An Augusta man sentenced to death for the murder of a 16-year-old girl lost his federal appeal Tuesday, possibly leaving only two further steps before execution.
U.S. District Judge Dudley H. Bowen Jr. issued an order Tuesday denying Alexander E. Williams IV's federal appeal petition. The judge ordered the case closed.
Mr. Williams, 29, was convicted and sentenced to death by a Richmond County Superior Court jury for the March 1986 kidnapping, robbery, rape and murder of Aleta Carol Bunch. She disappeared March 4, 1986, while shopping for her mother's birthday gift at the Regency Mall. Her body was found 11 days later off Storey Mill Road near Hephzibah.
"That's the best news I've heard in a long time," Aleta's father, Fred Bunch, said of Judge Bowen's order. Aleta's mother, Carolyn Bunch, agreed. "That's just wonderful. It's time for this to be over."
Mr. Williams has 30 days to appeal Judge Bowen's ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, said Deputy Attorney General Mary Beth Westmoreland, who represents the state in Mr. Williams' and other death penalty cases.
The appeal in the Atlanta court could take months, Ms. Westmoreland said. But if Mr. Williams loses his appeal there, the last step is asking the U.S. Supreme Court for permission to appeal.
"It's a lot closer now (to being over)," she said.
Mr. Williams' lead attorney, Elmer A. Simpson, didn't return a telephone message late Tuesday afternoon.
In his ruling, Judge Bowen explained that Mr. Williams failed to prove that his former appeal attorney, Richard Allen, was deficient in handling Mr. Williams' case.
"It may be hindsight ironic ... that Mr. Allen relied primarily upon (Mr.) Williams' mother, who allegedly abused him. However, the irony is apparent only now," wrote Judge Bowen, who explained that judges in his position are prohibited from judging an attorney's performance on hindsight and speculation.
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