LARGO — A jury found Ronald Earl Williams guilty of second-degree murder late Thursday night after spending more than eight hours deliberating.
The verdict was a victory for Williams and his defense lawyers. Assistant Public Defender Kandice Friesen admitted to jurors that Williams killed his wife, Mariama, in 2007, but asked them to find him guilty of second-degree murder rather than the first-degree murder charge sought by prosecutors.
If convicted of first-degree murder, Williams faced a possible death sentence. The maximum sentence for a second-degree murder conviction is life in prison. Williams will be sentenced this afternoon.
The case against Williams, 45, was unusual because the murder was recorded by a cell phone. During the killing, which occurred in the couple's St. Petersburg home, Williams' cell phone somehow called his wife's cell phone, which went to voice mail and provided a chilling recording of the crime. Williams can be heard in the recording saying he is going to kill his wife, which is followed by her horrific screams and pleading.
Friesen said the killing was committed "in the heat of passion" after Mariama acknowledged cheating on him — meaning it was not premeditated, first-degree murder.
"He lost it. He snapped," she said.
Assistant State Attorney Walter Manning disagreed and urged jurors to "listen to how calm that voice was when he said 'listen up, listen up, I'm fixing to kill your black a-- tonight.' That's premeditation."
The cell phone not only recorded Mariama Williams screaming and pleading for her life, but also, Manning said, the voice of the Williams' 2-year-old daughter saying, "Please, Daddy, please stop it."
Manning said Mariama Williams suffered 27 stab wounds, 17 of which would have been fatal alone. Ronald Williams left the knife buried to the hilt in her chest.