Coralville Murder Suspect Pleads Guilty, Could Be in Prison Until Age 100
By Vanessa Miller, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Just a week before her first-degree murder trial was set to begin, Lillie Williams pleaded guilty today to three lesser charges in connection with a fire in Coralville last year that killed 14-year-old Raymone Bryant.
Williams' guilty pleas to first-degree arson, first-degree burglary and involuntary manslaughter come 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 – clad in inmate orange – was slow to say the words, "guilty" after each charge Wednesday. 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' daughter was present in the Johnson County courtroom for the last-minute hearing that essentially settles the case. The daughter declined to comment after the hearing, but she spent a few last moments with her mom before Williams was taken away by a deputy.
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.
Williams, 50, of Coralville, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 14-year-old Raymone Bryant in September 2011 after investigators said she intentionally started a fire at 720 11th Ave. in Coralville on Sept. 4, 2011.
Investigators say Williams knew Bryant was inside the house when she started the fire that killed the teen. Williams was scheduled to be tried Oct. 23.
Attorneys came to the last-minute deal Tuesday morning, according to Beglin. Part of the concern of taking the case to trial was how it would affect one of the prosecution's key witnesses – Williams' 6-year-old grandson, who says he witnessed the crime.
Williams' 6-year-old grandson has already had to testify during motions hearings in a judge's chambers about what he saw on Sept. 4, 2011. He said he watched Williams ignite the house 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.
"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 is 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 indicating they were planning to use her intoxication and diminished responsibility as a defense during her murder trial, according to court records.
Following the hearing, Coralville Lt. Shane Kron said he has no thoughts about whether this resolution is just or not. He said that he and his fellow investigators simply did all they could to bring all the facts to light in the case.
"I don't know that anything ever makes the loss of a child right," he said.