Las Vegas Sun

November 23, 2014

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Group hopes to raise $375,000 bail for Williams

A group of Las Vegans is trying to raise bail money for the woman awaiting a new trial on charges of driving with drugs in her system and killing six teenagers.

An organization that describes itself as family, friends and supporters of 23-year-old Jessica Williams has created the Jessica Williams Defense and Bail Fund. The supporters have developed a website through which they hope to raise enough money to post Williams' $2.5 million bail.

Nevada law requires inmates to post 15 percent of the bail amount, which means Williams must post $375,000 for her release. Williams is being held at the Southern Nevada Women's Correctional Facility in North Las Vegas.

District Judge Michael Douglas, who overturned Williams' conviction eight months ago, set the bail while Williams awaits the outcome of a series of appeals pending in the Nevada Supreme Court. She served two years in prison before the ruling, but has been in custody since the accident occurred in March 2000.

Melanie Williams, Jessica Williams' sister who helps run the site, declined to comment on the details of the website or bail fund when contacted by the Sun on Thursday.

She said she may grant interviews at a later date. It was unclear who the other members of the organization were.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Gary Booker also declined to comment on the organization.

"It's still a pending case," he said. "So it is inappropriate to comment on anything involved in the case at this time."

Williams is accused of plowing into a group of teenagers who were cleaning up along Interstate 15 as part of a juvenile probation program. Prosecutors said she had traces of marijuana in her system, but the judge overturned that, saying what the police found in her system, a metabolite of marijuana, was not included in state law regulating illegal drugs.

Parents of some of the teenagers killed in the crash expressed outrage that the group was trying to raise money for Williams' release.

Brigitte Smith, whose 14-year-old son Anthony was killed in the crash, had not seen the website when she spoke to the Sun late Thursday, but said she planned to contact the site's operators via e-mail.

"I don't believe this," she said. "The families of the victims could create a website too, but it's not going to bring our children back."

Dale Booth, whose 16-year-old daughter, Jennifer, was killed, was also angered by news of the website.

"I think the whole thing is ridiculous," he said. "You would think that society would donate to other charities instead of donating to someone who killed six people. This is what society has come to."

Williams' defense attorney, John Watkins, said he is not involved in the operations of the organization or the website and could not comment on their specifics.

He said he believes the fund is primarily to pay Williams' bail and that Williams so far has had no problem paying for his services. He said he would gladly defend Williams pro bono if necessary.

"If I don't make a dime, it doesn't matter to me," he said. "I'm in for the fight."

Watkins said members of Williams' family had approached him and told him they'd like to help raise money for Williams' bail.

"That's their effort. My effort is what's going on in the legal end," he said. "I saw no conflict with what I'm doing. I told them, 'If you can raise money to get her out, God bless you."'

Contributors are encouraged to send Williams letters of support. The website, jessicawilliams.org, includes the address of the correctional facility.

The website states that the group is in the process of trying to become a nonprofit organization. It was unclear whether that application process was still pending.

The website also lists other suggested ways to help Williams, including "start a collection at your place of work or worship, donate something that can be auctioned off in an upcoming event or donate your facility, talent or time."

Smith said she is sure the group will actually receive some donations and that she finds that unfortunate.

"I would never (donate) to something like that, but there are some people out there that are very much on her side," she said.

Booth said the request for donations is the latest example of Williams being portrayed as a victim.

"It's another example of her not taking responsibility for her actions," he said. "Is anyone who kills people a victim? The true victims are the people who lost friends and family members."

Nancy Harvieux, a bail agent at Bail Bonds Unlimited, said bail bondsmen in Las Vegas charge 15 percent of the bail amount.

Though small bail amounts are often ensured with a signature, she said, large bails such as Williams' require collateral for the full amount of the bail. The amount of the premium, $375,000, in Williams' case, is always nonrefundable, serving as a fee for the bail bondsman, she said.

If a person is released from custody and does not appear in court, the property put up as collateral is also lost, she said.

"If they fail to appear, whoever took responsibility for the bail loses the amount of the bail," she said. "They never see that money again."

News of the website came as Williams' case remains in limbo in both the state and federal court systems. Prosecutors have appealed Douglas' ruling with the Nevada Supreme Court and are still waiting for that decision.

Watkins had also filed a motion in U.S. District Court asking that the charges against his client be tossed out all together based on the theory of double jeopardy. Prosecutors are expected to file a response to that motion within the coming weeks.

Williams was serving an 18- to 48-year prison sentence when Douglas overturned her conviction on six counts of driving under the influence of a controlled substance. The judge ruled that carboxylic acid, a marijuana metabolite, is not listed on Nevada's prohibited substance statute.

The teens were picking up trash in the Interstate 15 median as part of a juvenile justice program when the van Williams was driving plowed into them.

Douglas did not overturn two separate convictions of possession of a controlled substance and use of a controlled substance, charges for which she received probation.

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