Court up­holds ’03 murder con­vic­tion

The Covington News - - Front page - AM­BER PITTMAN apittman@cov­news.com

The Ge­or­gia Supreme Court re­versed a rul­ing Mon­day that threw out the murder con­vic­tions and death sen­tence for Wil­liam David Ri­ley, con­victed of killing his three young chil­dren in a fire on Aug. 16, 2000.

A New­ton County jury con­victed Ri­ley of the murder of his chil­dren Sa­man­tha, Wil­liam and Ash­ley, (ages 3 to 6) and of ar­son in 2004, sen­tenc­ing him to die. In 2005, Ri­ley filed a writ of habeas cor­pus, amend­ing it in 2007. In 2012, the habeas court granted his pe­ti­tion, va­cat­ing his con­vic­tions and sen­tences. The War­den of Jack­son Di­ag­nos­tic and Clas­si­fi­ca­tion Prison ap­pealed that.

Typ­i­cally, con­victed crim­i­nals have four years to file a writ of habeas cor­pus, Latin for “you have the body.” This is a ju­di­cial man­date to a prison of­fi­cial who or­ders an in­mate be brought to court to de­ter­mine if that per­son is law­fully im­pris­oned and whether or not they should be re­leased. The pe­ti­tion must show that the court or­der­ing the de­ten­tion or im­pris­on­ment made a le­gal or fac­tual er­ror. The process can also de­lay the pu­n­ish­ment. Ri­ley claimed he was de­prived of a fair trial be­cause of the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of his lawyers.

Dur­ing the trial, ev­i­dence showed that a fire broke out at the rented mo­bile home Ri­ley, his girl­friend, his three chil­dren and an­other friend lived in. All of the adults made it out of the home, but the three chil­dren died in their bed­room. Neigh­bors re­ported that he was un­emo­tional and made no ef­forts to save the chil­dren.

His for­mer girl­friend said they were days away from evic­tion and Ri­ley had said he would “burn the home down be­fore he would al­low him­self to be evicted.” Three days be­fore the fire, neigh­bors re­ported that Ri­ley said he wished “that his girl­friend and chil­dren were dead.”

Ac­cord­ing to the rul­ing, “In a sec­ond in­ter­view af­ter the fire, Ri­ley be­gan to change his story: he now claimed that he had in­ten- tion­ally set fire to the cor­ner of his son’s bed as his chil­dren slept; claimed that he set the fire only to scare his girl­friend. A fel­low in­mate tes­ti­fied that Ri­ley had ad­mit­ted that he started the fire while his chil­dren lay in their bed and that Ri­ley had said that he was plan­ning to ‘pre­tend that he was out of it’ when the fire be­gan and to claim that the fire was caused by ‘faulty wiring.’”

Al­though the habeas court agreed to over­turn the con­vic­tion and sen­tence, the Supreme Court unan­i­mously over­turned that de­ci­sion.

RI­LEY

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