Court continues Thursday in the trial of Denise Williams. Jurors in Leon County, Florida will decide if she plotted the 2000 death of her first husband Jerry Michael (“Mike”) Williams. The charges are first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and accessory after the fact in first-degree murder.
Prosecutors are expected to rest their case.
The victim went missing on December 16, 2000, after apparently going alone on a duck hunting trip to Lake Seminole, just northwest of Tallahassee. His body didn’t immediately turn up, and most people presumed him dead. Prosecutors said that Denise soon collected $1.75 million on his three life insurance policies. Long-time friend Brian Winchester sold two of these policies. Williams and Winchester got married in 2005 but separated in 2012. Winchester pleaded no contest to kidnapping Denise in 2016, and reached an immunity agreement in which he admitted to shooting Mike in the face and hiding the body near Carr Lake. He said Denise Williams was his co-conspirator.
Both sides in the case are fighting over Winchester’s credibility, as well as Denise’s apparently suspicious behavior after the disappearance.
Mike’s mother Cheryl Williams and brother Nick Williams testified on Wednesday that Denise urged them to stop calling for an investigation into the 2000 disappearance.
“I don’t ever want to hear Mike’s name again,” Denise said, according to Cheryl. “I don’t ever want to see 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.”
They both described her as very angry in a 2001 incident. In 2005, she told them once again to stop pressing the issue, according to testimony. They refused. In retaliation, Denise kept her daughter Anslee from communicating with Cheryl and Nick.
During cross-examination, the defense recast their client as a single mother struggling to raise a young daughter alone.
“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 be upset with you?” lawyer Philip Padovano asked Cheryl.
Yes, she said. “If she was innocent.”
By all accounts, Denise and Winchester were close to the family for years. Winchester testified that he, his first wife Kathy, Mike, and the defendant all went to the same high school. They stayed close after college. Brian alleged that he started an affair with Denise in 1997 after his spouse cheated on him. As time progressed, they settled on the idea to kill Mike. The defendant didn’t want to divorce because of her “upbringing” and “pride,” Winchester said.
Nick said he never heard about marital problems from Mike.
Winchester testified that it was his father who first contacted him about the victim’s disappearance. They and others searched for Mike at Lake Seminole. Brian teared up when recounting how his father wanted to continue looking despite an oncoming storm.
“My dad loved Mike,” he said.
[Screengrab via Law&Crime Network]