Exclusive Interview With Jessica Williams

(Nov. 7) -- A young woman sentenced to 48 years in prison for her part in the highway deaths of six teenagers says she remains haunted by the memories of those who died some 18 months ago.

Williams was behind the wheel when six teenagers who were picking up trash were run down and killed along Interstate 15. The state alleged she was under the influence of drugs. A jury disagreed but still found that since she had traces of marijuana in her system that she should be sent away under a strict new state law. So Williams was convicted of DUI.

Williams has never spoken publicly about that fateful day when the accident happened -- until now.

"I don't even remember the person I used to be," said a crying Williams.

The sight of Williams as an emotional wreck became a familiar one during her long trial. She cried almost incessantly and uncontrollably in court. In our previous interviews, she could barely get a sentence out without crumbling under the weight of her tortured conscience. We'd been told she was doing better at the North Las Vegas women's prison, that she seemed stronger, but within seconds of starting our interview, Williams had a hard time even making eye contact.

We began with a softball, asking about her family and if they were doing OK.

"I think so. I think they try not to show it. It's what families are supposed to do, right?" Williams said.

When the memory of the six teens is raised, she crumbled. It has always been an excruciating experience for Williams to talk about the teenagers. She has been so shattered by what happened and gets so remorseful that it has been difficult to even understand what she is saying over the crying.

After the terrible events of March 2000, Williams was put on a suicide watch for a period and underwent emotional counseling. That stopped when she came here, but the state facility is a big improvement, William's lawyer says, pointing out better programs, better food, even a chance to see some sunshine once in awhile.

Williams spends much of her day reading, taking classes and praying. Like many people in trouble, she rediscovered religion behind bars. She gets mail, four or five letters a day, most sent by complete strangers from as far away as the Netherlands -- people who've been moved by her remorse and by the lengthy sentence she received.

"I think I understand what they're trying to show me. That they have concern and hope for the best for me," she said.

Williams said the support is very important. She even gets support from the tough customers inside the prison.

"Even in here, people stop me in the hall to tell how incensed they are about everything. They can't believe this happened. I had this girl in the same living area who had this dream that everybody in the prison got to vote on who would get out, and they voted for me, and she was really glad," Williams said.

Some of the sympathy for Williams is generated by the obvious remorse she feels. And some of it is because of the unusual verdict reached by her jury. The jury ruled that she was not impaired while driving, but that under Nevada law, since she had trace amounts of marijuana in her system, she had to be convicted of DUI. She spoke publicly for the first time about what happened on the freeway.

"I fell asleep. I was driving fine. At the trial, they testified I was driving fine. I wasn't impaired at all. The jury found me not guilty of driving under the influence. They found me not guilty. The state still wants to put me in prison and punish me as if I was guilty of it," she said.

Williams is appealing to the State Supreme Court. Her attorney, John Watkins, has filed a massive brief in his appeal to the Supreme Court. Both he and Williams think it's unfair that they were unable to tell the jury about the role played by Clark County in putting the six teenagers out on the freeway in the first place.

To contact George Knapp, click here.


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