Williams draws life in prison Judge says she is 'consumed by doubts' but rules out parole

Death penalty rejected

Prosecution sought stiffer sentence for killer of 2 lawyers

August 22, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Convicted killer Scotland E. Williams dodged the death penalty yesterday at the hands of a sentencing judge "consumed by doubts" about whether he pulled the trigger in the double slaying.

Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Pamela L. North sentenced Williams to life without parole plus 70 years in prison for the 1994 murders of two lawyers in their weekend retreat near Annapolis.

County prosecutors, who had fought for Williams' execution over the objections of his victims' survivors, were disappointed.

North, who was assigned to the case after the Court of Appeals overturned Williams' convictions and death sentence from his first trial, told a packed courtroom, "I am consumed by doubts."

She said prosecutors had placed Williams at the grisly crime scene but did not prove that he pulled the trigger.

Under state law, only the person who fires the fatal shot may be put to death.

The judge made almost the same argument that Assistant Public Defender Nancy M. Cohen had made a a week earlier in her closing argument, when she asked that her client be sentenced to life without parole.

"I certainly felt that way about the evidence when I got the case," Cohen said. "I'm gratified."

An appeal has not been ruled out.

Williams, 35, sat stiffly in the courtroom. He was hugged by his attorneys but showed no emotion.

No relatives of the couple attended the sentencing.

A handyman discovered the bodies of Jose E. Trias, 49, and his wife, Julie N. Gilbert, 48, in their home along the Severn River on May 16, 1994.

Williams, living with his mother in Arnold, was identified from videotape recorded at bank machines that showed him at the wheel of Gilbert's car. He was arrested three days later, holding Gilbert's watch and $2,160. He was accused of stealing $3,000 from the couple's bank accounts.

Trias, the son of a former chief justice of the Puerto Rico Supreme Court, was chief counsel for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the nation's largest philanthropy.

His wife, a tax attorney specializing in nonprofit groups, was a partner in the Morgan, Lewis & Bockius law firm in Washington.

"We are very disappointed. There is no doubt that he was the killer, in our minds," said Anne Arundel County State's Attorney Frank R. Weathersbee. No evidence implicated anyone else, he noted, saying the judge relied on "an old footprint and hearsay testimony by two Baltimore criminals."

Assistant State's Attorney Anne Colt Leitess, alluding to Williams' 1995 attempt to escape from death row, said, "Scotland Williams is very clever. I am sure he will be planning his escape as soon as he gets back to the prison. It's frightening."

North, a criminal defense attorney before her 1995 appointment to the bench, said unanswered questions worried her.

"If he had the good sense to get rid of the handgun, why didn't he get rid of the rest of the evidence?" North asked, referring to the murder weapon, which police never found. "It makes you wonder: Did he ever possess the handgun?"

The killer used two sets of handcuffs on the victims, which would be difficult for someone acting alone, she noted. Furthermore, police and court records described Williams as a burglar, a type of criminal she said is unlikely to carry handcuffs. A second person, perhaps the murderer, "might bring handcuffs to a murder," she said.

Fibers from Williams' brown cotton gloves matched fibers at the house, but prosecutors did not show blood or gunpowder residue on them. They argued that the gloves probably had been washed, but North said lack of evidence was not proof.

DTC Two Baltimore criminals who testified placed a person who since had been convicted of a Baltimore murder in a red Acura like Gilbert's. North expressed doubts that the men were always honest with police, but they incriminated a man they said drove stolen cars and carried a gun. One of the two also knew Williams' brother.

Leitess had argued that it must have been a different red Acura. Nothing was disturbed in Gilbert's car, but one of the informants had said a car telephone was among the items stolen from the one he saw.

During Williams' first trial, in 1995, the informants did not testify and other information was not introduced. After Williams was convicted, Judge Eugene M. Lerner sentenced him to death.

Other prosecution evidence introduced in both trials included a footprint on the kitchen floor that matched Williams' shoes and DNA on a drinking glass that closely resembled Williams' genetic material.

After his second trial, Williams again chose to be sentenced by the judge instead of the jury. The jury that convicted him in May probably would have settled on life without parole, two jurors said yesterday.

"A number of us felt he did not act alone. We were divided," said the forewoman, Deborah Glass of Crofton.

Pub Date: 8/22/98

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