Ethan Way, an attorney for Denise Williams, gave an explanation Monday for why his client sought a $1.75 million life insurance payout only 19 days after the December 16, 2000 disappearance of her first husband Jerry Michael Williams. Denise Williams was found guilty on Friday of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and accessory after the fact in first-degree murder.
“It wasn’t really Denise’s idea to do that,” Way told Law&Crime Network host Jesse Weber. “If you recall the testimony from Kurt Hunter and some others. Denise’s father Mr. Merrell, one of the first people at the scene, if not the first person at the scene of Mike going missing. Marcus Winchester was a family friend and adviser. Brian Winchester at this time was a close friend and adviser, and the advice that Denise received was, ‘You go ahead and file these claims.’ That’s what people do in the insurance business.”
Way said testimony established that at the time of Jerry Michael Williams’ 2000 disappearance, people quickly believed that the victim, who went by the name “Mike,” had died. Prosecutors used the insurance payout as evidence against Denise Williams, however. They claim that she and then-lover Brian Winchester planned Mike’s death.
Winchester signed an immunity agreement as part of the case. He admitted to fatally shooting the victim after luring him out on a duck hunting trip on Lake Seminole in north Florida, and he implicated Denise–whom he married in 2005 and divorced in 2017–as a co-conspirator. He claimed that they had started an affair in 1997. Evidence in the trial established that Mike Williams had three insurance policies on his life. Winchester, a financial planner, helped sell two of them.
Way called the guilty verdict a “gut punch.” He and co-counsel Philip Padovano spent much of the trial tearing into Winchester’s credibility. They argued that the information he gave as part of his immunity agreement was just revenge for Denise throwing him under the bus after he kidnapped her in 2016.
On Monday, Way once again denied there being evidence of an affair. Though he acknowledged that his client and Winchester married in 2005, he said the only proof of any affair in the 1990s was between Winchester and a co-worker named Angela Stafford. He suggested that jurors perhaps made more of an “emotional” decision in their verdict, not a “factual” one. Weber asked him if he believed the jury made a mistake.
“I’ve got to respect the jury process, but at the same time, looking at the evidence and the case I was presented, I don’t see how there was any decision other than not guilty on all three counts,” he said.
Way said they plan on filing a motion for a new trial. If that doesn’t work, then they’ll look at their appellate options.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime]