Jessica Williams has pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of six teens two decades ago in a median of Interstate 15, resolving one of Nevada’s most notorious vehicular-crime cases.
Clark County District Court records show that Williams signed an Aug. 12 plea agreement in the March 2000 deaths of Scott Garner Jr., 14; Anthony T. Smith, 14; Jennifer Booth, 16; Alberto Puig, 16; Rebeccah Glicken, 15; and Maleyna Stoltzfus, 15. The teens were killed as they picked up trash as part of a Clark County youth services program.
Williams served nearly 20 years behind bars for the crime before her convictions were vacated by a federal judge earlier this year. The plea deal means she will not return to custody. According to the agreement, she was sentenced to credit for time served, “meaning no jail or prison time and no probation.”
John Watkins of the Pariente Law Firm has represented Williams since shortly after the crash. A statement from the law firm, provided by attorney Michael Pariente on Tuesday via email, said the plea deal was reached to “put an end to the matter.”
“Ms. Williams entered a plea to felony involuntary manslaughter — what she has long maintained what happened in that she fell asleep at the wheel resulting in this tragic accident,” according to the statement. “Her case is now closed without any additional prison time being imposed and she is now off of parole.”
‘Terrible and avoidable tragedy’
District Attorney Steve Wolfson’s office also emailed a statement on the plea deal Tuesday to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
“Ms. Williams entered a guilty plea to the crime of Involuntary Manslaughter, which is a Felony,” Wolfson said in the statement. “Although her previous convictions in this case were dismissed by the Appellate Court, she served 19 years in prison for those convictions.”
According to the statement, the guilty plea “is a result of her desire to accept responsibility for her actions, as well as our obligation to ensure that the families of the victims realize justice in the loss of their loved ones.”
“This was a terrible and avoidable tragedy, and family members continue to feel the void in their lives,” Wolfson added. “Ms. Williams completed her prison sentence, and nothing would be accomplished by re-trying her case. I believe this is a fair outcome.”
Williams originally was convicted of driving with a prohibited substance, marijuana, in her blood and was sentenced to 18 to 48 years in prison in 2002. She was paroled in October.
Garner’s father, Scott, said Tuesday he found some relief in knowing that the lengthy legal ordeal is finally over. He expressed disappointment that Williams wasn’t ordered to pay any restitution as part of the plea deal.
“She was ordered by a judge to pay restitution,” Garner said of the original sentence.
Lack of due process
In a June 18 ruling, Senior U.S. District Judge Kent Dawson vacated Williams’ convictions, saying she was denied due process because the law as written at the time of the crash “did not give fair warning that the presence of an inactive ingredient of marijuana, marijuana metabolite, in her bloodstream” would have made her conduct illegal.
Dawson gave the district attorney’s office 30 days to decide whether to retry Williams and 120 days to put her on trial if prosecutors decided to move forward. Wolfson said shortly after Dawson’s ruling was issued that his office was waiting to find out if the Nevada attorney general’s office was going to appeal Dawson’s order before deciding whether to retry Williams.
The attorney general’s office said on Tuesday that it did appeal Dawson’s ruling, but then Wolfson’s office reached a plea deal with Williams.
“At this time, our office is evaluating the next steps in this matter as it appears the matter has been resolved at the trial court, and Ms. Williams served 20 years in prison,” Ashley Forest, deputy communications director for the Nevada attorney general, said in an email to the Review-Journal. “Of course, no amount of time can erase the pain caused by Ms. Williams in the killing of 6 young people, and our hearts go out to the families of the victims in this case.”
Williams, who was 40 as of March, did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday. She expressed remorse for the crash during a recent interview and said she simply fell asleep at the wheel.
“I never wanted to hurt anybody,” Williams said. “I don’t ever want to cause (the families of the victims) any more pain. I wish I could take everything back. I wish I could undo it all, but I don’t know how. I am so sorry.”