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Justices uphold verdict

'Overwhelming' evidence proves guilt of woman in murder case

The Kentucky Supreme Court has affirmed the conviction of Kathy Ellen Walters Williams, a 49-yearold Jeremiah woman who was found guilty in April 2005 of murdering 19- year-old Forrester Caudill.

In an opinion handed down November 1, the state’s highest court agreed 6-0 to let stand a Letcher Circuit Court jury’s finding that Williams committed murder when she shot Caudill in the chest with a handgun late on the afternoon of November 30, 2003. The shooting took place at a sawmill in the Black Bottom neighborhood of Jeremiah.

Because Williams was sentenced to life in prison, her case qualified for an appeal directly to the Supreme Court. She challenged her conviction on grounds the jury was given faulty instructions on the definition of selfprotection, and that Letcher Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II committed prosecutorial misconduct when he misstated to the jury that Williams had been taking the drug PCP.

While the Supreme Court found there was an error in the jury instructions and that Banks’s portrayal of Williams as a drug addict was “highly prejudicial” to the jury, the six justices also found the evidence against Williams to be so “overwhelming” that neither error affected the outcome of her five-day trial.

The confrontation between Williams and Caudill began after Williams saw the small pickup truck Caudill was driving pull up next to the sawmill near where Williams was living. Caudill had gone to the sawmill to check on a car that belonged to him. After taking an antique gun from the late Begie Breeding Jr., the owner of the house she was living in at the time, Williams went out to confront Caudill, whom she knew to be related to another young man she had accused of burning down her house just several days before.

A woman who lived near the sawmill testified that she saw Caudill get out of the truck and walk over and get into the car parked at the sawmill. The witness said she saw Williams walk by the car Caudill was in, then saw Williams come back to the car and confront Caudill after Williams saw him getting back out of it. The witness testified that when she saw Williams raise the gun and point it at Caudill, she and her daughter and son-in-law ran behind the house they were living in and heard gunshots being fired shortly thereafter.

Caudill got back into his truck after being wounded in the chest and began driving away from the scene, but bled to death before he got the vehicle back onto the road. Police found a black-handled kitchen knife under a pile of trash in the floorboard of the passenger side of the truck, but no blood was found on the knife even though Caudill had large amounts of blood on both hands at the time of his death.

Williams told police that Caudill had threatened her with a large knife she described, according the court, as having a “long jagged blade, a black handle, and a big red button on the side as for opening and closing the knife.”

As was the case with the circuit jury, the Supreme Court didn’t buy into the story told by Williams either.

“Relative to the strength of the evidence against Williams, the Commonwealth’s evidence was overwhelming,” the court wrote in its 10-page opinion affirming the conviction. “Williams first denied having any involvement in the shooting, until she learned from police that there were witnesses. Williams then confessed to the shooting (which was offered into evidence), but claimed she was acting in self-defense. The testimony of the three witnesses who saw the confrontation between Caudill and Williams just prior to the shooting refuted her claim of self-defense, none of them recalling that they saw Caudill with a knife or saw him lunge at Williams. The only knife found at the scene was a kitchen knife found under a pile of trash in Caudill’s truck. The knife did not fit the description of the knife given by Williams and had no blood on it.”

“Finally, during the Commonwealth’s cross-examination of Williams,” the Supreme Court concluded, “it brought out several inconsistent statements made by Williams regarding the crime, which severely impeached her credibility.”

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