Lillie Williams decided to plead guilty Wednesday to setting a fire in Coralville that killed 14-year-old Raymone Bryant last year because she wanted to protect her 6-year-old grandson, Williams’ daughter told reporters.
“She did everything for my nephew – at the end of the day, it was all about him,” Kavier Williams said moments after learning that her mom could spend the next 50 years in prison. “She didn’t want him to go through that.”
Williams, 50, of Coralville, was charged with first-degree murder in Bryant’s death after investigators said she intentionally started a fire at 720 11th Ave. in Coralville on Sept. 4, 2011.
Williams was scheduled to be tried Oct. 23, but attorneys this week came to a last-minute agreement that prompted Williams to plead guilty to three lesser charges Wednesday morning. Part of the concern both sides had with taking the case to trial was how it would affect one of the prosecution’s key witnesses – Williams’ 6-year-old grandson, who said he witnessed the crime.
Williams’ grandson already has had to testify during motions hearings in a judge’s chambers about what he saw on Sept. 4, 2011. He said he watched Williams start the blaze by dousing a pillow with gasoline and throwing it in the garage of the house, knowing Bryant was inside.
Bryant was related to Williams, and he was the child’s cousin, according to court testimony.
Williams on Wednesday pleaded guilty to first-degree arson, first-degree burglary and involuntary manslaughter as part of an agreement that could send her to prison for more than 50 years.
With an attorney on each side of her, Williams was slow to say the words, “guilty” after each charge. She paused before pleading guilty to manslaughter, and she and her attorney had a short, hushed exchange before she whispered “guilty” to the subsequent charges.
Williams will be sentenced Dec. 21 based on the stipulations in the plea agreement. Prosecutors are asking the judge to sentence her to the maximum 25 years in prison on both the arson and burglary charges. The sentencing judge also could tack on an additional five years for the manslaughter conviction.
Even if Williams receives the recommended 50-plus year sentence, the charges do not require her to serve a minimum number of years, meaning the parole board could let her out sooner. According to the amount of good time she could receive, Williams could be released before serving 25 years behind bars, said assistant county attorney Beth Beglin.
“We would hope that the death of a child would have the parole board thinking carefully” about the time she serves and her release date, Beglin said.
Beglin said prosecutors also were concerned about putting Williams’ grandson through the trial.
“A major factor in this case was the affect it would have had on (the child) to testify in court in public against his grandmother,” Beglin said, adding that there are always risks involved with the testimony of young children.
“Kids are unpredictable,” she said.
A judge recently ruled that the child was competent to testify at trial, despite arguments from the defense that he’s unable to tell the difference between fiction and fact.
Williams and her defense team also recently submitted documents asking to move the case to another county and indicating they were planning to use her intoxication and diminished responsibility as a defense in the murder trial.
Kavier Williams said she visits her mom every Wednesday in the Johnson County Jail, and she’s “doing alright.”
“She’s strong,” the daughter said.
She stressed that the entire family is devastated but added, “At the end of the day, everybody still love her.”
With the end of this case in sight, Kavier Williams said the family can try to move on — including those closest to Bryant.
“He can rest in peace,” she said.