ARCADIA — With the final witnesses called in the trial, both legal teams in the Marian Williams case made their closing arguments to the jury Thursday afternoon.
Assistant State Attorney Cliff A. Ramey stressed the motive of Williams in seeking revenge for romantic rejection against Arnold Mele, the grandfather of the three victims.
“Who has motive?” Ramey asked the jury in his closing argument. “Who was the jealous woman here?”
Daniel Hernandez, leader of Williams’ defense team, emphasized what he saw as a collection of “conflicting evidence” in what the prosecution presented to the jury.
“The entire burden of proof is on the state of Florida,” said Hernandez.
Hernandez also stressed the romantic rivalry between Williams and Theresa Redding, Mele’s partner, as well as pending drug charges against Mele. Both situations, he argued, provided alternative suspects who could have “framed” Williams for the fire.
Ramey’s fellow prosecutor, Karen Fraivillig, gave her own argument to respond to Hernandez’s theories.
“This wasn’t a soap opera. This is three dead children,” she said to the jury.
The trial against Bartow resident Marian E. Williams, 53, is swiftly coming to a head. She is facing one charge of premeditated murder each for the death of three brothers — Marcus Clark, 10, Kiani Clark, 8, and Kemaren, 4 — in a house fire from March of 2017.
If Williams is convicted, the State Attorney’s Office will seek the death penalty.
Williams is also charged with the attempted murder of Mele and Redding, as well as one count each of arson, burglary, and burglary with assault or battery.
The prosecution called its final witness — medical examiner Dr. Phoutthasone Thirakul — Thursday morning, to speak to the condition of the three Clark boys after their remains were recovered from the blaze in 2017.
Marcus, the oldest, was found face-down in the bathroom. Kemaren, the youngest, was still inside the bedroom where the boys had been staying. Kiani was found in the living room of the house.
Thirakul said that all three boys showed a heavy presence of soot in their tongues, airways, and lungs, indicating they were alive long enough to breathe in the smoke. All three boys were noted to have high concentrations of carboxyhemoglobin in their blood — a chemical indicative of carbon monoxide poisoning.
All three boys were determined by Thirakul to have died from smoke inhalation. The examiner also cited severe “thermal burns” on Kiani as a contributing factor for his death.
Photos of the boys’ bodies were shown to the jury. Some members of the children’s family were sitting in the courtroom gallery at the time; several began to weep and exited the courtroom for a time.
On cross-examination, Hernandez questioned if Thirakul or her lab staff would have been able to narrow the time of death for the boys.
“Would it be accurate to say it was not a matter of seconds, it was a matter of minutes?” asked Hernandez.
“That would be accurate ... it wouldn’t have been an hour,” replied Thirakul.
The defense only called two witnesses before resting its case: recalling Mele to the stand, to impeach him for contradictions in his testimony, and Lakeida Hatcher, Williams’ 15-year-old granddaughter.
Hernandez pressed Mele through a Haitian-Creole interpreter about a discrepancy in his testimony about Redding’s presence during a phone call between himself and Williams. Mele maintained that Redding was present during the phone call.
“That’s what I remember,” said Mele, though he admitted that his memory had been less than perfect.
Hatcher, the daughter of Williams’ daughter, was at her mother’s house on the night of the fire and stayed with her. Hatcher was 11 years old at the time of the fire.
“I was sleeping,” said Hatcher, speaking softly during her testimony. She testified that Williams woke her up around 1 a.m. on March 11, 2017, before she returned to sleep.
Performing his only cross-examination of the trial, Ramey immediately attempted to poke holes in the teenager’s testimony — noting that she was speaking about her beloved grandmother.
“You don’t want anything bad to happen to her, right?” asked Ramey, to which Hatcher replied “No.”
After the witnesses but prior to closing statements, Judge Don T. Hall read instructions to the jury for the consideration of charges. During the instructions, Hall noted that in place of charges of premeditated murder, the jury may also consider lesser charges in the deaths of the Clark children, such as a lesser murder charge or manslaughter.
“It’s up to you to decide whatever evidence is credible,” Ramey told the jury in his closing.
“You are an essential part of the judicial system,” said Hernandez in his own remarks.
The jury is expected to begin deliberations today.