The Tennessee Court of Appeals has ruled that Harold Wayne Nichols, who was convicting of raping and murdering a Chattanooga woman and who allegedly raped and assaulted several other women will remain on death row.
Nichols had appealed a decision of Judge Don Ash, who dismissed his post-conviction appeal.
Judge Ash ruled against Nichols and denied an evidentiary hearing, though the district attorney's office had agreed to enter into a settlement agreement that would change his status to life in prison.
The Court of Criminal Appeals said Judge Ash had the authority to dismiss the case without a hearing and to disregard the settlement.
Nichols pled guilty to first-degree murder, aggravated rape and first-degree burglary in 1990 in the slaying of Karen Pulley. A jury imposed the death penalty.
The appeals court said, "The proof showed that on the night of September 30, 1988, (Petitioner)broke into the house where the 21-year-old-victim, Karen Pulley, lived with two roommates in the Brainerd area of Chattanooga, Tennessee. After finding Pulley home alone in her upstairs bedroom, (Petitioner) tore her undergarments from her and violently raped her. Because of her resistance during the rape, he forcibly struck her at least twice in the head with a two-by-four he had picked up after entering the house. After the rape, (Petitioner), while still struggling with the victim, struck her again several times with great force in the head with the two-by four. The next morning, one of Karen Pulley’s roommates discovered her alive and lying in a pool of blood on the floor next to her bed. Pulley died the next day.
"Three months after the rape and murder, a Chattanooga police detective questioned [Petitioner] about Pulley’s murder while he was in the custody of the East Ridge police department on unrelated charges. It was at this point that (Petitioner) confessed to the crime. This videotaped confession provided the only link between (Petitioner) and the Pulley rape and murder. The evidence showed that, until his arrest in January 1989, (Petitioner) roamed the city at night and, when “energized,” relentlessly searched for vulnerable female victims. At the time of trial, [Petitioner] had been convicted on five charges of aggravated rape involving four other Chattanooga women. These rapes had occurred in December 1988 and January 1989, within three months after Pulley’s rape and murder."
The court also said, "In June of 2016, Petitioner moved to reopen his post conviction petition on the basis that the Supreme Court’s decision in Johnson v. United States, __ U.S. __, 135 S. Ct. 2551 (2015), announced a new rule of constitutional law requiring retroactive application. The post-conviction court granted the motion to reopen, but after Petitioner amended his petition and asserted additional claims, the post conviction court denied relief without a hearing.
"On appeal, Petitioner argues (1) that the sole aggravating circumstance supporting his death sentence is unconstitutionally vague under Johnson; (2) that a judge, rather than a jury, determined facts in imposing the death penalty in violation of Hurst v. Florida, __ U.S. __, 136 S. Ct. 616 (2016), a new rule of constitutional law requiring retroactive application; (3) that the State committed prosecutorial misconduct at Petitioner’s sentencing hearing, along with a related ineffective assistance of trial counsel claim; (4) that the post-conviction court erred in canceling the scheduled evidentiary hearing without notice and a fair opportunity to be heard; (5) that the post-conviction court erred in denying the parties’ proposed settlement agreement to vacate the death sentence and enter a judgment of life imprisonment; and (6) that Petitioner’s death sentence is invalid due to the cumulative effect of the asserted errors.
"Following our review, we affirm the judgment of the post-conviction court."