Court in Leon County, Florida came to a brief stop Tuesday when key prosecution witness Brian Winchester broke down on the stand. He was telling the court that he killed long-time friend Jerry Michael Williams after plotting with defendant Denise Williams.
Prosecutors say Denise and Winchester agreed to staged Mike’s death as an accidental drowning. Authorities claim the original plan was to lure him out on a duck hunting trip to Lake Seminole, just northwest of Tallahassee. Brian would push the victim off the boat, causing him to drown. Things went awry when they executed the plan on December 16, 2000, however. Williams didn’t drown, so Winchester shot him, prosecutors said. Denise is charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder in the first-degree, and accessory after the fact in first-degree murder. Prosecutors said she collected $1.75 million life insurance money on Mike’s death, and married Brian in 2005. That relationship fell apart. Prosecutor Jon S. Fuchs said that Winchester kidnapped the defendant at gunpoint in 2016. Brian pleaded no contest in the case, but remarkably, reached an immunity agreement with prosecutors, and claimed he and Williams were responsible for Mike’s murder.
He exhibited a lot of emotion on the stand Tuesday, but things came to a head when he described what happened after he buried Mike’s body, cleaned the getaway truck, and left a Christmas party later that day.
“My recollection is that my dad called me, and said Mike’s missing,” Winchester said, appearing visibly distressed.
The Williamses and Winchesters were linked for years. Brian, Denise, Mike, and Brian’s wife Kathy went to high school together, and stayed friends since then. But Brian said he had an affair with Denise after Kathy cheated on him. Together, he and his new lover eventually settled on killing Mike because Denise didn’t want to get a divorce, Winchester said.
Winchester said that his father called him, and he claimed that he played off Mike’s apparent disappearance by pointing out that the victim was known for “being late,” or going out on hunting and fishing trips. Nonetheless, Brian said he played along with his dad, and agreed to search for Williams.
They went out on the lake, and “searched for Mike,” Winchester said, making air quotes.
“He was searching, and I was just lying,” he said, voice cracking.
They got off the lake before a storm came in, but his father didn’t want to quit searching, Winchester said.
“My dad loved Mike,” he said. He then began wiping his tears, and falling into silence. The judge called a break.
Winchester is the admitted killer. He said he lured Mike to a duck hunting trip on Lake Seminole, pushed him off the boat, and shot him when he didn’t drown, but it’s Denise Williams who stands trial for her alleged role in plotting the homicide. According to his account, she was at home when the murder happened.
Winchester’s perceived credibility may be the most important part of this case, and the kidnapping case may complicate matters.
The defendant’s attorney Philip Padovano tried to undermine Brian’s allegations. He described a “sense of revenge” on Winchester’s part due to Denise throwing him “under the bus” in the kidnapping case. He said that during the incident, Brain brought a tarp and two cans of bleach along, but Denise managed to calm him down.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime]