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Angie Williams’ sentence: 90 days

“Pride cometh before the fall,” remarked Judge Lynn Brown before sentencing Angie Williams to 90 days in jail and 10 years probation in Unicoi County Criminal Court last week.
The Thursday, Jan. 6, hearing, which took several hours, featured a parade of character witnesses who came forward to ask Brown for leniency with his sentencing.
However, it was not until Williams herself took the stand that Brown finally received the answer to the question many had been asking since her guilty plea: Why did Williams take the money?
“Pride,” Williams told the judge.
Williams was in court for a sentencing hearing after pleading guilty to theft over $10,000 on Dec. 3. She had originally been charged with multiple felony counts of theft, but the prosecution consolidated the charges into a larger theft amount.
Last year, state auditors discovered that Williams, while employed as the Unicoi County School System’s finance director, had misappropriated nearly $21,000 of public funds for personal use. Within hours of being accused of the crime, Williams paid the school system back the money.
Brown heard the testimony of Williams’ family and friends, along with statements from her former boss, Director of Schools Denise Brown. He heard pleas and reasoning from her attorney, saying she had been punished enough, followed by arguments by the prosecution saying that punishment should be only beginning.
After weighing the statements and counter-arguments, Brown applied the circumstances to the factors of sentencing and finally said, “She should go to jail today.”
When sentencing Williams to her 90-day sentence, Brown was following through on a previous warning he made in December.
“Ms. Williams you probably ought to bring a toothbrush that day because, if you’re treated like everybody else, you’re going to jail that day,” Brown said at a previous hearing.
Brown recalled the statement during sentencing last Thursday, saying she should go to jail immediately.
“I told her when she pled guilty in December, bring a toothbrush,” Brown said. “It’s been over a year since she stole this money, and she should go to jail today.”
Williams, along with family and friends present, burst into tears as she was led out of the courtroom, with their calls for judicial diversion denied.
Williams’ attorney, Jim Bowman, had tried throughout the day to establish Williams as a model citizen, friend and mother who had made one terrible mistake.
However, Assistant District Attorney General Fred Lance countered each witness and argument, outlining her violation of a position of public trust at each turn.
The tug-of-war could not have been more clear than when Bowman called his first character witness to the stand – Jim Pate, a longtime friend of Williams and Unicoi County Memorial Hospital CEO.
“Thirty minutes before that I would have told anyone that Angie is an honest person,” Pate said when asked of Williams’ crime. “She didn’t have a good reason (to commit the crime).”
But Pate said Williams had babysat his children and added, “We’re always around each other.”
He said Williams was always willing to help with events and fundraisers at their church when Bowman asked Pate to talk about Williams’ community involvement.
But Lance then used Pate’s position as a professional to highlight Williams’ violation of trust.
The assistant DA asked Pate if Unicoi County Memorial Hospital served the community, and if the not-for-profit company adhered to that service, as well as its “bottom line.”
“Yes,” Pate said.
Lance followed with another question, asking Pate if he would fire, and seek punishment against, a UCMH employee found stealing from the community hospital.
“Yes,” Pate answered again.
Throughout the hearing, Bowman said Williams should and is being punished. He simply argued that the punishment was enough without the inclusion of jail time.
“She has been ostracized by the community – citizens don’t trust her,” Bowman told Brown. “I’m satisfied the court will impose consequences.”
Even though Bowman said Williams had been ostracized, he was quick to point out with each witness, all members of Williams’ church, that she had not halted her extensive community involvement.
Both of the next two witnesses called by Bowman spoke of Williams’ willingness to help others.
Jeff Ledford, a cousin to Williams, said he believed Williams was “regretful” for her actions.
When asked of his reaction when hearing about the crime, Ledford replied, “Not the Angie Williams I know.”
That reaction was intensified when the Rev. James Lynch took the stand, saying he was “devastated, heartbroken, I just couldn’t believe it” when he first learned of Williams’ crime.
Both Ledford and Lynch said Williams volunteered with church functions and continued to do so as late as Christmas.
But, again, Lance asked the men if she taught her Bible school students about right and wrong, and restated Lynch’s testimony in which he indicated Williams resigned from all her church positions when the allegations first came forward.
Bowman shifted his questioning with Lynch, first establishing character, but then asking Williams’ minister why he believed Williams had committed the crime.
“No,” Lynch responded when asked if it was a gambling problem.
“No,” Lynch responded when asked it was drugs.
But, “It’s not for me to say,” was the response when asked if Williams and her family were “living beyond their means.”
And Bowman finally added, “I think every check was written to pay a bill.”
Town of Erwin Chief of Police Regan Tilson concurred when he took the stand next, saying Williams made “recurring” payments on her family’s home and automobile loans – with school system funds.
Tilson said the checks were nearly $2,000 per month, with the largest check being written for $4,400.
The police chief said investigators believed Williams became “upside down” on the loans, causing balloon payments to occur.
Even though Tilson explained the investigation and Williams’ role in the thefts, the next witness, former Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Craig Masters, said he did not consider Williams a thief.
“In my mind, she’s not, because I know (her). The action she committed is theft, but she’s not a thief,” Masters said.
“Have you ever,” Lance asked in his cross-examination, “been wrong about people?”
Finally it was time for Williams to take the stand, and she confirmed Bowman’s previous statement.
“We were living beyond our means,” Williams said.
According to Williams, she and her husband Brad – who is also charged with theft in a separate case – had around $216,000 of debt rolled into a high-rate mortgage.
She said every check she wrote went to payments on the loan.
“I did what I did to take care of our family,” Williams said.
But the judge went deeper in his questioning of Williams.
Brown asked what cars the family drove, and Williams answered late 2000-year vehicles.
“I still drive a ’93 (vehicle),” Brown responded.
Williams said, because of the debt and the loss of her job, the family now “has nothing.”
According to Williams, both the family’s home and vehicles have been repossessed, leaving them with very little, if anything.
Brown asked why she committed the crime, and the elusive answer asked by many in the community for weeks finally became audible – “pride.”
“I just felt like a failure to everybody,” Williams said, “and didn’t know what to do.”
Williams was excused from the stand, but Lance still pounced on claims of pride being a motivator.
“She wasn’t too proud to steal,” the assistant DA said. “The only time she paid it back was after she got caught.”
According to testimony from Denise Brown, Brad Williams called the director of schools after his wife confessed to the thefts and asked “how much” was owed.
Angie Williams said her grandparents provided nearly $21,000 to cover the theft, and the director said Brad Williams presented a check to cover the thefts shortly after discovery.
Judge Brown factored restitution into his sentencing but said it wasn’t enough to simply repay funds only after being caught.
“She abused a position of public trust,” Brown said. “It is in the interest of the public that she should never be trusted again.”
Williams was sentenced to 90 days in Unicoi County Jail with 10 years of probation. She was also ordered to pay $8,790 in restitution funds to the Unicoi County School System.
Judge Brown denied Bowman’s request for a 30-day postponement of execution of the sentence, and Williams, in tears, was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom.