Death row inmate fights to be awarded life sentence

Malorie Conlee

On Dec. 11 and 12, 2017, death-row inmate William Matthew Wilson was granted an evidentiary hearing, where it was determined, among other things, his trial counsel failed to visit and properly communicate with him during the 18 months leading up to the charge of capital murder. Wilson, 38, has been in prison since 2007 charged with the capital murder of 2-year-old Malorie Conlee. He also has a charge of felony child abuse, for which he was given 20 years. The charges stem from the child’s death which came from a head injury April 29, 2005. Wilson first told investigators his motorcycle fell on Malorie at the Mooreville area mobile home he shared with her mother, Augustina Conlee. Later, he admitted he hit her in the head with his fist three times. The child also had burns on her feet, which Wilson said occurred when she was left unattended in the bathtub. This new hearing could change the sentencing from the death penalty to a life sentence, but will not change the guilty part of the plea. “I know one thing. This 2-year-old child had no chance. No appeals. No attorneys. No judges. Nobody fighting for her. She had one chance and she fought her entire two years alone against these evil people and at the end — she got the death penalty,” said Lee County Sheriff Jim Johnson. “It couldn’t be undone. She didn’t get a chance to appeal it or none of that. She died at the hands of this man and I absolutely have no problem, one bit whatsoever, with this man being put to death by lethal injection.” Nevertheless, Senior Status Judge Larry E. Roberts, of Meridian, said in part “Mr. Wilson could not have knowingly and intelligently waived his entitlement to a jury at sentencing in the absence of such relevant knowledge about Judge (Thomas) Gardner having been conveyed to him. Accordingly, Mr. Wilson’s sentence of death is hereby get aside and vacated by this Court.” Wilson was originally represented by attorneys Will Bristow of Tupelo and James Johnstone of Pontotoc. According to the sheriff it is not unusual for a convicted felon to appeal a sentence, however it is unusual for a judge to set aside a death sentence during a court hearing. “It’s the first one I’ve heard of, in my tenure as sheriff,” Johnson said. “It all comes back to the defendant convincing the court he didn’t understand what was going on and or he wasn’t told everything he should have been told.” Judge Roberts gave defense council and the prosecution on or before Jan. 12 to present briefs before either putting the case back on the active criminal docket for the District Attorney or giving the resentence of life without the possibility of parole. “The previous sentence of death, after this court hearing, has been removed from that sentencing. It is my understanding that the judge has given both sides an opportunity to write briefs to the judge and the state still has the option of the death penalty if they want to pursue that,” Johnson said. “If they do they will petition this judge to bring in a jury and that option would be on the table. It’s not automatic. They would get to hear it and then they would have the option to give the death penalty or a lesser sentence. “If the state does not push for the death penalty the judge can satisfy both sides by giving a life sentence.” Wilson has been moved from the Mississippi Department of Corrections to the Lee County Jail while these hearings have been taking place. He will, most likely, remain in Lee County until this matter is settled by the end of February.

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