LARGO — Juror William Gable said he was leaning toward a first-degree murder conviction for Ronald Earl Williams, the man who was accidentally recorded on a cell phone voice mail while stabbing his wife to death.
But other jurors kept making good points, including wondering if he acted in "the heat of passion."
That discussion may be why Williams was sentenced on Friday to life in prison, instead of death.
After more than eight hours of deliberations, Gable and other jurors convicted Williams of second-degree murder, which does not allow for a death sentence. Gable said jurors focused on whether emotions overtook Williams and if he had time for premeditated murder.
"I would say the most important factor… was the emotional state of the defendant and how it affected his ability to premeditate," Gable said in an interview Friday.
Williams, 45, was arrested in 2007 after repeatedly stabbing his wife, Mariama "Malo" Williams in their St. Petersburg home. He admitted to his brother and to police that he did it.
He was initially arrested on a second-degree murder charge.
But then the victim's sister, Glenda Bell, checked the messages on Mariama's cell phone, and was shocked to hear the sounds of murder. She alerted police.
The recording was played for the jury. Assistant State Attorney Walter Manning, describing it later, pointed out that Williams told his wife "now I'm fixing to kill your black a--" and then stabbed her repeatedly, piercing her lung, heart and liver, with 17 wounds.
That, he said, was evidence of first-degree murder.
But Assistant Public Defender Kandice Friesen argued that Williams committed the crime right after his wife Mariama admitted to cheating on him.
"He lost it. He snapped," said Friesen, who tried the case with fellow public defenders Mike Hays, Sarah Mollo and Greg Williams.
Although Williams clearly indicated he planned to kill his wife, Friesen hammered away at the heat of passion.
Gable said a couple jurors did consider manslaughter, but the bulk of the discussion centered on first-degree and second-degree murder. This lead to some questions: Could Williams have acted both out of passion and with premeditation?
They also discussed premeditation and how long it takes someone to form a premeditated plan. Prosecutors had said people can form the intention to kill very quickly, but jurors wondered how quickly, Gable said.
About 9 p.m., after six hours of deliberation, and 11 hours at the courthouse, the jurors asked Judge Thane B. Covert if they could take a break and go home. Covert consulted with the attorneys, and said no. But he suggested they order out for dinner.
Gable, of St. Petersburg, said the entire jury took their assignment seriously, and "we were ready to go all night if necessary." They continued their discussion over submarine sandwiches, and afterward. "Some very smart people in there," he said. "Nobody dogged it."
In the end, he said, jurors doubted Williams' premeditation. So they went with second-degree.
The next day, on Friday, the courtroom filled with relatives and friends of Mariama and Ronald Williams, as Covert pondered the sentence. Relatives and fellow jail inmates talked of Williams' kindness and love for his family. Relatives of Mariama spoke tearfully of the family member they had lost, and asked for a tough penalty.
Covert was ready to give it. He said Williams had forfeited his right to live in free society. He gave him a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Mariama's sister, Glenda Bell, who had been disappointed with the verdict on Thursday, was pleased with the sentence on Friday.
"Justice has prevailed,"' she said. "He will never walk again."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232.