You are here

Information on the Execution of William Howard Putman

PRESS ADVISORY

Information on the Execution of William Howard Putman

November 13, 2002

(Atlanta) Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker announced today that the court-ordered execution of William Howard Putman was carried out this evening, November 13, 2002, at 7:20pm. Putman was sentenced to death for the July 1980 murders of David Hardin and Katie Christine Back at a rest area on Interstate 75 in Cook County.

Execution

On October 24, 2002, the Superior Court of Cook County filed an execution order, setting the seven-day window in which the execution of William Howard Putman could occur to open at noon, November 13, 2002, and end at noon on November 20, 2002. Under Georgia law, the Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Corrections, exercising his discretion under Georgia law, set the date and time for the execution as 7:00pm on November 13, 2002. Putman had previously concluded a direct appeal from his Cook County criminal case, as well as two state and two federal habeas corpus appeals. He also had filed an extraordinary motion for new trial in Cook County, seeking to set aside his death sentences, and the extraordinary motion was denied on October 18, 2002. He was represented by Thomas H. Dunn of the Georgia Resource Center, Atlanta, Georgia. Putman was represented in his two state habeas corpus cases by Don Samuel of Atlanta.

Putman’s Crimes

On direct appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court found the following facts from the Cook County trial:

The victims spent the week preceding their deaths vacationing in Daytona Beach with their three children and David's niece Beverly Culver. They left Daytona Beach in their blue Dodge sedan on the evening of July 9 and arrived at the Lenox rest area some time prior to 3:00 a.m. on the tenth. They parked in the automobile parking lot of the rest area and went to sleep.

Later arrivals at the rest area included Verlin Colter, who parked two spaces to the right of the Hardins, and Dessie Harris, who parked across the drive-through, opposite the Hardin automobile.

Dessie testified that, upon her arrival, she spread a blanket on the hood of her car. As she sat on the blanket smoking a cigarette, she observed a dark-colored "semi," pulling a flat-bed trailer, drive slowly several times through the automobile parking lot. The truck eventually parked at the end of the parking lot. The driver got out, reached into the cab of the truck, retrieved an object and walked toward her car. He stopped under a nearby tree, approximately five feet from Dessie, and whistled at her. She stared at him, but said nothing. The man then walked behind her car and proceeded across the parking lot. He went around to the front of the Hardin automobile and stood there for a few moments.

In the meantime, Verlin Colter arrived and parked. He observed that a dark-colored semi with an empty, yellow flat-bed trailer was parked at the end of the automobile parking lot and that a man was standing in front of the blue Dodge, whose occupants were all apparently asleep.

Dessie testified that the man walked around to the driver's side of the Hardin automobile. She heard a loud noise and then the man ran to the passenger's side of the car.

Verlin testified that, just as he lay down in his automobile, he heard a loud noise that sounded like a firecracker. He looked up and saw a woman in the front passenger's seat of the Dodge opening the passenger door. The man he had seen earlier ran around the car to her door.

Beverly Culver, who had been asleep in the back seat of the Dodge with Katie's two older children, testified that she was awakened by a loud noise. She saw a man standing outside the car, next to David Hardin, who lay in the driver's seat with his head resting on the back of the seat, next to the door. The man hurried to the passenger side of the car.

Beverly, Verlin, and Dessie all observed what happened next: As Katie Hardin tried to get out of the car, the man grabbed her and demanded that she go with him. She refused, and screamed for David, who lay fatally wounded in the driver's seat. The man shot Katie in the head. He then reached into the car and placed something into the waist-band of his pants. He ran to his truck and drove off, headed north.

Verlin called the police, who arrived at the rest area just before 5:30 a.m. Based on information obtained from the witnesses, a lookout was posted for a white male, proceeding north on Interstate 75, driving a dark-blue or black truck pulling an empty, yellow flat-bed trailer.

A truck fitting this description was spotted by police just south of Cordele and followed to a rest area in Dooly County. The truck parked in the exit lane of the rest area and the driver went to the restroom. Backup units arrived and the driver, William Howard Putman, was arrested after he returned to his truck. Officers smelled alcohol on Putman's breath and he was initially taken to the Dooly County Sheriff's Office for an intoximeter test, which indicated that Putman's blood alcohol was .13 grams/percent. Putman had what appeared to be blood on his left pants leg.

Officers recovered a .38 caliber revolver from under the driver's seat of Putman's truck. The revolver had three live rounds and two spent cartridges in its chamber. A gun case and David Hardin's wallet lay on the passenger's seat.

Putman was returned to Cook County at approximately 7:30 a.m. Dessie Harris was at the courthouse, having just given a statement to investigators. As she stood outside smoking a cigarette, Putman arrived in a police car. She immediately recognized him as the man who had shot David and Katie Hardin.

At approximately 2:30 p.m. of the same day, the body of William Gerald Hodges was found slumped over the wheel of his automobile in the parking lot of a truck stop in Valdosta. He had been shot in the head and shoulder. The pathologist who conducted the autopsy testified that a time of death could not be established with any certainty. However, lividity patterns indicated that death had occurred sometime prior to Hodges' arrival at the morgue at 3:10 p.m. A .38 caliber bullet was recovered from the interior of his automobile and another was recovered from inside his skull.

After Putman's arrival in Cook County, his clothing was removed from him and the contents of his pockets were inventoried. In his shirt pockets were two .38 caliber cartridges and an insurance card bearing the name William G. Hodges. In the pockets of his trousers were a gold Timex wristwatch and two gold rings, one having a red stone and the other a blue stone. The rings and the watch were identified by friends as having belonged to William Hodges. Serological examination of the reddish-brown substance on the leg of Putman's trousers and on the blue-stone ring established that the substance was blood having characteristics consistent of the blood of William Hodges and inconsistent with the blood of 98.3 percent of the general population.

A fresh dent was discovered on the right rear corner of Hodges' automobile. The dent was horizontal, two or three inches long. Yellow paint was present in the grooves of the dent, and loose flakes of yellow paint surrounded the dent. The yellow paint was the same color as the trailer of Putman's truck.

The .38 caliber revolver found in Putman's truck was purchased by him at a Talladega, Alabama, pawn shop on May 9, 1980. Ballistics examination showed that the bullet removed from the skull of David Hardin, the bullet removed from the skull of Katie Hardin, the bullet removed from the skull of William Hodges, and the bullet removed from the interior of Hodges' automobile had all been fired from the same gun: Putman's .38 caliber revolver.

Putman testified that he was returning from Florida on the 9th and 10th of July. He admitted that he stopped at the truck stop in Valdosta at approximately 10:00 p.m. on the 9th. He said he had two beers and three mixed drinks, and then went to sleep in his truck. When he left a couple of hours later, he took with him a hitchhiker known only to him as "Jeff." He stopped briefly at the first rest area north of Valdosta on Interstate 75, near Hahira, to wash his hands, and subsequently let Jeff out at an exit near Adel. He then proceeded directly to the rest area in Dooly County where he was arrested. Putman denied having stopped at the Lenox rest area. He admitted owning the .38 revolver found in his truck, but denied having shot anyone with it.

Putman v. State, 251 Ga. 605, 308 S.E.2d 145 (1983).

Before the Cook County trial, Petitioner was tried in Lowndes County for and found guilty of the murder of William Hodges and sentenced to life. See Putnam [sic] v. State, 250 Ga. 418, 297 S.E.2d 286 (1982).

The Cook County Trial

Putman was tried in Cook County in September 1982 for the July 1980 malice murders of David Hardin and his wife, Katie Christine Back. The jury found him guilty of both murders and sentenced him to death for each murder, finding the existence of two statutory aggravating circumstances under O.C.G.A. § 17-10-30(b)(2) to support each death sentence.

The Georgia Supreme Court affirmed the malice murder convictions and death sentences on direct appeal on October 18, 1983, and denied reconsideration on November 8, 1983. Putman v. State, 251 Ga. 605, 308 S.E.2d 145 (1983), cert. denied, 466 U.S. 954 (1984). The Court ruled that the two “mutually supporting” statutory aggravating circumstances, that is, each murder was committed during the murder of the other, could not be used to impose two death sentences. As each murder was supported by an independent (b)(2) statutory aggravating circumstance, i.e., the armed robbery of David Hardin, the death sentences were affirmed on this basis. The United States Supreme Court declined to review issues from the direct appeal.

The First State and Federal Habeas Corpus Cases

Pursuant to an outstanding execution order, Putman’s trial attorneys filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court of Butts County on September 18, 1984, and a motion for stay of execution. The habeas court denied the petition and motion for a stay that same day. Bypassing the Georgia Supreme Court, Putman filed a federal habeas corpus petition and a motion for stay of execution in the United States District Court, Middle District of Georgia on the following day, September 19, 1984. The court granted a stay of execution and appointed new counsel for Putman. That case was ultimately dismissed several months later because the first state habeas case had not ended.

On October 18, 1984, new lawyers for Putman filed a motion for new trial or alternatively to set aside the September 18th judgment and reopen the evidence, an amendment to the first petition, and a notice of appeal in the Butts County habeas corpus case. The motions were denied. The Georgia Supreme Court granted Putman’s application for an appeal and remanded the case for an evidentiary hearing. After an evidentiary hearing in August 1985, the habeas court denied relief in April 1989. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Putman’s application for an appeal in July 1989. The United States Supreme Court declined to review issues decided by the state courts. Putman v. Zant, 493 U.S. 1012 (1989).

The Second State Habeas Corpus Case

In June 1992 Putman filed his second state habeas corpus case in the Superior Court of Butts County, alleging the prosecutor had failed to disclose six items of information which might have been helpful to his case. The day before the scheduled hearing on the warden’s motion to dismiss the petition as successive, Putman filed an amendment raising more claims. Pursuant to the August 1993 hearing, the court dismissed some of the grounds as “successive,” finding they could reasonably have been raised by Putman in his prior case. The court found that a hearing was warranted on the six grounds which were based on the information Putman claimed had been withheld by the state.

After an evidentiary hearing on those six claims in October 1993, the court denied relief in July 1994. The court found that five of the six claims lacked merit and that the sixth claim was “successive” after all as it was based on information known to Putman when he litigated his prior habeas case. The Georgia Supreme Court denied Putman’s application for an appeal in January 1995 and denied reconsideration in April 1995. The United States Supreme Court declined to review any issues from the second state habeas case. Putman v. Thomas, 516 U.S. 1012, reh’g denied, 516 U.S. 1099 (1996).

The Second Federal Habeas Corpus Case

In April 1997 Putman filed another federal habeas corpus petition in the Middle District of Georgia, seeking review of constitutional claims previously raised in his state court cases. The district court denied relief in June 1999. In August 1999 the district court denied Putman’s motion to alter or amend judgment.

Putman appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The briefing schedule was stayed pending decision by the United States Supreme Court on an issue of statutory construction concerning changes to the federal habeas corpus statute enacted in 1996. Three issues were briefed and orally argued by parties.

In October 2001, the circuit court issued its opinion and affirmed the district court’s denial of all relief to Putman. Putman v. Head, 268 F.3d 1223 (11th Cir. 2001). The circuit court found that the only issue worthy of extended discussion was the claim challenging the adequacy of Putman’s trial attorneys’ representation and found that he received constitutionally effective assistance of counsel. Rehearing was denied in January 2002. On October 7, 2002, the United States Supreme Court declined to review issues decided by the federal courts. Putman v. Head, No. 01-10914 (U.S. Oct. 7, 2002).

The Extraordinary Motion for New Trial

On October 4, 2002, Putman filed an extraordinary motion for new trial in the Superior Court of Cook County, (the trial court), seeking a new trial as to sentence. As grounds for a new sentencing trial, Putman raised five of the same claims he had litigated at the October 1993 evidentiary hearing in his second state habeas corpus case, claims which the state habeas court found lacked merit as matters of fact and law, and which the federal courts rejected as well. On October 18, 2002, the trial court denied the extraordinary motion for new sentencing trial.