Couple pleads guilty to killing Arlington man, stuffing him in refrigerator

Posted Monday, Apr. 08, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- After months of letting Erin Williams stay at his Arlington house, Jerry Vern Roberts had had enough.

"She was a parasite. She was stealing from him, she was using his credit cards. She was taking his money and his drugs," said prosecutor Christy Jack. "He said, 'I want you out.'"

Williams wanted the 62-year-old man dead.

She enlisted the help of Thomas Dunham, a Johnson County man with whom she had begun a sadomasochistic relationship. She told Dunham that Roberts had been threatening her -- later admitting to prosecutors that she had made that up.

"She wanted help, and they came up with this plan to rob him [Roberts] and steal from him," Jack said. "In exchange, she was going to be [Dunham's] willing sex slave for the rest of her life. She was going to give her whole body and soul to him because she loved him."

In early May 2011, after about a week of planning it, prosecutors believe the couple executed their plan, hitting Roberts in the head, covering his face with a plastic bag and bindings his wrists and ankles before placing him, alive, into his emptied-out refrigerator. Jack said the couple then engaged in sexual activity inside the house before stealing Roberts' truck and belongings and dumping the refrigerator in Ellis County.

"This is Tarrant County's version of a couple of natural born killers," Jack said. "When they met, it was the perfect storm."

On Monday, both Williams and Dunham pleaded guilty to murder before state District Judge Robb Catalano.

In exchange, Dunham was sentenced to 45 years in prison and Williams to 30 years.

Brian Goza, Williams' attorney, said his client had planned to testify against Dunham if his case had gone to trial.

"She just wanted to accept responsibility and accept her punishment, which was quite a lengthy sentence," Goza said.

Dunham's attorney, Terri Moore, did not return a phone message seeking comment.

Though Roberts' remains were not found until July 4, 2011, some family members suspected that he had been murdered from the beginning.

When Roberts failed to show up for at work at his nephew's trucking business, concerned relatives went to his home on West Sanford Street, where they found sheets covering the windows, the refrigerator and Robert's truck missing, and what appeared to be blood on their uncle's chair.

Williams was gone from the house but quickly became a suspect.

A witness told police that Roberts and Williams, who also went by the last name of Guthrie, had argued the night before Roberts disappeared. Surveillance video obtained by police showed Williams using Roberts' debit card shortly after the man's disappearance and Dunham pawning Robert's cordless drill.

Dunham and Williams were arrested June 7 in Alamosa, Colo. Jack said the couple had been staying at campgrounds and were even taken in by a church after fleeing Texas.

Though Williams quickly began cooperating with prosecutors, charges against Dunham were upgraded to capital murder after police recovered the couple's text messages and learned that the slaying had been premeditated.

In the messages, Jack said Williams referred to Dunham as "sir" and Master "Bacchus" (the Roman God of wine and intoxication) and talked of willingly giving herself to him and taking her punishment like a woman. Dunham ordered Williams to load up on plenty of supplies for their new life, including "lots of lube," and said that he planned to keep her clothes "under lock and key."

Jack said it is unknown whether Roberts died before the refrigerator was dumped in Ellis County. The Tarrant County medical examiner's office ruled his death simply the result of "homicidal violence."

"This is one of the most brutal cases I have seen in 20-plus years," Jack said.

Deanna Boyd,

817-390-7655

Twitter: @deannaboyd

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