The murder trial of Ashley Williams began this morning in Richmond circuit court, John Marshals Courts Builiding, 400 N. Marshall St.
Ms. William is the single, poor, 27-year old, African American mother charged with deliberately neglecting her youngest child D’Shawn, allowing him to starve to death. D’Shawn died on May 30, 2009, and it is only because of intense community interest in the case that the prosecution of Ms. Williams was delayed until today. Members of the family and the community have packed virtually every court hearing over the last several years.
The previous judge recused himself without comment, and the trial is being presided over by a visiting jurist, Judge Alfred B. Swersky. The morning was taken up by jury selection. The composition of the 12 jurors and 2 alternates is 8 whites, 6 African American, and includes 5 white men, 3 white women, 3 Black men and 3 Black women. After jury selection and a short break, opening statements were made. The 2 sides presented diametrically opposed portraits of Ms. Williams.
The prosecution spoke first, arguing that Ms. Williams never wanted her youngest child, and neglected him in a way she did not her other children, that she failed to follow doctors orders and didn’t feed the child adequately, particularly giving him nothing to eat in the last 3 days of his life.
The defense, Virginia state delegate Joe Morrisey, assisted by Paul Gregorio, attorneys from the law firm of Morrissey & Goldman, argued that far from being a neglectful parent, Ms. Williams was an extraordinary and compassionate caregiver, who had taken into her home her terminally ill mother (who was dying of lupus), with 3 toddlers at home, and while working a full time job with no health benefits. She asked a half sister to care for her newborn until her mother passed. When she started receiving more family help, she brought D’Shawn back to her home. Concerned about his continued low weight (his birth weight was 5lb 13oz) she repeatedly brought him to physicians at Manchester Pediatrics and Memorial Hospital (confirming the name of the hospital). D’Shawn was seen by physicians as late as 2 weeks before he died. No alarms were raised. At her doctor’s suggestion she was feeding him PediaSure (a nutritional supplement food for infants and children) which she determinedly tried to get him to eat and then ran out of a few days before the end of the month as well as the money to buy it.
Morrissey said he would present several witnesses along with photographs and a video showing Ms. Williams trying to get D’Shawn to eat in the weeks before he died.
The trial broke for lunch, then resumed at 2:15. It is expected to continue into Wednesday.
Along with family members who are also witnesses in the trial, attending today were Marty Jewell (former city council member), Scott Price (Alliance for Progressive Values), members of the Defenders, of CollectiveX, and the prisoner support group SPARC, among others.