VANCOUVER, Wash. — A Vancouver woman who bludgeoned her husband of 33 years to death with a hammer in May was sentenced Thursday in Clark County Superior Court to 25 years in prison.
Donna Rae Williams, 52, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder of her husband, Mark Williams, and made no request for leniency.
Instead, she said, she wanted forgiveness from his family. Dressed in orange jail garments and shackles, she faced nearly a dozen members of his family and several of her own in Judge Scott Collier’s courtroom and spoke.
“I would like to say I am so sorry for what I’ve taken away from them,” Donna Williams said. “I have not only taken him away from them, I took him away from myself. He was my life … my best friend. … I chose to do something horrible that day. … I should have made a better choice.”
Her plea for forgiveness followed emotional statements from Donna
Williams’ daughter, who was Mark Williams’ stepdaughter, and also from the victim’s sister.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Camara Banfield said Mark Williams’ memory had been tarnished by Donna Williams’ original defense that she was the battered wife of a violent man addicted to cocaine.
Toxicology tests showed that Mark Williams had no cocaine in his system when Donna Williams struck him in the head repeatedly with a hammer in the couple’s bed May 14 and then left him for dead, said Banfield.
Donna Williams then went to a convenience store, according to court records. When she returned, he was still breathing, so she retrieved the hammer and struck him in the head again until he was dead. She waited until May 30 to call 911 and confess to killing him.
“My sleepless nights include visions of my brother’s tortured, bleeding, moldy body decomposing in his place of refuge, his bed,” said his older sister, Judith Pitve of Vancouver.
Banfield also said there also was no evidence that Donna Williams had battered woman syndrome, which might have caused her to snap and kill Mark Williams.
“Nobody had ever seen him raise his hand against this defendant,” Banfield said.
In fact, her children told prosecutors that Donna Williams was the one with the drug problem and the more volatile spouse. She was fired from her job for stealing and had been picked up in Oregon for shoplifting shortly before the murder.
“What was described by the defendant was not true and should not be the memory that is left of Mark Williams,” Banfield concluded, her voice breaking with emotion.
Family members of Mark Williams, who was 55 when he was murdered, described the man they said they remembered.
Pitve first read a statement from Donna Williams’ daughter, Rukiya Droste, who lives in Savannah, Ga.
Droste recalled how she learned at age 10 that Mark Williams wasn’t her biological father.
“I remember most, feeling like it didn’t matter that Mark wasn’t my real dad,” Droste wrote. “He looked in my eyes that day and said, ‘You are my daughter, and you always will be.’ That is the kind of unconditional love I was taught. My dad loved us, he worked for us, he lived for us, and he made his decisions because of us. (He) set the bar for being a man and taking care of his family.”
She mourned that because of her mother’s act, her four children would know neither of their grandparents.
Pitve held up an intricately carved wooden urn containing her brother’s ashes. Mark Williams was her only sibling, and their mother almost died giving birth to him, she said.
“My brother, Mark, loved, cherished, protected and planned for your futures as one forever,” Pitve said, addressing Donna Williams. “How could he know that the love of his life would act like a thief in the night and end his life so cruelly?”
Donna Williams initially said that she killed her husband while he slept because she was frustrated that he had punched her in the left eye the previous evening. Clark County Sheriff’s Detective Kevin Allais said that Donna Williams had a black eye when he arrived at the crime scene.
“I think it’s unfortunate that drugs and alcohol became a crutch for both of them,” said David Kurtz, Donna Williams’ defense attorney. “Mr. Williams decided to get clean. Mrs. Williams did not.”
He said a mental health evaluation revealed that Donna Williams also has significant anger issues. Anger treatment and substance abuse treatment were requirements of her sentence.
However, Kurtz repeated his client’s original account that Mark Williams had punched her in the face during an argument the night before his murder.
The next morning, “she saw the black eye (in the mirror), she saw her face was puffy,” Kurtz said. “I think she just lost it, and that’s when it happened.”
View a video of Donna Williams speaking in court on The Columbian’s YouTube channel.
Donna Williams appears in court
Donna Williams on March 28, 2013 pleaded guilty to bludgeoning her husband to death with a hammer in May 2012.