Jury finds Richmond mother guilty of murder, child neglect

Posted at 12:06 PM, May 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-24 18:28:43-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- A jury found a Richmond mother guilty of murder and felony child neglect Friday afternoon in connection to the May 2009 death of her two-year-old son.

CBS 6 News reporter Catie Beck reported that Ashley Williams showed little emotion as the jury delivered the double-guilty verdict.  However, Williams’ supporters cried as the decision was read. [WATCH: Click here to watch CBS 6 News for Catie Beck's reports]

Closing arguments took place Friday morning in what Beck described as the most emotional day of the three-day trial.

Defense attorney Joe Morrissey painted Williams as a single, hardworking mom from Richmond’s East End who didn't know any better. He said D’sean was misdiagnosed by medical professionals who did not adequately explain the seriousness of the illness to Williams. In addition, he went on to say that he believed Williams was a “saint.”

Conversely, the Commonwealth argued that Williams made a conscious choice to do nothing to help her son. Prosecutors said the boy's death was preventable and that Williams could have taken the boy to the doctor during the last five weeks of his life. However they said Williams simply opted to do nothing and watch her son waste away.

Additionally, the prosecution said that If the jury were to let her off, they would be sending a message to other Richmond parents that what happened was an acceptable way to treat children.

As soon as the verdict was read, the jury went back in for a sentencing phase.

The jury recommended Williams serve the minimum of 2 years for the neglect charge and 5 years for felony murder. That’s a total of seven years.

Williams, who will later be formally sentenced by a judge, faces a range of 2 to 10 years for the child neglect conviction. For the murder conviction, she faces 5 to 40 years in prison.

Stay with CBS 6 News and for updates on this important local story. 

Autopsy photos showed 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. An interoffice memo in the ME’s office showed a consensus that D’Sean died of of starvation, dehydration and 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. In April 2013 she tested positive for cocaine.

During the trial prosecutors cited a Medical Examiner’s report that showed the child died of dehydration and starvation. Williams’ defense team argued the child suffered from a medical condition known as failure to thrive.

They claim it was that condition, not Williams’ negligence that lead to the child’s death.

Her attorney, Joe Morrissey, told the judge last year 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.

In a surprise move on Wednesday, Williams took the stand for the defense even though she was not on the witness list.

The defense played the 911 call that Williams placed on the night of her son’s death. In that recording, a distraught Williams was heard hysterically crying throughout the call.

As it played in open court, members in the audience were weeping as Williams sobbed on the witness stand as she heard the tape played again.

Prosecutors also cross examined Williams and grilled the mother about the specific dates that Williams claims she took the boy to the doctor – and the specific instructions concerning his care.

The prosecutor then showed Williams a picture of her healthy child next to a picture of his autopsy photo. Williams asked the prosecutor to put the photo down and said that she could not bear to look at it.

However, the prosecutor said the graphic photo severs as a reminder of the condition of her son on the last day of his life. And pointed out that Williams had seen her son in that condition before taking the stand.

Watch Catie Beck’s coverage of this trial on CBS 6 News and