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Williams v. State

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Western District, Second Division

July 25, 2017

SEAN M. WILLIAMS, Respondent,
v.
STATE OF MISSOURI, Appellant.

         APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF RANDOLPH COUNTY, MISSOURI THE HONORABLE TERRY A. TSCHANNEN, JUDGE.

          Before: Edward R. Ardini, Jr., Presiding Judge, Karen King Mitchell, Judge and Anthony Rex Gabbert, Judge.

          EDWARD R. ARDINI, JR., JUDGE.

         The State appeals the Judgment of the Circuit Court of Randolph County granting Sean Williams's Rule 29.15[1] amended motion for post-conviction relief following an evidentiary hearing. The judgment is reversed.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[2]

         Williams was charged with first-degree assault, kidnapping, forcible sodomy, forcible rape, and armed criminal action. At his trial, nine witnesses testified, including the victim and one of her assailants. The evidence established that the victim was staying at a hotel with Michael Wright where she regularly got high on marijuana and methamphetamine with acquaintances. On February 21, 2012, Wright, the victim, Williams, and three others were in the hotel room. Everyone left the room except for Wright and the victim, who was high, so that Wright could "get [him] some booty." Williams returned with some syringes and used methamphetamine with Wright, and the victim ate a capsule of methamphetamine, smoked marijuana, and took prescription pain medications.[3]

         Williams then left the hotel room again. Once Wright and the victim were alone, the victim began to organize items that she had brought from her father's home when Wright went "crazy" and accused the victim of stealing from him. He put a pillowcase over her head and said that he was going to kill her.[4] Wright called one of the other acquaintances, Tracy Stodgell, who could not understand him and gave the phone to Williams. Wright told Williams to come back to the hotel before he killed the victim. Williams told Stodgell that they were going back to the hotel to help Wright.

         Once they arrived at the hotel, Stodgell remained in the car while Williams went inside. After entering the room, Williams pulled out a knife and put it to the victim's throat. Williams told the victim not to cause a scene, to do what they said, and to go out to the car. Wright was standing nearby and told Williams to make sure that the victim did not have a phone so that she would be unable to call anybody. Wright went out to the car, and Williams and the victim followed with the knife no longer at the victim's throat.

         Wright drove with Stodgell in the passenger seat and Williams and the victim in the back seat. Stodgell immediately started yelling at the victim and asked why the victim stole from Wright since he was "the man that supplie[d] [her] addiction." The victim admitted that she had stolen from Stodgell as well, and Stodgell told the victim that she "should beat [her] ass for that." Stodgell and the victim were both crying. The victim repeatedly apologized, but Wright was still angry and continued to yell at her. Williams again placed the knife to the victim's throat and told her to lean down. Wright told the victim that he was going to take her to "the basement, " and Williams informed Wright that he would "quarterback this."

         Wright drove them to a basement structure where a house was apparently going to be built. Wright called another acquaintance, Patrick Hallback, and told him to come meet them. After exiting the car, Wright hit the victim, causing her to fall to the ground. Williams stood the victim up and directed her to enter the basement structure. After Hallback arrived, Stodgell and Wright left.

         Only Williams and the victim went inside the basement, where Williams tied the victim's hands behind her back with electrical cord. The victim testified that Williams forced her into a freezer and then closed the lid, placing cinder blocks on top. The victim could hear people talking and yelled for someone to let her out. She was allowed out of the freezer about a minute later when Williams opened the lid. The victim stood up and saw Hallback standing by the door frame.

         Williams told the victim to get out of the freezer and that she would "get out of this alive" if she did what he said. Williams then made her have sexual intercourse with him with her hands still tied. The victim alleged that Williams next made her lie down on some plywood and perform oral sex on him, ejaculating onto the plywood. The victim asked Hallback to help her, but he did not. The victim testified that after Williams ejaculated, he made her get back inside the freezer and cinder blocks were again placed on top of it.

         Meanwhile, Wright retrieved some items, including duct tape, from Hallback's home and then drove to make a drug deal before returning to the basement. Stodgell remained with him during this time, and Wright indicated to Stodgell that he just wanted to beat the victim and that Stodgell should do it because she was also a female.

         After Wright and Stodgell returned, the freezer was opened and the victim observed Williams, Wright, and Stodgell present. Stodgell testified that the victim mentioned Stodgell's daughter's name because their kids were friends and that the victim appeared "scared to death" and "terrified." Stodgell punched the victim in the face two or three times and spit on her. They then closed the freezer, putting cinder blocks on top of the lid because none of the participants wanted to stay to watch over her. The victim eventually "passed out[.]" Williams, Wright, and Stodgell drove back to the hotel and decided that they would return to the basement the following day, let the victim out of the freezer, and "try to make things right with her[.]"

         When the victim woke the following morning, she was able to untie her hands and remove a white glove and tape that had been placed over her mouth. She testified that she attempted to lift the lid but was unsuccessful until she found something that she was able to wedge under the lid. Once free, she ran down the road to a house where a married couple allowed her to use their phone. The victim called her father, who did not answer, so the husband of the couple then drove the victim to her father's home.

         Stodgell attempted to wake Wright around 5:00 or 6:00 a.m., but he would not wake up until around 10:00 a.m. Once awake, Wright and Stodgell picked up Williams and went back to the basement. The cinder blocks were still on the freezer when they arrived, but the victim was no longer inside.

         After attempting to retrieve her belongings, the victim talked to her cousins and was convinced to go to the police. A corporal from the sheriff's department responded to the Moberly Police Department and testified that he observed upon his arrival that the victim had a black eye, some scratch marks, and bruising on her body. The victim led officers to the location of the basement, where they observed two deep freezers along with numerous wood pallets, chairs, bed frames, cinder blocks, and other items, including a cigarette lighter, a cigarette, a piece of duct tape, electrical tape, and a white glove in one of the freezers. The victim did not initially tell the officers about the alleged sexual acts or mention the acts in her written statements to the police or to the nurse or doctor who treated her at the hospital. However, she eventually told an investigator about the alleged sexual assault.

         Williams voluntarily went to the police department to be interviewed, and his recorded statement was played at trial. In the interview, he first denied being at the scene. After being told that his DNA was at the scene, he admitted that he had consensual sex with the victim at the hotel room, allegedly because she owed Wright money from a drug debt. He also admitted that he and Wright drove the victim to the basement but claimed she went voluntarily and that they did not restrain her. Williams stated that Wright and the victim yelled at each other on the drive to the basement and that, once they arrived, Wright slapped the victim, tied her up with a piece of cord, and put her in the freezer. Williams denied assisting Wright and recounted that he was picked up by Wright the following morning and went to the basement but the victim was no longer there.

         At the close of the evidence, Williams moved for judgment of acquittal, which was overruled by the trial court. The jury found Williams not guilty of armed criminal action but guilty on all other counts. Williams's motion for new trial was overruled and he was sentenced to a total of ninety years' imprisonment. The convictions were affirmed on direct appeal.[5]

         Following his appeal, Williams filed a timely pro se Rule 29.15 motion. Appointed counsel filed an amended motion alleging that Williams's trial counsel was ineffective. The motion court[6]issued Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, ...


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