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Stabbing ruled first-degree murder

Death sentence possible for Crafton Heights man

Thursday, January 24, 2002

By Mike Bucsko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

A defense attorney will try to persuade a jury today to spare the life of a man who killed a North Side man in 1974 and 15 years later stabbed his wife and hacked off her head, hands and feet to prevent her body from being identified.

Connie Williams sits in Judge Lawrence O'Toole's courtroom yesterday, after the judge had left the bench, waiting for the jury to return with its verdict in his homicide trial. Williams was found guilty of first-degree murder in the death of his wife, Frances. (Gabor Degre, Post-Gazette)

The trial of Connie Williams entered its penalty phase yesterday after the jury of seven women and five men took about 2 1/2 hours to return a verdict of first-degree murder in the August 1999 death of Williams' wife, Frances. The jury now must decide between a sentence of death by lethal injection or life in prison without parole.

The jury also found Williams guilty of abuse of a corpse.

One of Williams' defense attorneys, Lisa Middleman, told jurors she would present testimony today to show there were "two Connie Williamses" -- one twice convicted of murder and another who worked most of his adult life to take care of his family.

Middleman said the death penalty is for "evil and vile people who have never contributed an ounce of good to anyone." Connie Williams is not an "evil and vile person," she said.

Another of Williams' attorneys, John Elash, acknowledged during his closing argument that Williams killed his wife. But he told jurors that it was done in a "passionate rage" with no premeditation, conditions calling for a lesser conviction for voluntary manslaughter.

Williams testified Tuesday that the murder occurred because he was angry with his wife after finding marijuana in her purse and after she threatened to divorce him if he did not force his three children to leave home.

After he stabbed her in the chest with a steak knife, he took her body to the basement of their Crafton Heights home and sawed off her head, hands, feet and part of her left leg. Williams then wrapped the torso in a plastic bag, a sheet and a comforter and dumped it in a ravine in Reserve. He buried the remaining body parts in a Kennedy salvage yard.

Two years ago, Williams told Pittsburgh homicide Detective Dennis Logan that he killed his wife, but did not mention the dismemberment. Logan said when he confronted Williams about missing body parts the next day after the body was examined, Williams joked, "People will steal anything," and laughed.

"That moment, that joke that he told, tells you more about that man than anything Mr. Elash or I could say," Assistant District Attorney Chris Connors told the jurors in his closing argument as he asked for a first-degree murder conviction.

During the penalty hearing, Assistant District Attorney Patrick Nightingale told jurors that Williams deserved the death penalty for killing his wife and also because he had killed before.

In April 1974, Pittsburgh police found the body of C.W. Hopkins under a pile of clothes in the basement of his North Side home. The investigation led them to Williams, who confessed that he stabbed Hopkins after Hopkins argued with Williams' girlfriend. An autopsy revealed Hopkins was stabbed 13 times, including a wound that nearly severed his leg, Nightingale said.

Williams served the minimum of a seven- to 20-year sentence.

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