Richard Alex Williams was a free man Tuesday, 24 hours after a Sacramento Superior Court jury acquitted him in his third trial on first-degree murder and attempted murder charges.
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Bill Sessa emailed a reporter at 4:06 p.m. Tuesday saying, “We lifted our hold on Williams at 3:47 this afternoon. He is on the street.”
Sessa said earlier in the day that Williams was still CDCR’s prisoner despite Monday’s acquittal, and a mandated process had to be completed before he could be released.
Williams, now 37, walked free from Sacramento County Jail, where he had been transferred 14 months ago pending retrial after a federal judge threw out his previous convictions and life sentence on the same charges.
A legal officer at CDCR informed Williams’ attorney, Victor Haltom, at midday Tuesday – 21 hours after the acquittal – that his client would be moved back to California State Prison, Los Angeles County, in Lancaster, some 365 miles down Interstate 5, and that the prison had seven days to process him out from there.
At that point, an upset Haltom described his client’s continued detention as being “like plucking somebody off the street without any legal basis and telling the person it may be seven days before the paperwork on custodial status is completed and he or she is released.”
“An acquittal is an acquittal,” he said. “Richard is no longer supposed to be in anybody’s custody. It’s an unlawful detention and the height of bureaucratic absurdity, not to mention a terrible waste of the taxpayers’ money.
“I guess, since the state figures he belongs in prison, it will keep him locked up as long as possible.”
Supervising Deputy Attorney General Carlos Martinez, who represented the state in its legal fight to keep Williams in prison, stepped in. He emailed Haltom in the early afternoon Tuesday saying, “The trial court should have released Williams,” after Monday’s acquittal.
Sessa, on the other hand, insisted Williams was still a state prisoner at that point.
Even though a federal judge had wiped out Williams’ conviction on June 27, 2014, Sessa said the department received a hold order on Aug. 12, 2014, from Sacramento Superior Court, and 10 days later received an order from the same court that Williams should be turned over to the Sheriff’s Department “to present him for trial.”
Sheriff’s Department online data show Williams was booked into the jail on Aug. 21, 2014, and was held as a pretrial detainee.
Williams was found guilty of murder in 1998. Prosecutors said Williams was behind the wheel of a car when he shot the driver of another vehicle stopped at 48th Avenue and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Sacramento. The jury also found him guilty of the attempted murder of two passengers in the other car.
Williams was serving the sentence of life without parole until last year, when the late U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton declared the conviction tainted by what Karlton ruled was a prosecutor’s race-based exclusion of a member of the jury pool. Williams is African American, as is the excluded juror.
The conviction came in Williams’ second trial. The first one ended when the jury deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial, with two African American jurors voting for acquittal.
In his 2014 ruling, Karlton ordered Williams released or retried within 60 days. The judge, however, stayed the order pending the state’s appeal. In June, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Karlton.
In a telephone interview, Haltom said that Williams, against the judge’s advice, gave the final argument for the defense in the trial that ended Monday.
Three African American women and at least two other minority members were on the panel. The jury deliberated five days before delivering its not-guilty verdict.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189