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Life in prison, no parole, for killer in Peppers shooting

Judge cites clear evidence of malice in passing sentence for 2013 slaying

POSTED: July 11, 2014 12:39 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Mary Nell Williams breaks down as she gives testimony during sentencing for her son Joseph Williams.

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The last time Antonio Thompson talked to his brother, Adrian asked him if he was still getting married. He wanted him to maintain a path toward stability.

“‘I done did time for me and you. You don’t want another man raising your kids,’” Antonio Thompson recalled his brother saying.

Joseph Williams was convicted of malice murder June 26 for gunning down Adrian Thompson in the parking lot of Peppers Market & Grocery on E.E. Butler Parkway in Gainesville on June 3, 2013, after yearslong animosity between the two bubbled to the surface in a violent confrontation.

Family and friends of Williams asked a judge to give him the same chance of redemption that Thompson experienced after years in and out of prison. He will not have that chance, a judge ruled Thursday in Hall County Superior Court.

Judge Jason Deal ruled a mandatory life with no parole sentence would apply to the case. The prosecution filed a notice of aggravating sentencing based on Williams’ three felony convictions prior to the trial, which began June 23.

Adrian Thompson was in a position to give his brother advice on stability, after all, having reinvented himself as a man of faith and family after years in and out of prison.

“The last thing he told (me) was ‘I love you. I’ll call you back in a minute,’” Antonio Thompson said.

That was eight minutes before he would get a text from his ex-wife saying she believed her cousin, Williams, had shot and killed Adrian Thompson.

“I read it so fast ... I brushed it off,” Antonio Thompson said, troubled, but thinking to himself she must have been wrong.

Then he got a text saying Adrian Thompson had died. He called his brother back and didn’t get an answer.

“I started shaking,” he said. “I knew something was wrong.”

Deal said even if the mandatory life without parole provision didn’t apply, the facts of the case would have led him to the same conclusion denying Williams a future outside of prison.

“I don’t think I have ever had a case where the evidence was so clear about the malice of the shooting,” he said to Williams, referring to surveillance video footage of the incident. “You kept shooting until he quit moving.”

Testimony painted Adrian Thompson as a man whose life was put back on the right path with a reaffirmed faith in God.

“I’m at peace because I know Adrian was a changed man. He’s in the Kingdom,” said his mother, Luvonne Lipscomb.

“Once he got his life right with Christ, I didn’t have to worry about him no more.”

Senior Public Defender Travis Williams said he believed there was room for redemption in Williams’ character, like Adrian Thompson.

“I don’t believe this is a circumstance where forever makes sense,” he said.

Assistant District Attorney Shiv Sachdeva, the lead prosecutor on the case, said requests for mercy from the judge were in stark contrast to the “methodical” way Williams gunned Adrian Thompson down.

“The fact is the defendant did not have mercy on Adrian,” he said.

Mary Nell Williams, mother of Joseph Williams, said her son had tried to avoid seeing Adrian Thompson, and that he would have left the parking lot if he thought he could. His main defense theory asserted Adrian Thompson provoked the confrontation, then Williams acted out of fear for his life.

“It doesn’t make sense to lose two lives,” she said. “We can learn from all of this.”

The victim and his killer once were close friends who grew up together. But the relationship turned sour when Williams’ ex-wife, Chassity Thompson, divorced him and married Adrian Thompson a few years later. She met Adrian Thompson in a halfway home for offenders transitioning from prison while Williams was incarcerated.

Despite the dramatic way they came together, the two families clung to a shred of cordiality for their children, to varying degrees of success based on Williams’ volatile moods, Chassity Thompson said.

Joseph Williams also testified, speaking to the family and asking that they forgive him.

“I’m terribly sorry for the grief I’ve caused,” he said. “Really, this is not for the judge but the ones who suffer for my actions.”

Most of the friends and family of Adrian Thompson were stone-faced as he spoke, some nodding their heads or exchanging skeptical looks between one another.

But the younger Thompson brother, one of a handful of people who perhaps most epitomized how deeply intertwined the two families were, said he had forgiven Williams.

“I forgave you. I can’t speak for nobody else, but I forgave you,” he said. “I really love you, man, because God gave me the opportunity to forgive you and love you.”

Deal said Antonio Thompson had “eloquently” articulated a sentiment that would heal the community, and urged Williams to find a purpose in prison.

“I don’t think you’re beyond redemption,” he said. “I want you to know that.”



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