Judge to hear bid for new trial in UM student killing case

Published 4:33 pm Thursday, April 10, 2008

A circuit court hearing is scheduled Friday on attempts to win a new trial for David Williams, currently serving a life sentence for the 2005 murder of a University of Mississippi student.

The sentence, which includes the possibility of parole, was imposed after a Lafayette County jury in 2007 rejected Williams’ claims that the stabbing death of 21-year-old Demetria Bracey was part of a mutual suicide pact.

Bracey was a senior French major who was just weeks from graduating when she was killed. Her body, with a stab wound in the chest, was found in a closet of Williams’ Oxford apartment. Authorities said her body had been covered by clothes.

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Williams’ attorney at the time, James D. Franks of Hernando, claimed within days of the verdict that the jury was deprived of testimony from an Episcopal priest who could have made a difference in the trial’s outcome.

The jury never heard that testimony, although Franks and prosecutors knew all about it.

Attorney David Hill of Oxford, who now represents Williams, will ask Circuit Judge Andrew Howorth for a new trial based on what he alleges were more than a dozen points of poor legal counsel by Franks.

Last October, Franks had filed a motion asking the judge to set aside the jury’s verdict or grant a new trial, pointing to what he said were errors by Howorth and a verdict “contrary to the weight of the evidence.”

What Hill and Franks agree on is the judge’s error in allowing Oxford Episcopal priest, the Rev. Ollie Rencher, to claim priest-penitent privilege about communications he had with Bracey.

Shortly after Bracey’s death, Rencher volunteered a statement to Oxford police about what he knew of Bracey, saying she had told him she had thought about suicide and he had recommended she get help.

In his supplemental motion for a new trial, Hill alleges numerous defense counsel shortcomings, including failure to call the defendant as a witness, failure to call other local witnesses to support the facts of his defense, failure to get Bracey’s medical records and failure to object to inclusion of her death certificate into evidence because the document concluded her death was a homicide.