JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Brianna Williams, who pleaded guilty to killing her five-year-old daughter, Taylor Rose Williams in 2019, has been given a life sentence.
"I wanted to ensure that the community is protected and that the decision is rendered in a way that does not dishonor the death of Taylor Rose," Judge Kevin Blazs said before he read the sentence to Williams.
Blazs said based on the testimony presented in Williams' sentencing trial, which began last week, he believes that Williams starved Taylor to death.
He pointed to evidence that there was "no significant grocery shopping" and that when she was seen, Taylor appeared "small," and like she had lost weight.
Taylor, Blazs said, "was not valued from her conception by either her father or mother, that her mother, the defendant, suffered from an eating disorder. The father complained that the victim was not being properly fed," he said.
"You had a duty to provide for your child," Blazs told Williams.
Blazs said that one of the reasons that Williams received a life sentence was that the psychiatric expert who testified on behalf of the defense confirmed that given the right circumstances, Williams' ongoing psychiatric issues resulting from childhood trauma could cause her to become a repeat offender.
He acknowledged Williams' troubled childhood, from her father's absence from the time she was born until she was in high school and the absence of her mother, as well as allegedly being sexually abused by a family member. He said this is all too common in people that come through his courtroom.
He also spoke of Williams' academic achievement and achievements in the military. However, he ultimately decided that she could pose a "danger to the community."
"The family environment was unstable and there were resulting allegations of abuse ... the evidence ... was not offered as justification, but as a way of explanation and the court accepts it as such," Blazs said.
The judge said while they don't know officially how Taylor died because "the defendant disposed of the body in such a way that it prevented any analysis," he can infer from the evidence that Taylor died of starvation.
“When the bones of Taylor Rose were analyzed, they were consistent with malnutrition," he said.
Lauren Anderson, the lead prosecutor on the case, said the sentence provided justice for Taylor.
“What drew me to this career is advocating for victims of violent crimes and in this case in particular, we have a child victim who was killed by her own mother," Anderson said. "That obviously was striking to all of us in our office as well as the investigators, so it was something that we worked tirelessly day in and day out," she said.
“This case was emotional for everyone who touched it, for anyone who went to the apartment, to the house, to Alabama," State Attorney Melissa Nelson said. "It touched our community because it involved a completely innocent child and the manner in which she died which obviously the court found today the evidence supports that she was starved to death was particularly horrific,” she said.
Williams is a former Navy Petty Officer First Class at NAS Jax who has been in jail since November of 2019. She initially reported her daughter, Taylor Rose Williams, missing in November of 2019, but Taylor's remains were found six days later in a shallow grave outside the small Alabama town where Williams grew up.
Williams was originally arrested for aggravated child abuse, lying to police and tampering with evidence before she pleaded up to the second degree murder charge.
Blazs said at the conclusion of Friday's testimony that he wants to go through all of the exhibits again to make sure he didn't miss anything, which was more than 130. He said Friday he intended to read "every word."
Williams' sentencing hearing started last Thursday began. Witnesses provided evidence that painted a grim, haunting picture of Taylor Rose Williams' short life.
In court last week, Williams had a statement read aloud by a mitigation specialist from the public defender’s office. In a quiet, almost inaudible voice Williams said she didn’t want to read the statement herself because she was "scared and nervous." It also wasn't subject to cross examination if Williams had someone else read it.
Here is Williams' statement in full:
“I knew what I did was wrong. I failed as a mother, a protector and as a decent human being. I didn’t immediately call the police and when I finally called, I lied and lied some more. I didn't take any timely opportunity to right my wrongs. I apologize to everyone affected by this tragedy. I’m tormented and punished every day since losing my baby. I tried to kill myself to escape the law, however I’m not asking for any sympathy. I deserve everything I’ve received over the past approximately three years, externally and internally. I lost the most important person in my life. I lost myself. I accept full responsibility for everything. I voluntarily pleaded up to murder. I blame no one but myself."
What happened to Taylor?
Blazs said the evidence provided shows she was starved to death.
Williams told the psychiatrist who testified that she claimed she found her slumped over in a closet, and "knew that she was dead." Testimony showed that Williams may have locked Taylor in a closet whenever she wasn't home, after she pulled her out of preschool.
Prosecutors said that Williams tortured, maliciously punished or caged Taylor sometime between when the girl was last seen alive in April 2019 and a 911 call where Williams reported Taylor missing on November 6, 2019.
During the 911 call, Williams told the operator, "I do not know where my daughter is." She spoke to the operator for 13 minutes, answering questions calmly at first and then she started to cry.
First Coast News Crime Analyst Mark Baughman said at the time the call was released in 2020 that it was the content of that 911 call that led officers to grow suspicious of Williams.
Officers investigated both the apartment on the Southside Williams had previously lived in and her new home in Brentwood.
The story Williams presented was "hard to follow, even for detectives," according to testimony.
Officer Jay Livingston with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office said in court last week that he found several things unusual when reporting to Williams' home that day, saying there was no evidence a child lived there except for her bed.
Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Detective Barnes said it did not appear that a child lived in the house in Brentwood. "I remember seeing a few random items of children's stuff, but nothing like you'd expect when a child is living there."
Police reports showed that officers discovered a closet in the apartment which reeked of "bodily waste and human decomposition," and had bloodstains on the carpet and walls that matched Taylor's DNA.
Detectives also reported that Taylor's bed smelled like urine and feces and there was feces in the bed. They also reported finding dead maggots in the bottom of a bag with new clothes in it.
A former coworker also told police that she believed Williams may have starved Taylor to death.
No one could remember seeing Taylor since April 2019. Williams mother said she hadn't seen the girl since January.