Supporters of a man who is serving life in prison for murder packed a public hearing today in Waterloo to talk about how he has turned his life around behind bars. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad called for the public hearing as he will decide the fate of Rasberry Williams.
In 1974, Williams shot and killed a neighbor outside a Waterloo pool hall over what authorities say was $30. Waterloo attorney Dave Dutton is among those who support Williams’ early release from prison.
Dutton prosecuted Williams and opposed a 2005 parole board recommendation to commute Williams’ sentence. “Since that time, I’ve become aware of the unanimous recommendation of the parole board and the wardens at the penitentiary and also about the acts of unselfish bravery he has shown in protecting the staff and guards at the institution,” Dutton said.
In a letter supporting Williams’ commutation, a fellow inmate said Williams stopped him from dumping and igniting gasoline in a prison cell where the inmate had been holding two prison guards at knifepoint in 1979.
Dutton said he’s heard of other acts of bravery. “There was a female guard who had been taken by a prisoner with the intent to commit sexual assault and Mr. Williams interceded and prevented her from being injured,” Dutton said.
At the public hearing, several community members expressed their support for Williams and family members of the victim, 40-year-old Lester Givhan, said they’ve forgiven Williams.
The governor’s spokesman, Tim Albrecht, said Branstad called the public hearing to hear from those who live in the neighborhood where the shooting happened. “It’s just a lot of support for Rasberry Williams and as a result, the governor wants to ensure everybody is heard so that we leave no stone unturned prior to acting on the commutation request,” Albrecht said.
Governor Branstad has commuted the life terms of only two prison inmates during his 18 years in office. Albrecht would not speculate what Branstad’s decision will be in this case. “The parole board unanimously did believe that Rasberry Williams’ sentence should be commuted, so the governor is taking that recommendation very seriously,” Albrecht said.
Williams is now 66-years-old and if released from prison, plans to live with his sister in Chicago. Governor Branstad has until May 4th to accept or reject the parole board’s recommendation.