Williams v. Taylor, 529 U.S. 362, 9 (2000)

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Opinion of the Court

The jury found a probability of future dangerousness and unanimously fixed Williams' punishment at death. The trial judge concluded that such punishment was "proper" and "just" and imposed the death sentence. Id., at 154. The Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence. Williams v. Commonwealth, 234 Va. 168, 360 S. E. 2d 361 (1987), cert. denied, Williams v. Virginia, 484 U. S. 1020 (1988). It rejected Williams' argument that when the trial judge imposed sentence, he failed to give mitigating weight to the fact that Williams had turned himself in. 234 Va., at 181-182, 360 S. E. 2d, at 369-370.

State Habeas Corpus Proceedings

In 1988 Williams filed for state collateral relief in the Danville Circuit Court. The petition was subsequently amended, and the Circuit Court (the same judge who had presided over Williams' trial and sentencing) held an evidentiary hearing on Williams' claim that trial counsel had been ineffective.3 Based on the evidence adduced after two days of hearings, Judge Ingram found that Williams' conviction was valid, but that his trial attorneys had been ineffective during sentencing. Among the evidence reviewed that had not been presented at trial were documents prepared in connection with Williams' commitment when he was 11 years old that dramatically described mistreatment, abuse, and neglect during his early childhood, as well as testimony that he was "borderline mentally retarded," had suffered repeated head injuries, and might have mental impairments organic in origin. App. 528-529, 595. The habeas hearing also revealed

3 While Williams' petition was pending before the Circuit Court, Virginia amended its state habeas statute to vest in the State Supreme Court exclusive jurisdiction to award writs of habeas corpus in capital cases. Va. Code Ann. 8.01-654(C)(1) (Supp. 1999). Shortly after the Circuit Court held its evidentiary hearing, the Supreme Court assumed jurisdiction over Williams' petition and instructed the Circuit Court to issue findings of fact and legal recommendation regarding Williams' ineffective-assistance claims.

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