State and defense present opening statements to jury in Denise Williams trial

Denise Williams trial starts Monday
State and defense present opening statements to jury in Denise Williams trial
State and defense present opening statements to jury in Denise Williams trial
Posted at 4:20 PM, Dec 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-12 06:07:31-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - It's the first day of testimony in the trial of Denise Williams. 

The Tallahassee woman could face life in prison if convicted of the murder of her husband Mike Williams. 

The state is painting Denise Williams as a woman who wanted her husband dead to get insurance money and continue an affair with his best friend Brian Winchester. 

The defense says there's no tangible evidence tying Denise to the murder and that there's nothing that backs up Winchester's testimony. 

Both sides presented opening statements to the jury Tuesday morning.

The state says Denise Williams and Brian Winchester started their affairs three years before the murder and that they talked about finding a way to be together.

That plan turned into action on December 16, 2000, when Winchester shot and killed Mike Williams while duck hunting at Lake Seminole.

Despite Winchester confessing to the murder, the state has granted him immunity in exchange for his testimony against Denise.

The defense says Winchester's word shouldn't be trusted.

"In the end, the state is going to ask you to end 21 years, three years, plus the 18 years of the sex, lies and deceit and find her guilty of these particular crimes," said Prosecutor Jon Fuchs. 

"What you're not going to hear is any credible evidence that Denise Williams participated in this murder. On that point, you're going to have to rely entirely on the word of a murderer and a convicted felon," said Defense Attorney Phillip Padovano. 

The state called up several witnesses Tuesday.

These first few testified to the initial search for Mike Williams and what they found belonging to him.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - Opening statements have started in the Denise Williams trial.

4:20 p.m.:

Testimony has resumed. Denise Williams hasn't showed much emotion at all, even as details of Mike's murder are being described (quite emotionally) by Brian Winchester.

4:10 p.m.:

Brian Winchester is now at the witness stand. He is the man in the middle of the love triangle -- the best friend of Mike Williams and the ex-husband of Denise Williams after Mike's death.

Winchester's testimony will NOT be used against him, based on an immunity agreement he reached with the state.

He detailed how the affair with Denise Williams started and, in his words, how it "snowballed."

It began in 1997. They met often to have sex. They went on trips together. They planned times to meet while Mike Williams was at work.

Winchester said he sold Mike Williams a $250K insurance policy around 1993-94, before Mike married Denise. He said he sold Mike a $1 million policy after Mike's daughter Anslee was born, after talking about wanting to increase the insurance coverage.

Winchester said the plans were "mutual." "I'm not going to say Denise planned everything... overall, it was very mutual. We wanted to be together, and we weren't going to let anything stop that."

"We knew our window of opportunity was closing," Winchester said about the murder plan, adding Denise didn't have to do much aside from making sure Mike went on the hunting trip.

Winchester had moments of choking up describing the plan to kill Mike Williams. It included getting Brian's wife Kathy drunk the night before and giving her medication to keep her from getting up when Brian left early the next day to carry out the plan.

He insisted that Mike bring his waders with him on the trip. He said it was to ensure that Mike would "sink pretty quickly" once he was pushed into the lake.

Winchester starts to break down, describing the moment he pushed Mike Williams off the boat -- and what happened after. "He was panicking, and I was panicking -- and none of this was going the way I thought it was going to go. I didn't know what to do."

Winchester said after he shot Mike, he grabbed Mike with one arm and steered the boat to shore with the other arm. He loaded Mike into his Suburban and pushed the boat back into the water to make it look like Mike had drowned.

Winchester said he ended up going home and got back into his bed, where Kathy was still sleeping. He had planned to meet his father-in-law as an alibi. "I wanted her to know I was there," but didn't want her asking questions, he said.

Winchester completely breaks down while talking about his father's love for Mike Williams. The judge has called for a break, so he can get himself together.

2:26 p.m.:

The next witness for the state is taking the stand. FDLE Special Agent Michael DeVaney reviewed the case of Mike Williams' disappearance. He said it was treated as a missing person case at first.

The case was later classified as a "suspicious missing persons" case. DeVaney said while investigators could not prove it was a homicide, "a lot of things didn't quite make sense... too many things that were unanswered."

DeVaney on Denise Williams and Brian Winchester: "They were sort of under a microscope by our agency."

DeVaney questioned Denise Williams at one point, telling her there may be a connection to Mike's disappearance and Brian Winchester's activity that day. She denied he had any involvement.

2:03 p.m.:

Tully Sparkman was an FWC officer at the time of Mike Williams' murder. He testified that it was suspicious that Williams' body didn't rise from the lake after drowning. That helped lead to more searching, but only the boat was recovered.

1:43 p.m.:

The state is now witnessing an investigator with the state attorney's office.

1:11 p.m.:

The state is interviewing a man who helped with the search to find Mike Williams at Lake Seminole. That man, Alton Renew, testified that a hat was found while searching for Mike Williams.

11:49 a.m.:

Judge calls recess until 1 p.m. 

11:42 a.m.:

The state calls Sneads resident Joseph Sheffield, who testified he found waders while fishing at Lake Seminole in June 2001. 

11:31 a.m.:

Scott Dungey, a longtime friend of Mike Williams, is the second witness called by the state. His testimony was pre-recorded and is being shown to the jury. 

10:45 a.m.:

Greg Morris, a retired Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) officer, has been called by the state as its first witness. 

WTXL reporter Stephen Jiwanmall is in court with the very latest:

Jury selection finishes Monday for Denise Williams trial

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - Jury selection started Monday morning for the trial of Denise Williams. 

The Tallahassee woman faces murder charges in the death of her ex-husband Mike Williams. 

Mike Williams went missing December 16, 2000 but his body wasn't found until last December.

Denise was arrested in May and charged with conspiracy to commit murder, first degree murder, and accessory after the fact. 

Denise Williams could be sentenced to life in prison if she's convicted of first-degree murder. The death penalty is off the table.  

The jury has been selected. 14 jurors in total, 12 plus 2 alternates, but they won't know which is which until deliberations begin.

There are 8 women and 6 men. 

A lot of people have been waiting for this trial and it's caught the attention of media across the country.

Several jurors admitted they know something about this case from TV or newspaper reports.

One by one, they were privately questioned by the judge, state and defense.

Denise Williams sat a few yards away from each juror, staying stoic while taking notes. 

The judge says he expects trial to last five days.

Opening statements start Tuesday. 

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) - Jury selection begins Monday for the trial of Denise Williams, who

faces three charges for the murder of her husband, Mike Williams.

He went missing nearly 18 years ago. His body was found last year.

Denise Williams was arrested in May. She's been charged with first degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and accessory after the fact.

Jury selection is expected to take two days. The Leon County court administrator said 480 potential jurors have been summoned, and 200 are expected to report.

The group will be whittled down to 12.

The state attorney is not seeking the death penalty in this case, but Denise Williams could face a life sentence if convicted.

She has another case involving fraud charges that will be reviewed next month.