Marian Evette Williams

Marian Evette Williams

Marian Williams in court

Marian Evette Williams during the second day of her trial in DeSoto County.

ARCADIA — Marian Evette Williams was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder on Friday by a DeSoto County jury.

The jurors reached their verdict after less than three hours of deliberations. The verdict comes on the heels of four days of legal arguments, with back-to-back testimony from forensics experts and witnesses.

With the verdict delivered, the penalty phase of the trial, which will determine Williams’ sentencing, is scheduled to go forward Monday morning.

The State Attorney's Office will be seeking the death penalty against Williams for the deaths of the three Clark children: Marcus, 10, Kiani, 8, and Kemaren, 4.

Williams, 53, of Bartow, was also found guilty of two counts of attempted murder, and one count each of arson, burglary, and burglary with assault and battery.

Williams appeared to remain calm as the guilty verdict for each count was read against her, briefly conversing with an advisor retained by the defense.

Testimony offered by the state’s witnesses placed Williams near the house of Arnold Mele on South Lee Avenue in the early morning hours of March 11, 2017.

One witness, Bruce Blandin, testified that he saw Williams enter the house through a window and shake a “white container” at the scene, though he said he went to sleep before seeing her leave the residence.

Shortly afterward, he said, he was awoken by door-knocking from Theresa Redding, Mele’s partner. Redding and Mele both testified that they were awoken by a fire that had broke out; Redding pushed an air conditioner out of a window to escape, while Mele suffered burns attempting to save the Clark children — his grandsons — before being forced to retreat from the house.

The boys had been staying with Mele, while their mother, Kenya Lynette, was preparing for an early shift at Publix. Blandin had sent a text to Lynette before going to sleep, leading Lynette to stop by the house. The house was not yet visibly flammable from the outside and Lynette testified that she did not detect anything else at the scene.

All three boys were later recovered from the scene of the fire. The autopsies for all three listed their deaths as being caused by smoke inhalation. The autopsy for Kiani Clark indicated that the extensive burns suffered on his body also contributed to his death.

The prosecution cited several incidents where Williams had previously threatened Mele, with whom she previously had a relationship.

The defense also leaned on the previous relationship, attempting to raise alternative theories of the crime and implying that Redding framed Williams for the fire.

The defense team only called one witness for their case: Williams’ 15-year-old granddaughter Lakeida Hatcher. Hatcher, who was 11 at the time of the fire, testified that Williams had come over to her house to stay the night.

Jury deliberations were delayed in the morning, after one juror reported feeling ill due to a migraine. The juror was ultimately relieved of duty and replaced with an alternate.

Defense attorney Daniel Hernandez initially raised concerns about dismissing the juror, as she was one of only two Black women on the jury. Circuit Judge Don T. Hall agreed to release the juror due to her description of her condition and the amount of time deliberations could be delayed while waiting for her to recover.

“It’s not fair to the juror, the rest of the jurors, the defendant or the state,” said Hall.

The ultimate makeup of the 12-person jury was seven white women, four white men, and one Black woman. Most of the jury appeared to be middle-aged or older.

Several alternate jurors said in a note to Hall that they would like to remain in the courtroom to see the verdict after they were dismissed as jurors. However, Hernandez noted that they could be recalled for the penalty phase and may receive outside information while out of the jury.

“They could make an observation that would prejudice their mind,” said Hernandez, such as seeing Williams being escorted out of the courtroom by court officers.

During the trial, Williams — who is currently incarcerated — would be brought to her seat at the defense table by court officers before the jury would enter the courtroom and remain until the jury exited.

The penalty phase of the trial will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Monday at the DeSoto County Courthouse.

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