Jury deliberations underway in Denise Williams murder trial
December 14, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla (WCTV) -- Jury deliberations in the Denise Williams murder case have now passed the seven hour mark.
The jury has asked three questions in that time span. Its latest request coming at about 6:20 p.m. to review the testimony of confessed trigger man Brian Winchester. Winchester was on the stand for more than three hours.
The judge talked to the jury about what to do next. The judge said if jurors can narrow the request to re-read portions of the testimony that would be helpful.
The judge said a court reporter could read the testimony back in its entirety, but if jurors wished to do that, he would likely break for the night and come back Saturday.
Jurors went back into the jury room and sent a note out, indicating that they no longer wished to hear Winchester's testimony and deliberations continue.
The jury asked two questions earlier in the afternoon. One asked if the jury finds Denise Williams guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, would they automatically have to find her guilty of the murder itself. The judge told jurors they should refer to the jury instructions for guidance.
December 14, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The jury has begun deliberations in the murder trial of Denise Williams, accused in the killing of her husband Mike Williams in December 2000.
Prosecutors are now playing the recorded conversation between Denise Williams and Brian Winchester’s ex-wife-turned-FDLE-informant Kathy Thomas.
Thomas confronts Williams and accuses her of plotting Mike Williams' murder. Prosecutors pointed out Denise Williams wasn’t upset by the accusation and never denied it.
“It’s not just what she says, it’s what she doesn’t say,” Fuchs said. "She was accused of murder and the only thing she wanted to know is if Marcus was involved."
“Why? Because the pact she had with Brian Winchester was that no one else would know,” Fuchs said.
“Mr. Way says this is not about justice for Mike. This is absolutely about justice for Mike,” Fuchs added.
Fuchs defended the immunity deal prosecutors made with Brian Winchester.
“I had to make a decision to solve a 17-year-old murder, to get closure for the family. Was it a good decision? I don’t know. Time will tell,” Fuchs said
Fuchs said the immunity deal clearly states it will be void and Winchester can be prosecuted if he is caught in a lie or they find other evidence against him.
“That man has every reason to tell the truth,” Fuchs said.
Fuchs reminded the jury of the testimony of Mike Williams' mother Cheryl Williams. She said on two separate occasions, Denise Williams threatened her to stop pushing for an FDLE investigation.
“If you don’t stop this investigation, you’ll never see your granddaughter again.” Fuchs said of the testimony. “And she never did.”
“Brian Winchester didn’t make that threat, she did,” Fuchs said pointing to Denise Williams. “That’s not the actions of an innocent person.”
Fuchs wrapped up his final arguments by flashing a photo of an insurance claim signed by Denise Williams on the big screen. It was dated January 4, 2001.
“19 days later she’s filing for insurance,” Fuchs said. “That’s a person who’s involved in homicide.”
The last thing Fuchs did is post a photo on the big screen that showed an x-ray of Mike Williams remains. It showed a wedding ring still on his left hand. Fuchs then took the ring and put it on the edge of the jury box.
“This is not a case about suspicions, this is not a case about guesses,” defense attorney Ethan Way said in his closing arguments. “It’s a murder case.”
“Take Brian Winchester away and there is nothing that supports any of these three charges,” Way told the jury. “No tangible evidence.”
Way says the spouse is always a suspect and pointed out Mike Williams' disappearance was investigated for years and it didn’t amount to anything.
“It didn’t amount to an arrest,” Way told the jury.
“Why would Denise Williams go to the police about the man who could lock her up?” Way said about Denise Williams' decision to report her kidnapping in 2016.
“August 5, 2016 was his (Winchester’s) last day as a free man, or was it?” Way said. “He’s a murderer and a liar.”
Way claims Winchester would do anything to avoid a life sentence in the gunpoint kidnapping of Denise Williams
Way contends Winchester concocted the story about the murder plot as a way to get out of jail and out of trouble.
“I’m a planner and a salesman. I will come up with, not a life insurance policy, I will come up with a Brian life policy. I will come up with a story so good, they’re going to give me a free pass to murder,” Way said of Winchester.
Way painted Winchester as a calculating and brutal killer who shot his best friend in the head and shoved his body in a dog crate.
“When I ask him questions, he says we did it,” Way explained. "When I asked if Denise Williams was there, he said, “she was in my head.”
“Somebody has to pay,” Way says of the prosecution. “They gave a free pass to a murderer and they got nothing else.”
“It’s always the wife, throw it up there and hope something sticks,” Way told the jury. “That’s the easy story.”
“Without Brian Winchester, they have come up with this,” Way said as he gestured to an empty evidence table.
“Brian Winchester took away Ansley’s father, Cheryl Williams' son, Nick Williams' brother,” Way said. “Brian Winchester did that, not Denise Williams.”
“There is no ‘we’ ladies and gentlemen,” Way told the jury as he wrapped up his closing arguments.
Prosecutor Jon Fuchs told the jury Williams and confessed trigger man Brian Winchester plotted the murder of Mike Williams and kept it a secret for 17 years.
Fuchs pointed to a message that Denise Williams sent Kathy Thomas soon after Winchester’s arrest for kidnapping her at gunpoint. It says “Tell Marcus to tell Brian that I didn’t say anything.” Fuchs says that message is a clear indication that Williams had knowledge of the murder and continued to cover it up.
He also pointed to a lunchtime conversation between Brian Winchester and a friend, Dr. Mnookin. Dr. Mnookin testified that Winchester confided in him that he was worried once he and Denise were divorced, Williams would tell police about the murder and pin it all on him.
Fuchs is now talking about the conspiracy charges against Williams. He pointed to Winchester’s testimony on the stand, with Winchester saying the two were “good at hiding things.”
He says in his testimony, Winchester described a years-long affair, said the two had discussed the murder plot for more than a year, and while insurance was a motive for the murder, it wasn’t the only one.
“Icing on the cake,” was how Winchester described it.
“Brian Winchester is not a good person,” Fuchs said. "But that doesn’t mean his testimony isn’t accurate. It’s corroborated by those who witnessed the affair, the waders that surfaced later and the condition of Mike Williams' body - shot in the head just as Winchester said."
“Did she have the intent that Mike Williams go on that hunting trip and die? And never come home?” Fuchs asked the jury. “Yes.”
Fuchs flashed the photos of Denise Williams and Brian Winchester on the big screen with a big red check mark next to the charges of conspiracy, murder and accessory after the fact.
Closing arguments are about to begin in the murder trial of Denise Williams and there could be a verdict later in the day.
Williams is facing three charges: conspiracy to commit first degree murder, first degree murder and accessory after the fact to first degree murder.
The judge is now reading detailed instructions to the jury outlining the elements prosecutors need to prove in order to convict Williams on the charges.
The courtroom is nearly full as family, friends and even some of the witnesses are here to hear closing arguments and await a verdict.
Williams is accused of plotting the murder of her husband Mike Williams in December 2000. The anniversary of his death is Sunday.
December 13, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Both the state and the defense have rested their cases in the murder trial of Denise Williams, accused in the killing of her husband Mike Williams in December 2000.
The jury will begin deliberating in the Denise Williams murder trial on Friday.
Both the state and defense rested their cases Thursday.
Denise Williams telling the judge she did not wish to testify.
Once jurors were sent home for the day, attorneys started debating the details of jury instructions.
In what the judge called “a relatively rare “ move, the defense agreed to what is essentially an all or nothing verdict form. That means jurors will not be able to consider second degree murder or manslaughter charges. only whether Williams is guilty or not guilty on first degree murder charges.
The judge told Denise Williams “it’s a little bit of a gamble,” because a first degree murder conviction carries an automatic life sentence. Williams said she agreed with the “no lessers” strategy.
Opening arguments are scheduled to begin at 9am Friday and the jury could begin deliberating by noon.
Watch video from today's testimony in court below:
One of Mike Williams' longtime friends took the stand.
James Martin says Mike Williams seemed thrilled and “perfectly content” with his wife and daughter.
He says Williams never confided in him about any problems at home.
FDLE Agent Mike Phillips testified that he knew Mike Williams, Denise Williams and Brian Winchester as a student at North Florida Christian.
He testified that he first heard Mike Williams was missing at a Sunday prayer group meeting. Phillips said he took the next day off work and went out to Lake Seminole to see if he could assist in the search.
The defense has begun calling witnesses in the murder trial of Denise Williams.
The first witness on the stand was estate and probate lawyer Curtis Hunter. Hunter testified that Denise Williams, her father and Brian Winchester all came to his office after Mike Williams death asking him to help get a “presumptive death certificate” for Michael Williams.
Hunter said Denise Williams hung her head and remained quiet most of the time as the men did most of the talking.
Hunter testified that as part of the process Denise Williams signed an affidavit that she and Mike Williams had no marital problems.
Hunter said the speed with which Denise Williams received the death certificate is rare, especially in missing persons cases. He says it usually takes five years.
The state has rested its case against Denise Williams.
Brian Winchester’s ex-wife Kathy Thomas said she became an informant for FDLE and as part of that deal agreed to record conversations with Denise Williams.
A recording of one of the conversations was played aloud in court. Thomas cries throughout the recording, Denise Williams remains calm.
She told Denise Williams she had gotten a subpoena in the wake of Brian Winchester’s kidnapping arrest.
She started talking about Mike Williams disappearance.
“Why couldn’t ya’ll just get a divorce?” Thomas said. “I’ve always known that you and Brian loved each other.”
Thomas became distraught saying, “I’ve pretended that I didn’t know anything, but I do know.” For 15 years Thomas said, “I’ve been sitting with my mouth shut.”
Denise Williams tried to calm Thomas, but never addressed the suggestion that she was keeping a secret about Michael Williams’ disappearance and death.
Brian Winchester’s ex-wife Kathy Thomas is now testifying in the murder trial of Denise Williams.
Thomas testified that she was childhood friends with Mike Williams and knew Denise Williams since high school.
She testified that she and Brian Winchester were high school sweethearts but when they were married, she suspected he and Denise Williams were having an affair .
Thomas said they separated on September 11, 2001 and divorced in April 2003.
Thomas recalled a trip in the spring of 2000. She said the two couples were supposed to go to Panama City together to celebrate Denise’s 30th birthday, but Mike Williams backed out. Thomas said she didn’t want to go because anytime she was around Brian and Denise she “felt like a third wheel ... like I was on a date with that two of them.”
Thomas said she ultimately did go and acknowledged the compromising photos of her and Denise Williams shown to the jury Wednesday were taken on that trip.
She testified she found a receipt for a gold necklace she knew Brian bought for Denise. It said ‘Meridian’ which Thomas said was Denise Williams’ party name.
Thomas testified that after Brian Winchester’s kidnapping arrest in 2016, she got a phone call from Denise Williams.
Thomas said Denise Williams wanted her to get a message to Brian Winchester’s father to relay a message to Brian and tell him “I’m not talking.”
Thomas says she decided to become an informant for FDLE.
December 12, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Day two of testimony has wrapped up in the trial of Denise Williams. She's accused of plotting the murder of her husband Michael Williams back in December 2000.
Confessed trigger man Brian Winchester was on the stand for another two hours Wednesday morning.
Michael Williams brother and mother took the stand Wednesday afternoon and described two angry confrontations with Denise as the mother pushed for a criminal investigation into her missing son.
The prosecutor telling the judge he could rest his case Thursday after one final witness.
Mike Williams' mother, Cheryl, has taken the stand in the murder trial of Denise Williams. She is currently speaking about a letter to the editor that she wrote to the Tallahassee Democrat about the disappearance of her son.
She claims Denise was furious with her about the letter and the subsequent story that was published, saying she didn't want to see Mike's picture in the paper again. Cheryl claims that Denise told her, "I have to get on with my life."
When Cheryl was asked how she felt about Denise at the beginning of Denise and Mike's relationship, Cheryl said, "I loved her."
The final question Cheryl was asked at the stand was when Denise allowed her to see her granddaughter again after Denise became upset with Cheryl for reaching out to the paper. Cheryl replied, "She never did."
Watch testimony from court below:
Court is currently in recess for lunch and will resume at 1 p.m.
Brian Winchester testified Tuesday that his affair with Denise Williams began the night they attended a Sister Hazel concert at Floyd’s in the fall of 1997.
Lindsay Lockhart testified Wednesday that she was at the concert that night. She testified at the time she worked with Mike Williams at Ketcham Realty. Lockhart says there was a group of people at the concert, including Mike and Denise Williams and Brian Winchester. She said Winchester’s wife was not there.
Lockhart says Mike Williams was at the bar and she turned to see Brian Winchester standing behind Denise Williams with his hands on her waist. She says it made her uncomfortable. She testified she told her parents about it the next day.
“If I didn’t know better I would have thought Brian was married to Denise, not Mike,” she said.
“More than friends?” the prosecutor asked.
“Very much so,” Lockhart said.
Angela Stafford then testified that she too worked at Ketcham Realty and attended the concert that night.
She described Winchester and Denise Williams as “very friendly, very close” in front of Mike Williams and everyone else.
Years later, Stafford testified that she and Winchester went out to a club and went back to his house, only to have Denise Williams walk in on them in the bedroom.
She testified Winchester got up, put his pants on and ran after her.
One of Brian Winchester’s friends just took the stand and said Winchester called him and told him “he hit a new low” and wanted to talk with him at lunch.
The friend, says Winchester told him about kidnapping Denise and said he was worried once they were divorced, that she would tell police about “what really happened to Mike Williams.”
He says Winchester told him he wanted to talk to Denise Williams about it, but she wouldn’t answer his calls so he kidnapped her.
The next man on the stand introduced Mike Williams to duck hunting. Howard Drew says he taught Williams how to shoot and taught him how to get out of a pair of water-filled waders by practicing in a backyard pool.
“Many a good man and woman has gone to the bottom in a pair of waders,” Drew said.
Drew said he wanted Williams to know how to escape from waders if he ever fell overboard.
“I was the one who took those pictures,” Brian Winchester said about a stack of 11 compromising photos just shown to the jury.
The photos were not displayed in court but according to Winchester they were sexual in nature and showed Denise Williams and his first wife together during a spring break trip to Panama City. Winchester said he wasn’t sure if it was the spring before Mike Williams was killed or the spring afterward.
The defense objected to the photos calling them “prejudicial” and “inflammatory”. The judge admitted 11 of the 20 photos, saying “in large part, they’re relevant.”
Winchester also read from a 17-page letter that Denise Williams wrote to him when he was trying to reconcile with his wife.
It was signed “I love you more than ever, Denise” and it asked him to “pray extra hard for me” on the 16th and 17th.
Jurors are allowed to ask questions, which the judge and attorneys screen first.
One juror asked if the insurance money was an incentive in the murder plot or simply a bonus.
Winchester said he would characterize it as “a bonus.” He said the two wanted to be together and the “money was just the icing on the cake.”
Winchester just wrapped up his testimony - spanning about four hours over two days - staring directly at Denise Williams as he was led out of the courtroom and back to prison.
Star witness and confessed triggerman Brian Winchester has returned to the witness stand for a second day of testimony.
“”The things I say on the stand cannot be used against me,” Brian Winchester said as defense attorneys cross examined him Wednesday morning.
Defense attorneys grilled Winchester about the immunity deal he made with prosecutors to lessen his sentence for kidnapping Denise Williams at gunpoint in 2015.
He told investigators all he knew about Mike Williams murder and led them to his body in exchange for what was ultimately a 20 year prison sentence.
Winchester admitted to hiding in the back of her car for more than five hours and surprising her with a loaded gun. “I told her to drive, drive.”
Defense attorney Ethan Way asked why he had a sheet in the car. “To wrap her body after you killed her?”
“Absolutely not,” Winchester answered.
Winchester said he and Denise Williams had a years long affair and had sex up to 15 times a week. He says they routinely had sex in public places including at the top of the Capitol.
“We were very good at hiding things. Denise is a smart person,” Winchester said. “We were very good about hiding things.”
Winchester admitted he was angry and jealous when Denise Williams had a relationship with another man after Mike Williams death.
“I felt betrayed,” Winchester said.
“Was I obsessed with her?” He responded to the defense attorney’s question. “I won’t argue with you on that.”
Questioning then turned to the day in December 2000 that he shot and killed Mike Williams at Lake Seminole.
“Denise Williams didn’t know you shot her husband in the face with a shotgun did she?” the defense attorney asked.
“No, Winchester said. “I tried to tell her about it one day, but she didn’t want to know the details.”
“As long as we asked for forgiveness from God, it was okay not to confess it to anybody else,” Winchester said of their conversation.
Winchester said he later went through a spiritual awakening.
“You haven’t confessed the sin of murder to anyone,” defense attorney Ethan Way said.
“I have, but we haven’t,” Winchester said as he looked directly at Denise Williams.
December 11, 2018
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Denise Williams’ murder trial is now underway in a Leon County courtroom. To watch the proceedings,
Testimony has wrapped up for the day. Brian Winchester - who has confessed to shooting and killing Mike Williams - spent more than two hours on the witness stand. Defense attorneys will have a chance to cross examine Winchester Wednesday morning. Testimony is scheduled to resume at 9 a..m.
Brian Winchester testified that Mike Williams was increasingly suspicious of his wife and says Mike even confided in him about it, unaware that he was the one having an affair with Denise.
“Denise really didn’t have to do a whole lot other than come up with an alibi for herself and make sure that Mike went,” Winchester said of the plan to kill him.
Winchester said the week before the murder he met with Denise at the end of Rhoden Cove to discuss details of the plan.
“I had to make sure he brought his waders,” Winchester said.
“I followed him over to the lake,” Winchester said. “I believed, we believed if you fell overboard in the waders, you can sink pretty quickly.”
“I don’t remember how exactly I got him to stand up,” Winchester said, “ but when he did, I pushed him in the water.”
“He was in the water and he was struggling,” Winchester said. “I realized he was taking the waders and the jacket off.”
Winchester said Williams swam over to a tree stump and held on to it.
“I didn’t know what to do, but he started to yell and I didn’t know how to get out of that situation,” Winchester said as he cried.
Winchester said he loaded his gun and circled Mike Williams. “As I passed by, I shot him.”
He testified he knew then he would have to do something to cover it up. He said he loaded Mike Williams body into his Suburban and pushed the boat back into the water.
“Part of my job was to sell life insurance,” Brian Winchester testified.
Winchester said he sold Mike Williams a life insurance policy after they graduated from college and later sold him another policy worth $1 million after his first child was born.
“It wasn’t extravagant based on the kind of income he was making,” Winchester says of the policy.
He said he sold Mike Williams the million dollar policy within six months to a year of his death.
“I’ve had plenty of time alone to think about it,” Winchester said about planning Mike Williams’ murder.
He described a hunting trip with Mike Williams in which Williams sank into quick sand and he had to pull him out. He remembered telling Denise about it afterward.
“The more we were together the more we wanted to be together,” Winchester said. “It just got worse and worse.”
Denise did not want to get divorced, he said, “which narrowed the options even further I guess.”
He said he and Denise discussed ways to kill Mike Williams including staging a robbery at his office late at night.
Winchester said they also considered staging a boating accident in the Gulf in which both of their spouses would die.
Winchester said he came up with the idea of a staged duck hunting accident in which Mike Williams drowned. “That was a scenario we could live with I guess.”
“Better to be a rich widow than a poor divorcee,” Winchester said of Denise. He says Denise did not want to get divorced because she did not want to share custody of her daughter with Mike Williams.
Brian Winchester took the stand just before 3 p.m. Tuesday. He has already confessed to shooting and killing Mike Williams but says Denise Williams plotted the murder with him.
Winchester said he and Denise started dating secretly in 1997. He said he and his wife and Mike and Denise all went to a concert at Floyd’s one night and that’s the first time he and Denise kissed.
“It snowballed really fast,” he said. “We started meeting whenever we had the opportunity.”
One of Mike Williams’ good friends, Scott Dungey testified on tape. The two went to high school together at North Florida Christian.
He said he got a call on a cold Sunday morning that Mike was missing and he immediately went out to Lake Seminole to help look for him.
Dungey said the search went on every day for about two weeks and tapered off around Christmas, but he continued to go to the lake daily until about February.
He said Mike Williams' hunting jacket was found later along with his hunting license and a flashlight.
“Surprisingly it was in great shape,” Dungey said of the jacket.
The first witness on the stand was the FWC officer who responded to a call about a missing duck hunter on Lake Seminole.
Greg Morris described meeting Mike Williams' father-in-law at the lake. He was very concerned, he said.
Morris said it was a beautiful winter day, about 70 degrees, but that night there were torrential rains and it turned bitterly cold.
“Brian Winchester is not on trial,” defense attorney Philip Padovano told the jury in his opening statements. He explained an immunity agreement that will allow confessed triggerman Brian Winchester to testify against Denise Williams and avoid prosecution in the murder of Mike Williams.
“The issue you’re going to have to decide is if you believe him,” Padovano told the jury. “Brian Winchester’s testimony is totally uncorroborated. In plain English, there isn’t anything to back it up.”
The defense attorney said there is no DNA, no fingerprints, no tangible evidence, no confession, “nothing,” to link Denise Williams to Mike Williams' murder.
“All you’re going to have to go on is the word of the man who committed the murder,” Padovano told the jury.
The defense attorney said that Williams had just had a baby and Mike bought extra life insurance from his friend Brian Winchester, who was an insurance agent. The defense attorney said there is nothing unusual about that or the amount of the policy given his $185,000 annual salary. He says Denise Williams had no role or influence in buying that policy.
Padovano says Mike and Denise Williams were happily married.
The defense said investigators could not find any proof that Denise Williams and Brian Winchester were having an affair. Padovano says there are no phone records, no surveillance videos, no witnesses who saw them together and no credit card receipts for “dinners and hotel rooms.”
The defense attorney said after Mike Williams' death, Brian Winchester tried to stay married to his own wife and Denise seriously dated another man. He claims Winchester threatened them and unexpectedly showed up at their hotel room one day.
The defense attorney told the jury that Winchester’s claims of a murder plot with Denise are “revenge.”
“He didn’t say anything until he realized he was facing a life sentence for kidnapping,” Padovano said.
“What you’re not going to hear is any credible evidence that Denise Williams knew about the murder or was involved in it," he said.
“Now you’re going to hear the rest of the story,” Prosecutor Jon Fuchs told the jury as opening statements began in the murder trial of Denise Williams.
Fuchs showed Mike Williams' photo on the big screen in court and talked about the extensive search for him the day he disappeared while duck hunting on Lake Seminole on December 16, 2000. That was also his wedding anniversary, Fuchs said.
Fuchs said the search efforts spanned two weeks and all authorities found was his boat and a hat. Six months later, however, a fisherman found some waders, a hunting license and a still-functioning flashlight.
Fuchs said Williams' body was never found and the case went cold for years.
By 2003, law enforcement discovered that Denise and Mike’s longtime friend, Brian Winchester, had started dating. They soon reclassified the case as “suspicious” and started looking for phone records and life insurance payments.
They found Denise Williams was the sole beneficiary of three insurance policies and received $1.75 million. The one-million-dollar policy was written by Brian Winchester himself.
But, the case went cold again.
“In 2016, everything changes,” Fuchs said.
That’s when Winchester was arrested for kidnapping Denise Williams at gunpoint, and he later confessed to killing Mike Williams. He claims he and Denise Williams plotted the murder so they could be together.
Fuchs claims Winchester told authorities he and Denise had dated “behind the backs” of their spouses for three years before the murder. Fuchs says Winchester and Denise Williams had even discussed killing both of their spouses in a staged, offshore fishing accident, but decided against it.
They decided to kill just Mike.
“That didn’t go as planned,” Fuchs said as he described the botched plan to push Mike Williams overboard during the duck hunting trip.
Winchester he said wound up shooting Williams in the face and burying his body on the edge of Carr Lake.
The prosecutor says Denise Williams and Brian Winchester’s ex-wife were lifelong friends. He claims after Winchester’s 2017 arrest, his ex-wife became a source for FDLE. He claims she got a text message from Denise Williams that said, “Tell Marcus to tell Brian that I didn’t say anything to FDLE.”
The prosecutor said Winchester’s ex-wife agreed to record a phone conversation with Denise Williams. The jury will hear that recording.
Fuchs asked the jury “to end 21 years of sex, lies and deceit” and find Denise Williams guilty of her husband's murder.
The courtroom is nearly full with family and friends, and media fill the front two rows. The jury is in the jury box, and is evenly split: 6 men and 6 women.
The judge admonished the jury after he says one of the jurors made a post about the case. He called the comment “innocuous” and said he would not take action, but warned them to stay off social media.