NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A Tennessee death row inmate who told his ex-wife he fatally shot two teenage newlyweds has lost a bid to have his confession thrown out.
The Tennessee Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld Howard Hawk Willis’ convictions and death sentence in the October 2002 murders of 17-year-old Adam Chrismer and 16-year-old Samantha Leming Chrismer, of Chickamauga, Georgia. Adam Chrismer’s head and hands were found in East Tennessee’s Boone Lake. Their bodies were found in a Johnson City rental storage unit.
In a jailhouse conversation Willis’ ex-wife Wilda Gadd recorded Willis as saying, “Yeah. I blew their brains out.”
Willis said he shot Adam Chrismer after the teenager said he and his wife’s brother had robbed and killed Willis’ stepfather, whose headless body turned up in woods in Walker County, Georgia, about the same time the Chrismers’ bodies were found.
Defense attorneys had argued Willis’ confession should be thrown out because police violated his right to an attorney. They argued that his ex-wife was acting as an agent of the state in questioning Willis, and so it should have been done in the presence of an attorney.
The state Supreme Court rejected that argument on Wednesday, saying Willis’ conversations with his ex-wife were not the same as questioning by law enforcement. He mistakenly put his trust in her, the court said. But the court said the fact that she repeatedly contacted law enforcement officials did not mean she was acting as their agent.