Williams Expected to Take Plea Deal in Fatal Coralville Fire
By Vanessa Miller, Reporter
CORALVILLE, Iowa - One week before her first-degree murder trial was scheduled to begin in Johnson County, Lillie Williams is expected to take a plea deal in connection with a fatal fire in Coralville last year.
Williams, 50, of Coralville, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of 14-year-old Raymone Bryant. Investigators said Williams intentionally started the fire at 720 11th Ave. in Coralville on Sept. 4, 2011, that killed the teen, and she was scheduled to be tried for murder on Oct. 23.
Tuesday morning, attorneys came to a last-minute agreement for Williams to plead guilty to first-degree arson, first-degree burglary and involuntary manslaughter, according to assistant county attorney Beth Beglin.
Williams is scheduled to enter those pleas in open court Wednesday morning. Her sentencing will take place at a later date.
“I think this is a just resolution,” Beglin said. “It was supported by all the parties, including the family.”
The arson and burglary charges come with maximum sentences of 25 years each, and the manslaughter comes with a five year maximum sentence. The plea deal is for the two 25-year sentences to run consecutive – meaning back to back, Beglin said.
It’s up to the sentencing judge to decide whether to tack on the additional five years or allow it to run concurrent – or at the same time – as the other prison terms. The charges do not require minimum sentences, meaning the parole board could choose to release Williams before her 50 years are up.
Beglin said her office was prepared to go to trial on this case, but attorneys have been discussing the possible plea agreement for about two weeks. Both sides came to the agreement Tuesday morning, she said.
Part of the concern about taking the case was trial was how it would affect one of the prosecution’s key witnesses – Williams’ 6-year-old grandson.
“I think that would have been an obvious concern,” Beglin said. “This plea agreement was done with the approval of the family.”
Williams’ 6-year-old grandson already has had to testify during motions hearings and 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 in gasoline and throwing it in the garage of the house, knowing Bryant was inside.
Bryant was the child’s cousin, according to court testimony.
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.
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