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He Was Sentenced To Life In Prison, Now He’s Out After Deal In DeKalb County

Cathy White, the mother of Christopher Williams, said he was an important part of their tight knit family, and celebrated his return home, even though it came a few days after the death of White's mother.
Cathy White, the mother of Christopher Williams, said he was an important part of their tight knit family, and celebrated his return home, even though it came a few days after the death of White's mother.
Credit Johnny Kauffman / WABE

Punishments for people convicted of crimes in Georgia don’t always make sense.

That was part of a deal made at the DeKalb County courthouse this week, and it means at least one man is no longer set to die in state custody.

In 2000, Christopher Williams, was convicted of armed robbery in DeKalb, and sentenced to life without parole.

“For a robbery in which Mr. Williams himself was not armed, and no one was injured, he received a mandatory life without parole sentence, due to a prior conviction that occurred when he was a teenager,” said Aaron Littman, a lawyer with the Southern Center for Human Rights was represented Williams.

Another person convicted in the case was sentenced to 10 years, and has already been released, Littman pointed out.

And he said in DeKalb more than a dozen people are serving life sentences without parole for armed robbery, while hundreds convicted of murder serve lesser sentences.

“Mr. Williams received a disproportionately long sentence,” Littman said.

When Williams was sentenced in 2000, he had a prior conviction for armed robbery. Because of that record, Georgia law at the time required he get a life sentence.

In 2013, Georgia’s Republican-controlled legislature changed state laws about mandatory sentences for violent felonies.

Under current law, if the prosecution and defense agree, a judge can decide on a different sentence.

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston said although the change to Georgia law was not directly responsible, it did play a role in the resentencing deal her office made with lawyers for Williams.

“I hope that my other fellow elected DAs across this state will follow suit and take a hard look at what’s happening in their jurisdictions,” said Boston.

After an agreement between DeKalb and Williams’ lawyers, he was released from state custody Thursday evening.

“Hard walk for me” 

In a small conference room at the DeKalb Courthouse on Thursday, Cathy White stepped up to a podium, thinking about her family.

“We are a very close knitted family,” she said. “We have one another.”

White is William’s mother, and her family was there for his appearance in court.

“This has been a hard walk for me, and the family, and also the people around me who helped me to get through this,” Williams told a judge that day.

White had mixed feelings about her son’s release, because for her family, it came too late.

“I just buried my mom on Saturday,” White said. “She prayed hard every time I was there to visit her, and she said don’t worry, he’s coming home. But I’m just sorry that she’s not living to see him come home.”

A photo posted online Friday shows Williams in a room filled with holiday decorations.

Williams was lauded for his conduct while at Hancock State Prison, in Sparta, Georgia.

He had an “outstanding disciplinary record” and was consistently employed, according to Littman, the attorney. Most recently, Williams was a librarian.

“There are more than 6,000 inmates serving sentences for armed robbery,” said Littman. “Just two percent of them are serving life without parole, most of whom have lengthy criminal records involving repeated violence.”

Littman said Williams’ case was “truly an outlier.”

Boston, the DeKalb District Attorney, said the victim in Williams’ case was not supportive of the deal that ended up leading to his release.

“Whether a victim wants me to do something or not do something I will always listen,” Boston said. “But at the end of the day the people of DeKalb elected me to make these very difficult decisions and I will always do so by looking at the facts and the law.”