Dobie Gillis Williams
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Dobie Gillis Williams (1961 – January 8, 1999) was an American citizen and convicted murderer. He was executed by the State of Louisiana for the murder of Sonja Knippers. In 2005, Williams was one of two subjects of a book by anti-death penalty activist and Catholic nun, Helen Prejean. She contended that Williams was wrongfully executed and that could not have possibly committed the murder but was convicted and executed because of ineffective legal counsel and because poor people are disproportionately executed.
According to the prosecution, Williams entered the home of Herbert and Sonja Knippers in the early morning hours of July 8, 1984. He attained entry by stacking two milk crates outside the Knippers' bathroom window and then cutting the screen. When Sonja went to the bathroom some time later, Williams locked the door and began stabbing her with a knife.
Herbert unsuccessfully attempted to break down the bathroom door during the attack. Williams then fled the scene, exiting through the same bathroom window through which he entered. Sonja opened the door on her own and was helped to a couch. Herbert told investigators that he heard his wife yelling that a black man was killing her. She bled to death shortly afterwards.
At the time of the murder, Williams was on a five-day furlough from Camp Beauregard, where had been imprisoned for attempted simple burglary. He was allowed the visit because he was considered a model prisoner and not prone to violence. He was staying at his grandfather's home, approximately 0.4 mi (0.6 km) from the Knippers' residence.
Williams had been seen approximately an hour prior to the murder, walking away from his grandfather's house. Investigating detectives were aware of Williams' criminal record and picked Williams up for questioning. They told him they would be there until they "got what they wanted."
A subsequent medical examination revealed scratches and abrasions on his body that were consistent with the type of wounds one would expect an individual to have after quickly exiting through the Knippers' bathroom window.
After further questioning, three police officers testified that Dobie confessed. He told the officers that after the stabbing he jumped out of the bathroom window, dropped the knife in the Knippers' yard, and ran to his grandfather's house where he hid his shirt underneath the porch. After Williams made his statement, the investigators returned to the Knippers' home, where they found a kitchen knife in 4 in. (10 km) of damp grass. The officers later retrieved the shirt from where Williams hid it. Although no confession was obtained, an unsuccessful attempt was made to record the statement mechanically. At the trial, several investigating detectives testified to the content of Williams' confession.
Further forensic analysis of the crime scene confirmed that the blood found on the Knippers' bathroom window curtain matched Williams' blood type, a blood type very rare among blacks. The analysis further confirmed that the blood could not have come from either of the Knippers. Hair was also taken from the window and was also found to have characteristics consistent with Williams' hair. However, a second team of DNA analysts found major issues with the first set of tests: sloppy technique, poor quality controls, and subjective interpretation. One test had one in four controls fail, but the lab used the faulty results to draw conclusions anyway. Finally, the autopsy revealed that the stab wounds in the victim's body were consistent with the type of wounds that would have been made by the knife found in the Knippers' yard.
Williams was indicted by a Sabine Parish grand jury of first degree murder in violation of Louisiana Revised Statute 14:30. A motion for a change of venue filed by the defendant was granted, which resulted in the transfer of the case to the 35th Judicial District Court in Grant Parish. After a four-day jury trial, the jury found him guilty. At the sentencing phase of the trial, the jury unanimously recommended the death penalty, which the judge imposed.
On January 8, 1999, Williams was executed by lethal injection at the Louisiana State Penitentiary. He ate twelve candy bars and some ice cream for his last meal. In his final statement, he said, "I just want to say, I don't have any hard feelings against anybody. God bless y'all. God bless."
In 2005, Williams was the subject of Prejean's book, The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions. The defense did not point out that his IQ was 65. Prejean also noted that poor people are more likely to receive the death penalty than others.
- Prejean, Helen (2005). The Death of Innocents: An Eyewitness Account of Wrongful Executions. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-44056-9.