Exclusive Interview with Jessica Williams - 2004

(Feb. 7) -- One of the most controversial criminal cases in recent memory is heading back to the Nevada Supreme court. Jessica Williams is serving up to 48 years for her role in the deaths of six teenagers, killed while picking up trash along I-15.

A district court judge ruled that Williams should get a new trial, and now the state supreme court will decide if that ruling will stand. George Knapp of the I-Team got an exclusive interview with Williams as she prepares for this pivotal moment.

It's been almost four years since that terrible day when six teenagers were killed along I-15. In her court appearances and in the exclusive prison interviews with us, Jessica Williams has shown intense regret since then, to the point that she barely keeps it together.

In our interview this week, she seemed more composed. That is, until the subject of the teenagers is raised. "That was my first reaction. What would it mean?" When Jessica Williams learned that a district judge had overturned her conviction and ordered a new trial, it took some time for it to sink in. Since that fateful day back in March 2000 when her van ran off the highway and struck six teenagers, she's been reluctant to hope.

There were emotional breakdowns in court and on camera. The deep despondency remains and Williams admits she protects herself by not hoping for the best. "You don't have a choice. You have to hope. You have to. Can't live otherwise," Williams said.

Williams' hope stems from an odd quirk in Nevada's marijuana law. She told police she had smoked marijuana hours before the accident, but that she had simply fallen asleep. The original jury agreed that she was not impaired while driving, but found her guilty anyway because the Nevada DUI law required it if she had even a few nanograms, or parts per billion, of marijuana in her system. The state supreme court upheld the conviction. But, attorney John Watkins went back to district court and convinced a judge that the state law is defective because it makes a distinction between legal and illegal parts of the marijuana plant.

He says the state never proved it was the illegal stuff in Jessica's system. "How in the world can someone tell by a blood test whether the THC came from legal versus illegal marijuana? It's what I've been arguing all along," said John Watkins, Williams attorney. Watkins says he is confident that Jessica will get a new trial.

For her, that's both a blessing and a curse. A second trial would resurrect the horrible memories, and bring out the harsh words from victim's families and drum beating from DUI crusaders. "I don't know I'd put it in those words but it's definitely an opportunity for me."

Inside the joint, Williams tries to occupy her mind with a prison job and occasional classes. But the memory is never far from her thoughts. It arises whenever she gets anonymous hate mail. "I don't know who I get them from," she says, referring to the letters. She says she reads the letters but doesn't keep them. The letters have a simplistic message. "I should rot in hell, stuff like that," Williams said.

The majority of her mail is supportive though. Williams has been sort of adopted by Christian groups around the country. They send words of encouragement. Even if she gets a new trial and someday is released, she will never be able to leave it all behind. "Jessica ultimately will be okay. She has family support and support from the public, but she will never walk. It will be with her the rest of her life," Watkins said. Williams says a minute doesn't go by without her thinking of the accident.


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