A judge threw out a plea agreement Monday for a woman charged in connection with her husband’s death, after prosecutors questioned claims Michele Williams made during a jailhouse interview professing her innocence.
State District Judge Scott Wisch made the ruling Monday afternoon, then recused himself from Williams’ case and recused her lawyers — at their request — as well.
As requested by prosecutors with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, Wisch then set the case for trial.
Because a gag order was issued, neither prosecutors nor attorneys could comment on the ruling.
Throughout Monday’s hearing, Williams, testifying on her own behalf while dressed in a tan Tarrant County jail jumpsuit, seemed confused.
“Your honor, I’m not guilty and I can’t sit here and answer the questions the way everyone wants me to,” Williams told Wisch.
Williams was initially indicted on a murder charge in connection with the shooting death of her husband, Gregory Williams, but she later reached a plea agreement on tampering with evidence and deadly conduct charges.
But Tarrant County prosecutors filed a motion on Friday in an attempt to back out of the plea agreement, citing Williams’ claims in a jailhouse interview with 48 Hours that she is innocent.
On Monday, Wisch repeatedly told Williams that if she was not guilty to what she pleaded guilty to then she should have a trial. But he told her that if she was guilty, then she should plead guilty.
“What I cannot tolerate is any perception that the system is being gamed,” Wisch said.
Prosecutors say that although they believe Williams’ claims to the media are false, they have a “professional, legal, and ethical obligation” not to agree to a guilty plea in which an accused person denies responsibility for a crime and persists in proclaiming innocence.
“It has never been, is not now, and never will be the practice or policy of the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office to plead an accused citizen who waivers in their acceptance of responsibility,” prosecutors wrote in the motion filed Friday. “Pleas of guilty must be unambiguous and made without reservation.”
“… By her inconsistent pleas, claims and comments regarding her crime, [Williams] has by her own words, cast doubt on the integrity and voluntariness of her plea of guilty.”
Wisch said he can no longer preside over the upcoming trial because he is now a witness to Williams’ inconsistent testimony. “You threw your lawyers under the bus” by claiming that part of the reason you accepted the plea deal was because you had ineffective representation, Wisch told Williams.
What Williams said to the press is one thing, Wisch said. But prosecutors included witness statements from law enforcement officials who heard Williams proclaim her innocence, and that could not be ignored, Wisch said.
“The person appears in this case to be talking out of both sides of her mouth,” Wisch said.
Plea reached in October
Williams had been indicted on a murder charge, accused of sedating and then fatally shooting her husband, Gregory Williams, inside their Keller home in the 1400 block of Jacob Avenue in October 2011, before hitting herself in the head with a wrench and staging the scene to appear as if an intruder was responsible.
Later, officials have alleged, she changed her account of the death, telling Keller police that her husband had killed himself and that she had made up the intruder story to protect their 4-year-old daughter.
In a plea agreement with prosecutors in October 2013, Williams pleaded guilty to tampering with evidence and deadly conduct in the case.
Prosecutors have said they agreed to the plea — in which they’d recommend that Williams receive 18 years in prison on the tampering case and two years for the deadly conduct — because Williams had destroyed and doctored evidence needed to prove an intentional murder.
But sentencing in the case, originally set for April because Williams was pregnant with twins, was moved to Monday after Williams was summoned to court on Jan. 30 and admitted to Wisch that she was no longer pregnant.
Jack Strickland, one of the prosecutors in this case, said Monday that although he reviewed medical evidence showing that Williams was pregnant, he was unwilling to verify the truthfulness of that medical evidence.
Wisch held Williams’ bond insufficient and she was ordered held in the Tarrant County Jail, where she remained after Monday’s hearing.
In a jailhouse interview with the Star-Telegram last week, Williams said she accepted the plea to avoid the risk of getting a longer sentence in a trial and so she could be reunited sooner with her daughter. She expressed confidence that she would make parole when first eligible, enabling her release after serving a little more than two years behind bars.
Williams said that she misunderstood the judge and believed she would be eligible for parole in two years and four months. Wisch said that two years and four months is the earliest time that she could be considered for parole and that under the rules of the Texas Pardons and Parole Board, she could stay in prison for the entire sentence.
“No one can guarantee what you might serve,” Wisch said Monday.
Williams declined to discuss specifics of her husband’s death or the events that followed with the Star-Telegram, citing her attorney’s advice to wait until after her sentencing hearing.
But Williams was apparently more forthcoming in an interview the next day with 48 Hours, likely because they did not plan to air their segment until after her sentencing date.
In their motion filed Friday afternoon, prosecutors Strickland and Sheila Wynn included several statements by Tarrant County sheriff’s deputies and employees who had been present during the 48 Hours interview.
Emily Pedigo wrote that during the TV interview, Williams commented that she had been “falsely accused” of her husband’s murder and that she hoped, by talking to the media, that the person responsible will come forward and stop her from taking the fall.
She told the reporter that she had a suspicion regarding who killed her husband but refused to give the reporter that person’s name. When further questioned, Williams indicated the person she suspected is a relative who “possibly” shares the same DNA as her husband.
Asked if she had told police about her suspicions, Williams told the reporter “I tried,” Pedigo’s statement says.
Says husband killed by ‘intruder’
Liliana Tarango wrote that Williams told the TV reporter that she had been coerced when interrogated and that parts of her statements were the detective’s words, not hers.
“Inmate Williams also said she loved her husband, did not have problems in their relationship and did not have a reason to kill him,” Tarango wrote.
Michael Gravitt of the sheriff’s department wrote that during the almost 3-hour interview, Williams cited poor attorney representation as part of the reason she took the plea deal.
Terry Grisham, a spokesman for the sheriff’s department, wrote that Williams “stated repeatedly and consistently that she believed her husband Gregory Williams was shot and killed by an ‘intruder.’ ”
“She also stated that she was physically struck and ‘blacked out’ for an unknown period of time,” Grisham wrote.
Grisham said Williams blamed a Keller police sergeant several times in the interview for pressuring her to change her original story.