West Richland man to be committed for life in murder case

Kristin M. Kraemer, Tri-City HeraldDecember 14, 2012 

A 29-year-old man initially had doubts he could follow through with plans to kill his grandmother, but his delusions took hold and he snapped after talking to the victim inside her Kennewick home.

Adam Ryan Williams believed God was directing him to kill Viola Williams last January and "in his world" was assured by characters from a 1981 action movie that he could do it, according to a report by state mental health officials.

The West Richland man might have intended to brutally attack the 87-year-old woman, but he "was so acutely ill and entrenched in his delusional system" that he was insane at the time of the murder, the report concluded.

Given the findings announced in court Thursday, a Benton County Superior Court judge ruled that Adam Williams was "not guilty by reason of insanity."

Judge Bruce Spanner signed an acquittal form in the first-degree murder case and ordered Williams to spend the rest of his life in a state psychiatric facility.

The maximum sentence under state law for first-degree murder is life, which allows the judge to keep Williams committed indefinitely because he's considered "a substantial danger" to other people and has a high likelihood of reoffending.

Though Williams will be placed in the custody of the state Department of Social and Health Services, he will remain under the control of the court and any requests to leave Eastern State Hospital grounds will have to be approved by a judge.

The motion on acquittal by reason of insanity was made by defense lawyer Sal Mendoza Jr. Prosecutor Andy Miller did not oppose it.

Eight friends and relatives of the victim and the defendant were in court for the 25-minute hearing.

Williams -- who has been in Eastern State Hospital for almost 10 months while staff tried to restore his competency -- was returned to Benton County on Wednesday so he could be in court. He wore jeans and a white T-shirt, and sat at the defense table with Mendoza and attorney Alexandria Sheridan.

The case has been on hold since Williams' first court hearing Jan. 30 when lawyers asked that he receive a mental health evaluation.

"Unfortunately this is a tragedy that has occurred here. I think it stems from certainly mental illness, but there was, I would argue, an issue of supervision and that is something that I think we have to look into," Mendoza told the court. "I know that when I visited Adam and spoke to a number of witnesses that were involved in this case, that was a concern that the signs were there."

"This is a tragedy that has occurred and it's very difficult to come to grips with that, but at the time that he committed this offense Adam was insane, and this is the appropriate motion," he added.

This is the second time Williams will be committed in the Medical Lake facility after being found not guilty by reason of insanity. He spent five years there for a 2006 third-degree assault case out of Franklin County, but was released after being held for the maximum time allowed on that charge.

There is no record of a civil commitment request for Williams after he was released from the state hospital in June 2011.

Mental health officials believed he was stable on his psychotropic medications at the time and would be successful within the community. The medications apparently were adjusted in the six months between his release and his grandmother's killing.

Williams has a history of drug abuse and has suffered from schizophrenia for more than 10 years. The illness typically shows itself in the form of psychosis, like delusions, hallucinations and paranoia.

Williams has received psychiatric care and treatment during the years, but the symptoms eventually return and "each recurrent episode takes longer to treat and stabilize," psychologist Randall Strandquist and psychiatrist Dr. Sami Pateras said in their report submitted Tuesday.

Viola Williams was found dead just before 3 p.m. Jan. 27 when her daughter went to check on her.

Adam Williams used foil, lighter fluid, a plastic bag and a belt to try to kill his grandmother before grabbing a knife from the kitchen and stabbing her multiple times. He told Kennewick police Detective Rick Runge that he initially punched the victim in the head and caused her to fall to the floor because he was angry with her, and said the attack only stopped "when God told him that was enough," court documents said.

Williams smoked methamphetamine the night before the slaying, which he believed "elevated his mood and increased the speed of his thinking."

Williams took a photograph of his grandmother's lifeless body and showed the camera to a fellow bus rider on the trip back to his West Richland home. He shared his home address with the woman who called police, ultimately leading to Williams' arrest as officers watched his apartment.

"He had the ability to appreciate the nature and quality of his actions," Strandquist and Pateras wrote. "However, his intricate, well-developed and well-entrenched delusional mindset prevented him from accurately discerning right from wrong."

In interviews with investigators and mental health officials, Williams said God gave him the name of Lucifer Grand Am Dynasty "before he was extorted off the throne by his grandmother, Viola," the state report said. "Viola, he believed, had sold her soul to the devil in order to extort him off his throne."

Williams considered himself a soldier of God who had a "killing card" that allowed him to kill others without legal consequences, the report said. He claimed the card listed all the names of people Williams believed owed him something, but the only way to resolve the problem would be to kill them.

The listed people were involved in an "extortion ring," and Williams believed every member of his family was part of it with his grandmother at the head of the ring, the report said.

"Mr. Williams believed that the easiest way to free himself from the extortion ring was to kill his grandmother," the experts wrote. "He believed that she had control of his mortality and would have sucked his soul into hell if he had not killed her."

Williams claimed the characters from the movie Escape from New York helped him gather items he might use in the murder. When he doubted that he could do it, one of the characters told him, "Once you get there you'll be ready," the report said.

Strandquist was in court Thursday to testify that he found Williams competent to stand trial and assist in his own defense, but said the defendant was insane during the murder.

Williams was asked a series of questions by Mendoza about his evaluations and subsequent treatment at Eastern State Hospital. He responded "yes sir" to most of the questions, other then saying that some classes helped him understand how a courtroom works and the roles of the judge and lawyers.

Miller recalled getting the call from police nearly 11 months ago about their suspect in the West 19th Avenue crime.

"The reaction of Kennewick detectives that I talked to that night was this case is never going to go to trial because this guy is clearly insane. There is something wrong with him," Miller told the court.

The prosecutor said he proceeded with the case as if Williams was not insane because some things are troublesome to him and show the suspect may have known he "was wrong after he committed this horrible crime."

But after talking with the Williams family and the defense, along with reviewing police reports and evaluations, Miller said he came to the same conclusion as Mendoza.

Judge Spanner, who was assigned to preside over the case, said his ruling that Williams was legally insane when he killed his grandmother is based on the reports.

"I think the community can rest assured that he will not be a danger to the community unless there are substantial changes," he said.

Before leaving the bench, Spanner looked at the Williams family and said, "Thank you, and I'm terribly sorry for your loss."

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