Juror accused of hiding ‘messy divorces’ at center of execution-bound man’s appeal

William C. Sallie
William C. Sallie

Lawyers fighting to stay next month’s execution of a Georgia man contend one of the Houston County jurors who sentenced him to death was biased and withheld pertinent facts during jury selection.

The juror’s history wasn’t uncovered until 2012, well after William C. Sallie’s state and local federal appeals had run their courses. Without a lawyer for a period after his conviction, he missed a filing date for his federal appeal. Because of that technicality, the issue hasn’t been considered by a federal judge.

Now, at a time when the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a series of cases involving how appeals in criminal cases can be reopened and otherwise handled in the court system, Sallie’s lawyers are asking a local federal judge to reopen his case.

In addition to the juror bias argument, Sallie’s lawyers also contend his trial lawyer was ineffective.

A hearing hasn’t been scheduled.

Sallie, 50, is set to be executed Dec. 6 for the 1990 Bacon County fatal shooting of his estranged wife’s father.

9 If Sallie is executed, he will be the 9th Georgia inmate executed in 2016.

If executed on that date, he will be the ninth Georgia inmate to have his capital punishment carried out in 2016.

Georgia surpassed Texas as the nation’s leader in executions with the Thursday execution of Steven Spears for the 2001 Lumpkin County killing of his ex-girlfriend.

Joseph Perkovich, one of Sallie’s lawyers, said his client is a “spiritual person” and a “model prisoner” at the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison in Jackson, home to Georgia’s death row.

“He’s reflective of his circumstances,” Perkovich said. “He’s deeply regretful and remorseful about them.”

A rural killing

Sallie left his home near Peoria, Illinois, in 1985 to join the U.S. Army. Stationed at Fort Stewart in south Georgia, he dated an Alma woman and the two were married, according to a news release issued by Sallie’s lawyers.

Allegations of physical abuse led to Sallie and his wife, Robin, separating in December 1989 and his wife seeking a divorce, according to a case summary included in an announcement of Sallie’s upcoming execution.

According to the summary:

Robin Sallie took the couple’s 2-year-old son and went to live with her parents in rural Bacon County just south of Hazlehurst. At some point, William Sallie abducted the boy and took him to Illinois. An Illinois court later awarded temporary custody of the boy to Robin Sallie and she returned home with her son in February 1990.

The next month, William Sallie rented a mobile home in Liberty County and asked a friend to buy a gun for him in Illinois.

Sallie’s 1991 death sentence was overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court. The court ruled his lawyer had a conflict of interest in also working as a law clerk for the Waycross Judicial Circuit.

Dressed in green camouflage, Sallie went to his in-laws’ home March 28, 1990, and ripped the wires from an outdoor telephone box before prying open a back door and shooting his estranged wife’s parents as they were lying in bed.

John Moore later died of his wounds. Linda Moore was shot in her thumb, shoulder and both thighs.

Sallie went outside to reload his gun and returned to find Robin Sallie and her 17-year-old sister helping their parents. After firing more shots, he handcuffed Robin’s 9-year-old brother to Linda Moore and a bedrail.

After handcuffing Robin Sallie and her sister together, he took them to the Liberty County mobile home.

He left his 2-year-old son behind at his in-laws’ home.

The sisters were released the following day.

Sallie was originally sentenced to death March 30, 1991, but his conviction and death sentence were later overturned by the Georgia Supreme Court on grounds that one of his lawyers had a conflict of interest during the trial because he was also employed as the full-time law clerk for the Waycross Judicial Circuit.

Attempts to reach the Waycross Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office were unsuccessful Friday.

Allegations of bias

Because of concerns about the notoriety of the case, Sallie’s second trial was moved to Houston County.

During jury selection in February 2001, jurors were asked a series of questions, including whether they’d been victims of a crime or known a crime victim, if they’d been victims of domestic violence, if a family member had a criminal history and if they’d been in a child custody fight.

Sallie’s lawyers contend a 28-year-old Houston County woman ultimately chosen to be on the jury withheld information about her “messy divorces,” domestic abuse, participation in an “ugly” child custody fight and other details that they say would have disqualified her from jury service on a case “so bizarrely similar” to her life experiences, according to the lawyers’ news release.

She “maintained positions regarding her personal experiences that are starkly at odds with the extensive court records and other public documents and information manifesting her background,” Sallie’s lawyers have written in court filings.

Court records have shown the woman had been divorced four times, with the most recent divorce being finalized in Houston County during the same month as Sallie’s trial.

Days after Sallie’s sentencing, a juror’s wife called the judge to ask when the trial would be over. Bailiffs were sent to the 28-year-old woman’s home to inform the male juror that his wife was asking about his whereabouts, according to a news release.

She later bragged to an investigator that she convinced an evenly divided jury to vote unanimously for a death sentence, according to the release.

Although Sallie’s trial lawyer did seek a new trial, he didn’t conduct research on the juror, even after he learned of her “adulterous liaison” with a fellow juror.

They jury had been sequestered in a hotel during the trial, but was released after the sentencing. Sallie’s lawyers allege the woman enticed a married man on the jury to stay with her after the trial.

Days after Sallie’s sentencing, a juror’s wife called the judge to ask when the trial would be over. Bailiffs were sent to the 28-year-old woman’s home to inform the male juror that his wife was asking about his whereabouts, according to the release.

The judge informed lawyers for both the prosecution and defense about the situation about a week after the sentencing.

Later asked about her answers to questions asked during jury selection, the woman submitted an affidavit affirming her answers, according to court filings in the case.

Sallie’s lawyers contend the impartiality of a single juror renders a “capital verdict constitutionally infirm,” according to filings in the case.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon