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United States v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

May 11, 2011, Decided; May 11, 2011, Filed

File Name: 11a0118p.06

No. 09-5256


 [*761]  [***1]   BOYCE F. MARTIN, JR., Circuit Judge. While serving a sentence for planting a pipe-bomb in a newspaper vending machine that exploded and killed his stepfather,  [*762]  Marshall Williams mailed a letter containing a white substance purported to be anthrax  [***2]  to the district court judge who denied his habeas corpus petition. Williams proceeded pro se at trial, and a jury convicted him of mailing a threatening communication to a federal judge in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 876(c). The district court proceeded  [**2] to sentence Williams without first obtaining a presentence report and conducted the hearing by video conference because of concerns that Williams would be difficult to control if brought into the courtroom. Williams raises a host of issues on appeal and after careful review, we conclude that most are not meritorious. However, the district court erred by conducting the sentencing hearing without Williams physically present and without first obtaining a presentence report. Therefore, we AFFIRM Williams's conviction but VACATE his sentence and REMAND for resentencing.

In 1984, a jury convicted Williams of planting a pipe-bomb in a newspaper vending machine, which exploded and killed his stepfather, and the district court sentenced him to 109 years imprisonment. Williams filed several petitions for post-conviction relief contesting his continued incarceration and alleging misconduct by prison officials. Williams filed one of these petitions in the Western District of Tennessee, and it was assigned to Judge Breen. Judge Breen denied the petition on March 21, 2006.

On May 8, 2008, Judge Breen's chambers received an envelope from Williams containing a white substance. The letter stated that  [**3] the reader had just been exposed to one gram of anthrax, and the building should be cleared immediately. Curiously, the letter also stated, "Do Not Panic, Stay Calm!" The letter was signed by Williams and contained links to websites attempting to garner support for his release. Judge Breen's law clerk discovered this letter and, understandably, did not stay calm. His clerk alerted officials who appear to have relatively quickly determined that the substance was not anthrax but just sugar.

 [***3]  Law enforcement determined that Williams was responsible for mailing the letter and, after a brief investigation, indicted him under 18 U.S.C. § 876(c) for mailing a threatening communication to a federal judge.

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641 F.3d 758 *; 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 9550 **; 2011 FED App. 0118P (6th Cir.) ***

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. MARSHALL WILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellant.

Subsequent History: US Supreme Court certiorari denied by Williams v. United States, 565 U.S. 922, 132 S. Ct. 348, 181 L. Ed. 2d 219, 2011 U.S. LEXIS 7114 (Oct. 3, 2011)

Appeal after remand at, Decision reached on appeal by United States v. Williams, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 26040 (6th Cir. Tenn., Nov. 21, 2013)

Writ of habeas corpus dismissed Williams v. Warden, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21076 (M.D. Pa., Feb. 20, 2014)

Prior History:  [**1] Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee at Memphis. No. 08-20161-001—Bernice B. Donald, District Judge.

United States v. Williams, 775 F.2d 1295, 1985 U.S. App. LEXIS 24178 (5th Cir. Tex., Nov. 5, 1985)


district court, sentence, waive, presentence report, plain error, videoconference, standard of review, court of appeals, sentencing hearing, clothing, forfeited, parties, physical presence, argues, courtroom, anthrax, video, mailed, knowingly, criminal defendant, pro se, conferencing, preparation, prison, de novo, plain-error, appearance, conducting, appointed, questions

Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Defendant's Rights, Right to Presence at Trial, Standards of Review, Harmless & Invited Error, General Overview, Sentencing, Presentence Reports, Right to Counsel, Constitutional Right, Counsel, Right to Self-Representation, Prison Attire & Restraints, Reviewability, Preservation for Review, Exceptions to Failure to Object, Motions for Acquittal, Terrorism, Terroristic Threats, Elements, Abuse of Discretion, Jury Instructions, Requests to Charge