HOLMBERG: Ashley Williams murder trial — justice for little boy who starved to death

Posted at 12:04 AM, May 25, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-25 00:04:29-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -- The Ashley Williams murder trial has been an unusual one for Richmond for several reasons, foremost among them she was charged not for what she did with any kind of weapon, but for what she didn’t do. Crimes of omission – not feeding and caring for her child.

D’Sean Williams died May 30, 2009 at the age of two years, one month. He weighed 14-and-a-half pounds. He looked like a skeleton with a thin covering of flesh.

His mother, Ashley Williams, initially accepted a plea deal for neglect and involuntary manslaughter in the death of her youngest of four children.

The murder case was also unusual for the number of people who rallied behind her. Typically, child abuse and neglect get little sympathy throughout all demographics in Richmond.

Her case was picked up as a racially charged example of social injustice – a poor African-American mom blamed for her sickly child and a medical and social services system that failed to properly treat D’Sean and intervene on his behalf.

A judge allowed her to withdraw her plea as a crowd cheered outside the John Marshall Courts building.

The case took four years to come to trial.

In the meantime, Ashley was busted for possessing cocaine and served time for that. Just last month, she tested positive for the drug.

By the time her trial was underway, the crowds supporting her had dwindled to a group of core friends and family.

During the trial, defense attorney Joe Morrissey portrayed Ashley as a heroic mom with a tenth-grade education, doing her best to raise a child with a failure-to-thrive syndrome. He pointed to the many times she took her children, including D’Sean, to the doctor.

But the racially mixed jury also heard testimony that indicated D’Sean slept in the bottom of closet on a urine-soaked pillow, that he picked through the trash for food, and that Ashley had run out of Pediasure diet supplement for D’Sean and the money to buy it. It was pointed out that in the weeks right before D’Sean died, Ashley took her older son to the doctor for a hangnail, but the youngest, the sickest child, stayed at home.

The jury deliberated for a little more than four hours before agreeing that Ashley’s crimes of omission – that she failed to feed her youngest child and strive to meet his needs - met the standards for felony murder and neglect.

During the winter, I saw the autopsy photos and read the blunt words from the Medical Examiner’s office. Clearly, there were those in the circle of family, social services and medicine who could’ve done more to keep this child from slowly starving to death. It’s absolutely heartbreaking.

But Ashley Williams was his mom. It wouldn’t take someone with a 10th grade education to see this skeletal two year old was in dire need of nutrition. Someone with a second-grade education could see this little boy was slowly falling into his final resting place, bless his soul.

That’s my take. Please leave yours in the comments section below.