Witness Says Grandmother ‘Poured Some Gasoline on a Pillow’
By Vanessa Miller, Reporter
CORALVILLE, Iowa - The 6-year-old grandson of a Coralville woman facing a first-degree murder charge in connection with a fatal fire last September told a judge Thursday afternoon that his grandma “Lillie” started the blaze by first dousing a pillow in gasoline.
“She lit a fire and she poured some gasoline on a pillow and threw it in the garage, and she knew my cousin was in there, and he’s got asthma,” the boy said, adding that no one else was around when he said his grandmother, Lillie Williams, 50, allegedly started the fire at 700 block of 11th Ave. in Coralville that killed his 14-year-old cousin Raymone Bryant.
The child – whose interview in closed chambers with Johnson County Judge Paul Miller was videotaped and played on closed-circuit television for Williams, her defense attorneys and the public – shared his story Thursday with the judge for the final hearing to determine whether he’s competent to tell the truth if called to testify in his grandma’s first-degree murder trial.
Miller told the boy, who has not been identified, that his grandma was watching the hearing live from another room.
“My grandma, she already know,” the boy said, peering over his shoulder to catch a glimpse of the camera.
Miller and the boy chatted briefly about his sisters, his school and his ability to speak Spanish – “Adios means bye,” the boy said – before diving into the alleged crime.
The child said his grandmother went to his cousins’ house after it turned dark on the day of the alleged crime – Sept. 4, according to police. She was in the house for a while and then got into an argument that ended with someone pushing her out, the child told the judge Thursday.
That’s when the child said he saw Williams start a fire and pour gasoline on a pillow.
“When she started the fire, I was scared,” the boy said. “I was looking across the street, and I smelled some fire, and I turned around and there she was with gasoline.”
He told Miller that his grandmother “started crying like she didn’t do it” after the fire.
“She’s always lying,” the boy said. “I’m for real.”
Authorities and counselors who have spoken with the child have testified that he told them he was hesitant to speak to them because several adults, including his grandmother, instructed him not to tell police what he saw.
The boy now said he’s telling authorities the truth, and he discussed the importance of being honest with Miller on Thursday.
“Lying means I’m not going to tell you the truth,” the child said. “But you should always tell the truth.”
The boy maintained his story about how the fire started throughout the hearing, although he veered off topic often, telling stories about how mean his sisters are and how many flips he can do.
The judge did not make an immediate ruling in the case.
Williams, according to authorities, knew her cousin and her cousin’s husband lived in the home that burned. The boy talked with several counselors and authorities, who testified in court before Thursday’s hearing that the child is competent to take the stand.
Williams, whose trial is scheduled for Oct. 23, has declared her innocence in open court, telling a judge that the murder charge is based on “all false information.”
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