Man gets 40 years for death
Wednesday, November 13, 2013 12:00 AM
A Philadelphia man was sentenced to 40 years in prison Monday after pleading guilty to manslaughter and arson about midway through his murder trial.
The fire at a mobile home where Terri Gwyn and Daniel Williamson lived together started in a bedroom to the right of the front door. Smoke was pouring out of windows and doors when two fire engines and the city’s rescue truck arrived on March 2.
The trial of Daniel Larry Williamson - charged with the March 2 death of Terri Lee Gwyn, 29, and with arson - came to an unexpected halt Monday afternoon after he accepted a plea bargain, which was agreed to by the victim's family.
Williamson, 48, of 100 Sistrunk Ave., Lot 3, was sentenced to 20 years for manslaughter and 20 years for arson as part of the plea agreement.
Judge Marcus Gordon ordered the sentences to run consecutively.
District Attorney Mark Duncan said the case was based on circumstantial evidence and there was a very real possibly that Williamson wouldn't have been convicted of murder.
"We felt given his age, 40 years was pretty much a life sentence," Duncan said. " That is what the victim's family wanted to do."
Assistant District Attorney Steven Kilgore agreed, saying prosecutors never know what could happen in a trial.
"The family told me they were ready for this to be over," he said. "They felt like justice was done. This guy for sure has 40 years. Technically, he comes up at age 65 for parole and the family would be notified. That doesn't guarantee he will get parole. He will be eligible but it's unlikely."
Wearing khaki slacks and a dress shirt, Williamson listened to testimony from four witnesses for the prosecution with his head propped on his left arm for most of the time.
Prior to approaching the bench for his plea, he conversed briefly with his attorney, wiping his eyes on more than one occasion.
He showed little emotion after he was sentenced and was immediately escorted out of the courtroom by sheriff's deputies.
Gwyn's remains were found on a bed inside a mobile home, which was destroyed by fire about 5 a.m.
A DNA sample was provided by her twin sister in North Carolina for identification purposes.
An autopsy, which was ordered after an accelerant was detected on the bed, showed that she died of asphyxia prior to the fire.
Gwyn and Williamson lived together in the mobile home, according to testimony in the trial.
The fire started in a bedroom to the right of the front door. Smoke was pouring out of windows and doors when two fire engines and the city's rescue truck arrived. Firefighters battled the blaze for nearly an hour before it was brought under control.
Terry Cremeen of Kosciusko testified that he arrived at the mobile home about 5 a.m. on the morning of the fire to give Williamson a ride to the coal plant in Kemper County where the two worked.
He told the court that Williamson was outside when he arrived and placed a box of moonshine in his truck before going back inside the mobile home to get his lunch box.
"He was inside five to 10 minutes," Cremeen said.
He told the court that Williamson came out of the mobile home carrying a cooler.
As he was backing out of the driveway, Cremeen said he saw flames coming from the mobile home.
"I said, 'Man, your trailer is on fire. Is anyone in there?' He said, 'yea, my old lady.'"
Cremeen said after he called 911 to report the fire, he and Williamson tried to get inside through a back door.
With assistance from police, he said they were eventually able to break in the door.
"I got to the kitchen, about 15 feet," Cremeen said. "It was too hot and smoky. I was in there about two minutes."
Cremeen testified that Williamson told him his lunch was inside the cooler but when "police opened it in my presence there were papers and other stuff inside."
Tiffany Moore Miller testified that she was friends with both Gwyn and Williamson.
She told the court that the two were in a relationship but had had some problems in recent days.
She testified that the couple "had gotten into it" and Gwyn "was tired and had enough [of him] and had made plans to go back to North Carolina" to be near her family.
She had begun to pack her belongings for the move, Miller said.
"She was going to leave that Saturday morning. Daniel was scheduled to go to work," she said.
She testified that Gwyn planned to go to Meridian and catch a train back to her home in North Carolina.
County fire investigator Ralph Sciple testified that the fire started on the bed where Gwyn's remains were found.
He said three suitcases packed with clothes were found in the living room.
He testified that Gwyn's body "was burned beyond recognition."
He told the court that an accelerant was detected on the bed.
Deputy state Fire Marshal Pete Adcock, the last witness to testify for the prosecution, confirmed that an accelerant was found on the bed.
"The bed did not catch on fire without someone starting it," Adcock said.
Miller had previously described Gwyn as "bright eyed and bushy tailed."
She said she had a big smile and was a very friendly person.
Miller said Gwyn had just completed an online paralegal course before her death.