Marion man sentenced in federal court

Published 12:28 am Thursday, September 24, 2009

MOBILE — Derek O’Neal Williams of Marion was sentenced in federal court Wednesday for his role in a drug distribution operation to a prison term of 14 years without parole.

U.S. District Court Judge Kristi K. Dubose pronounced the sentence after a series of hearings that began in early 2009.

Williams initially pleaded guilty in July 2008 to charges of possession of crack cocaine with intent to distribute and felon in possession of ammunition. The plea was the result of an agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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Williams agreed to cooperate with authorities.

On Jan. 21, Williams withdrew from the agreement and entered a guilty plea to the remaining charge in the indictment, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine.

Before the sentencing hearing, which was set for March 6, the federal public defender representing Williams filed a motion for a psychological examination of Williams, claiming for the first time in the proceedings that Williams was mentally incompetent to proceed with his case.

The judge ordered Williams evaluated by the medical staff at a Bureau of Prisons facility for a period of testing and study. Williams was transported to Miami, where the doctors found that he was mentally competent, and had engaged in bizarre behaviors calculated to fake a mental illness.

At a hearing conducted on Sept. 11, Judge Dubose took testimony from the Bureau of Prisons doctor and a defense expert, both of whom agreed that Williams was faking symptoms of a mental illness. The judge found that Williams was mentally competent to proceed to with the sentencing hearing and set it for Wednesday.

After Wednesday’s hearing the federal prosecutor offered evidence to show that Williams was a danger to the community and he had exhibited violent tendencies during his adult life, including years of participation in drug dealing, robberies, drug rip-offs and at least one shooting.

Cynthia Steele, a neighbor who lives near Williams in Marion, testified that he threatened to shoot her in the head like he shot her brother.

Williams’ co-defendant Thaddeus Smith testified at the hearing that Williams had a reputation for violence and Smith had seen Williams shoot his own cousin in the leg over a dispute involving drugs and money.

Smith testified that Williams told Smith later that Williams paid off his cousin so Williams would not be prosecuted for that incident.

The judge imposed the 14-year sentence, finding Williams’ criminal history established that he was a threat to continue to commit crimes and a stiff sentence was necessary to protect the public.