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Court upholds man's conviction, life sentence

Special to the Legal News

Published: July 6, 2016

A Franklin County man serving life in prison for a 2012 murder will remain incarcerated after he lost his appeal to the 10th District Court of Appeals.

Maxamillion Williams was sentenced in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to life in prison without parole for aggravated murder, 10 years for aggravated robbery and kidnapping and three additional years for tampering with evidence.

On appeal, Williams challenged the instructions given to his jury, the life sentence and the sufficiency and manifest weight of the evidence.

Williams was convicted along with co-defendant Dartanian Hawkins for the strangulation death of Michael Payne. The men committed the murder with the help of Amy Lambert, Payne’s former fiancé who wanted him dead in order to collect money from a life insurance policy.

Payne was beaten and strangled in Williams’ East Livingston Avenue apartment on Oct. 19, 2012. According to court documents, Williams and the others attempted to dispose of the evidence, clipping the body’s fingernails, cutting off the clothing and using cleaning products in the apartment.

The body was transported to Whitehall, where it was left in front of an apartment complex, covered in trash bags.

After the murder, Williams flew to Miami, where he boarded a cruise ship. When the ship made a stop on Cozumel, Mexico, Williams got off the ship and did not reboard. He was eventually arrested in Mexico and returned to Ohio.

Lambert ended up entering into a plea bargain with the state and testified at Williams’ trial that the murder was his idea and that she helped commit it.

She and another eyewitness testified that Williams and Hawkins forced Payne into the apartment before Hawkins strangled him to death with an HDMI cable.

Williams denied involvement and testified that the killing was carried out by Lambert and Hawkins, whom he considered a brother.

In an opinion authored by Judge Susan Brown, the 10th District Court affirmed Williams’ conviction and sentence. It first addressed his contention that trial court’s jury instructions essentially instructed the jury that Williams’ mere presence at the scene was sufficient to convict him as an aider and abettor.

“With respect to the ‘mere presence’ language, as noted by the state, the trial court’s instruction did not simply state that mere presence was enough to convict as a complicitor; rather, the court instructed the jury that ‘it can be enough if it is intended to and does aid in the primary offense,’” Brown wrote. “Here, viewing the instruction as a whole, we find that the trial court’s instruction adequately informed the jury that more than mere presence was required to render one an aider and abettor.”

Williams also argued that the trial court relied solely on its perception of a lack of remorse in fashioning his life sentence. He claimed that any expression of remorse on his part would have sabotaged his chances for acquittal because it would have been a showing of culpability, when he claimed innocence.

“Under Ohio law, however, lack of genuine remorse is an appropriate consideration for sentencing, even for a convicted defendant who maintains his or her innocence,” Brown wrote.

Since the trial court considered the purposes and principles of criminal sentencing, the court of appeals could not overturn its sentencing decision.

In a third argument on appeal, Williams claimed that his convictions were against the sufficiency and manifest weight of the evidence. But the appellate panel, considering the sheer amount of incriminating physical evidence and the damning testimony of Lambert and other eyewitnesses, held that the evidence was sufficient to support a conviction.

Presiding Judge Julia Dorrian and Judge Jennifer Brunner joined Brown to affirm the judgment of the Franklin County court. Brunner wrote a separate, concurring opinion.

The case is cited State v. Williams, 2016-Ohio-4550.

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