A Florida women caught in a deadly love triangle was given a life sentence Wednesday for plotting to kill her husband with his best friend.
Denise Williams, 48, was convicted in December for the murder of her husband, Mike Williams, 18 years after the young father disappeared while on a fishing trip in 2000.
Before the judge handed down the sentence, the victim’s mother, Cheryl Williams, gave an emotional victim impact statement in which she asked for justice for her murdered son.
“When I try to sleep at night, I will see my son clinging to a tree stump in Lake Seminole in the dark, knowing that his best friend is trying to kill him. I hear his voice screaming for help. I wasn't there to help him. It will haunt me forever," she said, according to WCTV.
In addition to the life sentence without the possibility of parole, Denise was also sentenced to an additional 30 years for conspiring to kill her husband, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.
After they were unable to find Mike’s body, investigators initially believed he had been eaten by alligators after falling overboard. It would take years for the truth about Mike’s death to come to light.
In testimony in Denise’s trial, his best friend Brian Winchester would testify that he shot the young father in the face after shoving him out of the duck hunting boat.
Winchester and Denise, who were having an affair at the time, had initially plotted to make the death appear like an accident, but after Mike failed to drown in the water, Winchester shot him.
The lovers wanted to get rid of Mike, who had been Denise’s high school sweetheart, so they could be free to be with one another and could collect on a nearly $2 million life insurance policy, the Tallahassee Democrat reports.
After he shot Mike, Winchester said he pulled the body from the lake and later buried it in a separate location.
Denise and Winchester would go on to marry and later divorce.
He received immunity for the murder in exchange for his cooperation in the prosecution of Denise, but is serving a 20-year prison sentence for armed kidnapping of his estranged wife. In 2016, Winchester kidnapped Denise and held her at gunpoint.
Mike’s mother, Cheryl, never believed her son’s death had been an accident and wrote 2,600 letters to the state’s governor asking for the death to be investigated, stood on street corners holding missing person signs and vocally spoke out about her suspicions to the media, according to The Tallahasse Democrat.
She recounted the efforts it had taken her to get justice in court on Wednesday.
“I am a fighter, not a victim. If I had not done what I did for 17 years, Mike’s disappearance never would have been solved,” she said, according to the local paper. “There’s no manual to tell a mother what to do when her child goes missing. I just did what God put on my heart to do."
Cheryl also spoke about the heartache of not getting to be part of her granddaughter’s life.
“Not only did Denise kill my son, she stole my granddaughter Ansley, Mike’s only child,” she said according to WTXL. “For her entire life, Ansley was raised in a house with the murderers of her father.”
After the sentence was handed down, Mike's friends said there was a peace in the courtroom.
“When he finally gave her that sentence of life, it was just amazing and peaceful,” Marya Denmark told WCTV.
Denise’s attorney Ethan Way said he plans to fight the conviction.
“Denise Williams is innocent, he said according to WCTV. “Today is not the end of anything. It’s the beginning of a review at the appellate court.”
[Photos: Leon County Sheriff's Office]
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