Therapist: Murder Suspect's Grandson Witnessed Fire, Afraid of Grandmother
By Vanessa Miller, Reporter
IOWA CITY, Iowa - The 5-year-old boy who told authorities he was present when his grandmother started the fire in a Coralville home that killed his 14-year-old cousin is afraid of the woman who now faces a first-degree murder charge, his therapist testified Thursday before a Johnson County judge.
During a hearing to determine whether the child is competent to testify at Lillie Williams’ murder trial, which is set for Aug. 14, psychologist Anne Jensen testified that the boy, who is not being named, is suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and an adjustment disorder that comes with anxiety.
Jensen testified that her diagnoses, in part, are related to what the boy said he witnessed on Sept. 4, when 14-year-old Raymone Bryant died in a house fire at 720 11th Ave. in Coralville. Investigators believe Williams set the fire intentionally, and her grandson has told authorities he was there when his grandmother started the blaze.
“He said he was with his grandmother and saw what she did,” Jensen testified Thursday after describing how the boy first drew pictures illustrating the blaze and then dictated the story from his memory.
The child initially was hesitant to talk to adults about what happened, according to testimony, because he said several adults – including his grandmother – told him not to share what he knew. Even though the child was afraid to tell, is afraid of his grandmother and is recovering from a traumatic event, Jensen testified Thursday that she believes he's competent to testify at trial.
“He wants to be known as someone who tells the truth,” Jensen said about the boy. “No one can guarantee that a child is telling the truth at any point in time. But he knows what truth is.”
She told Judge Paul Miller, however, that if the child had to testify with his grandmother in the room, his testimony could be impaired.
“That would cause discomfort on the child’s part,” Jensen said. “It would go against keeping him safe or allowing him to tell the truth.”
Miller is planning to interview the child before deciding whether to allow him to testify at trial. The judge has not yet decided whether that hearing, which has not yet been scheduled, will be open to the public.
Miller also on Thursday rejected a motion from Williams’ defense team to postpone the trial, which is scheduled to begin in less than a month. Prosecutors argued that a delay would put them in a “tough” position, as they have prepared more than 25 potential witnesses to be ready for an August trial.
Miller denied the request after saying the defense “claims to have an expert witness not yet disclosed” and who they’ve not yet shown is prepared to testify at trial.
Williams, 50, was arrested after police said she intentionally set fire to the home where her cousin and her cousin’s husband lived, according to a criminal complaint. A witness, according to the original complaint, identified Williams as the person who set the fatal fire. It’s unknown whether her grandson was that witness or whether other people saw Williams start the fire too.
Williams has declared her innocence in open court, telling a judge that the murder charge is based on “all false information.”
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