Eighteen years after her husband disappeared, a Florida woman has been convicted of his murder after jurors found she had plotted with her husband's best friend to kill him and make it appear like an accident.
Denise Williams, 48, was found guilty Friday of first-degree murder, conspiracy and accessory after the fact after prosecutors said she plotted with her Brian Winchester, who she was having an affair with at the time, to kill her husband, Mike Williams, so the lovers could be with one another and collect on Mike's life insurance policies worth $1.75 million, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Winchester admitted in court last week to shoving Williams out of a boat while on a duck-hunting trip in December of 2000, then shooting him in the head after he failed to drown in the lake. He later staged the scene to make it appear like Mike had disappeared while duck-hunting on his own, leaving his boat in the water and his vehicle at the lake, he told the jury.
Investigators believed for years that Mike had fallen overboard accidentally and had been eaten by alligators.
On Friday, Mike's mother, who had long believed her son's death was not an accident and put up billboards and held signs at street corners in the years since he disappeared to try to increase awareness to her son's case, finally got some resolution.
"We got justice for Michael," she told Assistant State Attorney Jon Fuchs after the jury reached the verdict, according to the local paper.
Fuchs later called the trial a "career case."
"It's not every day in your career that you get to be involved in an unsolved homicide that's 17 years old, and through team effort, able to make an arrest, and ultimately get a conviction on a 17 year old homicide," Fuchs said after the verdict, according to WTXL.
Denise Williams' attorneys had argued that Winchester had admitted to killing Mike and said there was no evidence to suggest she had been involved in the planning.
It took about eight hours for jurors to decide she was guilty. She showed little emotion while the verdict was read, but her attorneys have said they plan to appeal the decision.
“It’s terrible. It’s the wrong verdict on the evidence, but I think you have to respect the jury," her attorney Ethan Way said later according to WCTV. "Obviously, I don’t believe she is guilty of any of the three counts. No one on the defense team does. Ultimately we respect it, but we will appeal it.”
In Florida, the murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence.
Winchester testified in the trial that he and Denise had begun an affair several years before Mike was killed.
All three friends, along with Winchester's first wife, Kathy Thomas, had attended the same high school together in Florida and the two couples continued to socialize into adulthood.
After Mike was killed, Winchester and Denise continued their relationship, getting married in 2005, according to the New York Post.
But when the relationship fell apart in 2016, Winchester began to worry that Denise would spill their deadly secret and allegedly held his then-wife at gunpoint in her car demanding she never reveal the truth.
Winchester was arrested for holding Denise at gunpoint and is currently serving a 20-year sentence in prison for kidnapping. While he was awaiting trial on that charge, however, he agreed to tell investigators details of Mike's death and lead them to the body in exchange for immunity in that killing.
Way told the Tallahassee Democrat he felt the jury may have decided to convict Denise because they wanted someone to pay for the crime.
"They're probably wondering, as any reasonable person might wonder, why is Brian Winchester getting a free pass on murder," he said. "He shot his best friend in the face at three feet with a 12-gauge shotgun. Denise Williams didn't do that. Denise Williams didn't put him up to that."
Fuchs said although the immunity deal was a risk, it allowed investigators to find the body and discover the truth of Mike's disappearance.
He argued that Denise was a "cold individual" who conspired with Winchester to kill her high school sweetheart and father of her daughter, and then helped him cover up the crime.
During the closing arguments, Fuchs showed the jury a picture of Mike's remains, with his wedding ring still clearly visible on his hand.
"Mike Williams was a devoted father; he was a devoted husband. Mike Williams died with his ring on," Fuchs told the jury according to the local paper "The only part of that that Denise Williams took to heart is the death do us part."
[Photos: Leon County Sheriff's Office]
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