Saturday, December 15, 2018

GateHouse: A Florida murder trial, life imitating art

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
December 14, 2018
There is a trial going on in Tallahassee, Florida, that has all the twists and turns of a Hollywood movie. Denise Williams is standing trial for plotting to kill her husband Mike Williams.
Brian Winchester murdered Mike Williams - this much is known from dramatic testimony offered by Winchester during the ongoing Williams trial.
This past week, I was able to watch the testimony of Bran Winchester live while doing a segment on Law and Crime Network, a network that covers trials and crime 24/7.
Mike Williams went on a duck hunting trip the evening of Dec. 16, 2000, his wedding anniversary with his high school sweetheart, the Defendant Denise Williams. He told his wife he would return from the hunting trip at a nearby lake in time to leave for their planned anniversary getaway. Williams never came back. His friends and family, including Winchester, and his father, headed to the lake to find him.
Winchester and Mike were best friends. Winchester even sold Mike some of his life insurance, totaling $1.75 million. Winchester said that he and Mike Williams spoke nearly every day.
According to Winchester, the two had something else in common, they both were in love with the same woman - Denise Williams.
Eighteen years after Williams’ disappearance, Winchester, under the protection of immunity, confessed on the witness stand to fatally shooting Williams in the head after pushing him into the water during the hunting trip, then leaving Williams’ boat in the water to mislead investigators.
Winchester didn’t stop there - he testified that Denise was involved in every aspect of planning the killing over a period of 18 months. He even said at one point that Denise was “morally” opposed to divorce - but apparently not murder.
As Winchester calmly testified in detail about the events leading up to Mike Williams’ death, I thought this story - although diabolical - is made for the big screen. Then it struck me - this movie has already been made.
Seventy-five years ago, Paramount Pictures released a film noir classic, “Double Indemnity.” The star-studded cast included Edward G. Robinson, Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.
Had Denise Williams and Brian Winchester watched “Double Indemnity” they might have thought twice about their ill-fated plan.
Fred MacMurray played the role of an insurance agent who sold a life insurance policy to Barbara Stanwyck’s husband - sound familiar. Stanwyck and MacMurray’s characters become involved in a romantic relationship.
The two hatched a plan to throw Stanwyck’s husband from a train while on a business trip. They pulled off the murder and tried to cash in on the insurance. However, MacMurray’s boss, Edward G. Robinson, smelled a rat and began to investigate the insurance claim.
The scheme begins to unravel and MacMurray, having been shot in a confrontation with Stanwyck, returns at night to his office mortally wounded and begins to dictate his confession - not unlike Winchester’s testimony in court - into a recorder for Robinson’s character to receive.
Unlike the movie, Winchester and Denise Williams married after Mike’s murder. The marriage fell apart and Winchester kidnapped her in hope of winning her back. He is now serving 20 years in prison for that decision.
Denise Williams’ attorney suggested in his opening statement that Denise had nothing to do with Winchester’s plot to kill her husband. The only person to accuse her of conspiring to kill Mike was Winchester - a confessed killer and convicted kidnapper.
Playwright Oscar Wilde wrote in “The Decay of Lying,” “Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”
This is real life. A Florida jury will decide if this was a plan between two people to kill another human being for lust and money, or a fiction created by a desperate man to avoid responsibility for killing his friend.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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