Thursday, February 3, 2011
The Williams case is becoming increasingly interesting in legal terms. For one thing, Nushawn now has a competent lawyer, John Nuchereno, who seems determined to provide a strong legal defense, for the first time really. The case has been progressing along two tracks. Track one has been an attempt on the part of Mr. Nuchereno to have Nushawn’s guilty pleas excised and initiate a new trial Track two involves the civil confinement issue. Let’s take a look at track one here:
The motion to withdraw Nushawn’s guilty pleas is based on two very important pieces of evidence or, more accurately, lack thereof. First, no written document exists showing Nushawn Williams’ HIV test results, nor, second, that he was told of that he was HIV positive by public health authorities. Nushawn’s attorney, Richard Slater--at the time that his picture was being posted up around Chautauqua County and he was being characterized in the media as an “AIDS Monster”-- advised him to plead guilty. Slater traveled to New York City, where Nushawn was in prison for a cocaine charge, to tell him to take the guilty plea or end up in jail for decades, once found guilty by a Chautauqua County jury.
At a hearing held on January 20th, it became clear that none of the documents that would have been presumably essential for a conviction at trial exists, and there’s no reason to believe, at this point, that they ever existed. Hence, it’s likely that the state had no proof that Nushawn was HIV positive when he was said to have infected several young women, and that the state had no proof that he knew that he was HIV positive at the time.
Nushawn has always denied the state’s claim that he was informed of his HIV status while in a Chautauqua County jail (after being held there for stealing a car.) And it’s clear now that there is no evidence to support that claim. On the other hand, given the atmosphere at the time, it’s unlikely that facts would have deterred a jury from finding him guilty of something particularly egregious, perhaps even attempted murder, as Rudy Guliani suggested. Taking a guilty plea, with the hope of being released in as soon as four years, was, no doubt, given the circumstances, a rational course of action.
Of course, it’s also not clear that the atmosphere is much different now. For example, the lead of a recent news story described Nushawn as, “The man who said he knowingly infected as many as 13 women with HIV[.]” This statement is simply false.
District Attorney David Foley’s response to Nuchereno’s presentation was to argue that its timing was suspicious. Nushawn, he argued, could have brought this claim before, but he is only doing so now because he is facing civil confinement. Foley apparently produced no documentary evidence to address the defense claims. But apparently it wasn’t necessary.
Last Monday, the judge turned down the motion for withdrawing the plea. Of course, this was the same judge that accepted the original guilty plea. Perhaps a court at the appellate level will be more willing to consider whether there was, in fact, an injustice committed here.