Ruling ahead in bail hearing
After three days of testimony regarding suspected murderer Richard G. Williams, a Nevada County judge said Friday he would rule on the man’s bail request next week.
Superior Court Judge Robert Tamietti has said on several occasions that he expects the case to receive appellate review at some point, and wants to be cautious. “I want to take a look at this evidence, which I have not had a chance to do,” he said.
The ruling is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday. Williams, 51, is charged with killing his wife, Hendrika C. Williams, 48, on Oct. 22, 2005, with a nail gun before shooting himself with the rifle-like tool. The couple had filed for divorce the previous July.
Friday’s hearing focused on questions Tamietti raised about what standard of proof he must follow when considering the testimony of nine witnesses and the audio tape, photographs, spent shells, diagrams, X-rays and tools – in all, about 25 items – offered as evidence.
Neither the law on bail nor case law are clear, Tamietti said.
State law says bail may not be considered in a capital crime. Defense lawyer Stephen A. Munkelt, of Nevada City, argued that Williams would not be facing the death penalty without the special circumstance of “lying in wait,” which the District Attorney added to the charges on Nov. 9.
“There are many reasonable scenarios that could have taken place … within the scope of the evidence,” Munkelt said.
He noted witnesses recounted incidents in which Williams had acted inappropriately or flew into a rage and broke objects when confronted with painful information about his wife’s decision to leave him and her subsequent involvement with another man.
“But he did not hurt people,” Munkelt said. “Even Hetty had said she was not afraid of him.”
Munkelt described one possible explanation of the evidence: The couple, now living apart, agree to meet to discuss dividing property. They share cups of coffee in the kitchen. In the course of conversation, the topic of Hetty Williams’ new relationship comes up. Rick Williams erupts.
“He’s already under a great deal of emotional stress. He’s contemplating killing himself,” Munkelt proposed. “There are many things running through his mind, but he hasn’t actually made a firm decision to carry any of those thoughts out. …
“There are signs of a struggle. There are signs of asphyxiation,” Munkelt continued. “There is a loss of consciousness. In that state of emotional distress, he’s out of control. While (Hetty Williams) is unconscious, he has time to exit the residence get the tools (in the garage) and come back in.”
Munkelt also argued that forensic evidence from Placer County Coroner Dr. Donald Henrikson indicated a possibility, however unusual or unlikely, that the nail-gun wounds found in both Rick and Hetty Williams could have been self-inflicted.
“Either one of these people could have inflicted any of the wounds or all of the wounds on the other,” Munkelt said.
Friends of Hetty Williams in the courtroom reacted angrily to this scenario, murmuring loudly among themselves. Rick Williams, wearing civilian clothes, sat back in a chair, motionless, looking at the table in front of him.
Deputy District Attorney Kathryn Francis countered that Rick Williams had printed out three nearly identical suicide notes less than an hour before meeting his wife that morning, and left them in different places to be found later.
Francis read from the half-page note: “‘I must go out with my dear Hetty to be cremated together as planned.'”
Then the note mentioned the couple’s younger daughter, who still lived at home.
“‘Forgive me. I love your mother too much to live without her,'” Francis read. “Your Honor, this is not a suicide note. This is a suicide-homicide note.”
Tamietti also noted the discovery, recounted by county Sheriff’s Det. William Netherby, of five square steel washers that had been removed from 3-inch-long hardened steel concrete nails. Netherby had said they were found in Williams’ garage-workshop next to a bench vice, which was suitable for holding the nails while working off the washers. The washer is intended to keep the nail from penetrating too far into the concrete.
A nearly empty box of concrete nails also was found nearby, Netherby had testified on Wednesday. Williams, a landscape contractor, used the tools in his business.
“The washers in the garage seem to specifically infer a premeditation argument,” Tamietti said. “There are five washers found on the workbench in the garage. Coincidentally, we have five missiles in the people into whom the missiles were shot. That’s an interesting little fact.”
Informal bail hearings lasting a few minutes are common at the courthouse. A formal hearing, where the rules of evidence apply, is unusual. For a formal bail hearing to last three days and to reveal the amount of evidence that has been presented in this case is extremely unusual, Francis said afterward.
Defense asked for the hearing. If bail were set, Williams has the possibility of being released from Wayne Brown Correctional Facility, where he is being held without bail.
To contact staff writer Trina Kleist, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4231.
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