Wife Who Plotted Husband's Murder with His Best Friend, Then Married Him, Gets Life in Prison

Denise Williams is not eligible for parole and will spend the rest of her life behind bars

Mike and Denise Williams wedding photo.Credit: Courtesy Cheryl Williams
Photo: Courtesy Cheryl Williams

A Florida woman will spend the rest of her life in prison after being found guilty of helping to mastermind the murder of her husband in 2000.

Last month, a jury found Denise Williams guilty on three counts, including first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, in the death of her husband, Jerry Michael “Mike” Williams. On Wednesday, she was sentenced to life in prison without parole, PEOPLE confirms.

During the trial, jurors heard testimony that the 48-year-old woman conspired to kill her husband with help from his best friend, Brian Winchester, whom she married five years later.

According to testimony, Mike Williams packed up his boat on Dec. 16, 2000, to go duck hunting on Florida’s Lake Seminole. The 31-year-old father had planned to spend a few hours out on the water and then return home for a weekend anniversary trip with his wife.

But he never made it back — beginning a 17-year mystery that was only recently solved. (The case was featured in a December 2018 episode of People Magazine Investigates.)

When Mike first disappeared, his father-in-law searched for him and found his abandoned boat. His vehicle was still on the shore. Police speculated that he had fallen into the water and been eaten by alligators.

Denise and Winchester, who married in 2005, had Mike declared dead after he vanished and collected on three life insurance policies worth more than $1.75 million.

Missing Man Murder - 08 May 2018

Denise and Winchester split in 2016. In 2017, he pleaded guilty to kidnapping his ex-wife at gunpoint and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. A day later, authorities announced that they had found Mike’s remains.

Winchester confessed to shooting Mike in the head and burying him in a remote area. He claimed that he and Denise conspired together in the murder so that they could be together.

Winchester was a key witness for the prosecution during the trial. He was granted immunity in Mike’s death.

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News: Mike Williams Murder
Denise Williams (center). Joe Rondone/Democrat/USA Today

During the trial, Winchester told jurors that he had originally intended to drown Mike but panicked as a struggle ensued. He said that he pulled out his gun and shot his friend.

Assistant State Attorney Jon Fuchs told told the jurors that Denise was as culpable in Mike’s death as Winchester.

Denise’s defense, however, insisted that the state had no case. “There’s no tangible evidence or physical evidence to connect Denise Williams to this crime,” attorney Philip Padovano told jurors, according to the Associated Press. “No confession, no admission, nothing.”

News: Mike Williams Murder
Ryan Dailey/Democrat/USA Today

But the jurors seemed to believe Winchester. After deliberating for eight hours, they returned with a guilty verdict.

At the sentencing, Mike Williams’ mother, Cheryl Williams, addressed the court: “I don’t like having to ask a judge to put her in jail for the rest of her life. But what she did to Mike she deserves. And today, I think God gave us justice.”

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