A 50-year-old Fort Worth man was was found guilty Thursday of trying to abduct an 11-year-old girl walking home from school in Watauga last year and given a two-year sentence.
James Earl Williams Sr. was on trial for aggravated kidnapping, a first-degree felony punishable by five to 99 years or life, but a Tarrant County jury convicted him of the lesser charge of attempted kidnapping, a state jail felony with a maximum sentence of two years.
Williams’ defense attorneys counted the sentence as a win.
“We believe the state did not prove their case,” said Pam Fernandez, one of the attorneys representing Williams.
Prosecutors say Williams trolled Northeast Tarrant County neighborhoods seeking young victims.
“We are proud to have tried this case because we believe he was a predator and we just wanted to get him off the streets,” said Randi Hartin, Tarrant County prosecutor. “We knew what he was, and he has preyed on society for 22 years.”
During the punishment phase of the trial Thursday, prosecutors Kimberly D’Avignon and Hartin presented evidence that Williams was sentenced to five years’ probation in connection with a kidnapping case in Honolulu in 1993 and no-billed by a Tarrant County grand jury in 2012 after a kidnapping arrest. Two other witnesses during Williams’ trial testified that he had asked them to get in his car before the attempted abduction of the Watauga girl.
“What he deserved was a life sentence,” Hartin said during her closing arguments in the punishment phase. “But since we are capped at two years, he should serve every day, every minute and every second of those two years.”
State District Judge David Hagerman told attorneys that he would not recommend that Williams receive any time off his sentence for the time he has served in jail.
On April 13, 2015, Amber Hewitt, now 12, told police she was grabbed around the neck by a man while she was walking home in the 6100 block of Nelson Terrace. He tried to force her into his black 2002 Mercedes, police have said.
Amber, who has a red-black belt in karate and has been studying martial arts for four years, fought her way free and ran to her home about 100 yards away. When Amber got inside, she hugged her mother and then called 911. She had a chipped tooth and a busted lip, and she was bleeding, according to testimony.
During closing arguments Wednesday, Hartin said Williams slammed Amber’s head against his Mercedes hard enough to dent the metal as he tried to force her into the car.
Fernandez argued that witnesses never positively identified her client as the person who tried to abduct Amber and said there is no physical evidence tying Williams to the crime.
Williams’ other defense attorney, Zach Ferguson, told the jury during his closing arguments that the state had the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty of the offense.
“We know there is sympathy for Amber and what happened to her,” Ferguson said. “It’s never been a crime to drive a black car through a neighborhood and the state is trying to make it a crime for a black man to drive a black car through a neighborhood.”
Hartin countered that the case was not about black or white but about a child predator.
“Ignoring that racism does exist in our community today would be an offensive argument,” Hartin said. “But arguing that racism has anything to do with this case, simply because we have a black defendant and a white victim, is equally offensive.”
Kimberly D’Avignon, Tarrant County prosecutor, assisted with the state’s case.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.