Texas Smuggling Deaths Retrial to Resume - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

01/02/07 - Houston, Texas

Texas Smuggling Deaths Retrial to Resume

Jurors weighing a possible death penalty for a truck driver convicted in the nation's deadliest human smuggling incident must decide whether he deliberately put people at grave risk.

The punishment phase in the retrial of Tyrone Williams was set to resume Tuesday after being postponed for nearly a month because of the illness of the lead defense attorney and the year-end holidays.

Jurors convicted Williams on Dec. 4 in the deaths of 19 illegal immigrants who succumbed to deadly heat in the back of his tractor-trailer as he was smuggling them from South Texas to Houston.

Prosecutors say Williams merits a death sentence because he intentionally risked the lives of the immigrants and caused their deaths during the May 2003 smuggling attempt.

The victims died of dehydration, overheating and suffocation after spending nearly four hours inside the oven-like trailer. Williams abandoned the trailer at a truck stop in Victoria, about 100 miles southwest of Houston.

Family members of the victims were expected to testify during the punishment phase.

Defense attorney Craig Washington has said his client didn't know the immigrants were dying until it was too late. Washington blamed another smuggling ring member for causing the deaths by overloading the trailer.

Jurors will have to decide if Williams should be sentenced to death or up to life in prison.

Williams, 35, a Jamaican citizen who lived in Schenectady, N.Y., is the only one of 14 people charged in the case who is facing the death penalty.

An appeals court granted Williams a new trial after his conviction in 2005 because the jury couldn't agree on his role in the smuggling attempt.

Story courtesy of the Associated Press.

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