Dana Williamson was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for a robbery murder. According to court documents Dana Williamson would force his way into a home at gunpoint. In the process of robbing the home Dana Williamson would stab to death Donna Roberts and would shoot two men and a young boy but thankfully would survive. Dana Williamson was arrested, convicted and sentenced to death
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n Friday, November 4, 1988, Robert Decker went to dinner at a restaurant with his 76–year–old father, Clyde, and his two-year-old son, Carl. When Robert returned home, Charles Panoyan, his friend and employee, was waiting in the driveway. At trial, Panoyan testified that he was there to bring Robert venison. The Deckers and Panoyan entered the house, and Robert sat down to watch the television show Dallas. Panoyan went to his truck to retrieve the venison and, soon after he returned, a masked man entered the house and placed a gun to Clyde’s head. The gunman wore a stocking mask on his face, a distinctive yellowish-white straw cowboy hat, new work boots, blue-jean pants, and a blue-jean jacket. Robert asked Panoyan if he knew the gunman, but Panoyan did not answer. Robert said that he could tell by the look on Panoyan’s face that he did.
The gunman ordered, “You all go over there, and I will put handcuffs on you. Lay on the floor in the living room.” The gunman handcuffed Robert, Clyde, and Panoyan. He made Robert show him the location of Robert’s safe, but he did not open it for fear that it was connected to an alarm. He placed Robert, Clyde, and Carl in the bedroom and tied their feet with rope. Robert loosened the rope from his ankles and walked to the bedroom doorway. He saw the gunman whispering with Panoyan in the living room. The gunman spotted Robert and retied him. The gunman rummaged through the house and Robert again freed himself. The gunman then hog-tied Robert and asked him where he kept his money and drugs. Although Robert had $2,000 in cash, he told the gunman that there was no money. After the robbery, the money and several other items were missing. Panoyan testified that the gunman also tied him up during the robbery.
Donna Decker returned home and asked Panoyan what he was doing in the house. The gunman grabbed her, tied her hands, and dragged her into the hallway. A short time later, Donna returned to the bedroom to ask if the gunman was gone. Robert said no, and the gunman again grabbed Donna and dragged her out of the bedroom. Approximately thirty minutes later, the gunman returned to the bedroom with a legal-sized sheet of white paper with four straight lines drawn on it. Donna’s signature was already on one line. The gunman made Robert sign the paper. He made Robert resign the paper because he was not satisfied with the quality of the signature after comparing it to the signature on Robert’s driving license. The gunman left the room and Robert heard doors shutting.
The gunman re-entered the bedroom with a pillow. He immediately placed the pillow on Robert’s head and shot him twice in the back of the head through the pillow. The gunman then put the pillow on the two-year-old’s head and shot him in the head. The gunman put the pillow on Clyde’s head and tried to shoot him, but the gun misfired. The gunman pulled the trigger again and it fired. All three survived. At some point—it is unclear whether this was before or after the attempted murder of the three men—the gunman stabbed Donna repeatedly with a kitchen knife. Donna dialed 911 and said that she had been stabbed, gave her address, and mentioned her husband and child. When the police arrived, Donna was lying dead next to the telephone.
Panoyan testified that Williamson threatened him to ensure his silence. Williamson said, “[Y]ou know who I am and you know what I am capable of doing․ [Y]ou know my reputation․ I’ll torture and kill any of your friends and your relatives and family to get to you.” Panoyan knew Williamson’s brutality not only from the events that had just occurred, but also because he knew that Williamson was reputed to have “killed a baby ․ and beat [another baby] so bad that it was brain dead.” Panoyan also testified that Williamson had said, in graphic and obscene terms, exactly how he would rape, torture, and kill Panoyan’s wife and three young children if Panoyan told anyone that Williamson was the murderer:
He was going to pull [Panoyan’s wife’s] teeth out and f@ck her in the mouth and ass. Him and the boys were. Then he was going to tie her up and fuck her from both sides. They were going to whip her, burn her, take her nipples off. Take her tits off. Skin her. Tie her. Take her guts out. Tie her over an ant pile. Break her fingers, her arms, her legs. He said they were going to do the same to my whole family․ He said he was going to cut my boy’s balls off and feed it to him and do the same thing that he was going to do to my girls.
After threatening his family, Williamson untied Panoyan and ordered him to go outside with Rodney, Williamson’s brother. Rodney held Panoyan at gunpoint and made him drive a short distance in his own truck. At the end of the block, Rodney instructed Panoyan to pull over and said that “if he had had his way he would have blown my fucking brains out right then and there.” Rodney made the same threat to rape, torture, and murder Panoyan’s wife and children if he told anyone about the murder. Williamson ran toward the truck without his hat or mask. He told Rodney that something had gone wrong, and he ordered Panoyan to go home and not call the police. They warned Panoyan that there was a man hiding outside his house. At the time, Panoyan believed that there were five men involved in the robbery: Dana, Rodney, a man outside Panoyan’s house, a man hiding in the bushes outside the Deckers’ house, and a getaway driver.
Panoyan drove away from Williamson and stopped at a shopping center. He approached a security guard and asked for a quarter to call his wife. The security guard testified that Panoyan was “[d]istraught” and his voice was “[s]haking.” Panoyan made a phone call and told his wife to “get the kids and get out.” The security guard reported Panoyan’s odd behavior by radio to a police officer. The police officer confirmed that Panoyan appeared scared. He testified that Panoyan told him, “I have to get my wife and kids. I have to get them out of the house. I have to get them out․ They’re watching my house. They know where I live.” The police took Panoyan to the police station, and he told the investigators what had happened but denied knowing the identity of the assailant. He later testified that he denied knowing Williamson’s identity for three years because he was afraid for his family’s safety.
In May 1990, the police received an anonymous tip implicating Williamson. They arrested Panoyan and Williamson, and charged both with murder. Panoyan testified that Williamson continued to intimidate him while they were imprisoned together. A fellow inmate testified that Williamson did not think that Panoyan would turn him in because Panoyan was afraid of him. The inmate testified that Panoyan knew that Williamson had previously killed a four-year-old child with a baseball bat. While imprisoned, Panoyan learned that Williamson and Rodney were the only ones involved in the murder, and there was no accomplice ready to kill his family. After eighteen months, the state released Panoyan on his own recognizance. Panoyan eventually told investigators that Williamson was the murderer. He testified before a grand jury and the state dropped all charges against him.
At trial, the state called Dr. Richard Ofshe to testify as an expert in the field of extreme techniques of influence and control. Ofshe is a professor of sociology who authored a book on individual decision-making, and specialized in “extreme and extraordinary techniques of influence.” He had previously testified as an expert twenty-five times, including in Florida. Williamson’s counsel chose not to voir dire Ofshe and the judge court declared him to be an expert in that subject. Ofshe testified that Panoyan’s delay in identifying Williamson displayed “a pattern of someone who has ․ been terrorized, and someone who is acting in response to a credible threat.” Williamson v. State (Williamson III ), 123 So.3d 1060, 1062 (Fla.2013) (alteration in original) (quoting Williamson v. State (Williamson II ), 994 So.2d 1000, 1009 (Fla.2008)).
Williamson’s counsel thought that the jury would recognize that the state’s reliance on Ofshe demonstrated that it was “grasping at straws” to establish Panoyan’s credibility. In his closing argument, he argued that the state “[f]lying in Doctor Ofshe from Los Angeles” proved that it was “try[ing] to make up in quantity what [it] lack[s] in quality. Because, quite frankly, the quality of the evidence is not all that great.”
Although Panoyan was the only eyewitness who identified Williamson as the masked gunman, physical evidence and the testimony of three jailhouse informants also linked Williamson to the murder. The state proved that Williamson owned a hat that looked like the distinctive cowboy hat worn by the killer. It offered evidence that Williamson used to have pins on his hat and the hat recovered at the crime scene appeared to have pinholes. The state linked Williamson to a utility belt that contained the keys to the handcuffs used during the crime. And the state proved that Williamson owned grappling-hook rope similar to the rope used to bind the Deckers. It also presented testimony from three inmates who were incarcerated with Williamson regarding “their conversations with [Williamson] in which he recounted the details of the crimes committed at the Decker house.”
The jury found Williamson guilty of all charges. It recommended death by a vote of eleven to one. The judge, after finding three aggravating circumstances and eleven mitigating circumstances, imposed a death sentence. On direct appeal, the Florida Supreme Court upheld Williamson’s convictions and his sentence of death. See Williamson v. State (Williamson I ), 681 So.2d 688, 694–98 (Fla.1996).