Neuropsychologist testifies in Williams case

Andre Williams, left, smiles at a family member in the courtroom during his Atkins hearing before Judge W. Wyatt McKay Wednesday.

WARREN — A neuropsychologist who has tested NFL players with concussions testified Wednesday in the hearing that will determine whether death row inmate Andre Williams is eligible for execution.

Dr. Thomas Sullivan, a board certified neuropsychologist, was hired by defense attorneys to see if Williams had a brain injury. Sullivan testified that his examination of the defendant found no such injury and confirmed the testing of others who found him to be intellectually disabled.

Common Pleas Judge W. Wyatt McKay will make the final determination about Williams’ status after this week’s hearing. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled it unconstitutional to execute someone who is intellectually disabled.

Williams, 49, was sentenced to death in the Feb. 17, 1989, beating death of George Melnick, 65, of Warren, and the beating, blinding and attempted rape of Melnick’s wife, Katherine. He has lost a series of appeals in an effort to get off death row.

This week’s hearing is a result of a order from the U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals that issued a temporary stay of execution pending the outcome.

Sullivan spent all day on the stand, most of the time under questioning by Alan Rossman, federal public defender for the Northern District of Ohio. Also questioning Sullivan were McKay and assistant Trumbull County prosecutor Diane Barber.

Sullivan, who is from the Dayton suburb of Fairborn, said he tested Williams’ verbal and memory skills.

“He confuses a lot of information,” Sullivan said, noting he did not give the defendant an IQ test.

As an example of Williams’ intellectual deficit, Sullivan noted that when he asked him to list vegetables, Williams gave him all fruits. When asked to list all things that begin with the letter “h,” Sullivan said Williams was confused whether the word “heart”  named a person or place.

Sullivan noted it is not unusual for those with intellectual disabilities to carry on regular conversations. Sullivan said Williams was very interested in football and wanted to know about the psychologist’s interaction with members of the Cincinnati Bengals football team.

Williams is in Trumbull County jail this week away from his regular cell at Chillicothe Correctional Institution.

The 1988 attacks took place during a break-in and burglary at the Melnicks’ Wick Street SE home. A VCR and $2,000 cash were stolen. The crime was discovered two days later when a concerned neighbor notified police, who later found an injured Katherine Melnick lying on the kitchen floor and George Melnick dead in a bedroom.

The high court’s  Atkins vs. Virginia decision gave states authority to set the standard for what constitutes an intellectual disability. In state of Ohio vs. Lott, the state Supreme Court determined Ohio judges should rule in the hearings and the defense has to prove the disability.

Barber and assistant Prosecutor LuWayne Annos are expected to begin their case today by calling the first of two expert witnesses.