Family members of murder victim Jerry “Mike” Williams repeated a startling allegation against his widow Denise Williams on Wednesday. They claim Denise issued an ultimatum: Stop pushing for an investigation into his disappearance or never see Williams’ daughter Anslee again.
Denise is on trial for Michael’s murder, which occurred on December 16, 2000. Williams went missing that day and his body didn’t immediately turn up. Prosecutors said the defendant collected $1.75 million on life insurance payouts after his death. Two of those policies were sold by the victim’s long-time friend, Brian Winchester.
Winchester and the defendant got married in 2005, but separated in 2012. Winchester pleaded no contest in 2017 to kidnapping Williams and reached an immunity agreement with authorities in which he admitted to killing Mike and hiding his body. He also alleged Denise to be his co-conspirator in the murder.
Between 2000 and 2017, authorities couldn’t prove what happened to Mike, one way or another. He was just considered missing, officially speaking. His brother, Nick Williams, testified that their mother Cheryl Williams never believed the story that the her son was eaten by alligators. Instead, she sent letters to the governor, reached out to local news outlets, and rented billboard space to bring attention to the case.
Cheryl managed to convince a reporter with the Tallahassee Democrat to write a story about Mike’s disappearance. Both she and Nick said this article set Denise off. She called them over to visit her at her house. Nick said this was in the Summer of 2001. Cheryl gave a firmer date: August 2001.
They claim Denise was “livid.” Nick described her as livid to the point of yelling. Cheryl said the argument happened on the front yard. They weren’t even invited inside, she said. According to her, Denise demanded they stop pushing the issue of Mike’s disappearance.
“I don’t ever want to hear Mike’s name again,” Denise said, according to Cheryl. “I don’t ever want to hear Mike’s picture in the paper again. I don’t ever want to know anything you’re doing about Mike again. I have to get on with my life.”
Cheryl claimed that Denise threatened to keep her granddaughter Anslee, now 19, well out of reach.
Years passed and Cheryl managed to keep in touch with her granddaughter for some time, but things came to a head again on January 8, 2005. She and Nick said Denise called Nick while they were at a restaurant. The defendant said she would come over to Cheryl’s home, according to testimony.
She arrived, but was joined by Brian Winchester.
“Cheryl, you know that Anslee and I love you, but Brian and I don’t like the lies you’re telling about us,” Denise said, according to Cheryl.
The witness said she asked for clarification about “What lies” but Brian demanded that, “You shut your mouth, and let her talk.” Nick had some words about that. He said some “not nice things to Brian,” Cheryl claimed.
According to testimony, Nick and his mother wanted to know what Winchester and Denise did to Mike.
Then Denise, crying, told them they would never see Anslee again if the investigation wasn’t stopped. She made good on that ultimatum. Both Cheryl and Nick testified that they haven’t seen Anslee since then.
During re-direct, Assistant State Attorney Jon S. Fuchs asked Cheryl if Denise ever apologized after authorities announced in December 2017 that Mike’s death was a homicide. She said no.
Cheryl Williams has made the ultimatum allegation before, but it’s remarkable to see it play a role in determining Denise’s guilt. The defense spent cross-examination working to downplay and recast their client’s alleged behavior. Their questioning appeared designed to recast the defendant as a mother trying to shield her daughter. Attorney Ethan Way took point on Nick.
His questions suggested that that there is no one way to grieve a death. He also pointed out the memorial service for Mike in February 2001. Most people at that time accepted that the victim was probably dead. Anslee was a one-year-old at the time, Nick said. Denise at this point was a single mother.
“Isn’t it fair to think the granddaughter needs to be protected from the idea that Mike was going to walk through the door?” asked Way.
Nick said they just wanted to know what happened to Mike. Under cross-examination, he said that Denise “did what she thought was right.”
Defense lawyer Philip Padovano took point on cross-examining Cheryl.
“If Denise is innocent, and she thought you were accusing her of doing something to her son, do you think it be would logical for her to upset with you?” he asked.
Cheryl said yes, “if she were innocent.”
Both Nick and Cheryl agreed the marriage seemed happy.
“I loved her,” Cheryl said about Denise.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime]