Augusta Chronicle, The (GA)
Author: Robert Pavey
Columbia County Bureau Chief
Dateline: EDGEFIELD, S.C.
Luke A. Williams III was convicted Sunday night of murdering his wife and 12-year-old son two years ago.
Jurors deliberated 6 1/2 hours - returning to the courtroom twice to review taped testimony and ask Judge Luke N. Brown questions - before finding the former Columbia County man guilty shortly after 9 p.m.
Mr. Williams, who has maintained his innocence throughout the proceedings but opted not to testify or offer witnesses in his defense, looked downward and shook his head from side to side as the verdicts were read.
Solicitor Donnie Myers and Assistant Solicitor Knox McMahon will commence the next phase of the case today. The same seven-man, five-woman jury that convicted Mr. Williams will be asked to determine the sentence.
The state is seeking the death penalty. Both sides are expected to call witnesses who will testify as to why Mr. Williams should - or should not - face death by electrocution.
Mr. Williams, 40, beat his wife, 39-year-old Linda Williams, to death and manually strangled their son Shaun, the jury found. Their bodies, set afire in their van, were found in Sumter National Forest in June 1991.
Prosecutors rested their case Saturday after calling 23 witnesses who, Mr. McMahon said, showed jurors Mr. Williams was a cold-blooded killer who insured his family for a fortune and then murdered them.
Much of the state's evidence, he said in closing arguments, is circumstantial but shows the defendant's guilt nonetheless.
Witnesses recounted how Mr. Williams and his wife had marital and financial problems. ``Luke Williams found a way out,'' Mr. McMahon said. ``He doesn't have to hire a lawyer to get a divorce and he doesn't have to work to pay the bills.''
Defense lawyer Richard Breibart, who initially said he would call as many as 110 witnesses, including 27 in the initial phase of the trial, made a surprise announcement Sunday morning that there would be no defense.
The state, Mr. Breibart claimed, had not proved its case, leaving Mr. Williams content to take his chances with the jury without taking the stand and without offering any defense.
Mr. Breibart also argued that jurors must determine that both victims were killed in South Carolina - and not in their residence in Columbia County's Bridlewood subdivision - before guilty verdicts could be returned.
Mr. Myers argued that the judge, not jurors, should determine where death occurred and let the jury decide only innocence or guilt.
Judge Brown, agreeing with Mr. Breibart's citation of key South Carolina cases involving jurisdiction, instructed jurors they must conclude ``fatal blows'' were ``struck in Edgefield County, S.C.,'' in order to find the defendant guilty.
Jurors returned to the courtroom twice during deliberations. One return trip was to ask Judge Brown, again, if the state must prove the deaths occurred in South Carolina to find a defendant guilty.
Judge Brown affirmed his earlier instructions and sent jurors back into their quarters to resume deliberations.