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Williams Trial Day 1: State, Defense, Lay Out Differing Narratives

Denise Williams is facing three charges of felony insurance fraud relating to the murder of her ex-husband.
Leon County Sheriff's Department

Twelve jurors are hearing testimony in the murder trial of Denise Williams. She’s accused of orchestrating the disappearance and murder of her first husband 18 years ago. Tuesday the jury heard opening arguments with the prosecution and defense laying out their cases.

Assistant State Attorney Jon Fuchs says Williams plotted to kill her husband because she was concerned about the stigma of divorce, and was having an affair with the man who killed him—his best friend, Brian Winchester.

“What he [Brian Winchester] tells us is that prior to the death in 1997, there’s a Sister Hazel concert at the Floyd’s music shop…and they went there and were there with the other people, but that’s where everything started with them. Three years prior to Mike’s death," he said, pointing to a potential beginning for a relationship between Denise Williams and Brian Winchester. 

The state also argues Denise Williams and Brian Winchester discussed killing Winchester’s then-wife, Kathy as well but, “Brian said no," Fuchs says. "He says I don’t want to kill the mother of my child. Apparently killing his best friend is okay, but killing the mother of his child is not. So they settle on killing just Mike.”

Five years after Mike Williams disappeared while duck hunting at Lake Seminole, Williams and Winchester married. The official line was that Williams drowned in the lake and may have been eaten by alligators. A body was never found.

Meanwhile, the marriage between Williams and Winchester began unraveling and in 2016, he was arrested for kidnapping Denise. Facing the possibility of life in prison, Winchester confessed to killing Mike Williams in October 2016 in exchange for immunity. Fuchs claims Winchester pointed investigators to where Mike Williams’ body was buried and also implicated Denise in the crime. But Williams’ defense attorney Philip Padovano says Winchester implicated Williams as revenge for turning him in for kidnapping.

“You’re going to hear about the multiple investigations in this case," Padovano told jurors. "You’re going to hear about the lives of all of these witnesses over the last 18 years. What you’re not going to here is any credible evidence that Denise Williams participated in this murder. On that point, you’re going to have to rely entirely on the word of a murderer and a convicted felon.”

He also refuted Winchester’s claims of an affair and says Winchester wanted to stay with his wife, Kathy.

“She’s [Kathy] going to tell you that at the final divorce hearing, Brian Winchester--the man who was supposed to have done this to be with Denise—was sitting at the back of the room sobbing. Begging her, begging her not to go through with the divorce. He wanted to stay married to her.  And the other thing I mentioned, that Denise Williams had a relationship with another man named Charles Bucker—you’ll hear from him, too. That relationship started a couple years after her husband disappeared.”

The trial is expected to last the remainder of the week. Denise Williams has also been charged with insurance fraud for collecting $1.75 million after Mike Williams was declared dead.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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