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Willis seeks to dismiss eighth and ninth attorneys from case

Becky Campbell • Feb 14, 2008 at 12:00 AM

JOHNSON CITY — In a court motion filed last week, Howard Hawk Willis stated he wants his attorneys removed from his case, and he will not communicate with them except to get his case files from them.

Willis has been accused of knowing how to manipulate the judicial system after working his way through seven attorneys since his arrest in the October 2002 deaths of Adam Chrismer and Samantha Leming, a young married couple he befriended in Georgia.

Now Willis, 57, charged with four counts of first-degree murder and three counts of abuse, wants Criminal Court Judge Lynn Brown to toss T. Wood Smith and Gene Scott from the case and appoint someone new.

Investigators believe Willis brought the teens from Georgia to Johnson City and shot them three days apart at his mother’s house, 104 Brentwood Drive. Prosecutors have said Willis’ motive for the shootings may have been because they might have had knowledge of some past criminal activity on his part.

Their deaths became known after a fisherman found Chrismer’s severed head in Boone Lake near the Winged Deer Park boat ramp on Oct. 11, 2002. A pair of hands were found in the lake the next morning. They also were determined to be Chrismer’s.

In the following days, investigators found a storage unit on West Market Street near downtown with two Rubbermaid containers inside. One container held the rest of Chrismer’s body, and the other contained Leming’s body.

In addition to Willis’ arrest, his mother, Emma Elizabeth Hawk, was charged with two counts of abuse of a corpse and accessory after the fact of first-degree murder. Her case is in limbo until Willis is tried.

State prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Willis, and the list of attorneys qualified to handle the more complicated issues of a death penalty case is growing short. Death penalty cases also allow judges to appoint a lead attorney and co-counsel.

So far, the attorneys Willis has been appointed include Jim Bowman and Stacy Street, 1st Judicial District Public Defender Bob Oaks, Sullivan County Public Defender Steve Wallace, Randy Fallin and Roger Day, and William Lawson, with whom Scott was originally paired.

Scott and Smith filed motions in March asking Brown to allow them to withdraw from representing Willis because of “irreconcilable conflicts” and because Willis had filed a complaint against Smith with the Board of Professional Responsibility.

Willis filed multiple complaints with the board against several of his attorneys when they would not comply with his requests and demands for work to be done on his case.

In the motion filed last week, Willis stated his daughter has “hired a team of professionals to do the research and prepare the necessary documents to straighten up this case after she reviewed official documents, testimony and witness accounts and found gross descrepencies (sic) between the court record and official documents and witness accounts.”

Willis also told the court in the motion that the Board of Professional Responsibility told his daughter that Scott “does not qualify under any of the exceptions to continue as counsel,” and that Smith “is also a witness to a motion that will be filed on an unrelated matter to that of Mr. Scott’s issue,” which Willis says disqualifies Smith from being his attorney.

Brown is expected to set Willis’ motion for a hearing. Willis is set for trial July 14 after his first trial could not go forward because Brown said the jury pool was tainted by pretrial publicity and preformed opinions.

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