Death row inmate from Warren gets disability hearing

WARREN — A Trumbull County death row inmate will try to avoid the death penalty in court this week as a hearing begins today to determine if he is severely intellectually disabled.

Andre Williams, 49, formerly of Warren, who was convicted in the 1988 brutal attack on an elderly Warren couple that left the husband dead and the wife blind will be sitting at the defense table in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court Judge W. Wyatt McKay’s courtroom as Williams’ lawyers argue he has an IQ score below 70.

McKay ruled in 2004 and 2007 without hearings in favor of the state on this issue, which is known in legal parlance as an Atkins claim. However, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated McKay’s ruling in October 2015 and ordered Williams’ execution postponed until a local hearing is held.

The appeals court gave McKay six months to start the process for the hearing. Over the last several months, attorneys in the case have been meeting with the judge to discuss legal procedures.

Williams is being held in the Trumbull County Jail, where he was taken from his cell at the Chillicothe Correctional Institution.

In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled it is unconstitutional to execute people who are severely mentally disabled. In June 2003, Williams’ attorneys filed a petition with the local court stating his death sentence should be set aside.

The state generally considers IQ tests of below 70 to indicate a severe mental disability. In his earlier decisions, McKay cited Williams’ scored higher than 70 on several IQ tests.

Williams was convicted and sentenced to death for aggravated murder in 1989, and both the Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals and Ohio Supreme Court upheld that verdict and sentence.

The 1988 attack at the Wick Street SE home left George Melnick, 65, dead and his Katherine, 64, blind, injured and confined to a nursing home for the rest of her life. Prosecutors said the woman was raped and left nearly dead under a kitchen table. She died in October 2012.

Williams’ accomplice, Christopher W. Daniel, 47, is serving a 37-to 100-year prison term given in 1989.