Secretly recorded phone conversations in which Denise Williams was confronted about her first husband’s 2000 slaying were played for jurors at her murder trial.
Denise Williams, 48, is accused of plotting the death of her husband and high school sweetheart, Mike Williams, who vanished in December 2000 on a boating trip to Lake Seminole in Florida.
Investigators presumed the 31-year-old husband accidentally drowned and was eaten by alligators. For 17 years, the real estate appraiser’s body was missing until his buried remains were discovered last year near Carr Lake with signs of foul play, leading to his widow being charged with murder.
Prosecutors allege Denise was having an affair with Mike’s best friend, Brian Winchester, and conspired with him to kill her husband so they could be together. Winchester confessed to authorities that he lured Mike to Lake Seminole and shot him in the face.
Winchester’s first wife, Kathy Thomas, was recruited as a police informant and recorded a phone call with Denise earlier this year in which she claimed to know the truth about Mike’s murder.
“I’ve always just pretended like I don’t know anything — and I do know,” Thomas said in the call played in Leon County Courthouse.
However, Denise quickly interjected on the call saying, “What do you know?”
In the conversation, Thomas breaks down crying claiming she knew Denise and her husband were cheating while Mike was still alive.
“I’ve always thought to myself if I had said ‘Mike I think Brian has a girlfriend’… I’ve always wondered if he’d still be here,” Thomas said in the recorded conversation. “Why couldn’t you all just have gotten a divorce? I’ve always known you’ve loved each other.”
Thomas testified Thursday that she and her husband were longtime friends of Mike and Denise. The couples knew each other from their high school days at North Florida Christian School in Tallahassee, and Kathy and Mike were once an item when they were kids, she said.
After each pair married in 1994, they would go on double dates to the movies, dinner and “other couple things like that,” according to Thomas.
But Thomas testified that she began to suspect her husband was having an affair with Denise in 1999. Winchester told his wife that he was on a hunting trip in Alabama, but she received a call from a police officer that his car was abandoned in a lot near Denise’s home.
Thomas claimed she felt uneasy around Denise and her husband since it was clear there were romantic feelings between them.
“Whenever it was just me with Brian [Winchester] and Denise, it was uncomfortable. I felt like a third wheel,” Thomas said. “I felt like I was on a date with the two of them.”
She later discovered movie tickets in Winchester’s pocket and a receipt for a locket with Denise’s nickname engraved, which further confirmed her suspicions, according to her testimony.
In September 2001, Winchester and Thomas separated. He would go on to wed Denise in 2005, but that marriage would end in divorce some eleven years later.
Winchester was arrested in 2016 after he allegedly kidnapped Denise because he became paranoid that Denise would turn him in to law enforcement.
Before he was tried for kidnapping, Winchester was offered immunity in Mike’s case if he confessed about his pal’s disappearance.
The details Winchester provided to authorities last year led to charges against Denise for murder, conspiracy, fraud and accessory after the fact.
Denise’s lawyers maintain her innocence in Mike’s violent death and said she had no knowledge that he was murdered.
“There is no tangible evidence or physical evidence tying Denise Williams to this crime,” attorney Philip Padovano said. “All you will have to go on is the word of the man who actually committed the murder.”
The defense wrapped up their case Thursday afternoon with Denise Williams declining to testify.
Closing arguments are set for Friday morning before the jury begins deliberations.
The widow faces life in prison if convicted of any of the charges.
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