If You Were the Judge…

October 7, 2009 | | Comments Off on If You Were the Judge…

Warning: this entry contains graphic and disturbing content of a horrific crime.  Reader’s discretion is advised.

On April 13, 2007, a 23 year old graduate student attending Columbia University School of Journalism headed back to her apartment building in Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood located in Harlem, Manhattan.  She was subsequently followed to her apartment by an “assailant” who forced himself into her room by asking her the location of a fictitious apartment resident.  For over 19 hours, he raped the victim.  When she tried to (unsuccessfully) stab him in the neck with a pair of scissors, he forced her into her bathtub and threw bleach at her face.  After dragging her around the apartment, he ordered the victim to gouge out her eyes with a pair of scissors.  She refused.  The assailant then boiled water and poured it on her body.  After force-feeding her painkillers, he left her apartment to unsuccessfully withdraw money from her bank account.  During this time, the victim lay passed out and tied up on her futon.  Furious that he had failed in his mission, the assailant came back to her apartment and again poured boiling water on her open wounds.  He later came at her with a knife, slit her face/eyelids and threw “something heavy” at the back of her head.  He then used the blunt end of a knife and bashed her face and her eye sockets until she lost consciousness.

During the ordeal, the victim passed out numerous times and even tried to stab herself in the neck during the assailant’s numerous demands for her to “stab out” her own eyes.  When it was all over, the assailant torched her apartment, leaving her to die on the futon.  The victim was able to break the ropes using the fire and escape her apartment.

Detective Fiol, the NYPD officer in charge of the case, was at the victim’s hospital on the night of April 14.  The graduate student was alive, but in critical condition.  Burns covered her torso, chest and most of her arms.  There were chemical burns on her face.  The victim sustained 2nd/3rd degree water/chemical burns on 12-20 percent of her body.  Her skull was cracked and she required skin grafts and surgery on her eyelids, which the doctors testified was “extremely painful.”  The victim’s liver failed due to the painkillers she was forced to ingest.  There was evidence that she was raped.  While her liver recovered and she never did lose her sight, the graduate student was hospitalized for 2 ½ weeks and required months of physical therapy.  However on the first night of her hospitalization, merely several hours after one of the worst acts of violence Manhattan has ever seen, the victim was awake, alert and conscious.  She grabbed a pen and a piece of paper from the detective and drew the gold tooth and the scar she saw on her attacker’s abdomen.  During her ordeal, she took mental notes of the man and committed them to memory.

The assailant, Robert Williams, was arrested five days later in Jamaica, Queens.  He was attempting to rob a house when a resident of the community called the cops.  Upon arriving at the scene, the suspect’s scar and gold tooth matched the victim’s drawing. Williams was then transported to the Manhattan Sex Crimes Unit in questioning of the horrific crime in Hamilton Heights.

While not much is known about the assailant, Robert Williams was born in Hamilton Heights in 1977.  His father was a gang lord and his mother was a heroine addict.  In Elementary School, teachers would describe Williams as the type of child who would become very angry when he could not answer a multiplication problem correctly.  He also would bring in hundreds of dollars into class and sport expensive leather jackets.  Williams later joined his father’s gang and, at the age of 14, shot a rival gang member to death.  He received five years in jail.  Within three weeks of getting out, he shot a man six times in the back during a robbery attempt.  The man survived and he received seven years for attempted murder.  Williams was often kept in solitary confinement due to his violent behavior towards fellow inmates and throwing feces at prison guards.  Upon his release at the age of 26, Williams had lived in prison more than he had lived outside of prison.  During his four years out of jail, the ex-convict had drifted from one homeless shelter to the next.  His father (who was now in jail), wanted nothing to do with him and his brothers avoided him on the streets.  Then the attack came.  Williams was thirty at the time of the attack.  He weighed 180 pounds and was six feet tall.  He was black and his victim was white.  Unlike Williams’ muscular physique, his victim was five feet tall, petite and weighed 130 pounds.

Robert Williams was arraigned in Manhattan Court.  There were 46 charges against him, including attempted murder, rape, robbery, assault and sodomy, to name a few.  Cops found two strands of Williams’ DNA evidence.  One was on the victim and one was in her apartment.  The NYPD matched the DNA from Williams’ spit.  During trial, the doctor who conducted the DNA test testified that there was a one in a billion probability that it was someone else besides Williams.  Other evidence also surfaced.  During the week when cops were scouring homeless shelters, a witness testified that the ex-con tore down wanted posters that were being put up by the NYPD.  Once he was in custody, an NYPD officer also testified that Williams tried to flush his gold tooth down the toilet.

You are the Judge in this case.  The jury came back and found him guilty (in real life they found him guilty of 44 of the 46 counts against him.)  Let’s say that anything is on the table (including the death penalty.)  There are no “minimum/maximum” sentences.  How would you sentence the defendant?  Would you give him jail time, and if so, how much?  Would you give him hard labor?  If so, how much would you give?  Would you sentence him to death?  If so, how would you sentence him to die?  The trial court has already established that Williams was “fit to stand trial”; he was not insane and knew full well what he was doing.  If any type of punishment was on the table, what would you give him?

Let me give you some other examples to work with.  Let’s say a female did this type of crime, under the exact same circumstances (the victim was either a male or another female, but gender is irrelevant.)  Would you give her the same punishment?  Why or why not?  What about if a child did this to another child?

How, in any way, is our criminal justice system to blame for this?  Should we have kept Williams in jail for a longer time when he committed his second crime?  What about his first crime?

Do you feel Williams being kept in solitary confinement had anything to do with it?  Do you believe his time in solitary was justice, or do you think it ultimately contributed to his vicious criminal streak?

Do you think the three strike rule had anything to do with this crime?  Under the three strike rule, once the defendant commits a third serious offense, they go to jail for a very long time.  Do you think Williams knew this and, knowing he would probably be caught, wanted to make this crime a “spectacular” one?

Until next time.

Disclaimer: I do not own anything.  All materials are attributed to such newspapers: The New York Times, The New York Post and The New York Daily News.  For more information on this case, please click on these articles:




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