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WILLIAMS v. OKLAHOMA

decided: February 24, 1959.

WILLIAMS
v.
OKLAHOMA



CERTIORARI TO THE CRIMINAL COURT OF APPEALS OF OKLAHOMA.

Warren, Black, Frankfurter, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Whittaker, Stewart

Author: Whittaker

[ 358 U.S. Page 577]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITTAKER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Upon his plea of guilty to a charge of kidnaping in the District Court of Tulsa County, Oklahoma, petitioner was sentenced to death. On appeal, the Criminal Court of Appeals of Oklahoma affirmed, 321 P. 2d 990, and certiorari was sought on the ground that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. We granted the writ to determine that question. 357 U.S. 925.

The undisputed facts are that on June 17, 1956, within a few hours after robbing a filling station attendant in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and eluding police in an ensuing chase, petitioner forced his way into an automobile being driven by one Tommy Cooke, a young divinity student, as it stopped for a traffic light in that city, and, at gunpoint, forced Cooke to drive beyond the City and County of Tulsa and for a considerable distance through northeastern

[ 358 U.S. Page 578]

     Oklahoma to a point on a dead-end road in Muskogee County where he shot and killed him, and then escaped in the car. On June 19, 1956, petitioner was apprehended, and soon afterward he was charged in the District Court of Muskogee County with murdering Cooke in that county. On arraignment, he entered a plea of not guilty, but during the course of his trial petitioner, on November 19, 1956, withdrew that plea and entered a plea of guilty as charged. He was thereupon convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.*fn1

Thereafter, on December 17, 1956, petitioner was charged in the District Court of Tulsa County with kidnaping Cooke in that county on June 17, 1956, in violation of Okla. Stat., 1951, Tit. 21, ยง 745.*fn2 At his arraignment on December 19, 1956, petitioner entered a plea of not guilty, but on January 30, 1957, a few days before the scheduled date of trial, he withdrew that plea and entered a plea of guilty as charged. After interrogating petitioner to make sure that he had entered the plea of guilty voluntarily and that he understood that he might be sentenced to death upon it,*fn3 the court accepted the plea

[ 358 U.S. Page 579]

     and adjudged petitioner guilty of the crime of kidnaping Cooke as charged. Thereupon the court asked counsel for petitioner if he wished to be heard regarding the sentence to be imposed, and counsel replied that he preferred to reserve his statement until after the State's Attorney had spoken. The State's Attorney then made a statement -- reading much of it from a prepared statement -- recounting the armed robbery of the filling station attendant and the following chase by and elusion of the Tulsa police; reciting the gruesome details of the kidnaping of Cooke in Tulsa County and of his murder in Muskogee County; stating petitioner's past criminal record as shown

[ 358 U.S. Page 580]

     by the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation;*fn4 and concluding with a request for a death sentence. Counsel for petitioner objected to any reference to the murder on the ground that sentence for that crime had already been imposed by the District Court of Muskogee County and that it could not again lawfully be considered in imposing sentence on the kidnaping charge. The court, expressing the view that it was "proper to advise the Court of all the facts [occurring while petitioner] had the victim in his charge and under his control," overruled the objection. After the State's Attorney had concluded, counsel for petitioner put in evidence a transcript of the sentencing proceedings had in the District Court of Muskogee County in the murder case, and made an extended plea for a sentence to life imprisonment rather than a sentence to death.

After thus fully hearing the parties, the court deferred the imposition of sentence for two days. Upon reconvening, the court called petitioner to the bar and asked him whether he wished to make any correction in the statement that had been made to the court by the State's Attorney. Petitioner answered that he ...


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