NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee death row inmate who told his ex-wife he blew out the brains of teenage newlyweds now says his confession should be thrown out because she was working with law enforcement.
Defense attorney Kathleen Morris told the Tennessee Supreme Court on Thursday that Wilda Gadd was acting as an agent of the state, just like a police officer, when she recorded Howard Hawk Willis saying, "Yeah. I blew their brains out."
Willis was in custody at a jail and had invoked his right to an attorney, Morris said, so he should not have been questioned without an attorney present, even by Gadd.
James Gaylord, of the Tennessee Attorney General's office, argued that Willis never expressed a clear and unequivocal desire for an attorney. Willis asked relatives to find him an attorney during phone calls from jail that police listened in on, but Gaylord said those conversations were not sufficient to qualify as invoking a right to an attorney.
Willis was convicted in the October 2002 slayings of 17-year-old Adam Chrismer and 16-year-old Samantha Leming Chrismer, of Chickamauga, Georgia. Adam Chrismer's head was found in an East Tennessee lake and his hands were discovered nearby. Their bodies were found later in a Johnson City rental storage unit.
Investigators said Willis and the newlyweds met while they were living in northwest Georgia. They said Willis killed the Chrismers at his mother's home in Johnson City.
Willis told Gadd he shot Adam Chrismer after the teenager said he and his wife's brother had robbed and killed Willis' stepfather, whose headless body turned up in the wilderness of Walker County, Georgia, about the same time the Chrismers' bodies were found.
The case did not go to trial until 2010 because of squabbles between Willis and a series of court-appointed attorneys. He eventually was ordered to defend himself with an attorney acting as adviser.