Convicted murderer pushes his luck
By By Suzanne Monk / managing editor
April 6, 2003
In every prison, there are inmates who specialize in filing homemade appeals and lawsuits for other inmates usually because the person making the complaint either can't afford an attorney or can't interest one in his cause.
These amateur jailhouse lawyers are known in courthouse circles as "writ writers."
For the most part, I ignore their filings as I review civil cases in Lauderdale County Circuit Court. Often laboriously hand-written, sometimes decorated with mystical signs and symbols, usually parroting legal language the writer doesn't understand, they are the products of people who have become obsessed with the system that put them away.
Just because they're strange, however, does not mean that the court can blow them off.
Most of these filings are appeals, of a sort, called "motions for post-conviction relief." Like any other complaint, they are assigned a case number, the legal points are researched, and the judge issues a written order almost always denying the motion.
One caught my attention this week because the petitioner is playing with fire.
Having evaded the death penalty in 1996, Willie Davis has hooked up with a writ writer who, if ever successful, stands a good chance of getting him executed.
George Monsour murder case
In November 1994, a former Little League baseball coach named George Monsour had an antique car for sale. Davis pretended to be interested it buying it and said he wanted to go on a test drive. The elderly man got in the car with Davis and his friends.
Mr. Monsour's body was found at Warren Lake. He had been beaten, robbed and killed. His car had been stolen.
Willie Davis, Aaron Dewayne Finley and Stacy Lashaw Armstrong were arrested and charged with capital murder. Davis was indicted in July 1995, and tried in April 1996.
After the jury convicted him of capital murder, but before they had rendered a decision on punishment, Davis struck a deal with the district attorney's office.
He agreed to testify against his co-defendants in exchange for not having to face the death penalty. He agreed to be sentenced, by the judge, to life in prison without the possibility of parole and waived the right to appeal his conviction. He signed a written agreement to that effect.
Which did not stop him from appealing anyway.
Not thinking it through
Davis' first request for post-conviction relief, or PCR, came in August 2001. In it, he argued that he had a constitutional right to be sentenced by the jury, a right that had been taken from him.
He said that before he could be sentenced by the judge, he had to give up the right to be sentenced by the jury in writing and apparently felt the agreement he did sign was insufficient.
The jury, he said, could have sentenced him to life with the possibility of parole apparently overlooking the fact that they also could have sentenced him to death. He asked to be resentenced.
Judge Larry Roberts denied the motion.
Now Davis is back with a new PCR, again asserting that he had the right to be sentenced by a jury, but citing different grounds.
Roberts has denied the new motion, but adds this ominous note:
Davis has filed more PCR motions since.
New trial: If the judge ever gives Davis what he wants, it will be necessary to re-try him. For practical reasons, the 1996 jury cannot be re-empaneled, nor would their recollections be clear if they could. The PCR is, in effect, a motion for a new trial but I don't imagine the district attorney's office would make any new deals with Davis.
Davis' co-defendants: Aaron Finley was tried for the capital murder of George Monsour in November 1996. He was convicted and received a life sentence without the possibility of parole; the Mississippi Supreme Court rejected his appeal in 1998.
Stacy Armstrong was never indicted in the Monsour case, but he was charged with murder again in 1997 in the shooting death of his girlfriend. This time, he was indicted. Armstrong pleaded guilty to manslaughter and is currently serving a 20-year sentence.