Court continues Wednesday in the murder trial of Denise Williams. Prosecutors in Leon County, Florida say she and then-lover Brian Winchester plotted the 2000 death of her husband Jerry Michael Williams. The thing is, her alleged co-conspirator is the state’s key witness. Her fate might depend on whether jurors find him credible. The judge ordered jurors to show up to court at 8:45 a.m. Proceedings are expected to begin with the defense’s cross-examination of Winchester.
The defendant faces charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and accessory after the fact in first-degree murder.
There is so much to this case, so let’s start with a brief summary to get you oriented. The victim went missing on a duck hunting trip on December 16, 2000, according to Assistant State Attorney Jon S. Fuchs. Investigators didn’t find the body. In the mean time, his wife moved to collect his life insurance. Denise pulled in a total of $1.75 million from three policies. Two of those were sold by Winchester, a long-time friend of the Williams family. Guess who gets married in 2005. Brian and Denise. Marriage troubles lead to a separation in 2012, and Winchester was arrested in 2016 for kidnapping her. He had wanted to “save” the relationship, Fuchs said. He pleaded no contest, but reached an immunity agreement with prosecutors, in which he claimed that he and Denise plotted Mike’s murder. Winchester took responsibility as the gunman.
Defense lawyer Philip Padovano suggested on Tuesday that Winchester implicated Denise as retaliation because she accused him of kidnapping. His phrasing: There is a “sense of revenge.”
Winchester exhibited a lot of emotion in his testimony on Tuesday. Under direct examination, he went through how he started a relationship with Denise, and settled on the plot to kill Mike. He said that they and his wife Kathy all went to the same high-school, and stayed close over the years. Then he discovered that Kathy was cheating on him, and he eventually started an affair with Denise, he claimed.
Brian described this as a committed relationship, to the point that they wouldn’t want each other to have sex with their respective spouses. According to him, Denise didn’t want to divorce Mike, and he attributed this to her “upbringing” and “pride.”
They went through a few plots to kill her husband, he said. One plan involved staging a burglary. They passed on that because it’d invite a criminal investigation, he said. Winchester claimed they also plotted to get Kathy and Mike killed in a shipwreck, but he didn’t want to hurt “my son’s mom.”
Eventually, they settled on the idea of staging a drowning accident, according to his testimony. They would lure Mike to a body of water, he would push him, and the victim would drown. He construed them as having a sick mentality: they believed that if Mike died in something that approximated a legit accident, then it was because God willed it.
Brian first planned to get the victim to go duck hunting on December 9, 2016, but Denise got “cold feet,” according to Winchester’s testimony. Other factors contributed to them trying again on the 16th, however. He claimed that Mike was pressuring the defendant to have another baby. Also, the victim planned on letting a $500,000 life insurance policy lapse.
Denise remained home while the murder played out, Winchester told the court. Winchester lured Mike out to Lake Seminole in the early morning to see a “secret special spot to go hunting,” he said. He convinced Mike to put on waders (believing this would contribute to drowning), and they went on the water, he said. Winchester claimed to stop the boat, at which point Mike stood. He said he pushed the victim into the water, but that’s when the plan went awry. Mike managed to take off the wader and jacket, holding onto a stump in the water, he said.
Brian said he then shot his friend in the face, since the accidental drowning story wouldn’t work anymore. He brought the body to his truck (they drove to the location separately), he said. Winchester claimed that he drove home, established an alibi, obtained a shovel, then buried Mike near Carr Lake. He then cleaned his truck.
Later, his father called him to say Mike was missing. Winchester said he played along, downplayed his friend’s disappearance, and joined on the search. Now, almost 18 years to the day, he is testifying that he lied to his father and everyone else about what really happened to the victim.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]