ARCADIA — The family of Marian Williams is pleading with a DeSoto County jury to spare her life.

“I would like to say that my mom is a great mom and a great grandmother,” said Taquita Leveritt, her daughter.

“She takes care of everybody,” said Lakeidra Hatcher, Williams’ 15-year-old granddaughter.

“To me, she’s one of the best sisters in the world,” said Billy Williams, her brother. “And I’ve had a bunch. … I love her to death.”

The defense team in the Williams case spent most of Tuesday calling relatives and family friends as character witnesses for the penalty phase of the trial.

Williams, 53, of Bartow, was convicted of seven felonies last Friday by a DeSoto County jury; among those charges were the felony murders of Marcus Clark, 10, Kiani Clark, 8, and Kemaren Clark, 4.

The State Attorney’s Office is seeking the death penalty for the boys’ murders; the same jury that convicted Williams will now determine if Williams is sentenced to death or to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Defense attorney Kevin Shirley spent most of the morning calling the Williams family to the stand. He provided photos to each of the witnesses, showing Williams at family gatherings and other high points of her life.

One photo showed a teenage Marian Williams in a basketball team uniform from when she was in high school.

One of Williams’ younger grandchildren briefly took the witness stand and waved to Williams, saying “Hi, Meemaw!”

Williams, who has rarely spoken in open court, spontaneously replied: “Hi baby!”

Each witness shared a fond memory of Williams growing up, trying to give the jury as favorable a viewing of the defendant as possible.

William Williams Sr., her father, recalled playing with her when she was an infant. He said she almost slipped through his hands and hit her head, but she was mostly unharmed.

“She’s my firstborn,” said the elder Williams, who was 17 years old when Marian Williams was born. “I don’t want anything to happen to her.”

Angela Williams, William’s wife and Marian’s stepmother, recounted how Marian Williams had grieved with her when she lost her son, Jamal Baker. She broke down crying on the stand as she remembered her son.

Two of Marian Williams’ aunts — Cheri Kelly and Rita Gatlin — talked about they grew up with their little niece; Cheri remembered bringing her to church.

“She means a lot to me,” said Gatlin, who also broke down crying at the end of her testimony.

As Gatlin returned to her seat in the gallery, she continued to cry as she passed by Williams at the defense table. Williams turned to her aunt and could be heard saying: “I’m sorry.”

Several family members testified that Marian Williams had once been romantically involved with Mele, and that she extended the affection she showed to her grandchildren to the Clark boys as well.

“He was practically my grandfather,” Hatcher said.

“I know Marian loved children,” Kelly said.

Assistant State Attorney Karen Fraivillig cross-examined some of the witnesses called, but chose to let some go without a cross-examination.

Fraivillig asked both of Williams’ daughters — Taquita Leveritt and Miranda Washington — about an arrest report from 2007. The report alleged that Williams and her daughters — both teenagers at the time — were arrested for theft at a local Walmart.

Both women claimed that their mother was not involved in the theft and that the two of them engaged in theft.

“No, I don’t remember my mother taking me shoplifting,” Washington said.

Both cross-examinations were tinged with hostility, as Fraivillig continued to refer to the arrest report — which alleged that Williams admitted to taking part in the theft — while both daughters denied it.

At one point in the questioning, Fraivillig appeared to accidentally refer to Washington by Leveritt’s name — prompting Washington to correct her swiftly.

The defense also called two family friends to the stand — William Kilpatric, a longtime neighbor of Williams, and Michelle Miller, a friend of Williams who met her through missionary work in prison.

Kilpatric described Williams as a “jovial and caring person” for the 20 years that he has known her. He said that he did know for certain about Mele and Williams’ relationship — calling them “friends” — but that they appeared to get along well together.

Kilpatric also denied on cross-examination that he knew about Williams’ previous convictions — including one plea of guilty to aggravated battery in 2009 — but did testify that he knew she had previously been incarcerated.

“Does that change your opinion about Ms. Williams?” asked Shirley on re-direct examination.

Kilpatric replied: “No.”

Miller said that she initially met Williams while the latter was incarcerated around 20 years ago. Williams attended church through her missionary work and the two became quick friends. Miller particularly praised Williams for her “beautiful” singing voice.

“I truly love this woman, and I hope to be part of her life for many years to come,” said Miller.

After Miller’s testimony, Judge Don T. Hall released the jury early — barely after 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday. The trial is expected to continue at 9 a.m. today with psychology experts expected to take the stand.


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