the back of his head as he lay on a couch in the living room. Each shot was fatal. Twenty-six-year-old Talisa Hankins was shot twice in the back of the head and once in the back of her shoulder. It appeared as though she had been trying to escape through a window of a bedroom at the time of her death. Four young children were in another bedroom. Three-year-old Jerry D. Williams, III, whose nickname was “Man-Man,” was fatally shot in the left side of his forehead. Five-year-old C.H. was shot in her upper back, and 10-year-old Q.H. was shot in her thigh. The fourth child, 6-year-old J.H., hid under the bed during the shooting and was the only one who escaped injury. C.H., J.H., and “Man-Man” were the children of Williams and Hankins. The oldest child, Q.H., was Hankins’ daughter by a previous relationship with Willis.

    According to the evidence at trial, on June 25, 2004, Willis, 27, whose nickname was “Sweet Pea,” rode to Atlanta with two friends from his home in Clarksdale, Mississippi. While there, Willis attended a barbecue on Sunday, June 27, at the home of Williams and Hankins. Later he went out drinking with friends, returning to his friend Ray Hollins’ home at about 5:00 a.m. Willis asked Hollins to ride with him back to the home of Williams and Hankins so he could see his daughter before he returned to Mississippi. With Willis driving, the two went back to the home on Westwood Avenue. Hollins remained in the car while Willis went inside. Hollins later said he could hear Hankins speaking to Willis, and she said, “Sweet Pea, what’s wrong with you?” Multiple gunshots followed. C.H. later testified that she saw Willis shoot Hankins and that she then ran into the bedroom where the other children were. Willis went into that bedroom and started shooting. Jerry III was standing when Willis shot him in the head. C.H. was on her bed when he shot her in her back/shoulder. Like J.H., Q.H. tried to hide under one of the beds, but was still shot in the thigh. According to Q.H., her father was wearing a yellow-looking jersey and jeans. Q.H. said she did not see anyone other than Willis doing the shooting.

    Outside, after hearing the gunshots, Hollins initially got out of the car and ran up the street, but then he turned around, headed back, and saw Willis leaving the home carrying a pistol. Hollins noticed that Willis had specks of blood on his face and shirt. Hollins asked Willis what had happened, and Willis replied he had killed everyone in the house. He never said why.

    The next day, Willis and his friends rode back to Mississippi in the black Impala car they had used throughout the trip. On the way, Willis stopped and threw the shirt he had been wearing into a trash can and the pistol into a body of water. Once back in Mississippi, Willis turned himself in.

    After he was returned to Georgia, Willis was indicted on three counts of malice murder, nine counts of felony murder, six counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and one count each of burglary, first degree child cruelty, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. In September 2004, the State announced it would seek the death penalty. Following a 2008 trial, the jury convicted Willis of all counts except the aggravated assault of J.H. and the counts involving burglary. Willis was sentenced to death for each of his convictions for malice murder, plus additional years for his other crimes.

    “When viewed in the light most favorable to the verdicts, we conclude that the evidence was sufficient to authorize a rational trier of fact to find Willis guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crimes for which the jury returned guilty verdicts,” today’s opinion says.

    In this appeal in a death penalty case, Willis’s attorneys have asserted that a number of errors were made during jury selection, during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial, and during the sentencing phase of the trial. Among the pre-trial motions they contend were erroneously denied by the trial court were his motion to strike down the death penalty as unconstitutional “cruel and unusual punishment.” In today’s 69-page opinion, the high court has addressed each alleged error and rejected them all.

    Nevertheless, while the evidence was sufficient to support the verdict, the opinion says the State correctly pointed out that the trial court erred in sentencing Willis separately for the three aggravated assault counts involving the murder victims. Both the malice murder and the aggravated assault counts were based on the act of shooting the victims with a firearm. “Therefore, Willis’s convictions and sentences for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon of Hankins, Williams, and Jerry III must be vacated,” the opinion says.

    With today’s opinion, the Supreme Court has overruled two of its previous decisions involving the use of “peremptory strikes:” its 1986 ruling in Harris v. State and its 2003 ruling in Fortson v. State. During jury selection in a death penalty trial, prosecutors and defense attorneys each get 15 peremptory strikes, meaning they can strike up to 15 prospective jurors without disclosing why. Such strikes differ from striking a prospective juror for cause. For example, a person may be disqualified to serve as a juror because he expresses a bias against the defendant. Previously, under Fortson and Harris, this Court has held that “causing a defendant to unnecessarily use a peremptory strike on a juror that should have been excused for cause is per se harmful error.” With today’s opinion, however, “we overrule our previous holdings to the contrary and hold now that it is harmless error where a defendant’s motion to excuse a prospective juror is erroneously denied but the juror is subsequently removed from the defendant’s 12-person jury by his or her use of a peremptory strike.”

    Attorneys for Appellant (Willis): Charley Frier, Akil Secret

    Attorneys for Appellee (State): Paul Howard, Jr., District Attorney, Lyndsey Rudder, Dep. D.A., Kevin Armstrong, Sr. Asst. D.A., Christopher Carr, Attorney General, Beth Burton, Dep. A.G., Sabrina Graham, Sr. Asst. A.G., Channell Singh, Asst. A.G.


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