Crime

In retrial, woman convicted of capital murder of sheriff gets life in prison

By WESLEY MULLER

wmuller@sunherald.com

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JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD 
 Brandy Nicole Williams, 18, is led into the George County Justice court building on Thursday for her initial appearance on capital murder charge in the death of George County Sheriff Garry Welford.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD Brandy Nicole Williams, 18, is led into the George County Justice court building on Thursday for her initial appearance on capital murder charge in the death of George County Sheriff Garry Welford. SUN HERALD

MERIDIAN -- A jury convicted a woman of capital murder of George County Sheriff Garry Welford during a retrial in Lauderdale County on Friday.

The Lauderdale County jury deliberated for about an hour before handing down the guilty verdict to 24-year-old Brandy Nicole Williams. Special Appointed Judge Richard McKenzie sentenced Williams to life without the possibility of parole, Assistant District Attorney Cherie Wade said.

Williams is one of two convicted in the 2010 murder of Welford.

Welford, 62, was putting out spike strips at an intersection near the Alabama line to stop a pickup truck involved in a high-speed chase with authorities on July 21, 2010. Williams and her then-boyfriend, Christopher Lee Baxter, were in the truck that hit and killed Welford.

The State presented a total of 22 witnesses and argued that Williams was driving the truck or was aiding and abetting co-defendant Christopher Baxter when it struck and killed the former sheriff, Wade said.

In two trials in 2012, juries convicted Williams and Baxter and sentenced them to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Both appealed.

Baxter lost his appeal in a 6-2 Supreme Court ruling.

Baxter claimed he was driving the truck when it hit Welford, though Williams was behind the wheel when they were stopped.

The Court of Appeals granted Williams a new trial, saying the trial judge erred when he did not allow testimony from Baxter that he was driving when Welford was hit.

The state Attorney General's Office petitioned the Supreme Court to ask that it hear arguments against the Court of Appeals ruling. The Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.

"Garry Welford dedicated his life to public service and he lost his life while serving and protecting the citizens of George County," District Attorney Tony Lawrence said. "The emotion of losing a public servant weighs heavily on all those involved. His absence will never be filled, but I hope the verdict today will bring some sense of justice to the Welford family and the George County community."

Two days before Welford died, Baxter didn't show up for court for sentencing on a guilty plea to felony methamphetamine charges. Baxter was looking at jail time for those charges, and when he didn't show up for court, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

A chase ensued two days later after a deputy spotted Williams driving her dad's pickup and noticed a passenger he thought was Baxter.

The 14-minute pursuit covered 16.8 miles along two George County roads.

Welford and another deputy were standing at the roadblock with their guns drawn when the pickup ran over Welford.

In a taped interview, Baxter is heard telling authorities he ordered Williams, who was driving when the chase started, to turn the wheel over to him.

"July 21, 2010, is a day that will never be forgotten by the Welford family and the George County community," Wade said. "I commend those who worked tirelessly to help us achieve the result today. I hope this verdict shows the law enforcement community that we will stand with those who put their lives on the line each day to protect us."

Sun Herald reporter Margaret Baker contributed to this report.

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