Crime

‘I’ve killed a lady,’ a Tri-Cities man told a 911 dispatcher. He wanted to die next

The call to 911 came in at 1:20 on a Sunday morning.

A man calmly exchanged pleasantries with the dispatcher before admitting he’d had better days.

He wasn’t sure if his call qualified as an emergency.

Almost a minute passed before he got to the point — “Umm, I’ve killed a lady in my apartment and, umm, I’m gonna kill myself. But I’m just updating you guys so you can start (inaudible) doing some cleanup.”

The dispatcher, Colleen, replied, “OK, well maybe let’s don’t do that.”

For the next 44 minutes, William “Will” C. Lee talked to Colleen about the body of his former co-worker, Alisa J. Brewer, in his West Richland home and his fingerprints on her neck.

He wanted to avoid spending “life in a box,” and couldn’t tell his parents about doing “something so stupid” and watch them try to make sense of it.

Lee made clicking sounds with his gun several times, even firing a live round.

William Lee court
William C. Lee is charged with aggravated first-degree murder for strangling former co-worker, Alisa J. Brewer, inside his West Richland apartment. Lee called 911 in December 2018 and talked for 45 minutes about Brewer’s death and wanting to kill himself. Bob Brawdy Tri-City Herald

He said he should be stronger and braver about committing suicide, then called himself a coward because he didn’t have the “stones” to go through with it.

He laughed. He cried. He debated the judicial system.

“I’m telling you there ain’t no doubt about it, there’s a corpse sitting in my apartment right now because I made a bad decision,” Lee said.

Premeditated murder charge

In the three months since Brewer was found strangled in Lee’s West Richland home, the charge against Lee has twice increased in severity. Benton County prosecutors have said they received more evidence showing Lee’s actions were premeditated.

He’s currently charged with first-degree murder with the aggravating circumstances of deliberate cruelty and excessive injury. His trial is May 13 — one week after Brewer would have celebrated her 54th birthday.

That 911 call on Dec. 9 was not typical for homicide cases.

While Lee placed the call himself and admitted to killing a woman, dispatchers could not overlook the fact that he also was threatening to take his own life.

“I didn’t know who else to call,” Lee said on the call.

Colleen told Lee she was glad he did.

“I’ve never taken a call like this before, to be honest, and I just would like to help you if there is any way we could get you out of this,” said Colleen, who could be called as a witness in the criminal trial.

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Richland City Manager Cindy Reents, left, Interim Police Chief Jeff Taylor and Lt. Chris Lee praised dispatcher Colleen Jackson, second from left, for her handling of the 45-minute phone call from murder suspect William C. Lee. City of Richland

The dispatch logs and 911 recording were obtained by the Tri-City Herald through a public records request.

Colleen Jackson with the Southeast Communications Center, or SECOMM, was presented in February 2019 with the Richland City Manager’s Medallion for her skill and compassion in keeping a challenging situation from escalating.

“In the forty plus minute call, Colleen stayed calm, and showed an extreme amount of professionalism,” said a West Richland police Facebook post. “Due to Colleen’s actions, officers were able to take a homicide suspect into custody.”

Former co-workers in Richland

Brewer, 53, lived in Pasco and had worked as an administrative assistant and office manager for several different agencies and contractors in the area.

“She was an incredibly strong individual, a fiercely loyal friend, and a devoted daughter, sister and family member,” said her obituary.

Lee, then 24, said on the 911 call that he was from Montana and had been in his South 39th Avenue apartment for about a year.

The two worked together at Barnhart Crane & Rigging, which has a branch office in Richland, though it’s not clear if they were dating.

Days after Brewer was killed, a woman called police to talk about her friend. She said they had stayed in contact since Brewer moved to Washington state more than eight years earlier.

Asked if Brewer had mentioned Lee, the woman told police “yes, and she knew (Lee) was fired from his job,” according to police logs from the case.

‘Strangled her to death’

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Alisa J. Brewer was described in her obituary as “an incredibly strong individual, a fiercely loyal friend, and a devoted daughter, sister and family member.” LinkedIn screenshot

Once officers got into Lee’s apartment, they found Brewer’s naked body on the floor with a leather belt tightened around her neck. An autopsy confirmed she died from strangulation, in addition to having injuries to her head, face and neck.

Lee, on the 911 call, said it was “kind of complicated” when asked to identify the woman with him.

He talked about her in the past tense.

“And you’re sure she’s dead?” the dispatcher asked.

“Yeah. No, I strangled her to death. She’s dead,” he said.

Considering his options

Lee also briefly referred to himself in the past tense, telling Jackson he “will be” age 25 in January and then changing it to say he “would be.”

He asked if he had any other options.

The dispatcher offered to put Lee in contact with someone or send officers, who had been waiting outside, to the door to talk.

He reiterated that police could come in to “clean up after me,” and said “death is a whole lot better” than trying to explain the crime to his parents and living in a prison cell for the rest of his life.

“Are you sure? I mean, at least you’d still be alive,” Jackson said. “And there’s no guarantee you’ll have to be in a box.”

“Hehehe, capital murder 1. Yeah, no, I know better Colleen,” he replied. “Come on now, we both know better.”

The dispatcher clarified there was no predicting what might happen in court.

Jackson offered to have another dispatcher call his parents and alert them to what was going on because, even though children may do stupid things, parents still love them.

He quickly responded: “Oh no no no no no. I’d rather they don’t know anything about this.”

‘Somebody that didn’t deserve it’

Once he noticed the officers staging outside the apartments, not far from the West Richland Golf Course, Lee apologized “for making such a big deal out of this for you all.”

He repeated that he made bad choices, and now had to live with them.

Jackson asked if he and Brewer had argued.

“I don’t even know how to begin to (explain) it to you. I really don’t,” said Lee.

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West Richland police and law enforcement from throughout the Tri-Cities responded to the apartment of William C. Lee in December 2018 after he reported strangling a woman and said he was about to kill himself. West Richland Police Department

Lee later acknowledged to Jackson that he had killed “somebody that didn’t deserve it,” and said his only options at that point were death or jail.

He said he was scared. Jackson shared that she too was scared because she didn’t want Lee to “do anything that’s irreversible.”

She reminded Lee that everybody makes mistakes.

“People don’t kill though,” he answered.

“Actually they do, unfortunately. They do,” she said. “Look at the world today.”

One shot fired

Twenty one minutes into the call, Lee asked if dispatchers knew how to reach his parents.

Then, he fired his gun and the other end of the line went quiet.

Seven minutes later, he broke the silence, saying he’d completely missed and shot the ceiling “because I’m a p----.”

At one point he wondered why officers hadn’t broken down his door yet.

“I’m not here to kill no cops. You all are good people,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt nobody besides myself.”

He said he could either “man up and end it or cave in to you guys” and go through a trial.

“So why the f--- should I sit through that. Just save us a whole lot of time and taxpayer money, hmmm?” Lee said.

Contemplating suicide by cop

But later, frustrated with himself, he contemplated suicide by cop and asked what it would take.

“I don’t want to make your boys think about that. They’re good men,” Lee said. “I really don’t, but ... I ain’t got the balls to do it myself.”

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Alisa J. Brewer was killed early Dec. 9, 2018, inside the West Richland apartment of William C. Lee. The two were former co-workers. Tri-City Herald file

At one point, Jackson pointed out that he could be putting neighbors in harm’s way if he forced police to open fire outside his apartment complex.

“They don’t want to come in there and force anything to happen,” she told him. “... Hopefully all of us can reach a resolution about this that ends OK for everyone. Right?”

Lee paused, then responded: “Sounds good for me.”

He said he appreciated the dispatchers, police and paramedics doing their jobs, though a few minutes later he was again asking why police hadn’t broken down the door and killed him.

Eventually, Jackson told him to hang up and answer an incoming call from Benton County sheriff’s Deputy Zach Donovan, a negotiator.

Police logs show that 20 minutes later, Lee agreed to walk out “with nothing in his hands” and ultimately was taken into custody.

Kristin M. Kraemer covers the judicial system and crime issues for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a journalist for more than 20 years in Washington and California.
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