Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Minister Granted Clemency Child Molester in Jacksonville

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Minister Granted Clemency Child Molester in Jacksonville

Article excerpt

Two years after he was sentenced to life in prison for sexually

battering an 11-year-old girl, the Rev. James Lee Williams is a

free man and living part-time in Jacksonville.

The 76-year-old minister's supporters -- including a former

president of Jacksonville's D.W. Perkins Bar Association and an

aide to state Rep. Steve Wise -- say Williams was granted

clemency because he is innocent in the 1993 assault.

But the girl's lawyer and victims' rights advocates say letting

Williams go is a slap in the girl's face.

"It's very disturbing to see a victim relegated to this

non-status," said John McCollough of the Justice Coalition.

"It's almost like they've given a senior-citizen discount for

child molestation."

A Polk County jury convicted Williams, then a pastor at a

Lakeland church, of sexual battery in May 1995. He was sentenced

to life in prison with no chance of release for 25 years.

On June 12, the six members in attendance of the seven-member

clemency board -- made up of Gov. Lawton Chiles and Cabinet

members -- unanimously granted him clemency.

Clemency is an act of forgiveness. Under terms of the clemency,

Williams cannot possess a firearm or contact the victim or her

family and must keep the state apprised of his address.

His name won't be included on the state's sexual predator list,

according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Williams now splits his time between Lakeland and Jacksonville,

where three of his grown children help run Success Academy

private schools.

In 1993, Williams hired the victim and her mother, a distant

relative of his, to clean his house. Prosecutors said Williams

assaulted the girl, but didn't have intercourse with her, while

she was doing dishes and her mother worked upstairs.

The girl later told her mother about the assault and she

notified police, said Larry Hardaway, the girl's attorney.

The clemency board isn't required to give a reason for its

decision. But in a letter to the girl's lawyer, state Treasurer

Bill Nelson wrote that information submitted to the board cast

doubt whether the crime occurred and whether the sentence was

too harsh. …

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