FILE – In this Wednesday, Dec. 12, 2018 file photo, defendant Denise Williams listens during her trial for the murder of her husband, Mike Williams, in Tallahassee, Florida. After a magical five-day trial that featured stories of infidelity, a multimillion dollar insurance payout, and family dysfunction, a jury on Friday, Dec. 14, sentenced Williams to help mastermind the killing of her husband almost two decades ago. The 48-year-old Williams was found guilty after the testimony of an important witness in the case, the man who shot her husband Mike Williams on a cold December morning on a large lake west of Tallahassee. (Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via AP, Pool, File)
TALLAHASSEE, Florida. – After a magical five-day trial that featured stories of infidelity and of a of millions of dollars in insurance payout, a jury on Friday sentenced a Florida woman to help mastermind the killing of her husband almost two decades ago.
Jurors found Denise Williams guilty of three counts including first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for her role in a case that recalled the plot of the classic Hollywood film “Double Indemnity.” The 48-year-old Williams was found guilty after the testimony of an important witness, the man who shot her husband Mike Williams on a cold December morning on a large lake west of Tallahassee.
Jurors deliberated eight hours before reaching a verdict. Denise Williams, who had the rest of her life in prison, is sentenced at an undetermined date next year.
Mike Williams disappeared almost 18 years ago, to the date of his wife’s conviction. He left early in the morning of Dec. 16, 2000, to go duck hunting, and in the beginning lot of speculation he had fallen out of his boat and that his body was eaten by crocodiles. His disappearance sparked a massive search by the authorities.
But Brian Winchester, that Mike Williams’s best friend, said he and Denise Williams were having an affair and they planned the killing. Denise Williams eventually received $1.75 million in life insurance payments, including a $1 million policy that Winchester itself had sold to Mike Williams.
In the film “Double Indemnity,” an insurance agent helps his lover kill her husband to cash in on a life insurance policy.
Winchester said he planned to make it seem as if Williams had drowned. But after pressing him over, Williams is not dragged underwater by his duck-hunting equipment. So, Winchester said he shot him in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun. He dragged his body to the shore, put him in the back of his truck and drove back to Tallahassee. He was eventually buried him later in the day, next to a small lake located north of the city.
Without a body, Denise Williams pleaded to have her husband declared dead by drowning. Winchester and Denise Williams married in 2005, but the relationship soured and they divorced in 2016.
The case broke after Winchester’s kidnapped his ex-wife at gunpoint in 2016, authorities said. He eventually made a deal with prosecutors and was sentenced to 20 years in prison for that crime. But the Winchester eventually led authorities to the remains of Mike Williams.
Ethan Way, a lawyer for Denise Williams, told jurors during closing statements that his client was innocent and that there is no tangible evidence that Denise Williams helped plan the killing of Mike Williams. Instead, he claimed that Winchester was to avoid that cost, and even murder, to take revenge on his ex-wife.
“They gave a free subscription to a murderer and have nothing else,” So told jurors in his closing statement.
Attorney Jon Fuchs told jurors the “turns my stomach” that prosecutors gave Winchester immunity in the case, but he said that it was important to give “closure” to the other members of the Williams family, who had suspected for years that Mike Williams will not drown. Fuchs said that Winchester would still be in prison for a long time.
Just before he finished, Fuchs took something out of his pocket and placed it in front of the jury: it was the wedding band that Mike Williams wore on the day he died.
Some friends and family members of Mike Williams sobbed quietly after the verdict and harder but after the jury left the courtroom. Cheryl Williams, the mother of Mike Williams, thanked prosecutors for their work on the case.
“I’m just happy that we were able to work as a team and bring justice to Mike and his family,” Fuchs said. He added: “it is not every day in your career that you get to be involved in an unsolved murder, that is 17 years old and through team effort it can make an arrest and ultimately a conviction.”
Road, said that his client Denise Williams was “stunned” by the verdict and he announced to appeal.
“It is terrible, it is the wrong statement of the facts,” said So. “But I think you have to respect what the jury does. Of course, I do not believe that they are guilty of one of the three counts, I don’t think anyone on the defense team is doing.”