Woman charged with starving her son to death freed from jail

Posted at 12:24 AM, Dec 19, 2012
and last updated 2012-12-19 00:24:11-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR)--Ashley Williams, the 27-year-old Richmonder accused of essentially starving her 2-year-old son to death three years ago, was released from the City Jail on her own recognizance, after her attorney argued that the case against her was so thin, she should be at home with her family.

Williams, walking out of the jail to meet one of her sisters, said she feels her side of the story has finally freed her – at least for now.

“I’m so happy,” she said. “Extremely happy. I don’t know what to do right now.”

She was released on her signature for a $25,000 bond, meaning she’ll owe that much if she doesn’t show up in court.

Williams has been locked up for about 14 months on the manslaughter, and neglect charges, along with an unrelated drug charge.

She is charged with involuntary manslaughter and child abuse and neglect for the May 2009 death of her 2 year-old son, D’Sean Williams, who was found unresponsive on the floor of their east Richmond home.

There’s one thing her attorneys and Richmond prosecutors agree upon: that little D’Sean died a horrible death that might have been avoided.

“This whole thing is tragic,” said Joe Morrissey, Williams’ attorney.

Autopsy photos show D’Sean, dead at 25 months, resembling a child from a third-world famine -literally skin and bones - weighing just 14 and a half pounds, half of what would’ve been his normal weight.

Williams’ attorneys and supporters, including City Councilman Marty Jewell and the NAACP’s King Khalfani, say the mother is a victim, too. The little boy, like three of his cousins, had failure to thrive syndrome, a condition in which a child isn’t hungry or just doesn’t put on weight.

“What we showed the judge is that three other children of the sisters all have this disease, failure to thrive,” Morrissey said. “There was no starvation. There was the disease the child perished from, not from neglect or abuse.”

But prosecutors say Williams failed to respond to medical orders to bring her son in for a crucial follow-up checks and ignored crucial danger signs, like barely eating anything for the two days before his death, according to documents obtained by CBS-6 in the case.

“The Commonwealth has charged my client with not taking extra steps,” Morrissey said, “when you had all of these health care professionals that didn’t take those extra steps – and they are trained.”

While the prosecutor wrote that D’Sean’s doctor apparently saw no signs of problems with bonding or neglect, a document from the prosecutor to the Medical Examiner’s Office indicates a bonding problem and the mother was aware the infant was digging through the trash for food.

Morrissey said he told the judge Tuesday that there are 41 documented cases of Williams taking D’Sean and her other three children to the doctors and there’s not one hint from any of those visits that her children were being abused or neglected. Her other children have been placed in foster care.

Autopsy records of doctor’s visits showed D’Sean was behind but slowly gaining weight until February of 2009, when he weighed about 22 pounds. Two and a half months later he was down to 18 pounds.

By the time he died, two months later at the age of 25 months, he had lost four more pounds.

An interoffice memo in the ME’s office showed a consensus that D’Sean died of of starvation, dehydration and neglect.

Morrissey said it was the failure-to-thrive condition that caused the death – not neglect.

Williams initially pled guilty to manslaughter and neglect, but was allowed to withdraw her plea in this three-yearlong, convoluted case.

Since her son’s death, she was arrested and convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute it. She has served her time on that charge.

A trial date for the manslaughter and neglect charges will be set in January.