After a spellbinding five-day trial that featured tales of infidelity, a multimillion-dollar insurance payout and family dysfunction, a jury on Friday convicted a Florida woman of helping mastermind the killing of her husband nearly two decades ago.
Jurors convicted Denise Williams of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for her role in case that has recalled the plot of the Hollywood film classic "Double Indemnity." The 48-year-old Williams was found guilty after testimony by a key witness in the case, the man who shot her husband Mike Williams on a cold December morning on a large lake west of Tallahassee.
During closing statements, Assistant State Attorney Jon Fuchs described Denise Williams as "stone faced" and asserted she had coldly cashed in on her husband's demise by collecting proceeds from $1.75 million worth of life insurance policies. Fuchs said the woman had managed to keep the killing a secret for years until the man she was having an affair with — and later married — divulged the details.
Ethan Way, an attorney for Williams, said his client was innocent and that there was no tangible proof that Denise Williams helped plan the slaying of Mike Williams. Instead he maintained that Brian Winchester, who testified in court that he lured Mike Williams on a duck hunting trip in order to kill him, was lying about Denise Williams in order to avoid murder charges.
"They gave a free pass to a murderer and got nothing else," Way told jurors in his closing statement.
Mike Williams left early on the morning of Dec. 16, 2000, to go hunting, and initially some speculated he had fallen from his boat and that his body had been devoured by alligators. His disappearance triggered a massive search by authorities.
Without a body, Denise Williams petitioned to have her husband declared dead due to accidental drowning. She married Winchester in December 2005, but the relationship soured and they divorced in 2016. Winchester, a financial planner and insurance agent, had been described as Mike Williams' best friend and sold him a $1 million insurance policy months before he disappeared.
The case broke open, however, after Winchester kidnapped his ex-wife at gunpoint in 2016. He eventually made a deal with prosecutors where he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for that crime. But Winchester ultimately led authorities to the remains of Mike Williams, buried along a lake north of Tallahassee. He also agreed to testify against Denise Williams.
During the trial, prosecutors laid out the search for Mike Williams and pointed out how state investigators began suspecting that Denise Williams was involved in the disappearance of her husband. They played a recording in which Winchester's first wife confronted Denise Williams and said she knew she had helped with the murder. Williams did not respond to the accusation.
Fuchs told jurors it "turns my stomach" that prosecutors gave Winchester immunity in the case, but he said it was important to give "closure" other members of the Williams family who had suspected for years that Mike Williams did not drown. Fuchs said that Winchester would still be in prison for a long time.
Right before he ended, Fuchs took something out of his pocket and placed it before the jury: It was the wedding band that Mike Williams was wearing on the day that he died.