OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Army private on trial for the starvation death of a 10-year-old boy at an Oklahoma base pleaded guilty Monday to a first-degree murder charge to avoid a possible death sentence.
Pvt. Connell C. Williams, 33, entered the guilty plea at the U.S. Courthouse in Lawton as federal prosecutors were preparing to present more evidence to a 12-member jury that began hearing testimony Thursday, according to federal court officials.
Williams was indicted for first-degree murder by a federal grand jury in the May 5, 2011, death of Marcus Holloway, the son of Williams’ girlfriend, at Fort Sill in southwestern Oklahoma. Federal prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.
In a written statement to the jury, U.S. District Judge Stephen Friot said Williams’ plea in the “heart-rending” case had brought the jury’s service “to a premature end.” If the jury had found Williams guilty, it would have then decided whether to sentence him to death or life in prison.
“Having starved a 10-year old boy to a slow death over a period of months in 2011, Connell Williams is no longer at risk for the death penalty,” Friot’s statement says. “As a result of the agreement between the government and the defendant, this trial has ended, as has your service as jurors.”
Friot told the jurors the decision to allow Williams to plead guilty to first-degree murder in exchange for a life prison sentence without the possibility of release was made by the U.S. Department of Justice with the required approval of Attorney General Eric Holder and is “a decision with which I respectfully disagree.”
“In my view, in a case like this one, no decision by one person can command the moral force that your verdict would have commanded,” Friot said.